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Aerosmith - Interview with Brad Whitford

  by Lisa Torem

published: 30 / 9 / 2016

Aerosmith - Interview with Brad Whitford


Guitarist/songwriter Brad Whitford talks to Lisa Torem about Whitford/St. Holme’s ‘Reunion’, early days in Aerosmith and touring

Massachusetts native Brad Whitford is best known as the long term rhythm guitarist of Aerosmith, which he first joined in 1971. Songs he has co-written for the American rock band include ‘Last Child’ and ‘Nobody’s Fault' (‘Rocks’), ‘Round and Round’ (‘Toys in the Attic’) and ‘Hoodoo Voodoo Medicine Man’ (‘Pump’). Whitford also served as guitarist with Aerosmith band member Joe Perry for the Joe Perry Project –both Perry and Whitford left Aerosmith and then rejoined in 1981. During the time of Whitford’s hiatus in 1981, he formed Whitford/St. Holmes with former Ted Nugent vocalist Derek St. Holmes. During that year they recorded a self-titled album before resuming separate career paths, however they reunited in 2015 for a tour. Whitford also played guitar on Joe Bonamassa’s ‘Driving Towards the Daylight’ in 2012. In addition, he has enjoyed acclaim with the Experience Hendrix Tour. Guitar World included Brad Whitford in ‘The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’ list in 2007. Currently Brad Whitford is touring America with the Whitford/St. Holmes Band in which drummer Brent Fitz is currently replacing Troy Luccketta (who is touring with TESLA), keyboardist Buck Johnson, bassist Chopper Anderson and singer/guitarist Derek St. Holmes. In his first Pennyblackmusic interview with Lisa Torem, he discusses his early days in Aerosmith, the players and plans for Whitford/St. Holmes and the making of ‘Reunion’, the follow-up to their 1981 self-titled album. PB: In 1971, you replaced Ray Tabano in Aerosmith. Do you have any special memories about transitioning into the band at that point? BW: One of the weird memories for me? They were essentially letting Raymond go from the band and he wasn’t ready to go anywhere (Laughs). He’d given up on the fact that he was not going to play, but he and Steven had a longstanding relationship so I joined the band and Raymond was still there, not playing, but he was still there. Of course Raymond ended up doing a lot of stuff in the band for us. When we first started marketing merchandise and selling T-shirts and stuff, Raymond ended up doing a lot of that stuff. He even designed our first logo. It was kind of unusual for me, because if I’d been fired from a band, you wouldn’t have seen hide nor hair of me (Laughs). PB: In 1981, you departed from Aerosmith and first started working with Derek. How has your creative relationship changed since then? Or hasn’t it? BW: It’s remained pretty much the same, although I think we’ve both gotten better at it—as songwriters—and our roles have expanded. I’ve started writing more lyrics and I think we’ve just gotten better at it. PB: You’ve said in earlier interviews that lyric writing presented a challenge. What’s happened since then? BW: Actually, it was really because of Derek. He had seen my writing over the past years and he told me to go for it so I did and it worked out really well. It’s kind of interesting to write lyrics and not have to sing them, because I’m not that good as a singer and to watch Derek take these ideas and fasten them to a melody and then turn them into fully-fledged lyrics in a song-- I guess I can do this...It’s really encouraging. PB: Songs in ‘Reunion’ have been compared to Aerosmith’s 1973 debut ‘Get Your Wings’. What’s your take? BW: No. It doesn’t feel like that to me. I can understand the comparisons but it’s such a different cast of characters and a different dynamic. It doesn’t feel like that to me. PB: You hadn’t played with Chopper Anderson as much as with Troy and Buck. BW: Chopper was one of the first people I met when I moved to Tennessee. We jammed here and there, played some music, and of course, I played with Buck in Aerosmith. The first day Buck and I met we had some kinship. I’d never played with Troy. He came in and he was the key. All of a sudden, everything just clicked. We literally had maybe three rehearsals with Troy and we were in the studio and we said, we got it. Somehow he just understood what we were doing and he loved it and it just came together so quickly. PB: The themes on ‘Reunion’ are diverse. ‘Tender is the Night’ and ‘Flood of Lies’ convey completely different moods. Is there a common thread that runs through the nine songs? BW: The common factor is just the way Derek and I write. That ties it together and after finishing this new album and listening to our old album, we looked at each other and said, Wow! we have kind of a sound, don’t we? (Laughs). There’s a certain something that comes out the chemistry that does that. PB: How would you characterise ‘Shapes’, which you’re promoting as a single and album cut? BW: When we first started doing it, it was just this great riff. We called it our tribute to Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and The Yardbirds. Let’s take a slice of Yardbirds here; we lifted a little bit off of ‘Shape of Things To Come’, just a little lyrical nod but it was heavy enough and powerful enough, it sort of had that Yardbird thing to it and we call it our tribute to those guys. PB: How long did it take to record ‘Reunion’? BW: It was recorded very quickly, all done in fourteen days. It was recorded live. PB: That’s not always how it’s done these days. BW: No and the listener may not know what it is, but there’s a certain kind of energy that you get when you do live performances, rather than building or layering tracks, which a lot of people do with the technology that you have today. So rather than just building it, it’s recording the band live. That’s another part of our philosophy, how we want to make records. PB: ‘Nobody’s Fault’ and ‘Last Child’ still seem so relevant today. Do you feel that way as well? BW: Yes. There were some great lyrics by Steven Tyler, especially ‘Nobody’s Fault’. They still stand up and I guess I’m proud of that. PB: You’ve played with Joe Bonamassa and Joe Perry and you’ve been acclaimed as one of the hundred best guitarists in