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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  October 17, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PDT

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. >> good evening from los angeles. tonight our conversation with joe perry, lead guitarist from aerosmith. he has a new memoir out. just made the "new york times" best seller list. all that and more coming up right now.
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>> and by contributions by your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> joe perry is the lead guitarist for aerosmith. they're the best selling american rock band of all time. having sold more than 150 million albums worldwide including some 70 million albums in the u.s. alone. he was included in the rolling stones list of 100 greatest guitarists of all time, inducted into the song writers hl of fame and rock and roll hall of fame. and now a memoir which he
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co-wrote with david rich. a look at joe perry in aerosmith performing their hit, "sweet emotion." ♪ ♪ sweet emotion >> i knew you were talented as a guitarist. i did know that you could actually do that while chewing gum. >> one of those things that i like to prove now and then to show that i can walk and talk. >> you can do both chew gum and
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play at the same time. i'm honored to have you on this program. >> i'm honored to be here. i think it's great. >> let me start by asking why. why put your life on the pages of a book? >> i think for a number of reasons. i think i felt like something went like this, would be done after i finished with my career or retired and like old generals, that kind of thing. every day it seems like another thing happening. it's always something new in this business and the 40th anniversary. we were working on our last record for sony. and kind of moving into a new era as far as the music business goes. so, it just felt like -- it just felt like time. my wife and i talked about it. we knew we would have to revisit some painful things in our lives
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as well as put down some of the good things. also i wanted to kind of set the record straight on some of the so-called legends that have made aerosmith just through my eyes. so many times things have been misinterpreted or taken out of context just over the years. i just wanted to put it out there the way i saw it. to me it's kind of, you know, it almost starts with a question like how did i end up doing this? i had no calling, you know, when i was this big like a lot of people who were in this kind of business or artists so to speak. >> you play guitar and chew gum and now you want to be a talk show host because now you're doing my job, asking questions. let me take that question and turn it on you. how did you end up in this lane? we will come to aerosmith in a
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moment but how did you end up in this lane? >> i have a learning disability that, of course, now they have identified and given an alphabet soup type name. but back then it was looked at as a discipline thing. i wanted to be a marine biologist. i loved the whole thing. and that was when i was this big. and but as time went on and school became harder and harder no matter what i tried and what my parents tried, i ended up not being able to fulfill that and i really wanted to please them. it wasn't like a wise guy at least not to the point where it got in the way of me trying to achieve what they wanted which was go to college and that was also the path that i would have
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to take to be a marine biologist. as time went on i got to the point where i just can't take this. high school much less college. if i can, you know, get in, whatever, but at the same time, rock and roll had me by the back of the neck and it was almost shaking me saying this is what you can do. >> were you already playing at this time? >> well, i was playing the guitar a little bit. i had a natural affinity for it when i picked it up. i played a couple of instruments before that and nothing stuck. >> how did you learn guitar? >> i had piano lessons and i played clarinet for about two months. >> i would love to see you play clarinet. >> i tried it. i'm not sure if they make left-handed clarinets but i had no idea that they made left-handed guitars and i'm left-handed so when i got my
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first guitar, i came with an instruction record and it said to put the neck in your left hand and the other in your right hand and strum. i have been playing backwards all of these years. it goes with my personality. i have always been a loaner and always been an outsider. very rebellious in my own way. >> rolling stones, i mentioned earlier, list you, regards you as one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. how much better do you think you could be if you were playing it the right way? >> you know, i have to think i might be technically better but fl's so much more that goes into it. you can play, you can be a very technically basic guitar player or any instrument and write songs. >> yeah. >> and i consider myself a song
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writer like as much as i do a guitar player. so i think that again, i think i can get the point across ether way. but it's a little late to change it. you know? i did try it at one point, i said why don't i try it the other way and see what happens. and i worked at it for about a week. i'm going to spend all of this time, i might as well doing it the way i have been doing it. >> it makes sense but it's pretty amazing that you pick up an instrument that you never played before. you're playing it backwards given your anatomy and you still become one of the greatest of all time at it. amazing story. >> i'm sure there are a lot of other people out there that have the same thing, you know? i was fortunate enough to be in
