During a recent break in their February 2020 residency at MGM Las Vegas, we interviewed Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton about his philosophy on performance, history of involvement with Rehearsal for Life, and the value of giving back.
Rehearsal for Life: How were you introduced to the performing arts? Who were your first influences?
Tom Hamilton: I have had the bug in me since I did plays in high school. I was planning to go to drama school, but I told my parents instead I was going to join a band…. They were not pleased.
[I was] always involved in music from when I was very young. My older brother was a guitar player. He taught me my first chords at age twelve, and I listened to whatever he listened to.
I was into a band called The Ventures, an instrumental guitar band. Then, Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964, was a memorable day: The Beatles came on TV in the States. The effect on me was hard to describe: my first reaction was that they looked like girls. Then I listened and was so blown away. I remember having friends over and driving them out of the house from playing my Beatles single so many times. I had every magazine, collectible cards — you name it.
I started my first band in seventh grade with a friend who played drums, and we were called The Mosquitoes. Living in a small town in New Hampshire, there was only one other band in town. The other band needed a bass player, so that is how I started playing the bass.
Just after high school, Joe [Perry] and I moved to Boston and got an apartment — shortly after, we met Steve Tyler. Steve was already a name in Boston. He wanted to join up with us. Once he joined us, I felt we had a good shot at making it.
RFL: As a part of Banned in Boston “cast” since the beginning at Mamakin’s (1996!), what was your most memorable Banned in Boston performance?
TH: Aerosmith was off the road for a few months, so I told my manager I wanted to do some acting. So he suggested I look into Banned in Boston — not realizing it was a once-a-year fundraiser. Well, I loved the comedy. The first sketch I was ever in, I played the Unabomber. I hammed it up and really went for every laugh I could.
RFL: How does improvisation come into play in your professional life?
TH: You have to be OK with pushing yourself to get in front of an audience, or a microphone, and trust that you will be able to do something that is worthwhile and that the audience is going to be entertained by. I have always enjoyed public speaking. When you do interviews, it is all improv. In the band, all the music is very well-rehearsed, but we always have a jam that is improvised.
RFL: Why do you think it’s important to give back?
TH: I enjoy being in a position to help people. It is something that I realized about myself. I think if you have time, and the ability to volunteer, you should. There is so much need out there in society.
RFL: How do you see programs like Rehearsal for Life’s Urban Improv effecting positive change in young people? What more work do you see as left to be done in this area?
TH: The concept of Urban Improv is so innovative, and so dead-on. The idea of giving a young person, who could face trouble at any moment, the skills to find the way to get out of that situation…! You hear of kids who get in trouble, and the influence that kids have in their peer groups. Do you speak out and risk being rejected? Do you try to do something that gets you out of a risky situation? That need shows up in subtle ways too, like a hero in a peer group who is being mean, or unfair to others — as a kid, you have to make a decision to join in, or, “Do I step aside…?” It’s a method that is constructive — skills that are needed at any age.
What I like about being in Banned in Boston is how it shows the side of Rehearsal for Life that is all about playing. I’m grateful to keep doing it every year, and I get to meet people that I never would normally get to meet. The event — and the stage — is a real hangout.