To hear what Steven Tyler sounds like when he sings in the shower, you'll have to get the next Aerosmith CD. The album, to be released in the fall, is a blues record - a first for the band - and was partly recorded in guitarist Joe Perry's shower (another first).
"We drilled a hole in Joe's upstairs bathroom in his house, right down to the studio," explains Tyler. "We put a microphone up there, and I'm in the shower, singing. On one particular song, 'Bad Black Train,' that he sings, I'm up in the shower on harmonica.' "
Don't worry about the plumbing bills at Perry's place, the band can easily afford them.
In their 32-year career, Aerosmith has sold more than 70 million albums, thanks in great measure to pop instincts that gave them hits such as "Livin' on the Edge," "Walk This Way," and "I Don't Want to Miss A Thing," the No. 1 with a bullet written by gun-for-hire songwriter Dianne Warren. But Tyler, who was awarded an honorary doctor of music degree by the Berklee College of Music this month, insists the band has always been rooted in the first indigenous music form of the United States.
"Oddly enough, it's what we started out as, it's what we always have been, and it's almost like Aerosmith is that band in the closet," says the singer in a speaking voice that sounds uncannily similar to Al Pacino. "There have been people along the way who have faulted us for that," he says, and launches into an anecdote about how, in the '80s, a music industry honcho heard the guitar riff to "Love in an Elevator" and sniffly dismissed it: "Sounds like a bunch of blues riffs."
Aerosmith would have recorded a blues album a lot earlier if it hadn't been for Eric Clapton. "Nine years ago, we told the label: 'We're doing a blues record.' We came this close," says Tyler. But when the band heard that Clapton had just recorded a blues album, "From the Cradle," the Boston-based band didn't want to be accused of following a trend.
Several albums on, Aerosmith are spreading their iconic wings. "We're already doing some good stuff, you know," says Tyler before yelping out a few bars of "Baby, Please Don't Go," written by Big Joe Williams and popularized by Van Morrison. "Joe's just rocking" on that song, Tyler enthuses, slapping his knee.
The band is also covering tunes such as "All Your Love" by Otis Rush, "Broke Down Engine" by Blind Willie McTell, "Eyesight for the Blind" by Sonny Boy Williamson, and at least one by band favorite Peter Green, the original Fleetwood Mac guitarist. They've also included several originals, including, yes, a ballad.
But don't expect the album to sound too traditional. The band has roped in Jack Douglas, producer of earlier albums such as "Rocks" and "Toys in the Attic," to recapture their stripped-down, live-in-studio sound. Douglas proved to be a canny improviser. "When we did 'Sweet Emotion,' that maraca you hear at the beginning, it's a sugar packet," says Tyler.
Tyler warns against placing limitations on what blues should sound like. "I love the tradition of it," he says, "but I hate the fence around it, because it really is soulful and everybody should be coming from the soul."