Mindi Abair: Game Changer

Trish Richardson By

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Tyler told Abair, "I want you to tour with us. But I've got to see if you can really do this. All I've seen is you do American Idol . Play." Tyler had her play along to the record. Abair says, "He's having me play different stuff on the record. He's having me play in and out of him. Then he's like, 'I know you sing. Sing this.' Then he would sing something crazy. And I would sing it back to him.

According to Abair, Tyler told her, "OK you're hired. The guys in the band, they have no idea. You've got three gigs to make it happen and then they are going to take a vote. They'd say no right now, but you're going to play. It's gonna happen. I really want you there. We need this. We need to make this bigger than it is!"

Abair was hired for three shows, unbeknownst to the other members of Aerosmith, having been given no music, set list, charts or direction.

Recalls Abair, "[There was] no 'you play on this song, or this song, or this song.' No 'talk to our music director.' No. None of it. It was like forty years of material just hanging out there. And I was supposed to sing on it, too. So when I arrived at the first gig, it was five minutes before the show and I got called into Joe Perry's dressing room. Joe could not have been nicer. He was like, 'We are really happy to have you here. Thank you for doing this. What can I do to make your life easier or make you happy here? We just want you to be comfortable. Thanks for joining us.'"

Her request was simple: a set list, which she received "about five minutes before the show. There was one song I didn't know that I was listening to on my phone as the intro to the show was starting. Oh, and we didn't rehearse. No rehearsal. Sometimes you just have to hang by the seat of your pants and go with it and hope that it all turns out all right."

And indeed it did because Abair wound up doing the whole tour with them. Abair says with enthusiasm, "It was absolutely fantastic. Those guys are total rock stars. Steven's backstage, running around with no clothes on. And Joe is just cooler than cool. Just kind of appears before the show in a puff of smoke. It is exactly like you think it would be."

How has touring with both Max Weinberg and Aerosmith redefined her own music? "I think the last couple of years of my life has definitely been influential in bringing this style into my new music and letting me expand who I am. And to kind of push the boundaries of what I have been doing. Touring with Aerosmith and Max Weinberg and getting to play with Springsteen, doing American Idol for a couple of years, it really allowed me to, how do you say this? It allowed me the freedom to kind of break outside of myself."

"It's this great gift that we have as artists that we get to write our own music and play our own music and direct our own band and tour. You become this caricature of yourself. That I really do think it helps to walk outside that bubble sometimes and get influenced by other people and get pushed into different directions then you would think of yourself.

"I don't write songs like Aerosmith writes. I don't do that. So to immerse in forty years of Aerosmith and to take on that tradition, you really gotta give a thousand percent every night. Those guys are just sweating and bleeding up there for the audiences. I love that! When I did get off the road with them, I thought how do I bring this energy, this sheer power , this abandon that they play with? How do I bring that back to my career and have it make sense? Because I always felt that I gave a hundred percent to my audiences and my records, but there is a different kind of abandon with rock and roll and popular music."

Abair is looking to bring back the days when saxophone was more rock and roll, back to the days of King Curtis or Junior Walker & the All Stars. Even back when Aerosmith first started and some of their first songs had sax solos on them. Says Abair, "It was just this raucous, fun, saxophone that totally fit with rock and roll. But we seem to have lost that. Saxophone has become an instrument that you only are a fan of if you are a jazz fan. I thought twice about that, being on the road with Aerosmith."

She continues, "I'm bringing some rock and roll sax back. Let's do this! Let's not pussyfoot around here. Let's get a little grittier, let's play some guitar licks. I'm like, no, Justin Timberlake brought sexy back, well, I'm bringing some saxy back!" The saxophonist adds, "I think Aerosmith was really influential, along with Max Weinberg, Springsteen and American Idol . I had a dose of it for a couple years. It was pretty serious of the Universe telling me, it's all right to just go for it. To give your heart and soul every time you play. And just let it all out. So that's what I did. I was lucky enough to have friends like Joe Perry and Max and Greg Allman and Trombone Shorty and all of those guys to help me on that path. And make it more fun, too!"



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Mindi Abair
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