“1971: THE ROAD STARS HEAR” the history, leaks and controversy that surrounded the new/old AEROSMITH release

“1971: The Road Starts Hear” is the first music released by the band since forming a “worldwide alliance” with the Universal Music Group earlier this year. The agreement will cover every studio recording made by the band across their career, as well as opening up the band archives.

This recording presents the band before they were Aerosmith, just playing their music and practising. Basically, someone just hit record. That someone may have been Mark Lehman, who owned the infamous Aerosmith van from 1970 and became the band’s one-man road crew. The recording took place either in the band’s Boston rehearsal room in front of a few select friends, or at a rehearsal the band did during a soundcheck for an early show.

Captured on Joe Perry’s Wollensak reel to reel tape recorder. This never-before-heard performance showcases the early, raw talent of this future Hall Of Fame band, one year before signing to Columbia Records, and two years before their eponymous debut, which featured many of these songs, including their enduring anthem ”Dream On”.

The release is mastered from an old 37-minute tape that circulated among veteran fans for decades, under various titles such as the “Rogers High School Studio Demos” or “5/15/71”. The tape two tracks were one for Tyler’s vocals and one for the band. It shows the chemistry they had at the time, for better and worse.

Tape origins

There are two versions of the tape apparently found. One was allegedly found in a hidden compartment inside the 1970 van. The property where the van and concert tape were found was once owned by former Aerosmith road manager Mark Lehman. By 2015, the new landowner had already returned the tape he’d found on the property to Steven Tyler after contacting the singer’s parents.

The golden anniversary of the first Aerosmith gig kicks off what the band hopes will be an extended period of retrospection, says Perry. They’re discussing an upcoming release that could showcase a recently discovered rehearsal tape from the period before the band was signed to Columbia Records. The original reel-to-reel tape turned up, Perry believes, in the band’s old van, a 1964 International Harvester Metro delivery truck. The van made news when it was pulled from the woods on private property in the town of Chesterfield a couple of years ago.
“There was a lot of stuff tucked in the corners — ticket stubs, a notebook, gas receipts,” Perry explains, speaking by phone while lying in the sun at his Florida home. It’s a pristine recording, he says: “Even though some of the lyrics are different and it’s a little different in the arrangements, if you played it side by side with the first album, you might find it hard to figure out which is which.”

Joe Perry interview, James Sullivan, Boston Globe correspondent 05/11/2020

The second copy also points to Mark Lehman as the producer of the original recording in an 8-track tape, with a couple of 2-track copies produced for the band to listen to. The tapes were lost or forgotten as years went by, until decades after Steven Tyler gave a box of old tapes to a friend, Rick Smith, for safekeeping. The tape was eventually rediscovered by producer Steve Berkowitz, which resulted in this release.

Recording date and who plays rhythm guitar

The band members say they can’t even remember making this recording; it was just in a stack of tapes Tyler had asked a friend to store.

“I’m still racking my brain to try and remember when and how we recorded this,” he continues. “Tape? Demo? Rehearsal? For me, the thing that makes it so mysterious is that the guitar, bass, drum and vocal parts are almost exactly what eventually went on the [first] album. Joe seems to remember something about a two-track tape machine, but I can’t figure out how we got the quality. I mean, it’s funky and raw but everything’s there.”

Tom Hamilton, Nov 2021 interview with WBUR

Funny that the band decided to date the release as from October (indicating Brad would be playing after joining the band in late August 1971), while the leaked version date is attributed as from February or May (which would indicate Ray Tabano playing instead).

“I know some people thought it was at a soundcheck at a gig in Lowell,” says Perry, on the phone from his Sarasota, Florida home. “But I think from the way it was set up — we only had two microphones and we had to experiment where to get the best mix — it was probably recorded in the basement of the rehearsal room they gave us as a tradeoff at a Boston University dorm. It sounded like a more controlled environment and has the vibe of the way we rehearsed there.”

Joe Perry, Nov 2021 interview with WBUR

While Perry’s reasoning makes sense, pointing to August does not necessarily leave Tabano out of the loop. As Brad himself explains in Aerosmith’s 1997 autobiography, Ray was present at the band’s rehearsals and show up until Brad’s first few shows at The Savage Beast, which took place from the 24 to the 29 of October 1971. This means that, in practice, Tabano had been in the band playing up until very late October, making it a lot more likely for it to be him playing in the recording, rather than Withford.

The albums official liner notes leave Whitford suspiciously absent from any 2021 interview parts about his recollection of the origins of the tape, and they also tell the story of how Ray Tabano gave a copy of the tape to a WBCN radio DJ, Maxanne Sartori, saying “I’m Ray, I work with Aerosmith, I want you to hear this”. Why would Ray be so interested to get this tape on the radio?

Could this be an attempt from the band to give the current lineup of the band all the credit and avoid attributing it to Raymond Tabano‘s time with the band? (we reached to Ray for comment on the matter via Facebook but were met with no response so far)

It could be the case that the rehearsal was taped in between shows while Ray was not present, but make the decision to date the recording questionable at least. To the band’s benefit, they very clearly open the liner notes admitting that they don’t know the exact date or reason for the recording, and a good amount is dedicated to trying to resolve the mysterious origin.

Release controversy

Perry was reportedly eager to have the recording released in 2019, but he stopped the process upon learning that a version of the tape had already leaked. The project was put on the backburner for a while. The truth is that it had only circulated in a very small circle of hardcore fans and private collectors, not the massive bootleg loop.

Post-production

It is almost astonishing how crisp and tight “1971” sounds, given the likely setting and situation. Certainly, modern production can punch up the sound — it was co-produced by Perry, Tyler and longtime friend and consultant Steve Berkowitz — but Perry claims there was no extensive cleanup.
“Really, not much,” he says. “They have programs you can run and if vocal is too far back, to a degree they can isolate that and make it a better mix. But this [tape] is pretty much natural.” He maintains the difference from the original tape to what’s now on vinyl is minimal: “I’d be hard pressed to tell if it were a blindfold test.”

Joe Perry, Nov 2021 interview with WBUR

Tracklist

  1. Rehearsal Room Jam
  2. Somebody
  3. Reefer Headed Woman
  4. Walkin’ The Dog
  5. Movin’ Out
  6. Major Barbra
  7. Dream On
  8. Mama Kin

Significance

While the versions contained in this release are very similar in style and arrangements to the ones included in Aerosmith’s self-titled debut album, they still represent an evolution in their performance styler, instrument arrangements and lyrics. In a way, this earliest recording represents what could be considered the only “demos” or “working versions” in existence for their first album.

Release

The tape was finally released on “Record Sore Day” Black Friday 11/26/21. Only 10,000 vinyl copies and 2000 cassettes were released, and it’s expected to be available in other formats soon after!


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