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the studio with paul mccartny a couple of months ago now. and i asked him how is it that you knew to play guitar left-handed, you know? he said well, as it happens, he was -- he heard whitman and a few other artists that were very popular at the time. so he saw that and you knew that that was an option. when i first picked up the guitar i naturally put the neck in this hand and the pick here and when i heard the record tell me to do opposite i did what the record said. that was not having any guitar players around to talk to or any other artists that i knew are. >> you just followed
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instructions. >> i didn't know about a left-handed clarinet or piano. >> you went with it. you had a learning disability that had not been diagnosed at that time. it made life difficult for you as a child. how did your parents handle that and how did they handle you? did your parents buy into it being a discipline problem? or were they understanding that something was going on that they didn't know? >> they knew i was a good kid. my mother was -- very small town. so she knew, you know, what was going on with me in school. she knew i wasn't a troublemaker. she knew i did my time in study hall like after school which was also used for discipline. if you, you know, if you were a
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wise guy in class or something you stayed after school. usually you were thrown into study hall. so you're in there with people that are wise guys so to speak. the troublemakers that doesn't really help your self-esteem either. you're really trying to concentrate. no matter what i did, nothing stuck. the only thing that i loved in school was reading. i read a lot on the outside away from what was going on in school. for some reason i was able to retain that. when it came to the other nuts and bolts of the abcs -- >> your parents didn't discipline you for -- >> no. they just did what they knew. back then it was really a -- they were really puzzled.
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i thought being immersed in that and having access to teachers. it would prepare for for college. nothing clicked exception when i picked that instrument up and started to emulate some of the stars that i have looked up to. >> i'm glad you said that when you started to emulate some of the stars that excited you. i love the way you phrased it. if artists are being honest, and most are some aren't, they will tell you that they started out emulating somebody until we find our own voice and style. you are an original now. it's pretty clear to me that a person you most admired was chuck berry.
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>> i realized pretty early on that the show you put on when you're playing rock and roll definitely adds to the excitement. i consider myself a fan first and standing in the audience and feeling that energy, it's not just about being able to hear the band play songs it's about performing the songs. you might as well listen to the record and cd or whatever form it's on now. chuck not only had boiled down the essence of that bridge stween the blues and a new thing called rock and roll he also put on a great show. he could play it in any position he wanted. all the tricks. that also impressed me. >> but did he chew gum? >> you know what? he did things that were -- i
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mean, some of the way, if you close your eyes you would never know that he was playing the guitar behind his neck, which was -- or behind his head. and that's quite a feat. i managed to pick that one up and a few of my own. it's a popular show. when did you disover or feel? maybe discover is the wrong word because it takes time to get there. when did you feel like you were not just proficient. when did you feel like you discovered your own sound and style? like when did that happen for you? >> i think that started ed ted on me about the second album because i was such a neophyte. i had a certain sound. we were constantly playing gigs.
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we had a sound. but it didn't come out sounding the way i expected it would when it came out of the speakers and studio. i didn't know the technical end of that so, we lived -- we went and we put up with it. the drummer felt like the drums didn't sound like. steven sang in a voice -- he was very insecure. he sang with a voice with a certain affection to it. it wasn't until the third record that he really opened up and let it fly and we started to learn how to -- i mean, i spent all the time i could behind the boa board. steven, both of us, from the time we started recording to the time we were done and handing it to the record company, we were
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there with the producer learning and watching how it went. i started to realize what it was and how you got it. to get that energy on to the tape to come out of the speakers. >> you mentioned steven. let me go inside the book and ask you. i don't want to color these questions more than i'm going to. how would you describe your relationship with him? how would they see you define your relationship with him number one? and number two, how do you -- how does a guy anybody in any band, you can only speak for joe perry obviously. but how does any guy in any band get comfortable with this other guy getting all the attention? >> okay. the first thing -- the first half of that, there's a phrase
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that i have come across. you can love your brother but you don't have to like him. one of the things it works great. one of the reasons i wanted to write the book was not so much to say -- not in anyway did i want to point fingers or any -- anything like. that it was more about just how hard it is to show how hard it is to keep it together. the air is pretty rare where we are. to have all five members after 42 years still looking forward to next year for whatever we're going to do it takes a lot of work. steven is as talented as he is.
