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ROCK IN A HARD PLACE (1982)

Steven: "We've been away too long. We miss all the bad reviews" (Boston Globe, 11/11/82).


A follow-up studio album to "Night in the Ruts" would be a long time coming. During the years that followed the initial recording sessions for that album, both of the band's guitarists had departed, the vocalist had been laid up recovering from physical injuries, and the band essentially ground to a halt. Perhaps it was an ideal situation for Aerosmith to have become incapable of releasing new material -- 1981 certainly wasn't particularly kind to another 70s behemoths who had similarly suffered internal dysfunction. With Steven's injury, Aerosmith had been limited to just one full show during the latter half of 1980, a limp celebration of the band's first decade broadcast live on the Starfleet Radio Network. While rumors abounded, suggesting Steven would be going solo (Leber & Krebs were looking for film opportunities for him to broaden his career), Columbia took advantage of the break to release a spartan celebration of the band's first decade in the form of "Aerosmith's Greatest Hits." It was clear that much of the blue army had gone elsewhere with that album scraping to RIAA Gold certification on March 3, 1981. It would take a further half decade for the title to become the mega-seller it is now known as in the band's catalogue. Wrapping up the band's muted first decade celebration was the promotional "First Decade" box set issued to programmers in Jan. 1981 containing copies of the first eight Columbia albums.

By the end of 1980, the band was starting to think about the next studio album. Former Mountain bassist Felix Pappalardi was mentioned as being connected with the band for the project in trade magazines. He had already worked with the band helping to engineer their June 1980 King Biscuit broadcast from West Hartford. The band had continued rehearsing and trying to write new songs, that they would send up to Steven to review while he recuperated. It was less than an ideal situation, though Steven seemed to think that things were working out with Jimmy Crespo: He told Lisa Robinson, "I've been writing. Doing the same thing I did with Joe, only with Jimmy which is a lot faster. Jimmy doesn't have a lot of extracurricular activities... [Joe] had a lot of interests in other departments: The Joe Perry Project... that's what caused the whole breakup... It just started not to work... I couldn't write with him anymore. He wanted to write himself and wanted to be his own superstar. I guess that's what's all behind it, he wanted to be his own frontman... He was into so many side trips." There was a palpable bitterness towards Joe, who Steve accused of not even visiting him while he was recovering from his crash injuries.

It was a less than satisfactory situation for the band members. Brad had worked on a side project with Derek St. Holmes, but by July 1981 had decided that Aerosmith was a lost cause, particularly at a time when both musicians were tired of standing in the shadows in their respective bands. During August Whitford/St. Holmes hit the road in support of their album. Following the tour, Aerosmith called for Brad to return to the studio for the continued album sessions and soon afterwards Ted called on Derek. The dissolution of the band was simply a matter of the two going separate ways, having re-experienced the ground-floor touring as an unestablished opening act. That Brad ultimately decided that he couldn't continue with Aerosmith simply led to new opportunities to explore. He would record with Rex Smith, for an album that was never released, and reunited with Joe Perry making occasional appearances with the band in addition to participating in demo sessions. Steven doesn't appear to have been much bothered by Brad's departure, instead continuing to fixate on Perry: "Joe won't be missed except in the hearts of the diehard fans. He thought he has a lot more to do with the band than he really did. The very fact his (solo) albums are not doing so good show the kids where he could do the most good -- in a band framework. He knows where he should be -- or it's a shame that he doesn't" (AP, 9/24/82).

While Aerosmith had reconvened in New York City in September 1981 to try and work on a new album with producer Tony Bongiovi, Steven was lost on the clutches of his own issues. With Brad having released his "Whitford-St. Holmes" and permanently departing the group, the other members of the band were twiddling their fingers waiting for Steven. Joey, wanting to stay busy -- while Aerosmith appeared to be going down the drain -- put together a side project he named Renegade. With Tom and Jimmy, he added the powerful vocalist from Jimmy's old band Flame, Marge Raymond, keyboard player Bobby Mayo and the band started rehearsing at S.I.R. studios. Marge and Jimmy had signed with Leber/Krebs following the demise of Flame. When Crespo was coopted by Aerosmith, Marge had formed a band, Kicks, who opened a number of Aerosmith shows during 1980. Kicks, who included Tommy DeRossi and Steve Augeri, also worked on material with producer Felix Pappalardi, who had been slated to produce Aerosmith. Steven was even able to provide backing vocals for one song, "Raceway Rock" (the group's set opener). It was a return of the favor for Marge having joined Aerosmith on stage for background vocals on songs such as "Come Together," "Lick and a Promise," and "Train Kept A Rollin'."

