Cover image for Walk this way : Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the song that changed American music forever / Geoff Edgers.
Walk this way : Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the song that changed American music forever / Geoff Edgers.
Publication Information:
New York : Blue Rider Press, [2019]

Physical Description:
xiii, 269 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 22 cm
Pt. 1. Before -- Run-DMC: Hollis -- Aerosmith: Toxic twins -- Run-DMC: Larry Smith, Kurt, and the fever -- Aerosmith: Who got the beat? -- Run-DMC: It's like that -- Aerosmith: Jimmy and the Doof -- Run-DMC: LongPlay, with guitars -- Aerosmith: Bottom -- Run-DMC: Jay -- Aerosmith : reunited -- Run-DMC: Down with King Kurt -- pt. 2 1986 -- Creating Rick Rubin -- Done with mirrors -- "The reducer" -- Choosing "Walk" -- The levee -- March 9 -- Cracking radio, cracking MTV -- Who is the King? -- Not for $200 billion -- Epilogue.
A deep exploration into the story behind "Walk This Way," Aerosmith and Run-DMC's legendary, groundbreaking rock-hip hop collaboration, describes the unlikely union that became instantly popular and launched hip hop into the mainstream.


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
782.420922 EDG Book Adult General Collection

On Order



In the early 1980s hip hop's reach was limited, largely ignored by mainstream radio deejays and the rock-obsessed MTV network. But in 1986, the music world was irrevocably changed when Run-DMC covered Aerosmith's hit 'Walk This Way' in the first rock-hip hop collaboration. Geoff Edgers sets the scene and tracks the paths of the main artists - Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Joseph 'Run' Simmons, and Darryl 'DMC' McDaniels - illustrating the long road to this revolutionary marriage of rock and hip hop. This music history is a must-read for fans of hip hop, rock, and everything in between.

Author Notes

Geoff Edgers is a journalist and author. He is the national arts reporter for The Washington Post, hosts the Edge of Fame podcast, and his work has appeared in GQ, Spin, and The Boston Globe, among others. He also produced and starred in the 2010 documentary Do It Again, and he is the author of multiple children's books about The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Stan Lee, and Julia Child. He lives in Concord, MA. with his family.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this rollicking and occasionally rambling history, music journalist Edgers tells the story of RunDMC's 1986 hiphop remake of Aerosmith's 1975 hit "Walk This Way." The aging, fractious, and drugaddled rockers weren't hip to new music, and the rising rappers thought the original's lyrics were "hillbilly gibberish." So when the members of Aerosmith walked into a studio in 1986 to help RunDMC cover their song, it was hardly a meeting of the minds. Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry showed up strictly for the $8,000 payday, while the alreadyplatinum RunDMC thought the song would be a way to break hiphop into the white mainstream. Edgers has little to say about the faded rockers beyond the battles between the "Toxic Twins"-Tyler and Perry- and about the band's declining popularity and mounting money troubles (Perry is described as "a dope fiend on a twentydollaraday allowance"). Edgers's take on the rise of RunDMC, "smartass kids" from Queens, meanwhile, is told more passionately ("What RunDMC wore would usher in the era of brand marketing that eventually made millionaires out of 50 Cent, Jay Z, and Dr. Dre"); Edgers also covers other rap pioneers, downtown hipsters, and music producer Rick Rubin (the white Long Islander who saw rap as "black punk rock"). RunDMC's version of the song helped revitalize Aerosmith's career, and, according to Edgers, was the "starting gun for every mashup, good and bad, that came later." Edgers, however, focuses less on the song's broader cultural implications than the entertaining awkwardness of the recording, as when an MTV interviewer asked each group how they felt about the other's music and received mostly blank stares. Nevertheless, this is a vivid snapshot of a unique moment in cultural history. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

