By Todd Houston
The following is an interview with Rockford native and Aerosmith guitar technician Trace Foster.
Rockford Rocked Interviews (RRI): Good morning, Trace! For those who don’t know, you are a Harlem High School graduate and, oh yeah, you’re also (Aerosmith guitarist) Joe Perry’s personal guitar tech. How did you land that gig?
Trace Foster (TF): Long story short, Joe was looking for a new guitar technician, and my name was given to him by a couple of people. He heard I worked for Rick Nielsen, so Joe calls Rick and Rick tells him “Trace is your guy!”
RRI: You just finished up a big tour with Aerosmith, and as of this interview, you’re off to the Jimmy Fallon show with Joe Perry. You’re a busy guy; do you at least get to travel first class?
TF: Funny, I am actually sitting in first class on a flight to Dallas right now as I am typing this, but the answer is actually no. I cut my deal with standard flights because when you fly as much as I do, you become a preferred flyer, and you get free upgrades most of the time anyways, so I chose cash over seats.
RRI: When we spoke earlier, you told me that you play guitar and collect instruments as well. When did you first become interested in music and who were your musical heroes growing up?
TF: I’ve played guitar since I was probably 10. Joe was a huge influence on my playing style, and now I get to sound check for him, which is a big thrill! Michael Schenker and Randy Rhoads were big as well.
RRI: This past spring, Aerosmith toured Europe. What’s the typical security shakedown like, in say, Istanbul, Turkey? Any airport horror stories to tell?
TF: There are lots of horror stories when it comes to traveling in foreign countries, Todd. One that comes to mind would be going through what used to be called Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic now. The bus is pulled over at 3 a.m. by military police with AK47s! Everyone has to get off the bus from a dead sleep in the middle of winter with no coats on. Some guys are in their underwear. The soldiers go onto the bus and steal everyone’s wallets and anything else they can grab. Obviously, we complain when we get back on the bus, only to have them say we could always go to the police station and file a complaint if we want. Ah, no thanks! Have a good night, Mr. Soldier! (laughs) Great to be American!
RRI: What’s Joe Perry like as a boss? Do you guys ever pal around and hit pawn shops and music stores together while on the road?
TF: Working for Joe Perry is a dream job, for sure. What kind of guy is Joe? Well, there’s a picture of him and I together in his new book. All class, that guy. We do go to pawn shops now and then, but I realize that every time we go to music stores and pawn shops, I always end up having to set up a lot of cruddy guitars, and we already travel with upwards of 40 guitars, so why make more work for myself? (laughs)
RRI: Here’s a scenario … after finishing a song, Joe Perry comes over to you for a fresh guitar, and you hand him one that’s so out of tune that even the most tone deaf person on the planet notices. Does he (A) Glare at you and scowl? (B) Try to tune it himself? or (C) Throw it back in your direction, aiming for your head?
TF: Great question, but two things … one, I would never do that, and two, you need a question (D). Joe would actually play the guitar the whole song and bend notes into tune. He’s done it a few times where he just didn’t want to stop playing a certain guitar because it felt good! There is no tuner on his pedal board, so he just bends into tune. Quite amazing.
RRI: You’re in Oklahoma now. How often do you get back to the Rockford area, and what do you do for fun while visiting, besides shop for sock monkeys?
TF: I usually make it to Rockford once a year to see my nieces, who still live there. Actually, it’s pretty upsetting to me when I come back home. It’s really changed a lot and driving by Machesney Mall is really depressing to me. I worked at the movie theater; the arcade and Maloney’s Restaurant inside Machesney Park Mall in the ’80s. I spent a good part of my growing up there, and now it’s all gone now, which is sad.
RRI: What’s in your iPod right now? In other words, who are you listening to these days?
TF: My two favorite bands right now are: Social Distortion and Bowling for Soup. I just relate to both bands really well.
RRI: Your favorite Saturday night album is?
TF: Any Social Distortion album.
RRI: Favorite Sunday morning album?
TF: Time Life hits of the ’70s. Seriously, there are some amazing songs written in the ’70s, and the production is great. They don’t write them like that anymore, unfortunately.
RRI: Gibson or Fender guitars?
TF: I have both, of course, but I really prefer Gibson. The feel to me makes more sense.
RRI: One last question — For some crazy reason, you get stuck here in Rockford with Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler. Where do you take him for dinner? Uncle Nick’s for gyros, The Capri for pizza or El Reboso on 11th Street for Mexican? It’s your call, my friend.
TF: That sounds more like a nightmare! But the answer is an easy one. UNCLE NICK’S! I have been going there since I was in high school! Steven would get two, I’m sure, and he would also probably make me pay. Such is the life.
RRI: Thanks for chatting with us!
TF: Thanks to you for keeping the spirit of the Rockford music scene alive. There has been some pretty amazing music come out of Rockford, and it’s nice that you keep it alive! Keep up the great work!
From the Oct. 22-28, 2014, issue