The Yonkers-born, Boston-bred rocker Steven Tyler was quite the gearhead back when he was 15. But he didn’t opt for the go-kart, like a lot of other kids his age – he went straight into the build-it-yourself world of mini-bikes. Unsurprisingly, the boy that would one day lead the legendary outfit Aerosmith had to do it his own idiosyncratic way. Once he acquired the skeletal cycle frame, he recalls, “I used an old Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine with a centrifugal clutch, and it. Was. The. Shit. It was so short to the ground, and you could really rip through the woods on it. And it was a hardtail, no springs, and the chain would come off so I’d always carry a wrench to tighten up the clutch chain on the back wheel. But it was the forerunner to my running around onstage.”
Tyler, 64, drifts off in reverie for a few wistful minutes. He talks of hearing the roar of Woodstock, seeing Janis Joplin in concert, showing Oprah Winfrey some of his childhood haunts in a recent interview, the contrasting silence of the forest where he often disappeared for peace of mind, and the early Aerosmith dirges like “Seasons Of Wither” that were inspired by that more carefree time. “It’s pretty wild, man. It’s pretty fucking wild when I look back, and when I think about what I do for a living,” he sighs at last. “But instead of walking through the woods, instead of running, when the big bad wolf comes, I’m ripping out of there on a mini-bike. A mini-bike I made myself. And then only to rip through 40 years with a band I made by myself – we all made it by ourselves.”
Tyler – who’s back with his reunited group on Music From Another Dimension, their first new collection of original material in 11 years – isn’t fond of half measures. Several years ago, Harley-Davidson honcho Willie G. Davidson would gift each Aerosmith member – Tyler, guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton, and drummer Joey Kramer – with their own Fat Boy choppers. It rekindled the singer’s interest in bikes. “But I was married at the time with the two kids, and it was all ‘Don’t ride a motorcycle! You’ll kill yourself!’ Lots of fears,” he says. “And at the same time, I got an offer to go up in space, backed by Coke, and it was a $20 million deal to go up with the Russians, but then dock with the space station. And I passed on that because the kids looked at me and they just started crying – ‘Daddy, no! Don’t do that!’ They were so afraid, and I think mom gave them the fear, instead of ‘Dad can be a hero!’ Imagine if the astronauts had wives like that. They’d never go up in space, either.”
So the daredevil got more and more involved with motorcycles, until he eventually formed his own company, Dirico, with his brother-in-law Mark Dirico and cousin Stephen Tallarico (also Tyler’s birth name). Since he wasn’t acting out a real-life version of Armageddon (which provided the group with its No. 1 smash single “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”), he figured, he might as well go for nice relaxing Harley rides whenever he was back home on the East coast. The only problem? The ice-cold autumns, when he enjoyed biking the most. “So I wanted to get one of these heated leather suits, so Mark and I went up to the Harley dealership to visit this Steve guy that was a cousin I’d never met,” he explains of the custom Dirico outfit’s genesis. “And Mark was the guy that would pull cars out of a swamp, like an old MG frame, and he’d polish it up, get new wiring, get the headlights and an engine, and put it all together.” When they strolled into the shop, they were fascinated by a strange-looking frame with unusual potential. “So I bought it for Mark – secretly – threw it in the back of the car, and the rest is history.”
Soon, the trio was designing wicked, angular models like the ProStreet and the HeartBreaker, and special limited editions for the Boston Bruins and other organizations. “It’s kind of like the same thing I do with Aerosmith,” Tyler rationalizes. “Joe would be playing this lick, which is like the frame of a song, and I’d listen to it and say ‘What the fuck is that?’ It’s similar, every bit of it, and it comes from a place of being confident enough to just throw down and see what comes of it. Like looking at a frame and seeing a square, not a triangle. Or hearing a song and a melody and writing a lyric to it, and seeing how far it goes – it’s just building on things that ordinarily you might not have confidence in.”
— Tom Lanham
For the full feature, click on the issue cover or grab a copy of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.