IN 2017 Nielsen Music reported that hip-hop and R & B had officially surpassed rock as America's most-consumed genre. The news elicited international headlines, but for many of us it elicited a yawn. Who didn't know by then that hip-hop was not just-to cite the rapper Nas, the comedian Katt Williams and countless pundits of the past decade - "as American as apple pie," but one of America's greatest exports: a music, culture and ethos that lives and breathes from California to Cape Town, New York to New Delhi? It wasn't always so, of course. Such is the premise of Geoff Edgers' "Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song That Changed American Music Forever," which argues that before the July 4,1986, release of the hit in his title - one of the first rap songs played on mainstream radio, the genre's first in the Billboard Top 10 - almighty hip-hop was merely "a small underground community of independent labels and scrappy promoters." As Edgers, the national arts reporter for The Washington Post, tells it, the crossover rap-rock tune "made it safe to be black and mainstream," "proved that hip-hop, dismissed by many as a fad, had legs" and became "so many things to so many different people, from bar mitzvah boys in Westchester County to Ice-?" It accomplished that, essentially, by being "hip-hop's Trojan horse, the music camouflaged enough to give timid programmers permission to play"; this fomented a movement like the Harlem Renaissance and San Francisco's Summer of Love, one that "crossed geographical, economic and, most important, racial lines." All of this is well-trod territory. There has been no dearth of ink spilled about RunDMC, Aerosmith or hip-hop's rise to cultural domination. So in a book that is occasionally hyperbolic yet fastidiously thorough - sometimes too thorough: "Walk This Way" grew from a long-form article and often feels better suited as one, unless you're enthralled by the nitty-gritty of industry insider-ness - Edgers carves out a niche by creating in narrative fashion the very mash-up he's documenting, merging two racial and spatial histories just as RunDMC and Aerosmith's hit fused disparate sounds and scenes. On the one hand, there's the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll story of Bronx-raised Steven Tallarico, joining forces with Joe Perry in '70s-era Boston to become Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. Edgers pegs the two as polar opposites: While "Perry has his personality knob set on permanent mumble," Tyler "blasts into a conversation. He makes up words and phrases and draws on entire waiting rooms of personalities. He dances across decades, cities and relationships." They made an electrifying onstage duo - until they fell victim to the clichés of rock stardom, battling addiction and going from filling stadiums to grasping at straws for a hit. Meanwhile, over in early-'80s New York - Hollis, Queens, to be exact: far from the white college bars of Boston but still "an urban oasis compared to the burned-out brick buildings of the Bronx" - Joseph Simmons (Run) and Darryl McDaniels (DMC) joined forces with Jason Mizeli, a.k.a. Jam Master Jay, to garner fame as Run-DMC. Hip-hop was still, as the music mogul Lyor Cohen says, "a powerful little secret running through America," but it was bubbling to the surface - Blondie's 1981 hit "Rapture" name-checked the hiphop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy and featured him in its video; a popular trio of white kids called the Beastie Boys endearingly wedded hip-hop mettle with adolescent impishness; and Run-DMC released the first rap album to go gold - before falling prey to internal battles incited by the myriad hustles of an underground industry. Into this mix - "a pair of pale-faced rockers itching for a fix, a trio of black kids still trying to figure out why they were there" - enters the producer Rick Rubin: hip-hop's unlikely poster child. The Long Islandraised Rubin was a proud suburbanite blithe about street cred; "his drug of choice," Edgers writes, "was the General Tso's chicken that flowed into his dorm room" at N.Y.U. Thinking of hip-hop as black punk rock, Rubin partnered with Russell Simmons (Run's brother) to form