Rock In A Hard Place
Jimmy's masterpiece, co-written with Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, stands as a testament to Jimmy's musical brilliance. Holding together a band falling apart, Jimmy created one of hard rock's grittiest, greatest and most underrated albums...
"As soon as the needle hit the wax it melted and the speaker covers blew accross the living room floor"
- Xavier Russell, Sounds.
According to bootlegs, recording for Rock In A Hard Place in fact began in 1979, in Miami Florida, however as Night In The Ruts was only released in November 1979, this date seems a little unusual if not incorrect. Work on the album was pursued however in 1980, firstly interrupted by Steven Tyler's motorcycle accident in which he partially severed his heel, and later by Brad Whitford's departure amid the chronic boredom of inactivity. Whitford left to pursue work with Ted Nugent vocalist Derrick St Holmes, and was replaced by Rick Dufay in 1982.
Brad only contributed guitar work to Lightning Strikes before leaving, his replacement in Dufay also only contributing bits here and there. Jimmy co-wrote six of the ten tracks on RIAHP, and even on those that he didn't write, he left a distinctive mark on. The recording was done both in Criteria Studios in Miami or the Power Station in New York over 1982, Jack Douglas producing the album with Steven Tyler and Tony Bongiovi (second cousin of Jon Bon Jovi). Ten engineers and assistant engineers were used on this album, contributing to it's $1mil. reported production costs.The cover showing Stone Henge was the subject of much cringing shortly after the release of the album, when Rob Reiner's "This Is Spinal Tap" rockumentary spoof came out. In the movie, the ficticious hard rock band mistakenly order a 11 inch stage prop of stone henge for their live show, a misunderstanding about whether 11 foot is written 11", or 11' causing the foul up. Steven was later to relate that the movie, about a self destructing (sometimes literally) band was far too close to reality for him...even these days a parallel could be drawn between Spinal Tap's drummers who had a habit of spontaneously combusting, and their affinity to Joey Kramer of Aerosmith, who's car managed to spontaneously combust only recently! By this time, Steven was dangerously addicted to seemingly all things toxic, and much time was wasted away waiting for him to "detoxify" enough to enable him to write lyrics. In fact the situation was growing so dim that Jimmy, Tom and Joey left Miami for New York at one point to work on a project with Marge Raymond, spawning intentions of a new band, Renegade, and even cutting a seven track demo. Apparently a record deal was even made, yet fell through somewhere along the line....
Side One opens spectacularly with the raw power and excitement of "Jailbait" setting the pace as the talents of Crespo are heard wailing across the song's tones. Listening to the demos from the album, most of the song appeared to come from one take, with the lead guitar being overdubbed in later, as well as a few verses being redone vocals wise. Joe Perry was later to say he was actually jealous not to have played on the song, telling of how he might have done things a little differently, but that he really liked it.
This is followed by the lurking, ominous intro to "Lightning Strikes", escalating into an explosive riff, which is accentuated by tales of street gang warfare spat across the vinyl by Tyler. This Richie Supa penned song remains as virtually the only RIAHP song Aerosmith were to continue to play when Perry and Whitford returned to the band (Perry can be seen playing the song live on Video Scrapbook in between clips of the original video clip).
The thunder rolls fluently into the equally attitude charged piece of rock that is "Bitches' Brew", seductively stinking of sleaze, sexiness and sass. The neurotic blend of venomous snarls and inebriated musicianship make this track a killer to the final note. Aerosmith were now revealing a harder edged format, while retaining their trademard rock n' roll swagger.
"Bolivian Ragamuffin", arguably one of Aerosmith's greatest rockers, punches out an unbelievably powerful opening of howling, aggressive guitar, to slide in to a strutting, raunchy, killer groove beneath Tyler's virtually nonsensical, rap-like lyrics and scats (eg." In the wax museum nobody cares to see themselves as others care to see you / but nobody wants to be you" the most comprehensible lyric of the song!). This song has perhaps caused some of the most heated debate amongst Aerosmith fans as to exactly what the correct lyrics are (there are multiple interpretations on the internet, the (presumably) most accurate (hopefully) being here!).
