When the “Toxic Twins” (Joe Perry and Steven Tyler) of Aerosmith come to mind, you probably don’t imagine them eating non-GMO turkey legs backstage after a show or swallowing Bulletproof coffee to wake up. But half of them do.
Joe Perry’s new book, Rocks, details a life of rock and roll excess, but as the axeman behind Aerosmith’s tastiest licks reveals, he was hip to a healthy diet long before anyone else was.
Why write this book now?
I felt like for a number of years I wanted to do one. Growing up, I thought of autobiographies as the kind of thing you do when you’re done with your career, when you retire. But a couple of years ago, the 40th anniversary of the band was coming around, and people were making a big deal about it. Then we were finishing our last record for Sony. I think I got sick and tired of correcting certain facts or so-called facts that had been part of a so-called Aerosmith “legend” that were just outright wrong. And seeing things in the press that just were either misinterpreted or just things that I wanted to get straight from my POV, it just felt like it all came together during that period.
How was your fitness and health changed over the years?
One thing that hasn’t changed and was the first thing that I became hip to was diet, and that’s the most important thing. You go to a doctor and they prescribe medications to take care of the symptoms, as opposed to asking what you eat. But nutrition is such an important part to the whole thing. Back in the hippie days when organic food—I mean what the fuck was organic food?—back in 1968, it was such an underground thing, like so many other things in the hippie paradigm, people were just discovering and thinking about it and that’s when I got hip to preservatives. I went out of my way to eat food that didn’t have preservatives as much as possible—which is really tough when you’re on the road.
I can’t say that I stuck to it as much as I could have in those days, but I started getting hip to it and getting hip to finding stuff in health food stores. Usually it took the form of a granola bar or those kinds of things. Then when I got sober in the early 80’s, Joey [Kramer, Aerosmith’s drummer] started jogging and I picked it up.
I remember after I left prep school I started jogging. I found out that my father was into jogging and my mother mentioned it to me—she was a gym teacher. Physical fitness was always part of the family, and she was a big one for getting us outside to play and do some kind of sports, so I was always very physical. I just didn’t like team sports.
So do you work out alone?
My wife and I got a trainer that would come over and start teaching us. We were starting with five-pound dumbbells, but the most important thing was we learned about nutrition: protein, carbs, and all that stuff. We started forming a routine about how we would eat and that kind of thing. I would go out and find these gyms in off the wall places, back before they had gyms in hotels. We’d find these places and I got to work out with a lot of different people, and I learned from them different techniques. I can remember working out in some gyms in Charlotte where a lot of the wrestlers lived near, and you could tell they were doing something to themselves that was way beyond.
How else has your family influenced your fitness?
Long story short, I’ve learned a lot from my kids. My kids saw us work out; we always had a gym in the house and they would occasionally use it. But they were finding out their own stuff online, and obviously at my age, I don’t need to work out with the same intensity that I did when I was 33. Two of my boys are into the CrossFit where they don’t do the same routine twice; they said since they started they haven’t done the same thing. They’re always changing it up, and they say they never use weights. It’s mostly bodyweight stuff and that’s been kind of going around for a while now.
I’m just really glad that my boys have picked up on it. Even if they stopped, because they have jobs—one’s 22, one’s 26, the other one’s 40, and then I have another one who’s 31 but he works so much. The two younger cats are way into it, and I learned a lot from them. They’re into CrossFit, and every time I go on the road I come back a month later and I can tell just by looking that they’re putting muscle on. They’re into it, and we’ve always got Men’s Fitness and all those magazines around because you can always learn something new.
So how do you stay in shape on the road versus at home?
When I’m on the road I have the bike and a couple set of weights and dumbbells. You can really do a pretty solid workout just doing your pushups, your situps, and certain body-weight moves. That kind of changes it up for me. Sometimes when I have time at home here, I’m fortunate enough to have a couple of acres around my house and I’ll do farmer’s walks, where you carry a weight in each hand, and I walk around the whole property two or three times up and down hills for 20 minutes or 30 minutes and that is a great workout. And then once in a while I’ll go into the gym and do just an old fashion go to machine to machine to machine and do an old fashioned workout.
Describe your diet.
I’m into the Paleo-type diet now, which falls along what I’ve always felt is like the try to eat food that is grown as locally as possible to where you live, and then I have coffee in the morning that’s got concentrated coconut oil and butter. You put it in the blender and whip it and that takes care of you for the rest of the day. And an hour before show time I’ll have some kind of protein, whether it’s grilled salmon or a really lean steak and some vegetables. The big carbs of the moment at the house are sweet potatoes.
We’re also hunters; we’re trying to make it a yearly thing. The whole family will go to a game preserve and we’ll go on a hunt. We’ll fill the refrigerators and the freezers with organic meat. When you eat deer, sometimes you need to cook a little bit of bacon along with it; but only if it’s without preservatives, which is really tough to find. That little bit of fat helps hold the deer meat together.
We have a farm in Vermont and we have friends who grow organic beef and organic pork up there, and we get our meat up there if we’re running low on the stuff we get ourselves. Once in a while my wife and I will get, for dessert, we’ll do like a crumble which is basically apples with oats, all organic, non-GMO. We don’t eat sugar. We’re off any kind of refined sugar and very rarely will we use any sweeteners. And organic turkey legs are only thing I eat after a show, if I didn’t get enough protein over the course of the day.