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i'm sure i can be as obvious nant and arrogant in my own way. we haven't changed much since we first met. you just have to leave the work in the studio or on the stage and when you're back and we have all grown up. we're grown men now with families and some of us with two or three families. and we don't hang around the way we used to when it was just the five of us with this dream in an apartment. that was probably the biggest thing to learn how to deal with leaving the personal side of it out of it. i mean we have had some you know, knock down drag out fights in the studio about the way a song should go and that kind of thing. then we both get on our
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motorcycles and ride together for a while. >> you're confident this book will not be the genesis of the break up of the band? >> not at all. somebody asked me that. is aerosmith -- obviously she wasn't following rock and roll, but no. there is no way is that -- it was just i wanted to get -- up until last year that's what i wanted to get down there. >> you mentioned steven's fl flamboyancy from time to time. how do band mates get comfort wbl the idea or notion that one particular guy in the band may get most of the attention. >> it's one of those things. it kind of goes back to frank sinatra days. the guy with the voice and the microphone and you tend to listen to him.
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it's a very rare bid -- he's considered the front man as well. say a band like cheap trick, the lead singer, he will talk to the audience once in a while but the real front man that actually talks to the audience and builds that rapport is the guitar player. it just -- it's just one of those things it's just natural to focus on the guy with the microphone that's singing and then somebody like steven who loves the applause and loves the fame and all of that and lives for it practically, he's custom made for the job, i mean, you know, not only that but he wouldn't have to do anything. all he has to do is sing and people would still not be able to take their eyes off of you. he is an amazing talent.
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>> you started this conversation now. >> we're all different. i could walk in a room full of musicians and i could pick up the lead singers and guitar players, bass players and drummers without any introductions. >> you can just sense it? >> by the way that they dress and talk. it's one of those things. >> their demeanor. the bass player, his personality is cut out for that. he may crave a little bit of that attention. after 40 years everybody is pretty much set in their place, you know? i kind of danced between the two things. sometimes i'm sharing the front man job with steven and other times i'm back with the other four guys. that's what i like to do. >> what do your mind, i know your fans have different answers to this question.
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what has led to the enduring relationship that this band has with its audience? >> i think that's it. it's the fans. and the fans because i consider myself a fan. i know the other guys are growing up in that time period we're all infatuated with the love of that excitement. we had this vision that maybe we could survive in music. it is not a career you pick for longevity. it was really taking the step into the unknown. it is my fascination with the outdoors and the woods and getting lost in the woods or swimming for miles whatever, i love the unknown. it goes right along with it.
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playing in a band like this and really not knowing what's going to happen next as far as the music business, we have always had the fans there and that's been a constant. i feel we owe our fans a debt because of all of the life they have given us. anyway, that's a con ve lawsuitlawsuit -- way to say it's about the fans. >> and you want to set the record straight? >> sure. i was told and asked this question a couple -- a while ago. they said the reason the band got back together was because brad and i went to an aerosmith show to see the band with the other guys in it on valentine's day and right then we decided to
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put the band back together, which is totally wrong. it's so far from the truth that i couldn't see that as being part of aerosmith's story. us getting back together was unknown at that point. and getting soeber and clean and putting that stuff aside and then having a second shot at a career that you're lucky if you get one shot at it the first time, you know? i wanted to explain how the band got back together. we had a lot of things we had to talk about and deal with. that's one of the -- it's a sure thing. >> i expect that would be a lot for fans to talk about to get a chance to read the book. finally out. joe perry tells it his way. the book is called rocks. my life in and out of aerosmith. i love the title and i love the
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cover written with our good friend david rich. he will be here in a few weeks. he has his own book out about aretha franklin. >> i learned as much from him as he did from me. >> he works with the greats from aretha and ray charles and marvin gay. the list goes on and on. he was honored to work with you as well i'm sure. >> thanks a lot. >> thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at >> join me next time for a conversation with melissa etheridge. we'll see you then.
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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killing 11 workers and setting off the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. >> we haven't had an oil spill of this magnitude at this depth and in this environment. >> this was a systematic failure on the part of bp, the industry in general, and of the government regulatory regime. >> narrator: over the course of nearly three months, roughly 4.9 million barrels of south louisiana crude gushed out of the macondo well and into the gulf of mexico. >> it was beyond my worst fears. it was something ho


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