the iconic label Def Jam. The mission was to capture the genre's live-show energy on record, and also to transform a hit rock song released by Aerosmith in 1975 into a strange-bedfellows crossover duet. Edgers gives us the hyper-amusing blow-by-blow of just how this duet came alive, from the back-and-forth of lyrical expletives in the studio - Run called Tyler's lyrics "hillbilly gibberish" - to the recording of a music video that is both harbinger and metaphor for the song's legacy: Here were the two groups literally breaking down the wall between them so they could rock out - rap out? - together. And the rest is hip-hop history. Or is it? After "Walk This Way," Aerosmith's ninth studio album sold five million copies and returned them to stadium-show status. Rubin was crowned "King of Rap" on the cover of The Village Voice. RunDMC, however, found themselves embroiled in more in-house battles and lawsuits, and though their legacy as hip-hop godfathers is well enshrined, their 1988 "Tougher Than Leather" album was not the commercial smash that Aerosmith's release was. There is an elephant in the room here, one that Edgers signals toward but ought to face squarely. What does it say about American culture that for an AfricanAmerican art form to receive its due it had to not just seek white validation but cloak itself in the trappings of whiteness? How is it that the biggest immediate winners in the story were not the black rappers but the white rockers and the white producer? These are rhetorical questions; anyone mildly familiar with American cultural history knows the dynamics at play here. When Edgers casually compares "Walk This Way" to the "historic" moment when "Elvis thrust his pelvis on 'The Milton Berle Show' 30 years earlier," there's that elephant again: Is anyone more representative of the long legacy of white appropriation of black art forms than Elvis? In rock 'n' roll it was a shameless, easy process: white artists covering songs by black artists, then earning the money and credit. But wait, you say. In hip-hop it has not been so shameless and easy. Scores of black originators in the genre then and now continue to earn their due. And anyway, hip-hop is not simply "black" but creole: Latinos were vital to its inception; broadly speaking, hip-hop culture was, as Fab 5 Freddy says to Edgers, akin to American pop culture itself: "a collaborative effort between blacks, Jews and Italians, particularly in New York." This is true. But it is also why hip-hop narratives, like the "Walk This Way" saga, continue to hold so much appeal, almost as America's national fable: They reinforce the myth of the American dream. The myth that an empire of wealth can grow from dorm rooms (but never mind the price tag on those dorm rooms and thus the color and class of most people inhabiting them). The myth that America is a melting pot of hybrid peoples coming together to produce beautiful cultures (but never mind that such a process has been governed by racist, capitalist-driven power dynamics that continue to benefit some more than others). There is something anachronistic, especially in a Black Lives Matter era, about recounting hip-hop history without more than a nod to these realities. Edgers tells the story with incredulity - behold how one song changed American music! - but in the context of American history the ending is actually an inevitability: If it hadn't been hip-hop it would have been something else, because as Ralph Ellison pointed out in his famed Time magazine essay "What America Would Be Like Without Blacks," American culture is African-American culture and vice versa. How this process has played out and for whose benefit, how its reality has been negated by whole swaths of America - including a current president who omits hip-hop from his inauguration because it's not right for the "typically and traditionally American event" - these are the issues demanding the attention of hiphop historians of the here and now. BAZ DREISINGER, a professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the author of "Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World," has written frequently about hip-hop. Run thought Tyler's lyrics for 'Walk This Way' were 'hillbilly gibberish.'



