Bassist Tom Hamilton has been there since the band’s beginnings in the early ’70s. He’s survived the band’s many ups and downs and says the present time is pure gravy for the band.
He even likes going out on the road. “It’s still this adventure you’re out on with your friends,” he said in a recent phone interview. “You’re doing something that you know is removed from the everyday world. In fact, touring is more fun for me now than it’s ever been, because the band is growing a lot more musically now than in the past. We finally realized that if we keep the band together, we get to be around for all kinds of cool stuff that comes down the road.”
It wasn’t always that way, however. He describes the band’s late ’70s period as the least pleasurable for touring. “Between 1979 and 1983 would have been the worst time,” he said. “Joe was still gone, Brad was gone and we went out and tried to do a tour. It was a mess. A disaster. We wound up canceling half of it.”
He says the process of making the new album helped rejuvenate the band. “We were really ready to get off the ballad bandwagon and do a record in a more basic, back to the roots way. That meant the band all in the room at the same time recording and doing full takes.”
He says the relatively raw recording technique was in part out of necessity. Although the band had planned for years to do a blues album, “We found ourselves at the end of one tour with another one starting in six months, and asking ourselves what kind of record project we could do in that time. That’s much shorter than we usually spend making a record. So we said let’s do the blues album.”
The album has a live, smoky-nightclub feel to it, which came about because the band did very little overdubbing on the disc, Hamilton said. “The bulk of the material was with the band in the room at the same time, including a lot of the vocals, which really surprised me. Usually, Steven will sing with us when we play to complete the vibe of the song, but in order to get the sound right, he has to go into an isolated booth to do the vocals separately. This time, he tried a bunch of ’em while we played, with guitar mics leaking into his mic and it just worked out great.”
And while other recent blues-themed albums, such as Eric Clapton’s tribute to Robert Johnson, treat the classic blues songs in a very reverential way, Hamilton said Aerosmith felt no obligation to keep to the material’s original arrangements.
“We didn’t worry too much about whether people would think we were a legitimate blues band,” he said. “First of all, we’re not making that claim. You’ve got people out there from George Thorogood to Jonny Lang to Lonnie Brooks who are lifelong students of the blues. We knew that we could execute all those songs because we’ve practiced that kind of playing since we started.”
He cites a few tracks from the disc as his favorites. “‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ is a favorite because it’s such an out of control, hyped song. It’s so much fun when we’re playing and I go back to my amp between songs to check the setlist and I see that one coming up. It’s like, ‘All right! Here it comes!’”
He also likes the fast, shuffling song “Shame Shame Shame,” which flopped with audiences when the band first started playing it. “There are certain songs that you can rehearse a lot but you’re never finished getting it right until you’ve played it on stage in public a few times. And that’s one of them.
“One of the things we’ve learned after all these years is that if we put one of the new songs in the set and we blow it, we don’t just immediately jump off it. We keep it in there knowing we have to go through this process of getting it to its final version in front of people. We just have to keep our heads down and plow through it, knowing our reward will be a song that absolutely cooks.”
But don’t go to an Aerosmith show and expect to hear only obscure songs and not the classics that long ago made them millionaires. Hamilton said the band feels an obligation to the audience to play those tunes.
“We’re very conscious about the expense and the effort people put out to come to one of our shows and we’re not about to make them sit through a list of esoteric material while they’re waiting for us to play one of the consensus favorites,” he said.
“We’re there mixing those songs up with hard-ass rock songs and deeper album cuts. We’re always trying to get the right formula, but you’re never sure. Sometimes you can tell, OK, this is a ‘Don’t Want To Miss a Thing’ audience. You can tell they’re just waiting for the hits. And other crowds are there totally with whatever you’re playing. They’re singing along with ‘Same Old Song and Dance’ and some of the more obscure ones.”
With Aerosmith’s long history of playing Indianapolis — cuts from a notoriously disorderly ’70s show is on the band’s Live Bootleg! album — this city probably falls into the latter category.