the country. What’s it like to be onstage with other top guitarists? BW: I never thought I’d play with a lot of these guys, especially when I do the Experience Hendrix and I’ve gotten to play with all sorts of people, Robert Randolph, Jonny Lang, Doyle Bramhall, Eric Johnson and some of my biggest guitar heroes. I’ve gotten to play quite a bit with Buddy. I never imagined in a million years I would share the stage with Buddy Guy. PB: You graduated from Berklee School of Music. Has that influenced how you relate to your musical peers? BW: Maybe there’s a different understanding of the music. I’ve always been a natural player but I learned a lot about theory and composition at Berklee. PB: Are you innately able to sit down and come up with a cool riff? BW: Yes. That has nothing to do with schooling. It’s just about being very open. It’s kind of like an artist and a blank canvas. You don’t know where it comes from. I call it being an antennae or being a radio. Something will come in. You’re not quite sure where it comes from, the Cosmos… rather than saying, I’m going to write the coolest…you don’t approach it like that. You let it happen. PB: On your current tour, will you be playing rhythm and lead guitar? Trading off? BW: It’s a lot of trade off. People come away from our shows and say, I didn’t know Derek was such a great guitar player. A lot of people don’t realize that. They know him from singing a lot of these songs that he has sung over the years. They really know him for his vocals and a lot of people come away, "God, he’s an incredible guitar player". It’s a lot of fun for us. We give each other a lot of space and I hate to use a Ted Nugent phrase but.. (Laughs)..a free-for-all. PB: Drummer Brent Fitz came onboard for this tour. How’s that been going? BW: We’ve been on the road for the past six weeks or so. It’s a different dynamic from Troy, who was not available ( he’s on the road with Tesla) but this was such a perfect fit. Brent loves the music and he brought a lot of passion and expertise. He showed up and he knew this stuff backwards and forwards. It was amazing! He’s just a terrific person and musician. It’s the best band I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with. PB: Brent has said about the band, “They are the architects of my musical soul”. BW: For a lot of people this approach that we have just touches a nerve, it harks back to the late ‘60s and straight-up hard rock. There’s a little bit of a vacuum that we’re filling. People have felt they have to change; They say "I’m not going to do the same old guitar sound". We do the same old guitar sound. We take a couple of Les Pauls and plug them into a Marshall and it’s real basic, for us, it’s about finding good songs. PB: You’ve played intimate clubs and arenas. What best suits your personality? BW: They both have different qualities to them. My favorite venues are the smaller venues, the theaters. Some of these beautiful old theaters that dot the country are absolutely the most fun to play, mostly because of the way a guitar band sounds in those rooms. It’s like the ideal place. The arenas can be an acoustical nightmare sometimes. It takes a little bit of the fun out of it. It doesn’t sound quite right to me. PB: You’ve been touring the US this year. Are there plans to go overseas? BW: Let’s say we have great hopes and desires. We would love to take this overseas, but we’re still calling ourselves a baby band but our hope is to keep on going, because everybody in this band is so passionate about it and we just love getting out performing, we’ve had great reaction from that so we hope the opportunities just continue to come our way. I’ll continue to work around the Aerosmith schedule and we’re just going to keep going. PB: What three words would you use to describe ‘Reunion’? BW: Songs, fun and dynamics. PB: What advice do you have for a new artist? BW: Don’t sell your publishing. I tell people as long as they have the passion, they have to go for it. You have to find out where you fit into the realm. It’s so different from when I started out but the same kind of rules apply, that if you have the passion and are willing to work hard at it, you’ll find your place in it somewhere. It may not be as lucrative as it used to be, with the record business and how it’s changed but a lot of people are just doing it their own way. There are guys like Joe Bonamassa who are doing the whole thing by themselves. Joe really didn’t have any interest in the record company. He said, "I’ll do my own records, I’ll sell my own shows". He’s done it, so it can be done! You don’t need the big corporate entity to make this stuff happen. And that was always true-guys like Prince really led that revolution back in the day. He just kept saying no to the big record companies. Basically he said, it doesn’t have to be like this. Basically what he said, he called himself a slave. That’s the way the business was designed. You were kind of working for them and it’s supposed to be the other way around. PB: You’re touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Whitesnake. How was that arranged? BW: This has been on an invitation basis really. I’ve been friends with Dave Coverdale for many years, he had heard the record and thought it would be refreshing for them to have us on the tour. We had a great time with those guys and I think it’s the same with Skynyrd. We’re still a baby band. We’re really just starting out. We’re building our fan base, we have a lot of fans already. Those are the people that are coming out to see us, we seem to have a really broad appeal and a lot of people are enjoying the music. We hope we can just expand on that because we want to just keep going. PB: What do you do in your free time when not performing? BW: I have lots of other interests but this is pretty consuming. It’s 24/7 music. I’m a gear head. I like my cars and my motorcycles. It’s just a great way to blow off steam when I’m not doing the rock and roll business. PB: Thank you.

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Aerosmith - Interview with Brad Whitford

Aerosmith - Interview with Brad Whitford

Aerosmith - Interview with Brad Whitford

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