Aerosmith "Rock In A Hard Place" is the band at their worst….at their best. Only three fourths of the original band remained, Joe Perry split in 1979 and Brad Whitford played rhythm on “Lightning Stirkes” before abandoning ship as well. The early 80’s was also the time that the drugs stopped working for most of the heavy 70’s rock star user. Steven Tyler would really show the effects of years of abuse during the 1982/83 Rock In A Hard Place tour. But for the album, he managed to pull it together to record one the most underrated rock records of all time.
Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay were the guitar slingers that had to fill Perry and Whitford’s shoes. Crespo came up with some killer sleazy, struttin, boogie-rockin guitar riffs to play off of Tyler’s drug and booze drenched lyrics, “I’ve been drinkin just to make this here song rhyme”. The album was recorded at the Power Station in NYC, where an engineer named Tony Bongiovi worked. His young cousin Jon would often help out in the studio and was present during some of the recording of Hard Place. That kid would go on to become Jon Bon Jovi and years later he would say that watching Steven Tyler sing “Cry Me A River” was one of the greatest moments of his life. And it’s easy to see why, Tyler practically rips his lungs out in the song.
And the ballad is even more heart wrenching considering the mess Steven Tyler was. Plus, not putting a 70’s style big symphony behind “Cry Me A River” strips it down to the blood sweat and tears of the band and it comes through in volumes. Throughout the album I can barely understand what Tyler is singing, but you know exactly where he’s coming from. Remember, this was still a time when there was no such thing as drug abuse, Betty Ford was a few years away and the only priority for a rock band was record an album and hit the road, repeat. The drugs were used to keep the machine moving.
Fittingly, the album ends with a smash in a back alley scene and fades out. Or as Tyler would have known it then…..Thursday. “Rock In A Hard Place” is the album that “Draw The Line” should have been. The songs are stronger, the grooves are fatter, it’s more cohesive and there’s no Joe Perry vocal. It’s full of wasted abandon, probably their sloppiest, and sleaziest performance on record. But that what makes it work! And with all due respect to the singer, the rest of the band wasn’t exactly in great shape either. Each had substance problems of their own and Rick Dufay was less the new guitar player and more the new drug buddy for Tyler.
During the following tour he began often missing lyrics, launching into drunken rants. He sometimes fell down, passed out and generally destroyed what was left of Aerosmith on stage. Several hard fought years later, the original band would reform to become the kinder, gentler corporate version we know today. But before they crawled out of the gutter, they squeezed out a masterpiece of blitzed proportions rarely achieved.