The Secret Jewish History of Aerosmith

Mel Brooks and Jewish Drummer Forged Hard Rock History

Kvetch This Way: Aerosmith’s front man, Steven Tyler, isn’t Jewish, but a surprising amount of the band’s history is.
Getty Images
Kvetch This Way: Aerosmith’s front man, Steven Tyler, isn’t Jewish, but a surprising amount of the band’s history is.

By Seth Rogovoy

Published November 13, 2013, issue of November 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

The song had a number of unique features, including Tyler’s lightning-fast delivery of the lyrics, in a spoken-sung, nursery-rhyme-like patter that anticipated rapping (thus making it prime fodder for its 1986 remix by Run-DMC; more on that below), and Joe Perry’s catchy guitar riff – easily one of the most identifiable in rock history.

The inspiration for the song’s title came from the Mel Brooks horror-movie parody, “Young Frankenstein.” In the film, Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, the hunchback Igor, played by the bug-eyed actor, Marty Feldman, wants Frankenstein, played by Gene Wilder, to follow him, and says, “Walk this way.” Frankenstein obliges for a few steps, walking hunched over with a cane, like Igor. The joke itself is based on an old vaudeville routine. During the recording of “Toys in the Attic,” the group had taken a break and went to a late-night showing of the film. When they got back to the studio, they integrated the line into a song they were working on, and thus Mel Brooks, Marty Feldman and Gene Wilder were the very unlikely inspirations for what would become the signature tune of the most successful American hard-rock band of all time. A few more hits followed, and Aerosmith gained a reputation as a stellar concert attraction. But by 1979, after three years of arena and stadium tours, the band had suffered a steep decline owing to drug abuse and the vagaries of the music market, with disco, punk, and new-wave – all reactions against the sort of corporate hard-rock purveyed by bands like Aerosmith – in the ascendancy. At their nadir, guitarist Joe Perry left the group in favor of leading his own band. By 1981, Brad Whitford, too, had quit, and Tyler was so down and out he was reportedly seen buying heroin from NYC street dealers.

But then “Walk This Way” was born again when Rick Rubin - who grew up in Lido Beach, Long Island, the son of a Jewish shoe wholesaler - brought the song to a rap group he was producing named Run-DMC. The rappers had no idea who Aerosmith was, but their version of the tune, which relied heavily on the original, brought rap into the mainstream and introduced Aerosmith to a whole new generation. The track hit No. 4 on the pop charts and launched a famous music video that saw heavy rotation, thus paving the way for Aerosmith to mount a significant comeback. On the heels of the newly revitalized version of “Walk This Way,” more hits followed, and the band became a staple on MTV in the late-1980s and early-‘90s with creative, provocative videos starring sexy Jewish-American actress Alicia Silverstone, who became known as “the Aerosmith chick.”

While best known for their blues-based, hard-rocking approach onstage and their rock ‘n’ roll antics offstage (Tyler and Perry were nicknamed “the Toxic Twins” due to their epic ingestion of illicit substances, a not-so-subtle allusion to the “Glimmer Twins” - Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones), the group stayed on the top of the pop charts owing to Tyler’s way with a rock ballad. “Dream On,” one of the band’s earliest and most enduring hits, pretty much launched the genre. (In 2006, during the group’s second concert in a decade in Tel Aviv, Tyler dedicated “Dream On” to kidnapped Israeli soldier Ehud Goldwasser.)

Toward the end of the 1990s, in a creative lull, the band sought out songwriter Dianne Warren, the most commercially successful composer of dramatic “power ballads.” Warren, born Dianne Wolfberg, was perhaps an unlikely collaborator for one of America’s hardest-rocking bands, having written hits for soft-rock and pop acts such as Elton John, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Ricky Martin, and Celine Dion. But nothing succeeds like excess: her work for Aerosmith included “Devil’s Got a New Disguise,” “We All Fall Down,” and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” which was, inscrutably, the band’s first number-one hit.

Aerosmith was also one of many top-tier acts to perform at perhaps the most notorious bat mitvah in history. In 2005, David H. Brooks, the then-CEO of a military equipment defense contractor, threw his daughter, Elizabeth, an absurdly lavish $10 million party featuring appearances by Tom Petty, the Eagles, 50 Cent, Stevie Nicks, Kenny G, and “the bad boys from Boston.” Presumably they played the Mel Brooks-inspired “Walk This Way” at the event. It’s not known which musical guest played “Hava Nagila,” however.

Seth Rogovoy is a frequent contributor to the Forward’s arts pages, where he has revealed the “kabbalah” of such unlikely cultural icons as David Bowie, James Bond, Alfred Hitchcock, JRR Tolkien and Paul McCartney.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.