Chapter 1 Run-DMC: Hollis It almost always begins with two. Keith and Mick. John and Paul. Chuck and Flav. They meet on a train, in a club, in homeroom. They realize they've got something in common, share a record, a rhyme, and a chorus, and they're off. Years later, when it's all gone mad, when the mishegas of superstardom turns even the tightest brotherhood into a made-for-TV movie, that initial spark can be easy to forget. But it's always there, at the center, and it's why fans never stop longing for a reunion. Start with Run, who put them together. And start in Hollis, where they met, and upstairs, where he first heard those sounds. "Number one, there's the attic," he said. Forty years later, Joseph Ward Simmons was a minister who liked everyone to call him Rev. Run. He lived in a mansion in Saddle River, New Jersey. He was shiny-bald, heavy, and wearing a black Adidas sweat suit. Asked about growing up, though, he would snap straight back to the Me Decade, to Joey, that scrappy, basketball-playing kid with an Afro and dirty-dawg smile. And the attic. Rev. Run wouldn't even drink Red Bull anymore. But when he closed his eyes, he could still smell the weed stench leaking out the door and down the stairs as his older brothers cranked up the radio. There were three brothers in that house. Danny was the oldest, Russell in the middle, Joey the youngest. The Simmons family had moved into a three-bedroom brick house at 104-16 205th Street in 1965, when Joey was not yet one year old. Daniel Simmons Sr. worked in the New York City schools as an attendance supervisor. He also participated in the civil rights movement. He marched on Washington in 1963 and taught a course on black history at Pace University. Evelyn, his wife, taught preschool and painted in her spare time. They were close with their boys, but they couldn't control them. Danny Simmons, eleven years older than Joey, got deep into drugs. Russell dabbled, favoring angel dust, cocaine, and weed. He also liked to toss around his gang credentials, telling anybody who asked about his start as a dealer and his street smarts. But he was no thug. "Russell, like any other kid who did anything on the street, they like to glorify that shit," said Danny. He continued. "Russell sold a little weed for me. I would buy a pound of weed and give Russell a quarter pound. But our father had a bachelor's degree, our mother went to college. Russell was taken care of. The only thing Russell ever sold was a little weed and some cocoa leaf incense faking it was coke. He was in a neighborhood gang because every other kid was in a gang. I personally do not like to further that stereotype that all these kids came from nothing and music made them. What made them is our parents, who got jobs and woke us up in the morning to go to school. We had college funds." If Russell at least dabbled in the life, Joey stayed firmly out. He watched what it did to Danny, who was hooked on heroin at one point. "He saw it all," said Russell. "His own brother shot a lot of dope. I went through hell. He had a good father, a good mother, and he was able to escape. But you still got family out there, you still got friends. It's not that much peer pressure. It's not like you got to come out and join the game." Hollis is a 525-acre, southeastern stretch of Queens. For Run-DMC, it is what Liverpool was to the Beatles, but something more. The Beatles left the Mersey behind, and years later, they weren't writing elegiac remembrances of hanging out on the docks or playing the Cavern Club. They moved on. Run-DMC, on the other hand, held up their home neighborhood as a source of pride, whether rolling past their boys with the radio blasting or celebrating "Christmas in Hollis" on record long after they could afford to leave it behind. It's no wonder the cover of their authorized autobiography, Tougher Than Leather, features a Janette Beckman photo of the guys-and their crew-standing outside in Hollis back in the day. It wasn't Bel-Air or even Long Island, but it wasn't something to turn your nose up at. Hollis in the '70s was an urban oasis compared to the burned-out brick buildings of the Bronx. "Moving on up" was the operative phrase, taking its cue from the popular sitcom The Jeffersons. In Hollis, you had a fenced-in yard, a driveway, and your own walls. You could be safe, plan for college, and build a life. Which is not to say it was perfect. There was crime, there was dealing, there were times and corners you didn't want to be out on by yourself. The local high school, in particular, did not inspire confidence. The Simmons brothers and Jay Mizell went to Andrew Jackson High School. (Darryl, who became DMC, did not; his parents sent him to Catholic school.) When the school shut down in the early 1990s, state officials noted