He might be better known for his wild-haired stage persona, affable two-season stint as a judge on “American Idol” or his recent manic TV commercial for Burger King.
But raspy-throated Aerosmith rocker Steven Tyler is also one serious gearhead. It started with the first minibike frame he jerry-rigged as a teen.
“I used an old Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine with a centrifugal clutch, and it ... Was ... The
s----,” he says. “It was a hard-tail, short to the ground, and you could really rip through the woods on it. It was the forerunner of my running around onstage.”
The singer would forego tinkering for a while; his tumultuous four-decade career with Boston’s Aerosmith proved quite distracting. The quintet hits the Bay Area this weekend, previewing its upcoming “Music From Another Dimension,” its first album of original material in 11 years.
But when Harley-Davidson honcho Willie Davidson presented the band members with five Fat Boy choppers a few years back, things changed.
“We got those bikes, and that re-ignited it,” says Tyler, who launched his own company in 2007, Red Wing, now re-christened Dirico Custom Motorcycles.
Wicked-looking Dirico models are all designed, then hand-signed, by Tyler himself. Some even feature a matching guitar, such as special editions for the Boston Bruins.
The idea came to him when he and his brother-in-law Mark Dirico visited the Harley shop of a long-lost cousin, Stephen Tallarico (Tyler’s birth surname), and bought, then customized, an unusually shaped motorcycle frame.
The three bikers became buddies, then business partners.
“It’s the same thing I did with Aerosmith — looking at a frame and seeing a square, not a triangle,” says Tyler, who traditionally builds words and melody over a bare-bones riff guitarist Joe Perry conceives.
It wasn’t easy three years ago, when he and Perry — once dubbed the Toxic Twins for their hard-partying ways — weren’t talking.
Addicted to painkillers after leg surgery, the star had awkwardly fallen offstage in concert, then entered rehab, just as Aerosmith was ready to start recording with producer Brendan O’Brien.
Tyler joined “American Idol”; Perry started auditioning replacement singers.
Yet “Idol” boosted Aerosmith catalog sales by 260 percent and brought peace to the camp. Perry even surprised Tyler on the show with a “Happy Birthday” rendition for his 64th this year. Aerosmith regrouped for the season finale, debuting the scruffy new Jack Douglas-produced, Tyler/Perry-penned single “Legendary Child.”
“Dimension” boasts more revitalized co-writes, such as “Out Go the Lights,” plus a Temptations cover, “Shaky Ground.”
Tyler still fondly recalls lessons learned from his mechanically inclined childhood. “Instead of walking or running through the woods,” he says, “now when the big bad wolf comes, I’m ripping out of there on a minibike! A minibike I made myself!”
IF YOU GO
‘Global Warming’ tour with Aerosmith and Cheap Trick
Where: Oracle Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $61 to $173.95
Contact: (510) 465-2278; www.ticketmaster.com