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Steven Tyler still rocking, still surprising at 68

Steven Tyler performs at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville in June. In July, Tyler released a country album, We’re All Somebody From Somewhere, his first big project outside Aerosmith.

Associated Press

Steven Tyler performs at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville in June. In July, Tyler released a country album, We’re All Somebody From Somewhere, his first big project outside Aerosmith.

Nine seconds after hopping on the phone, Steven Tyler is already promising a night of unfiltered, uncensored, bacchanalian delight.

"It will be a massive toga party. Everyone will be naked," the Aerosmith singer says of his new solo tour, which shimmies into Ruth Eckerd Hall on Monday. "No, no, no, don't write that."

Eh, too late, but no matter. For the next hour-plus, Tyler gives a handful of journalists around the country much, much more to write about, from his songwriting strengths ("I have a sorcerer's grasp of melody, I like to think") to his androgynous style ("I've got 60, 70 percent feminine in me that I live through") to his ex-American Idol co-star Jennifer Lopez ("I fell so in love with her, and she knew it"), to Florida's unpredictable weather ("I love thunder and lightning. God knows I live it").

He is here, ostensibly, to talk about his new country album We're All Somebody From Somewhere, his first big project outside his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band. But in between breathless answers, Tyler can't help ricocheting off reporters like a dervish in skintight denim. He spins yarns about Nashville, tells tales about Aerosmith, belts out lyrics from Dream On and Cryin'. He's a hoot and a half, one of the few surviving wildmen from stadium rock's Pleistocene days. And at 68, those unmistakable lips are still wagging.

It's no wonder that, a couple of weeks after our chat, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry gives an interview of his own to Rolling Stone, in which he's asked about a few choice quotes from Tyler's infinitely quotable summer press tour — specifically, Tyler's assertion that after 46 years, Aerosmith is finally nearing a long-promised permanent vacation.

Perry chuckled. "I always hold my breath whenever Steven does an interview on his own," he told the mag.

With good reason.

• • •

It's hard to believe Tyler is only now getting around to releasing a solo album. Then again, it's kind of a miracle he's still here at all.

Back in the '70s, in the era of Dream On and Sweet Emotion, Tyler and Perry were known as the "Toxic Twins" for their wild ways and destructive drug use. There were times when it looked like they wouldn't last a decade, much less five.

"To climb out of that alive," Tyler says, "I don't know, man. God, she was good to me."

But after some fallow years in the late '70s and early '80s, Aerosmith cleaned up, found relative stability and adapted their randy blues-rock sound to the times. They turned their 1975 single Walk This Way into a smash rap-rock collaboration with Run-DMC. They dominated early MTV with videos for Dude (Looks Like a Lady), Love in an Elevator and Janie's Got a Gun. In the '90s, they re-entered the World's Biggest Band discussion with monster singles Amazing, Cryin' and I Don't Want to Miss a Thing.

"Christ, sometimes I go to Maui and I just listen to the body of the work that that band, Aerosmith, has done," Tyler says, "and I agree with you, it's f------ astounding."

The bigger the band got, the more time it afforded members to pursue side projects, like Perry's current dalliance with Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp in Hollywood Vampires.

"I've never done a solo anything, and I kind of got jealous that the other guys in the band did," Tyler says. So he took a year off and decamped to Nashville to work with a slew of country megatalents, including producer T-Bone Burnett and in-demand songwriters like Hillary Lindsey (Little Big Town's Girl Crush), Ross Copperman (Luke Bryan's Strip It Down) and Chris DeStefano (Carrie Underwood's Something in the Water).

"Country is the new rock and roll, if you will," he says. "There really isn't rock. Dave Grohl's trying his hardest to keep it alive, but there's no format, and no one's playing it. Z100 is not going to play hard-core rock and roll. So country's doing its hardest to do it."

The album is a diverse mix of country styles, from straight-ahead Nashville-by-numbers (Red, White & You, Love Is Your Name) to rootsy Americana and folk-pop (It Ain't Easy, I Make My Own Sunshine) to weird, bluesy throwbacks (Hold On (Won't Let Go); The Good, the Bad, the Ugly & Me. There are countryfied versions of Janie's Got a Gun and the Janis Joplin classic Piece of My Heart. There's even a classic Aerosmith-style power ballad, Only Heaven.

Tyler believes going country has pushed him forward as a vocalist. The song Somebody New, he said, "brought out another part of my vocals that I knew I had, but I didn't know I had." And he believes "there's three or four — actually, five — songs on this record that hopefully will stand the test of time."

When he started recording the album, he was just renting a place in Nashville. He loved it so much he ended up buying.

"There's so much music dripping out of the honeycomb of this town that I'm in it," he says. "I'm in it neck deep. I'm going to stay here. I'm going to live here. I love it here."

• • •

So that raises the question: What becomes of Aerosmith?

Tyler's feelings on the band these days are a little muddled. On this solo tour, he has been singing quite a few big Aerosmith hits, including Dream On, Sweet Emotion, Walk This Way and Come Together. But in June, he revealed to Howard Stern that Aerosmith was plotting a farewell tour in 2017, "only because it's time." (Perry later confirmed to Rolling Stone that one last tour seemed like "a good possibility.")

"I love Aerosmith," Tyler says. "I mean, Joe Perry's a genius. I can sit with him anywhere and he just starts noodling and diddling on the guitar, and he'll come up with a riff that turns into a classic, all-time thingy."

But this country thing ... it just feels right to Tyler right now, you know? He may be playing much smaller venues, and there's a good chance radio will never embrace his new sound — but all that just reminds him of another time in his life, back before rock and roll changed everything.

"I didn't know what was going to happen when Aerosmith first made it," he says. "But I did notice the looks on people's faces when they kind of liked it. And I'm just looking forward to that again."

When you're one of rock's most unpredictable personalities, that uncertainty is the only way to live.

"I think, as you can hear in my voice, I wake up passionate," he says. "And passion means I can't wait to do whatever, either feed my koi fish or the dogs or go write a song or run through the woods or something like that. I'm kind of that way. And I'm grateful that I haven't sat back on my laurels. I really took a chance on this country record, and it just turned out so much better than I ever thought. So the sky is the limit from here on out."

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

Steven Tyler

He performs at 8 p.m. Monday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. Sold out. (727) 791-7400 or rutheckerdhall.com.

Steven Tyler still rocking, still surprising at 68 08/25/16 [Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2016 10:26am]
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