Renegade progressed far enough to perform a single showcase for prospective record labels at S.I.R. Studios. The also had recorded rough demos of seven songs, including a re-recording of "One More Night" (a song from the abandoned third Flame album). Other songs included "Do It Again," "All Night Long," "Badlands," "Angry Times," "Ride On," and "Cinderella Dreamer," all written by Crespo. With a record deal in the offing, the band began basic tracking for an album. According to Joey, David Krebs used the leverage of this record deal for getting an Aerosmith album completed. Steven, too, once he heard that the remaining members of his band were working on a separate album project, found the requisite motivation to get back to work. And that was the end of Renegade, until a couple of the recordings surfaced decades later leaving fans to ponder the question, "what if?" Where Joe and Brad had failed, would a powerhouse female vocalist fronted band with highly accessible material have had any better success? Two of the band's songs, "Do It Again" and "One More Night," surfaced for fans to enjoy in 2019.

If Renegade was the medicine Steven needed to get things back on track, or the leverage Leber-Krebs needed to get Jimmy, Tom, and Joey committed to finishing the Aerosmith album, is unknown. Whatever the case, towards the end of 1981 activities in the studio got more serious for Aerosmith as a band. Steven once again had a goal, telling Lisa Robinson, "[Aerosmith] is going to make its niche again like it did before. We were definitely a species of our own, this thoroughbred in here... Where's it gonna fit? It's just gonna go out and kick ass. There's not many out there doing it now a la Aerosmith. They're doing their own style; I know what our music is about... [Aerosmith] is such a raunchy good-time rock 'n' roll band... I don't think there's anybody out there who can say an Aerosmith song all sound the same... Format rock." While the band had recorded many of the album's basic tracks with Tony Bongiovi at the Power Station Studios, it was clear things weren't working out and further changes were required.

By late 1981 Jack was firmly back in the trenches with the band. He was ultimately credited for contributions on two of the album's tracks ("Joanie's Butterfly" and "Rock In A Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)"). According to Steven, "Tony Bongiovi did the bulk of the recording of the songs and then we decided to get Jack in. It's not that we weren't happy with what Tony was doing, but we felt it would be real good to have Jack involved again. We've been through a lot of different producers in the past but we kind of missed that feeling we'd always got with Jack. And I felt that he could capture some of those elements on this LP. He's got a great concept of what Aerosmith is about" (Kerrang #29). Tony's engineering was great for quickly capturing the basic sound for the bed tracks, and he had captured the basic element of the band providing them a blueprint from which to move forward. But it wasn't enough, and perhaps doubts were entering Steven's mind as co-producer of the album. He later admitted that things hadn't gone as well as hoped with Tony during the four-months they worked together: "We didn't get along. We didn't like the way things were going" (Los Angeles Times, 8/2/83). Additional producers were considered before the band returned to the comfort zone provided by Jack; tough material worked on with Tony wasn't abandoned. Ironically, the band's visibility benefitted from the the emergence of cable channels specializing in broadcasting music features. On February 20, USA's "Night Flight" program broadcast a "Boston Rocks," a special including interview segments with Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, and video excerpts from the "Chiquita" and "No Surprize" videos.