that a "heroin factory" had been run out of the basement at one point. Its four-year graduation rate hovered around 30 percent. For Joey-before he became Run-everything was about music and basketball. He loved shooting hoops down in the playgrounds. His connection to music began in the attic. The space first belonged to Danny. He and Russell sometimes let Joey come up. He stared at the nite-glow paint on the walls. The Gil Scott-Heron poster. "And that's where I hear Frankie Crocker, in the attic," Run said. "The biggest DJ in the world and jammin' to that when they let me come up there." Frankie Crocker. Amazing hair, almost heavy metal hair. You can see him in photos backstage with Barry White, just before Thanksgiving 1974, with that golden smile, neat tie, and those locks flowing over his shoulders. Two years later, he turned to an Afro and a white suit when his Heart and Soul Orchestra released a pair of albums on Casablanca Records, the label that also put out the Village People and Donna Summer. Crocker ruled the airwaves on WBLS-FM, 107.5. He cruised the city in a flashy car or, more famously one night, rode a white stallion through the New York streets to make the grandest entrance at Studio 54. He was purely disco and would claim to hate rap, at least the rap that came later, stripped of the slap bass and four-on-the-floor beat. But Crocker's raps were famous, as much a model for the first-generation MCs as for the harder rhymes of Caz or the Funky 4+1. Because Crocker's rhymes weren't being heard only in nightclubs. They were blasting over the airwaves, bristling with confidence and cool where anybody could hear them. "Good evening New York," Frankie would say to open his show over a waterbed of R&B chords. "This is the show that's bound to put more dips in your hips. More cut in your strut and more glide in your stride. "If you don't dig it, you know you've got a hole in your soul. "And you don't eat chicken on Sunday. "Tall, tan, young, and fine. Anytime you want me, baby, reach out for me. I'm your guy. Just as good to you as it is for you." And then a James Brown grunt. "Ha ha ha. You get so much with the Frankie Crocker touch. After all, how could you lose with the stuff I use." Yes, Frankie Crocker was everywhere. Joey Simmons hustled down the block to 197th Street, cutting through a backstreet instead of the main drag, Hollis Avenue, so he wouldn't get hassled, to see his buddy Darryl McDaniels. They'd been friends since grade school. Then they went to another kid's house and the dial was set to WBLS. "And it's the coolest echo chamber 'experience experience, experience,'" said Run. "'Frankie Crocker, Crocker, Crocker, the cool chief rocker, Frankie Crocker.'" His head was spinning. Who was this Frankie Crocker? Then, one day, he begged Russell for a little brotherly guidance. He pointed to the radio. "'How do I get to Frankie Crocker?' He said, 'It's so easy. Go to the end of the radio station and the second you turn it like you're trying to go back, WBLS will come up.' I'm fascinated. I'm the king. I now can create and listen to Frankie Crocker." By then, Danny was out of the house. Russell was still there, but he'd left the attic to the kid, the kid who by that point knew how to tune his radio to 107.5. Rev. Run told the story: "Then I hear in the streets, 'Your brother was at the party last night.' What?" A dramatic pause. "Russell was at a party last night? What is he doing? 'Your brother, I heard your brother got on the mic last night.' My brother got on the mic? What is this?" The parties started in the parks in the early '70s. There were full bands playing until DJ Kool Herc, in the Bronx and a good twenty-five-minute drive away from the Simmons kids, came around with two turntables and big-ass speakers he'd haul around in his convertible. They say Herc held the first hip-hop party in the common room at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, in the Bronx, on August 11, 1973. A copy of the original invite is in a case at the Smithsonian. But what came next shaped the scene more dramatically, when the turntables came off the streets into the clubs. And by the time Joey was old enough to get into an R-rated movie, what mattered is that Russell had moved onto the circuit. He even had a name for his company, Rush. And when he'd get back to 205th street, early morning, the kid would be waiting. "I'd see him walk through the door with a guy named Kurtis Walker. Kurtis Blow. I did my job here when I'd hear him coming in at five, six in the morning. Immediately go cook breakfast. They're hungry. They probably got the munchies. I got to cook breakfast. Make sure Russell get those socks, that I didn't use up all the tube socks out of the basement. Cook breakfast to keep my brother happy. Bacon and eggs." Kurt