40 Years Ago: Aerosmith’s Reworked Lineup Ends on ‘Bitch’s Brew’
"Bitch's Brew," released in December 1982, not only concluded Aerosmith's first tenure with Columbia Records, but it also marked the final single from the band's short-lived revamped lineup.
The song was one of seven tracks co-written for 1982's Rock in a Hard Place by singer Steven Tyler and new guitarist Jimmy Crespo, who replaced Joe Perry in 1979. The single was the follow-up to "Lightning Strikes," which hit No. 21 on the Billboard Top Rock Tracks chart. But "Bitch's Brew" was released as a promotional single to radio only and failed to chart at all, and in that way, it was emblematic of the hard place Aerosmith was in at the time.
"It was pretty difficult," the band's longtime producer Jack Douglas -- who was brought in to complete Rock in a Hard Place after the group parted ways with its original choice, Tony Bongiovi -- tells UCR. Perry, part of the Toxic Twins songwriting partnership with Tyler, had left, and Brad Whitford followed during the making of the album. "Not having Brad and Joe there as the twin guitar players and the support that they gave to a record was hard. There were some rough spots, but we managed to get it done."
Crespo, who'd been in the New York band Flame and was a high-profile session player, had been tagged by Aerosmith manager David Krebs. He initially came into the Aerosmith orbit during sessions for 1979's Night in the Ruts, playing a solo on the track "3 Mile Smile." Crespo also played in drummer Joey Kramer's side project Renegade, whose recordings went unreleased. Tyler quickly forged a writing bond with Crespo, telling MTV in 1982 that "my motivation is him for right now. We work so well together. It's like a song a minute."
Douglas, meanwhile, considered Crespo "a great guitar player, but kind of insecure about his own playing ... and he was a great player. I think he was a bit afraid of Steven. If you show a little bit of fear, Steven's gonna get on you. He'll pick apart anything you're doing, and if you stand up to it like Brad and Joe did all the time, he respects it. If you don't, there could be problems."
(Crespo did not respond to UCR's requests for an interview.)
Douglas championed Rick Dufay as Whitford's replacement, and while Dufay's more confrontational personality was off-putting to some band members - "Rick just so defined what a fuckin' asshole is," Tyler once noted - the producer felt he was better suited to the group's personality. "Steven loved that Rick wasn't afraid of him," Douglas says.
The Tyler-Crespo team was productive, nevertheless, and "Bitch's Brew" was certainly an inventive addition to the Aerosmith canon. The song starts with Tyler singing over Crespo's ringing guitar before rocking into a groove as meaty as any of the band's big hits from the '70s. It is - surprisingly for Tyler - something of a cautionary tale, warning its subject that, "You've been foolin' with the bitch's brew / You know the things I want you not to do / You fell into the briar patch / Ain't nothin' gonna save you."
The stream-of-consciousness lyrics seem like they could be referencing Perry or Whitford as Tyler grouses, "Remembering the things you said / You savin' the screams for bread / And now you just walk away / So take it and go all the way." "Bitch's Brew" is also distinguished by Tyler's Bob Dylan impersonation during the bridge before the final chorus.
Listen to Aerosmith's 'Bitch's Brew'
"Jimmy wrote most of ['Bitch’s Brew'],” reveals Douglas. "Steven wasn't at his sharpest, and the lyrics don't have his usual brilliance. A few written words and then repeat. He was in good voice but not totally on solid ground at the time. It's also minus a guitar solo for what reason I don't remember - there's certainly a spot for it. Jimmy does that little bit in the middle of the track and the lyrics there say much." The producer adds that while much of Rock in a Hard Place was recorded at Criteria studios in Miami, "Bitch's Brew" was a New York track that started at the Power Station and finished at the Record Plant.
Because of the disarray around Aerosmith at the time - including rampant and debilitating drug addictions - Rock in a Hard Place took nearly two years to make and cost a reported $1.5 million. The album received tepid to poor reviews and peaked at No. 32 on the Billboard 200, Aerosmith's worst showing since Get Your Wings in 1974. It was certified gold but also stalled the group's eight-album platinum-or-better streak.
Crespo and Dufay were both gone within two years of Rock in a Hard Place's release when Perry and Whitford returned. Aerosmith signed a new deal with Geffen Records, where it enjoyed a run of multiplatinum albums before going back to Columbia for 1997's Nine Lives.