Tyler certainly leaned on Jimmy Crespo to step into the roll that had been vacated by Joe Perry. Steven seemed happy with this: "Jimmy (Crespo) took over where Joe left off, and writing songs is fun again (the two collaborated on six of the 10 cuts on the current album, 'Rock in a Hard Place'). Brad won't be missed except I liked him; I liked the old squid. I miss Joe, too. Somebody told them they could do it or maybe they told themselves that. Now I've heard Brad and Joe are playing local gigs together. It's a big shame that they didn't get it together on a grander scale" (Pittsburgh Press, 11/24/82). But the dynamic of working with Jimmy was likely part of the events that led to the departure of Brad. Tom recalled, "When Joe left, it wasn't a case of, 'OK, you guys, I'm leaving. See ya later.' Things within the band had gotten a little tense and it seemed best for him to leave. We all miss Joe personally, but at the time it seemed best for him to do his thing... When Brad left, he was restless. He didn't want to go for the long haul. He had songs and he had been talking about doing a solo album. I was ticked off at first because it happened so suddenly and in the middle of everything, but I can't be bitter... We're committed to staying together as a band, and that took a lot of energy. We wanted to make sure whatever we did was very Aerosmith" (Moline Dispatch, 12/5/82). Jimmy was up to the task and took a leading role on the material written for the album. Steven recalled, "First of all, it was him (Crespo) and only him. We'd go and put down the band, as the band was then, so there wasn't much room for leakage. It was nice and clean and/or dirty one time, the first time that he put it down and then anything we wanted to add over it we put on afterwards which we didn't do much of. Jimmy consequently played lead and rhythm on the album. Coming from the same guy he left room for himself. It all does fall into place a lot more" (Creem, 1/83). The departure of Brad also left greater scope for Tom to be noticed and his visibility in interviews increased.

Jimmy's fresh roll and specific methods were the opposite of how Joe and Brad had worked during their decade together -- little in that relationship needed to be communication. Brad recalled, "Jimmy was a trained musician, a stickler for getting precise. I found it hard to work with that attitude. Joe and I, we didn't have to say two words to each other about the guitar parts. It was a big part of the guitar magic that had sustained Aerosmith for ten years" ("Walk This Way"). But there were mixed explanations for the amount of time the album took to produce, and in the end the album purportedly cost well over $1 million. According to Steven, "We were actually in and out of the studios for pretty much the bulk of a year. And the main reason it took so long was because we were in the midst of a writing frenzy. There were so many songs coming out all at once that we decided to hang on in the studio and at least get them down on tape for the next album. So consequently, we ended up with two LP's worth of material" (Kerrang #29). For Jack, Dufay was also critical to completing the album: "There was a tremendously different atmosphere all the way around. You didn't have Joe and Brad. You had Rick Dufay who was a real ball of fire. That kinda made it fun. I think we were all in a drug daze at that time. Drugs were not fun at that particular time... Let's just say that Rick really held things together at that point, you know, for the band. I mean, Tom and Joe were just rooting that we would get the thing done. Steven was at a loss for lyrics. It took them a long time to make that record. And Rick, because of his humor and energy, was able to drive us all. Drove us crazy, mostly. But that helped a lot. Kept us awake" (RoughEdge.com).

Dufay may have been something of an accidental band member. He wasn't a fan of the band, wasn't impressed with them, and had to be coerced into auditioning. Those may form part of the reason that he was perfect for the band. Jimmy was serious, Tom and Brad had seldom been active on stage, and Rick had laissez-faire performance attitude that didn't accept a rule book. He was into having fun. Coming into the sessions at such a late stage, Jimmy had already performed the vast majority of guitars for the album and the songs were fully composed and arranged. If he added anything to the recording then there were only bits and pieces, though he and Steven did work on musical ideas together including a song titled "Written in Stone" that would be released by Rick years later. With the band having worked on and off for a year Rick was in place by the time they were finishing overdubs in Florida. The band used both Criteria Studios and the studio's remote unit to record on Key Biscayne. If there was an MVP for the album, then that person would be Jimmy Crespo. With Brad out of the picture he was left carrying the full weight of providing all of the guitars on the album, a task that had previously been split between two vastly different personalities and styles.

Joey Kramer has recalled how dysfunctional and wasteful the sessions were, and that that may have played a larger role in Tony's departure: "Tony Bongiovi, who owned the place, was pulling what little hair he had left on his head. Tony was the consummate professional, and he just couldn't deal with the nonsense that was going on among us. After a while he gave up, and they brought Jack Douglas in, because he was just as much into the drugs as we were" (Kramer, Joey - "Hit Hard"). Rick, too, became a babysitter to get Steven cleaned up enough to complete the album. Steven, though, was happier and more comfortable with Jack returning to the fold: "Well, he's one of the all-time greatest. You look at his track record, all the Aerosmith records he's done in the past. We've been through three different producers since we did leave him a couple of years back and we wanted to get back to something old with a new flavor, which was Jimmy Crespo being in the band. Jack Douglas was just missed. It was a bit of that sound, the old sound, that we hadn't been getting co-working with other producers, so we found it necessary to call the young lad up" (Creem, 1/83).