and Russell would be eating and the kid would be thinking about "Rush, a force in college parties," and he'd be asking, What can I do? ... Son of Byford, brother of Al Banna's my mamma and Run's my pal It's McDaniels, not McDonald's That was Darryl. He'd soon be the closer, the Devastating Mic Controller, the KIIIIINNNGGGG. But back then he was the braniac, the kid with all A's, a crazy comic book collection, and a painful curfew. He was at home, getting antsy, listening to the other kids outside until ten, eleven, midnight. "I'm hearing them laugh and do water guns all through the night," said DMC. "I was jealous, but I wasn't disappointed. I was really big with G.I. Joe, Evil Knievel. And the crazy thing with me is, I didn't just play with my dolls. I did movies with them." What DMC didn't know then-he wouldn't find out until his thirties-was that he hadn't actually been born in Hollis. He was from Harlem, given up as a baby by his birth mother. This information would throw him into a deep depression, but ultimately help him understand who he was. Back then though, everything began and ended in Hollis. To a comic book kid like Darryl, Queens had a mystique. Remember, Peter Parker's from Queens. "The first time I saw the Roosevelt Island Tram, I almost suffocated. I'm in the car with my mother and father. I'm in the backseat and we're going over the 59th Street Bridge, my father's turning around. 'What the hell is wrong with the boy?' My mother, she's a nurse, she's turning around. 'What's wrong with you?' All I can think is, 'It does exist.' The first time I saw Roosevelt on a train was in Spider-Man. Or the Pan Am Building on Park Avenue. It's a classic shot." The McDaniels' house ran to the rhythms of a time clock. Darryl's parents were up early, with Byford working for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as a station agent, and Banna as a nursing coordinator at a local hospital. Older brother, Alfred, also dug the comic books, a key to Darryl's embrace of fantasy. Is it any wonder the man who rapped that he was "Son of Byford," who gave himself a superhero name, studied Thor, Son of Odin? Alfred is the one who picked up tapes on the street, the homemade hip-hop tapes you couldn't buy in stores. He also picked up a turntable, which the brothers put in the basement and linked to his mother's wood-cased record player. "Me and my brother, we went out, bought a fifty-dollar mixer, this Gemini mixer, this silver mixer, about the size of a shoe box," said DMC. "The thing didn't even have a crossfade. Crossfade wasn't invented yet. The turntable we had didn't even match the turntable to my mother's system. But that's how bad we wanted the turntables. So it was just a makeshift system. I didn't have an amp, but it was good enough to allow me to be Grandmaster Flash." D was cagey about the equipment at first. When his friend Run first asked him about it, he told him it was his brother's. "Hip-hop was my personal thing," he said. "Like how I had my comic books. I would wake up in the morning and I would go DJ before I would go outside and hang with Joe and Ray and our whole crew. So nobody knew for a long time, and then what had happened was I used to do tapes." One day, DMC made a tape rhyming over the Incredible Bongo Band's version of "Apache," a Kool Herc favorite, and played it for his buddies. "And Joe was like, 'Yo, that's you, Darryl?' And I was like, 'Yeah.' And he didn't say nothing. And then ever so slowly, when he started coming to my house, I started to reveal. Like, he knew I could DJ, but slowly over time, like, we would be in the alleyway around the corner from my house where we used to hang out at. And my man, Douglas Hayes, who was my best friend growing up. He would start beating on the wall or on a table or a box or something. And I would just start saying rhymes that I was writing, and Joe would give me this look, 'Oh shit.'" Excerpted from Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song That Changed American Music Forever by Geoff Edgers All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Cast Of Charactersp. xi
Introductionp. 1
Part 1 Beforep. 13
1 Run-DMC: Hollisp. 15
2 Aerosmith: Toxic Twinsp. 30
3 Run-DMC: Larry Smith, Kurt, and the Feverp. 42
4 Aerosmith: Who Got the Beat?p. 60
5 Run-DMC: It's Like Thatp. 72
6 Aerosmith: Jimmy and the Doofp. 85
7 Run-DMC: LongPlay, with Guitarsp. 103
8 Aerosmith: Bottomp. 114
9 Run-DMC: Jayp. 120
10 Aerosmith: Reunitedp. 131
11 Run-DMC: Down with King Kurtp. 139
Part 2 1986p. 151
12 Creating Rick Rubinp. 153
13 Done with Mirrorsp. 176
14 "The Reducer"p. 187
15 Choosing "Walk"p. 196
16 The Leveep. 204
17 March 9p. 212
18 Cracking Radio, Cracking MTVp. 227
19 Who Is the King?p. 242
20 Not for $200 Billionp. 248
Epiloguep. 263
Acknowledgmentsp. 267