Joe Perry Biography

Musician, Guitarist (1950–)
Joe Perry is the lead guitarist for iconic American rock band, Aerosmith.


Born in Massachusetts in 1950, Joe Perry began playing guitar at the age of 10. Academic struggles and a defiant spirit forced him to leave high school during his senior year, after which he made a fateful move to Boston, where he met his future Aerosmith mates. By 1975 the group was one of the biggest rock acts in the world and continues to tour and record to the present day. In addition to his Aerosmith work, Perry has also issued several solo releases and is active in various animal-rights causes.

Early Years

Anthony Joseph “Joe” Perry was born September 10, 1950, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He came from a solid middle-class home. His father worked as an accountant; his mother as a high school gym teacher. When the 1960s pop music revolution was in full swing, Perry fell in love with the early wave of British Invasion bands, such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. But it was a local group that he saw at a school dance that seemed to cement for him the notion that making and playing music was something he could do.

"They sounded good,” he later recalled. “They played like Young Rascals songs—those kinds of tunes that were on the radio. This was in about 1964 or 1965. Seeing them play, and it was the first time I’d ever seen a band live, and it was guys I knew—and actually have it sound like one of those bands on TV, was incredible to me.”

Perry was 10 when he picked up his first guitar, an inexpensive instrument his parents bought from Sears. Even though it was a right-handed guitar, Perry, who is left-handed, learned to play it that way and still does to this day.

But while the guitar came easily, school didn’t. Perry’s poor grades—the result of an undiagnosed learning disability—soon forced his parents to move him out of public school and to a private institution, Vermont Academy, in the tiny Saxtons River, Vermont. There, among students who hailed from all parts of the country, Perry’s early passion for marine biology (one of his childhood idols was Jacques Cousteau) gave way to an interest in the culture wars shaping the decade and the rock music that served as its soundtrack.

When Perry refused to give in to the school’s demand that he cut his long hair, the future rocker quit during his senior year and moved to Boston. It was there that Perry met up the musicians with whom he would form the rock group Aerosmith. The lineup included singer Steven Tyler, bassist Tom Hamilton, guitarist Ray Tabano (who was later replaced by Brad Whitford) and drummer Joey Kramer. The band shared an apartment in Boston and played its first gig together—performing at a high school gym—in November 1970.

Commercial Success

In 1972, Aerosmith signed with Columbia Records. The following year, their debut self-titled album was released. It featured the song "Dream On," which was a minor hit. In the early days of the group, many comparisons were drawn with the Rolling Stones because of their similar bluesy sound and the physical resemblance between Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler. But with their third album, Toys in the Attic (1975), the band emerged as a leading rock group in its own right. Showcasing their talent for creating hard rock, Aerosmith scored with such hits as the Top 40 single "Sweet Emotion" and "Walk This Way," which eventually reached No. 6.   

Problems & Comebacks

Their follow-up album, Rocks (1976), also had strong sales, despite the lack of a breakout single, as did Draw the Line (1977). But by the end of the decade, the band was coming apart at the seams, and in 1979 a fed-up Perry quit Aerosmith. His clashes with Tyler, not to mention the band’s hard-partying lifestyle, had become too much. Two years later, Whitford also left the band.

“Friction between Steven and me never stopped,” Perry wrote in his 2014 autobiography, Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith. “After every show, the dressing room became a battleground. Listening to those arguments, outsiders might have thought we were on the verge of murdering each other.”

However, by the mid-1980s, Perry and Tyler had reconciled and Aerosmith had reunited, and in 1985 released a new album, Done with Mirrors. However, an even bigger boost came in 1986, when rap group Run-D.M.C. covered Aerosmith's famous "Walk This Way" single on their Raising Hell album. The rendition featured vocals and guitar by Tyler and Perry and eventually reached the Top 10, helping push Aerosmith back into the limelight. 

By 1987, the band had made a successful comeback: That year, Aerosmith released Permanent Vacation, which featured the Top 20 hits "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" and "Rag Doll." The revitalized rock supergroup had more commercial success with its next effort, Pump (1989), which featured such songs as "Love in an Elevator" and "Janie's Got a Gun." With the rise of the cable music channel MTV, the band's videos also helped them win over a new generation of fans.

Aerosmith continued its winning ways with 1993's Get a Grip, which reached No. 1 on the album charts, driven in part by such singles as "Livin' on the Edge," "Cryin'" and "Crazy." Their next three albums—Nine Lives (1997), Just Push Play (2001) and Honkin' on Bobo (2004)—also enjoyed commercial success. 

Today, while the band’s chart-topping presence isn’t what it once was, Aerosmith remains an active touring band. In 2011, the group, which has won four Grammy Awards, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The following year, Aerosmith issued its 15th studio album, Music from Another Dimension, and followed the release with an international tour.

Solo Work

Over the years, Perry has worked with numerous musicians outside of Aerosmith. His collaborations include a 2015 project with Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp. The group, known as the Hollywood Vampires, released its debut album that same year and performed at the 58th Grammy Awards ceremony in February 2016. The following July, Perry collapsed during a gig with the band in New York's Coney Island. He was rushed to a local hospital where he was reported to be in stable condition and with family by his side. Perry was back on stage nearly two weeks later after recovering from “dehydration and exhaustion.” No official cause of the collapse was released.

In addition to the Hollywood Vampires, Perry has released three solo albums and four additional albums under the name the Joe Perry Project. 

In 2013 Perry and Tyler were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Perry penned his autobiography, Rocks: My Life in and out of Aerosmith, in 2014.  

Personal Life

Joe Perry has been married twice. He has one son, Adrian, from his first marriage, to Elyssa Jerret (1975-1982). Perry and his second wife, Billie, married in 1985, and they have two sons together, Tony and Roman. Billie also has a son from a previous relationship, Aaron. Perry and Billie split their time among New England, Florida, and Los Angeles.

Avid animal lovers, Perry and Billie have built an animal shelter in their community. They also raise once-endangered Friesian horses at their farm in Vermont. Additionally, they support efforts to protect marine life in collaboration with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

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