This side is brought to a close with a rendition of Julie London's classic, "Cry Me a River" Their ability to breathe rock into a bluesy-jazz song yet maintain the sincerity of the original as well as retaining their own credibility, is testimony to Aerosmith's dynamics. Its quiet, melodious and sensitive beginnings develop into a soaring, emotion filled crescendo, climaxing in Crespo's brilliant improvisational soloing. According to Crespo, the entire song was recorded in just one take, live in the studio with no overdubs, though this in no way compromised the quality of the track.
Side Two commences with the haunting and eerie synthesised words of "Prelude to Joanie" adding its mystique to the album. "Joanie's Butterfly" further adds to this with its acoustic beginnings launching into a rocking saga of imaginary flight into space upon a Pegasus. Crespo originally intended for the song to be a Zepplinesque instrumental piece (an instrumental version can be heard in demo tapes), though Tyler was insitant on writing the song whose name was apparently taken from a sex aid.....hmmmm....
Elsewhere, the stylus shuffles across the grooves of "Rock in a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)", a brassy, funk driven number, "Jig Is Up", a testosterone-charged kicker that still manages to express the sense of humour synonymous with Aerosmith albums, and finally,a Tyler-written bluesy, late-night, drunk at the bar sing-along, "Push Comes To Shove" finishes off the album in grandeur style.
"Rock in a Hard Place" is a unique album, packed full of powerful riffs, mystique and Aerosmith's trademark schoolboy smuttiness. Dufay's, and more predominantly,Crespo's guitar-work compliment the solid rhythms of Hamilton and Kramer, whilst the drug-addled Tyler formed an unlikely, but prolific song-writing partnership with the less toxically indulgent and extravagant Crespo. Aerosmith skilfully do not let the raw energy cloud the melody and structure of the songs, thus they produce a near faultless record. "Rock in a Hard Place", could quite possibly be Aerosmith's finest effort, being nothing short of a rock masterpiece.
To promote the album a conventional video of Lightning Strikes was made, with the band dressed up in street gang leathers and grease, brandishing baseball bats, chains and knives. While a bit of pushing and jostling appeared in the video, just who the band were supposed to be fighting still remains unclear....perhaps not Aerosmith's finest video moment, but a reflection of the primitive concept video clip genre of the time.
As well as this, three 3D videos were made - Bolivian Ragamuffin, Bitches' Brew and Sweet Emotion (Sweet Emotion is available for download at www.aerosmith.com), the videos being premiered at famed nighclub, Studio 54. Despite speculation of them being placed in trailers for Jaws III, they never took off, and apart from Sweet Emotion, the other two appear to not be available anywhere...(if you have any information on them, mail the webmaster!)
After Rock In A Hard Place, Aerosmith toured North America extensively in '83/'84, gaining generally reasonable to good reviews when Steven was on a good night. One of their biggest shows was as a special guest to Journey at the Superbowl Of Rock, before 200 000 people at Florida's Tangerine Bowl. They also played the "Tennis Rock" show (pictured left) with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Rush in August 84, the tennis stars joining them in jamming onstage.
The band had written some new material for an
album, that never saw the light of day - Jimmy had one track
written for Aerosmith, and Tom and Rick also had another as well
as one of Rick's own, "Written In Stone", a song Rick
still intended to release after his departure. While demos were
recorded in a New Jersey recording studio and overdubs were
carried out at the record plant with engineer Lee DeCarlo (John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Kenny Loggins etc...), the
project couldn't get off the ground due to Tyler's increasingly
disabled state. He was unable to write lyrics, and after a
Valentines day gig in 1984 when Joe and Brad turned up backstage,
it soon became evident that the band's former lineup had to
reconvene to keep it progressing anywhere beyond the graveyard.
By April '84, Crespo and Dufay were out, Whitford and Perry back
in, a change that it seemed was mutually accepted by all.
Click to enlarge pictures below
Click to enlarge pictures