How Aerosmith Headed Straight Into the Blues for ‘Honkin’ on Bobo’
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On March 30, 2004, Aerosmith decided to reward the loyalty of old-school fans who weren’t thrilled with the band’s recent pop-influenced material by releasing a straight blues cover record titled Honkin’ on Bobo.
The previous decade had seen Aerosmith dominate the charts in a way that few other rock groups had ever done before — releasing two No. 1 records and a third that just barely missed the top position. They managed to achieve such a staggering run of success partially by foregoing the balls out blues-based rock sound that had defined and endeared them to so many in the ‘70s in exchange for an increasing reliance on sappier pop-based ballads. This move resulted in some great songs, such as “What it Takes” and “Cryin’,” but it also left many of their most dedicated longtime fans somewhat disconcerted.
Honkin’ on Bobo featured only one original song written by lead singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry, “The Grind,” and was stacked with rearranged high-tempo takes on some of the world’s most heralded blues tracks. Among the numbers selected for inclusion were Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready,” Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight to the Blind” and the traditional “You Gotta Move.”
Speaking to Music Radar, Perry explained that the back to blues concept was one that the band had been considering for quite some time. “You know I’ve been talking about it for ages. It was always just this ‘side project’ we’d come back to … until we changed our mind when we were promoting [2001 album] Just Push Play. The band hardly played together in the studio on that record — it was just all bits and pieces, guitar overdubs and extra drum parts one at a time. I realized then that what I really wanted to do was a record with the band playing live.”
To return to their old rocking ways, the group brought producer Jack Douglas back into the fold who had worked with them previously on classic albums such as Get Your Wings, Toys in the Attic, Rocks and Draw the Line. “Jack turned up, Joey [Kramer] had his old Ludwig kit, Brad [Whitford] and I had small combos, so did Tom [Hamilton],” recalled Perry. “We had a couple of gobos around Steven so there wasn’t too much leakage and it started to sound good. We even did the guitar solos live and Steven was singing his ass off! The real work was just mixing it.”
While the title of the record left some scratching their heads — “We just know that it’s a phrase that sounds … jazzish, nastyish, so it works for us,” Perry explained – it went on to become a decent critical and commercial success, reaching No. 5 on the Billboard Top 200.
Honkin’ on Bobo would be Aersomith’s last studio album for nearly eight years. During that time the band seemingly underwent an existential crisis, and were the subject of incessant break-up rumors — partially as a result of Tyler and Perry trading public barbs and even knocking each other offstage. Luckily, this was a precipice they were ultimately able to walk back from in order to release 2012’s all-original album Music From Another Dimension.
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