Some of the earliest song titles mentioned (to the press in August 1981) in relation to the project included "Jailbait," "Bitches Brew," and "Dr. Nickadick's Magic Wishing Pills." "Jailbait" would become the album's lead off track and with "Bitches Brew" illustrated perfectly the contributions Jimmy was bringing to the band and his important to this period of the band's career (so much so that it would be the sole representative off the album included on "Gems" in 1988). Not only was he writing great material, but he understood Aerosmith as a musical powerhouse, even if he personally couldn't replicate the guitar magic previous created by Brad and Joe. He also couldn't get Steven straight, so that was one benefit that came from Dufay entering the scene and working with Jack to get Steven through the sessions. While Steven would later admit defeat on the lyrics front, and resorted to covering Julie London's "Cry Me A River" (originally written for Ella Fitzgerald) but at least he had a creative story to justify its inclusion: "I think we've just about done 'em all, haven't given it much thought. 'Cry Me A River' I heard in Beaumont, Texas or somewhere. It was an overnight stand, I had this old honkytonk station on and they happened to play the oldie by Julie London and I thought to myself it would be terrific to try bring it back" (Creem, 1/83). It was something that certainly hadn't hurt the band on the previous album...

Tom seemed adamant that the new lineup wasn't going to change the band: "They're not gonna get a down-the-road, derivative band -- it'll be Aerosmith. I know there's a lot of so-called heavy metal bands out here, but I know we're gonna go out there and show them that style with some class" (Moline Dispatch, 12/5/82). For all the dysfunction and drama, "Rock in a Hard Place" was chock full of experimentation and embellishment. Brass returned to buttress the album's title track; strings were added to season "Joanie's Butterfly" with a vocoder being deployed for the song's prelude. There were layers and textures that harkened back to the band's classic era. Steven recalled, "It was taken from a riff that Jimmy came up with sitting around a hotel room... then I had a dream one night. I wrote down my dream, in fact it's on the inner sleeve of the album. The dream was so fucking vivid... from that the song came out. It definitely has an Indian/Ethiopian flavor to it... It's a threefold song anyway. It starts off, we use vocoder. That's what they used in Germany when Hitler would send secret messages. He would have a voice over a band playing, a voice that sounds like a trumpet and somebody got ahold of it in France or wherever and put it to use. That's where it's nice and melodic and ballad-y but then it goes into the second part which cuts it right in half. Most of our ballads have been like that anyway. The front will be nice and sweet, then it will break into... I kinda love it, it's the second step for us" (Creem, 1/83). "Lightning Strikes" was a song brought into the band from stalwart contributor Richard Supa. It was a song, originally titled "When the Lightning Strikes," that he had written and demoed in 1980 (interestingly, "Once Is Enough" soon followed), and the Aerosmith version included Brad Whitford's final contribution during his original tenure.

Album closer "Push Comes to Shove" would be the sole song proper credited only to Steven. He recalled, "I wrote that song on piano years ago, it used to sound like a Burt Bacharach thing... I was real loose down in Florida, we were recording at Criteria Studios and I sat down at the piano and I had my machine running, Godfrey Diamond, who was our engineer on this project, sat down with me and we stayed up for 54 hours solid and put that song down. I played piano on it, I played the drums, I did all the vocals, I did the background vocals, and it was such a trip" (Creem, 1/83). But, as good as any of the material may have felt to the band it wouldn't be enough. The "Lightning Strikes" video went into rotation on MTV the week of November 15. Directed by Arnold Levine, the combo video saw the band's soundstage performance intercut with 50's styled "West Side Story" greaser rumble footage acted out by the band members.

