While initially dismissed as Rolling Stones knock-offs, the band came into its own during the mid-1970s with a string of hit records. Chief among these successes were Toys in the Attic (1975) and Rocks (1976), thanks largely to the prevalence of free-form, album-oriented FM radio. The group also managed hit singles on the AM dial with songs like "Dream On", "Same Old Song and Dance", "Sweet Emotion" and "Walk This Way".
During this time, Perry and vocalist Steven Tyler became known as the "Toxic Twins" for their notorious hard-partying and drug use. Hard-core drug dealers made a cash grab following Aerosmith around the country knowing there would be an unlimited supply of customers. Aerosmith's crowd in these days earned the nickname "The Blue Army", so called by the band after the seemingly endless number of teenagers in the audience wearing blue denim jackets and blue jeans. The audience was abundantly male with extremely long hair.
Following Rocks, the group began to stumble - drug use escalated and the creative process became hampered by strained relationships within the band. They managed another hit record in 1977 with Draw the Line, on which Perry sang lead vocals on the track "Bright Light Fright", considered by some to be one of the album's highlights. A fall of '77 tour was scheduled, but as the crowds got more dangerous, violence followed. A cherry bomb was thrown onstage in Philadelphia at The Spectrum in October 1977, injuring both Perry and Tyler.
Summer of 1979 saw the band headline over Van Halen, Ted Nugent, AC/DC and Foreigner during the world music festival concerts. An argument backstage in Cleveland resulted in Joe Perry's wife throwing a glass of milk at Tom Hamilton's wife. This would prove to be the turning point that saw Perry quit Aerosmith, taking a collection of unrecorded material with him, which would later become the basis of his Let the Music Do the Talking album.
By the end of 1979, Perry had formed his own band - The Joe Perry Project. Their debut record, Let the Music Do the Talking, reached #47 on the Billboard album charts, selling 250,000 copies domestically. While sales and reviews were respectable the group mainly thrived as a live act. It managed to do so even after its second album, I've Got the Rock'n'Rolls Again, went largely ignored.
In the end, the Project never solidified a lineup; all three studio releases would feature a different lead vocalist and the entire roster was replaced before their final effort (1983's Once a Rocker, Always a Rocker.) Even a brief stint with a fellow Aerosmith exile, rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, failed to ignite things again and the group found themselves with minimal label support by 1984.
A compilation album, The Music Still Does the Talking: The Best of the Joe Perry Project, was released by an Australian Indie Record label in 1999.
Equipped with a new record label (MCA Records) and three new band members in singer Mach Bell, bassist Danny Hargrove and drummer Joe Pet, The Joe Perry Project released Once a Rocker, Always a Rocker in 1983. The album met the same fate as its predecessor, selling 40,000 copies. Despite the poor sales, The Project went out on a final tour in support of the album, adding then ex-Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford to the line-up. During this tour, The Project performed in a series of co-bills with Huey Lewis and the News. The following year, both Perry and Whitford rejoined Aerosmith.
In 1986, Perry and Tyler collaborated with Run-D.M.C. in a remake of their 1975 hit "Walk This Way", which brought their band renewed mainstream attention.
After completing drug rehabilitation, Aerosmith went on to collaborate with various big-name songwriters and producers to launch their true comeback. Another string of successful albums (including the triple-platinum Pump in 1989 and 1993's 7× platinum Get a Grip) and many hit singles followed. Perry and Tyler resumed their tight friendship, again co-writing songs and performing very close together on stage.
In 1998, Perry helped conceive the group's first number one single, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing", with pop songwriter Diane Warren. It appeared on the soundtrack to the hit film Armageddon, in which Tyler's daughter, Liv, starred.
From 2001 to present, Aerosmith has been heavily active in the music scene, and has toured every year.
In 2006, Perry performed alongside Steven Tyler for a three-song medley ("Dream On", "Walk This Way", "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing") with the Boston Pops Orchestra as part of a nationally-televised event to celebrate the Fourth of July in Boston, Massachusetts.