Is there a way to adequately prepare for a show?
Usually, I’ll do a week or two of aerobic-focused stuff just to get going, but there was a point where I’d be working out a lot on the road and then we’d get off the road and I would crash. I realized that it was getting to be too much. I think of health and working out and eating right as a way of life, on stage or not. I think it all adds up into giving yourself some longevity no matter what you’ve done to yourself; even in the '70’s, I thought of eating healthy even though I was partying quite a bit and putting a lot of strange things in my body. I knew what a bottle of Jack Daniels was, but sometimes you get something in an envelop and it would look like something you could put in there that would have some kind of benefit… but you never knew. Being on the road I’ve discovered certain things that help: try and get a relationship with the kitchen in the hotel; once in a while if there’s a health food store down the street, go down and buy some groceries and give it to them at the hotel or tell them what you want. You develop certain ways to make up for being on the road, but when I’m home and I can do things the way I want, it’s still about keeping it up. It’s not as intense if I miss a day of working out or two days, I know it’s not going to screw me up.
I think the lightest I've ever been was 129 or 130, but I was really thin and really not eating as much as I should back in the '70’s, staying up for days on end. It isn’t the best formula for health. But after I got sober and stopped putting so much poison into my body, I was able to get that balance. I used to work out all the time, but then I reached that balance where you figure out what works and what doesn’t, and learn from what the latest trend is, and lately it’s been going back to doing what’s natural.
And how do you feel at 64?
I think it’s worked out OK, but you never know. I have friends that have passed away that are five or 10 years younger than me. You look at life in a different way once you hit 60; even though you might feel like you’re still 50 or 45. I still have the stamina to go out and keep up with the guys when we’re out hunting. I haven’t done much waterskiing lately, but then I haven’t had much time to do it. I do alpine ski when I get the chance.
Has fitness had any help to your sobriety?
At the beginning, I think it was one of those things that it helped take up some of that time during the day where normally I’d be sweating out a hangover; it was like replacing one addiction with another. I pulled back on the working out because I knew I was working out more than I needed to. I probably could have put on five more pounds of muscle if I had taken more time off, but I felt like I needed to get to the gym almost every day. I know the first year it helped to keep me sober, but after that you just stop thinking about it like that. It’s just not part of your life. Its like just giving up one aspect of your life, but it wasn’t that much fun near the end. I didn’t miss it much. I missed the ritual of it, but other than that, I was getting a lot more out of life not fucking myself up and getting healthier. Even at that young age of 33 or 34 I felt like I was five years younger, if you can imagine that.
Do you and your bandmates ever exercise together? Do you offer fitness advice to them? Do they even want any?
Not really. Sometimes we’ll bump into each other in the gym. I don’t go to the gym, really. I stopped; I just didn’t like going. There were a couple of neighborhood ones I used to go in but then over the years, I collected enough equipment that I could work out at home. Once in a while I’ll see someone coming and going to the gym. Joey’s pretty steadfast about that. I know he goes to the gym with his wife on a regular basis. Sometimes we’ll talk about diet, that kind of thing, if one of us discovers something new.
What have you learned over the years in terms of working with occasionally erratic or…difficult people?
That’s kind of why I wrote the book, or part of it anyway. There’s a reason why you’re in some kind of relationship with someone like that. Just take the good and leave the bad if possible. There have been times when I’ve shown in the book that it became impossible to work with certain people because they didn’t keep up with the program, so to speak. We had to make our changes; the good wasn’t outweighing the bad. Nobody’s perfect. It speaks to a lot of things like that—the book does. And I think that there are things where I’ve applied that kind of thinking so people don’t have to be rock n’ roll fans to get something out of the book.
Speaking of rock 'n’ roll, Gene Simmons recently proclaimed it dead. What’s your take?
That’s a very broad question, and I think that there are certain elements of rock n’ roll that we’re seeing an end of an era. I would put it a little different: I wouldn’t say rock n’ roll is dead, because I see a lot of fans, even young fans, that are out there in the audience and they’re really interested in classic rock and they also have bands. It may not be the most popular thing right now—there are different fads. But that kind of excitement still exists. It’s just not what we knew. I think of the '80’s and the '90’s and into the first couple of years into the 2000s as being the golden age of rock 'n’ roll. The kind of rock n roll we know, where people sold millions of records and looked like rock stars. And then it changed just like everything else does in life. From that point of view, I think that we’re seeing an end of an era.
We see the Rolling Stones out there touring—I saw them in Berlin, and they were just great, and as long as that’s happening, there’s no reason for them to stop. B.B. King is still out there playing. He may not be out there playing the way he did when he was in his 30’s, he’s still out there doing it. There are still fans out there who want to hear it. And there are young guys that are really good, and they’re going to take his place. It’ll carry on. It may not be as big a business. And the way that Gene thinks, he’s a businessman. So when he says rock n’ roll is dead, he’s probably thinking of it in terms of the golden years of selling millions of records and thousands of tickets. And he’s right in that point of view, but as far as the fans and as far as kid wanting to be in bands, I think that that’s still a vital part of the business. It may not be as big as it was, but it’s still there.