Released on Aug. 27, 1982, "Rock in a Hard Place" was certified Gold by the RIAA on Nov. 10, 1989. It has never been recertified. In the SoundScan era the album sold 101,000 units between 1991 and Feb. 2007. In the U.S. the album reached #32 on the Billboard Top-200 charts on Oct. 16, 1982 during an 18-week run. During 17-weeks on Cashbox the album reached #42. The album didn't chart in international markets other than Canada, where it reached #24. No single was commercially released for "Lightning Strikes," and the song only charted on Billboard's Album Top Tracks chart, reaching #21 during a 9-week run. It was off the chart by early December. The band spent nearly two months rehearsing at the Capitol Theater in Concord, NH. The extensive rehearsals were buttressed with efforts to improve Steven's health. A harsh review of Steven's guest appearance with Cheap Trick on August 27 may have played a part. Joining the band at the Ritz in New York City, a critic noted: "Steve Tyler of Aerosmith joined Cheap Trick for the first of two encores, sharing vocal duties with Robin Zander on several numbers, including 'Day Tripper.' The Beatles tune brought out Rick Nielsen's best effort, played on a triangle guitar illustrated with the likenesses of the original fab four. The whole group seemed pleased as punch to share the stage with Tyler, a fellow protege of producer Jack Douglas. Unfortunately, Tyler on stage revealed only a faint glimmer of the great talent that sparks Aerosmith" (Billboard, 9/11/82). As important was incorporating new musicians into the line up and knocking the rust off the rest of the band. The rehearsals were beneficial. The new lineup, who had survived the rigors of the studio, built a tightness critical for taking the show on the road. Starting what was essentially a brand-new thing was a new experience where the new members brought in a fresh energy that caused the old members to have to step up from their own habits. Rick Dufay was an injection of caffeine to a band that was often static on stage. In particular he would keep Steven on his toes when his excessive rock-'n'-roll-and-don't-give-a-fuck attitude forced Steven to respond, sometimes chasing him around the stage. If his antics enraged Steven, it also made him step up his game. It certainly annoyed Jimmy, who was left to dial in the quality guitar performance required by his position as Joe Perry's replacement.

But the new members also did more to change the band both visually and sonically. Tom recalled, "In the old days the band used to be extremely loud. But 80 per cent of that was coming out of Joe's amp, which meant the monitors had to be constantly pushed to the brink of feedback which took the raunch too far. It's different now. The band works together more as a team. Everybody listens to each other more and everybody works off the rest of the band as a whole. We've got a much better stage mix and it transmits out front, too" (Indianapolis News, 12/4/82). Jimmy was more dialed in and while some saw him visually as an analogue for the departed Perry it certainly wasn't the case with his precise and more restrained performances. Rick was left to be the Wildman, who quickly learned that it was best to leave Jimmy to his craft on stage. Jimmy, too, shouldered the weight of the "Where's Joe" garbage, having been with the band longer and for his looks and style. Rick has commented that Jimmy took it personally whereas he just didn't give a shit. Steven, perhaps, was even able to hear himself through a PA. Whatever the case, he was ready to get back on the road, commenting, "There's a lack of real good kickin' rock 'n' roll out there. Nobody has filled the gap. Kids are dying to see the band" (AP, 9/24/82). Whether the band could reclaim their crown was a completely different matter. In their period of absence, they had been replaced with the emergence of numerous new, young, and exciting bands.



A 31-date tour through the end of December was booked, with the band then planning to go back into the studio to work on new 3-D videos for several songs. Purportedly, the brewer Schlitz approached the band with an offer of sponsorship for the tour only to be countered by Steven suggesting "Aerosmith would pay Schlitz one half cent a bottle to print 'Aerosmith presents Schlitz' on every one of its labels. The brewery stopped calling" (Cashbox, 1/8/83). A news stage show was being created, featuring an eight-foot 3-D head that would sing along with the band on "Lightning Strikes." Following a "thank you" show for the residents of Concord -- who had tolerated the band's presence in their town -- the tour kicked off at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, PA on November 7. The band debuted an impressive five songs from the album that night: "Bolivian Ragamuffin," "Jig Is Up," "Jailbait," "Rock in a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)," and "Lightning Strikes," though would soon reduce that number to two. Steven was enthusiastic in the press commenting that the first nine shows had sold-out. Enthusiastic he might as well have been, with his collapse towards the end of the band's second hometown show, not causing the cancellation of any dates as had been the case the previous tour. During the tour both "Cry Me A River" and "Bitches Brew" would make appearances.