Perry released his first solo record, the self-titled Joe Perry, in May 2005. It was recorded at his home studio (The Boneyard) in suburban Boston, with every instrument but the drums played by Perry himself. Critics also responded favorably; Rolling Stone magazine crowned it with three-and-a-half (out of five) stars, declaring "A Joe Perry solo joint? about time!" He was also nominated for "Best Rock Instrumental" at the 2006 Grammys for the track "Mercy" but lost to Les Paul.
In 2009, while on tour with Aerosmith, Joe Perry announced that he would be releasing a new Joe Perry Project album entitled Have Guitar, Will Travel, which was released on October 6, 2009. The first single from the album was "We've Got a Long Way to Go." This marks the first Joe Perry Project album since 1983's Once a Rocker, Always a Rocker, and the fifth Joe Perry solo album in total, counting the 2005 self-titled album.
The main guitar associated with Joe Perry is the Gibson Les Paul. He has used many different types of Les Pauls since the 70s, including Les Paul Juniors, Les Paul Standards, and Les Paul Customs. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Gibson issued a Joe Perry signature Les Paul guitar; this guitar was customized with an active mid-boost control, black chrome hardware, and a translucent black finish. However, in 2004, this model was replaced by another Joe Perry signature Les Paul, the Joe Perry Boneyard Les Paul. This guitar is characterized by Perry's custom "Boneyard" logo on the headstock and a figured maple top with a green tiger finish, and is available with either a stopbar tailpiece or a Bigsby tailpiece; Perry typically uses a Bigsby-equipped Boneyard model in Aerosmith and solo live shows. The Gibson Joe Perry was a present from his wife Billie and then he was allowed to manufacture it. Perry has also endorsed an affordable replica version of the Boneyard guitar made by Epiphone that carries the same USA made Burstbucker pickups as the Gibson model.
Perry also uses other Gibson models. Another model he uses frequently is a customized Gibson B.B. King "Lucille" guitar; however, instead of the black finish and "Lucille" signature on the headstock, Perry's guitar features a white finish, a "Billie Perry" signature on headstock and an image of Billie Perry on the front of the guitar. He has also used Gibson SGs, Firebirds, ES-175s, ES-335s, and ES-350s at various points in his career.
Perry has been known to play guitars of other luthiers and manufacturers. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Perry frequently used various Fender Stratocasters; many of these guitars were left-handed Strats turned upside-down and appropriately restrung. One of these "upside-down" models is still played occasionally by Perry onstage, usually for "Sweet Emotion". Perry also uses Fender Telecasters, some modified with neck humbuckers. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Perry (along with fellow Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford) endorsed B.C. Rich guitars, and frequently used the Mockingbird (such as in the performance of "Come Together" in the film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) and 10-string B.C. Rich models. He has also been photographed playing what looks like, judging by the headstock logo, a custom built Spector guitar, and some ESP guitars during the 80s.
The six-string bass guitar is a trademark of Perry's guitar sound; instead of playing it like an ordinary bass guitar, he uses it like a regular guitar, playing riffs, chords, and solos. The six-string bass helped to create the characteristic growl of Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle", "Combination", and "Draw the Line". In the past, Perry used Fender Bass VI and Danelectro six-string basses; he also used a Gibson EB-6 for the bass solo on "King of the Kings" on the Joe Perry Project's Once a Rocker, Always a Rocker album (as indicated by the album's liner notes). Perry currently uses an Ernie Ball MusicMan six-string bass onstage.
For amps, Perry uses vintage 200 watt Marshall Major amps on stage. In the studio he uses various vintage low wattage tube amps including an Epiphone Pacemaker Model EA50T manufactured in Kalamazoo, Michigan in the early 60s.
For slide work, Perry typically uses a Dan Armstrong Lucite guitar, such as for "Draw the Line".
Joe has also been known to use a Pro Co RAT Distortion Pedal, a Klon Centaur overdrive, a talkbox, a Crybaby wah and a Digitech Whammy pedal.