Salt Lake City, Utah, October 22, 2003
In 2003, my cousin took a job working for Aerosmith when they set off on tour with Kiss. The tour had two names: Aerosmith’s camp called it the Rocksimus Maximus Tour, while Kiss referred to it as the World Domination Tour. It wasn’t clear to me why the two bands couldn’t agree upon a single grandiose name.
Kelly’s job was playing hostess to those Aerosmith fans who purchased “The Velvet Rope Experience,” a package that, for a mere $600 per person, included a decent seat at the concert, a chance to attend a rehearsal, and an opportunity to receive a high-five from Steven Tyler as he rode past in a limo.
“Whoa. That’s a lot of money,” I said, the night Kelly called to tell me the tour would be coming to Utah. “I suppose the rehearsal would be pretty cool, though.”
“Actually, it’s usually just a sound check,” she confessed. “The band’s not even there.”
“What a rip off!”
“They’re told up front there’s no guarantee members of the band will be present.”
“Really? And they still buy this package? How many of them?”
“It varies, but at least a dozen in every town. Sometimes as many as 50.”
“You know how some people have always wanted to go to Paris? This is their Paris.”
The day they played Salt Lake, I arrived at the Delta Center in the early afternoon. It was the first indoor venue for the tour, and crew members were scrambling around everywhere, making adjustments. We ate craft service, and then the Velvet Ropers began to arrive.
There were only seven on this leg of the tour, all women. Kelly said that was unusual; the typical Velvet Roper was a middle-aged guy. Kelly had been right about their demeanor, though: they were so happy to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their fantasy world that everything they saw pleased them.
Even the soundcheck had them entertained. They watched in fascination as the light crew scuttled among the rafters and the mic man barked into the microphones. And then Joe Perry strolled onstage. He wore a lowriding pair of stonewashed jeans, an unbuttoned red silk shirt, lots of necklaces and rings, and a black beret.
“He looks like a pirate!” one of the Velvet Ropers whispered.
The techs had been tuning the instruments and jamming a little. Perry picked up a guitar and joined them, launching without preamble into a blues riff. After startled glances between them, the drum tech, bass tech, and a second guitarist rushed to follow his lead. They played for awhile, and then Perry walked over to his microphone and started singing. Though the mic wasn’t even on, he continued, completing the first verse of a blues song. Then he wandered over to the drum kit, where the other musicians were clustered, and played a long guitar solo. Finally, he headed back to the mic, which the sound guys had scrambled to turn on in the interim, and finished the song.
Aerosmith not being my cup of tea, I’d never really registered how talented a guitarist Joe Perry was up until that moment. I looked to see whether the Velvet Ropers were enjoying the performance. They looked mildly interested, but not nearly as enthralled as I would have supposed. But, as Kelly said afterward, the fans tended to be more invested in Aerosmith’s cult of personality than their musicianship. Mostly they just wanted to see Steven Tyler.
Back at home later, I googled the song Perry and the techs had played, Goin’ Down. I thought it had the vibe of an old blues standard, but it turned out it had been written by Don Nix in 1970—not quite as ancient as I’d thought.
In 1970, Don Nix was working as producer, arranger, and sleeve designer for a blues band called Memphis Moloch. His song appeared on their first, self-titled album. Then in 1972 he recorded the song again with his own band, Don Nix & the Alabama State Troopers.
I must not have been the only one who thought the song had a classic sound, because it immediately became popular with rock and blues musicians. Freddie King recorded a version in 1971; J.J. Cale and Leon Russell, and The Jeff Beck Group did versions in 1972. Later the song was recorded by Johnny Lee Hooker, Joe Walsh, Peter Green, and Bryan Ferry, amongst others.
In the manner of great blues, the lyrics are extremely simple. There are variations, but in most versions the first verse goes:
I’m goin’ down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’m goin’ down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground
Don Nix wrote the song after falling out of a second-story window, or so the legend goes.
© Dawn Corrigan. Dawn, of Gulf Breeeze, Florida, describes herself as ‘a writer and poet whose fiction, poetry, business writing and blah blah blah have appeared in print since the early ’90s, and online since the early aughts.’ Her debut novel, Mitigating Circumstances, was published by Five Star/Cengage in January 2014.