It was clear from that first run of dates that there were plenty of customers who wanted to see Aerosmith, and while reviews were mixed major disasters were avoided. On the strength of a near SRO first leg, the DMA Agency booked Aerosmith for a second run throughout the anticipated unusually quiet Jan/Feb period, seeing the lack of competition as an opportunity to maximize their draw. Whereas a similar strategy backfired for KISS and ICM, Aerosmith were able to benefit from some surprisingly strong attendances not reflective of the band's album's performance on the charts or airplay. Following a break for the winter holidays, the band returned to the road on Dec. 26 and toured through a raucous homecoming at the Cape Cod Coliseum on March 5. Show attendances had been patchy on this second leg, with the economic situation undoubtedly having an effect. This leg also saw a slightly shortened set reduced to two songs from the album and more classic songs added. Following two Florida music festival shows in April, playing second to Journey, the band took on a brief third leg of touring, at the end of May, that saw the set reduced to 14-songs. With "Bitches Brew" issued promotionally, and the band's hyped 3-D video premiering in early May, they were dead on the charts and the smaller venues and attendances reflected the diminishing returns being earned. Many fans had likely simply come out to see the band their elder siblings had listened to or caught up with an old friend after an absence of a few years. A final leg starting July 26 was cut short after several substance afflicted performances and his arrest in Arizona. The wheels on the bus had fallen off... As had been the case in 1980, the band attempted to downscale in December with a club date run, with dates that had to be postponed when Joey fell ill. He would be replaced by Bobby Rondinelli for several dates into early 1984. Another short run took place in February with the band playing clubs and smaller halls, but the band had run out of steam and played their final show with Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay on Feb. 17 in Providence.

Assorted review excerpts:

"What's this -- Aerosmith doing 'Cry Me A River' and 'Bitch's Brew'? Fear not, headbangers, Steve Tyler screams rather than cries that old ballad, and the latter is a typically raunchy hard rock original, not the Miles Davis classic. In fact, despite a brand-new guitar front line in Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay, this Boston quintet returns with the style and format of its biggest selling '70s albums intact, and with AOR on its hard rock rampage, these new performances could return the band to prominence" (Billboard 9/11/82).

"This is Aerosmith's first release without founding member Joe Perry, the guitarist who already as released two serviceable solo LPs..." (Morning Call, 10/2/82).

"Nothing really new here, but is that so surprising?" (Morning Call, 10/2/82).

"Tyler and his muscle rock will have to kick their way back into our hearts. 'Rock in a Hard Place' sounds the call to arms. It's time to tighten the hinges on that hardest place of all, the fickle consumer heart" (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 10/16/82).

"At times Aerosmith played as if they invented hard rock but things have changed with this their ninth album. Although there's been personnel changes, the band is mired in a formulaic rut... If you're an Aerosmith diehard this may be a worthy addition for sentimental reasons. But for freshness try something else" (Boston Globe, 10/21/82).

"Tyler and company were forced to choose between the old sound with new faces or a complete change in approach. They went for the former, and on first hearing, it almost seems to work. Perry lookalike Jimmy Crespo is no slouch at turning out hard-edged guitar hooks that make up and in drive what they lack in swing, and both 'Jailbait' and 'Lightning Strikes' throb with the sort of nasty glee that's always been an Aerosmith trademark. But despite an occasional burst of primal energy, much of the LP rocks by rote. In all fairness, it's a good formula, and even the weakest examples here hold up well enough under repeated listening. Not so the ballads, though: Steve Tyler is unable to energize the slow numbers, and they drag interminably, undercutting the album's pacing in their wake. Maybe next time Aerosmith will stick to the rock; for now, however, they're really stuck in a hard place" (Rolling Stone #381, 10/28/82).

The new album "shows that the new people have the same taste. The group is as good (or bad) as it has always been... The record is filled with original locomotive rock, with lots of quick licks and Tyler tricks... Tyler's yells are as strong as ever. His raunchy wails sometimes fit the music and sometimes don't" (Lansing State Journal, 11/20/82).

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