Peter Buck from the band R.E.M. once put it as well as anyone: "If you grew up in the '70s, you liked Aerosmith." Boasting a raw, rollicking sound that fully Americanized the blues-rock hybrid created by the Rolling Stones and a swaggering, witty charisma that was all their own, Aerosmith was one of the best and most popular hard rock bands of the 1970s. Few performers had as impressive a rise and as dramatic a fall -- and fewer still would rise again to such remarkable heights.
The Aerosmith story began in 1969, when Steven Tyler (born Steven Tallarico on March 26, 1948) met Joe Perry (born September 10, 1950) at an ice cream parlor in New Hampshire, where Tyler was working a summer job. Tyler, from New York, had sung with a variety of bands before joining the group Chain Reaction, while Perry was a veteran guitarist with a number of Boston-area bands, most notably the Jam Band. Tyler and Perry had seen each other's bands and were mutual admirers; Tyler suggested to Perry that they should join forces, and they recruited Jam Band bassist Tom Hamilton (born Dec. 31, 1951) to play in their new group. Joey Kramer (born June 21, 1950), who like Tyler was from New York, was brought aboard as drummer, and guitarist Ray Tabano completed the first Aerosmith lineup. The band started gigging in 1970; that same year, Tabano quit the group (he later signed on as a member of Aerosmith's road crew and merchandising team), and was replaced by Brad Whitford (born February 23, 1952).
Two years of hard work and hundreds of low-paying gigs later, Aerosmith caught the ear of then Columbia Records president Clive Davis, who signed the band to a recording contract. Their 1972 self-titled debut was a slow starter, but the single "Dream On" gained radio airplay in a few markets and would eventually become a hit single. The group's second album, Get Your Wings, sold a bit better, but it was 1975's Toys in the Attic that finally broke the band nationwide; the album took the band to the upper reaches of the Billboard charts for the first time (it would eventually sell six million copies) and "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion" became FM-radio staples (the latter was also used memorably in the film Dazed and Confused). 1976's Rocks sailed to number three on the charts and racked up four million sales. By now, Aerosmith were one of America's biggest touring attractions, but the group began easing the rigors of the road with a variety of recreational drugs, and the weariness was beginning to tell on 1977's Draw the Line, which failed to crack the Top Ten.
In 1978, Hollywood (or at least Robert Stigwood) came calling, and the group made their screen debut in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, providing one of the film's few high points as the sneering Future Villain Band, who performed "Come Together." While the band wasn't much effected by the film's venomous reviews, spiraling drug use and internal conflicts began to take their toll, and in 1979, shortly before the release of Night in the Ruts, Joe Perry quit the band. (In 1989, fans would be offered a belated souvenir of one of Perry's last gigs before his departure with the home video Aerosmith Live: Texxas Jam '78.) Brad Whitford followed suit a year later, and while Aerosmith soldiered on with guitarists Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay, 1982's Rock and a Hard Place failed to match Night in the Ruts' unimpressive sales, and Steven Tyler's inconsistent on-stage performances led many to declare Aerosmith a spent force, especially after Columbia dropped the band.
In 1985, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford returned to Aerosmith, and the band signed a new deal with Geffen Records. Done With Mirrors, billed as the band's comeback, sold modestly, and neither Tyler or Perry appeared to have entirely conquered their drug habits. But in 1986, Tyler and Perry joined rap pioneers Run D.M.C. for a hip-hop cover of "Walk This Way," which took the band back to the top of the charts and reminded fans that Aerosmith was still alive and kicking. By 1987, all five members of Aerosmith were at long last clean and sober, and they released Permanent Vacation, which re-established them as rock superstars, selling over five million copies and scoring three major hit singles ("Rag Doll," "Angel," and "Dude [Looks Like a Lady]"). 1989's Pump proved Permanent Vacation's success was no fluke, selling a staggering seven million copies and scoring another three Top 40 hits, "Janie's Got a Gun", "Love in an Elevator,"' and "What It Takes." The album also spawned two separate home videos -- Aerosmith: Things That Go Pump in the Night, a collection of video clips from the album, and Aerosmith: The Making of "Pump," a documentary on the tumultuous production of the disc. In 1990, Aerosmith confirmed their pop culture cool by appearing on Saturday Night Live and popping up in the recurring sketch "Wayne's World" to play the "Wayne's World" theme with Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey). (In 1993, Aerosmith would meet Wayne and Garth again as they made a brief cameo in the feature film Wayne's World 2, playing the song "Shut Up and Dance" from their album Get a Grip.)
Get a Grip sold seven million copies and spawned another handful of hit singles, including "Crazy," which inspired a memorable music video starring Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler, Steven's daughter. Aerosmith's second career wave had seen its peak, and their next album (the first in a new multimillion deal with Columbia), 1997's Nine Lives, was something of a disappointment, selling a mere two million copies and receiving lukewarm reviews. But the band remained a popular live act, and in 1998 they were tapped to perform a song for the soundtrack to the film Armageddon. The movie was a blockbuster, and "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" earned an Oscar nomination for Best Song, which led to the unlikely sight of Aerosmith playing live on the Academy Awards. In 2001, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shortly after the release of their 13th studio album, Just Push Play. They also had the distinction of appearing as part of the halftime show at the year's Super Bowl, alongside younger hit-makers N 'Sync, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly.