By Ken Sharp
One can’t imagine Aerosmith without their trusty timekeeper Joey Kramer. Schooled in R&B, soul and funk, Kramer’s explosive drumming skills served as the rocket engine that fueled the Aerosmith’s mighty musical machine. And that engine is still firing on all cylinders more than four decades since the Bad Boys from Boston first joined forces. Today, that incandescent spark and energy is willfully on display in the band’s new DVD, “Aerosmith Rocks Donington 2014” (available in multiple formats this September, including Blu-ray+2CD, DVD+2CD, DVD+3LP sets via Eagle Rock), which showcases the hard rock legends pummeling the vast festival crowd into joyful submission with a flurry of signature ‘Smith gems traversing their entire career.
GOLDMINE: Playing a massive outdoor festival like Donington, does the band change its approach compared to a show in an indoor venue?
Joey Kramer: I can’t say that we do. We do the best show that we can do every night. We might change things around a little, but we do that night to night anyway. It was pretty much the same show we were doing all along but it’s just a whole lot more exciting for us because when you look at 100,000 people you want to give it all you’ve got.
GM: One of the tracks of the band’s Donington set is the band’s cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together.” Bring us back to cutting that track in the late ‘70s with Beatles producer George Martin.
JK: That’s a really fond memory for me. We were in the Record Plant in New York City and George Martin was producing that for us, and not only was it an honor to work with him, but it was a thrill. It’s something that I’ll never forget. It turned out to be the kind of thing where, yeah, it’s a Beatles song but there are a lot of people out there who like our version better. We were able to rock it up. I still hear it on the radio all of the time.
GM: From a purely selfish standpoint, what Aerosmith song would you like the band to pull out from the catalog to perform live?
JK: Geez, it’s hard to nail it down to one. I’d like for us to play “Nobody’s Fault” off of “Rocks.” “Monkey on My Back” would be another good one to do and “Girl Keeps Coming Apart” off of “Permanent Vacation.”
GM: In the early days when the band was all living together on Commonwealth Avenue, did you experience moments of doubt that the band would make it?
JK: Man, we always believed it would happen. I was in so many bands before I found these four guys that it was a thrill to find four other people who were of the same mind. Keep in mind, we were all 19 and 20 years old. We were so busy doing it that we didn’t have time to realize or understand what was really going on. But it clicked so much that we just kept doing it; we were all of the same mind. At the same time, the common denomination back then was the same that it is now. It’s still about the music for us. I’d be the first not to deny that being rich and famous is f**king great; everybody loves it. But the bottom line is it’s about the music and it’s always been that way for us. I think that’s why we probably have had the longevity that we’ve had.
GM: Was there a pivotal moment in the band’s career where you took the right path and could easily have veered off course and crashed and burned?
JK: Well, I think the big major one is all of us getting sober. It took about four or five years for all of us to join ranks. I’ve been sober for 28 years in May, and if I didn’t get sober I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did because I was really on a death run with drugs and alcohol. I think pretty much all of us were. We finally got it together and realized we needed to do it together. I watch guys from other bands try and go out and do solo projects and they do what they do whether it’s to satisfy their egos or whatever, but people don’t want to see that. They want to see where you came from. They want to see what you’re part of; they want to see the whole pie. With this band, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
GM: When did you realize Aerosmith has broken through and no dead end jobs would be on the horizon for the band?
JK: (laughs) I don’t think I ever consciously had that thought, but I guess when “Toys in the Attic” came out, which was our third record. When that album came out is when “Dream On” became a big hit, which was a song off of the first record. Then after “Dream On” was a hit came “Walk This Way,” which was off the “Toys in the Attic” album. When that album hit, it hit pretty hard and it was kind of obvious as to what was going on and that we had broken through in a big way.
GM: Being that Steven’s a frustrated drummer and works you extra hard, how has he helped make you a better drummer?
JK: Oh absolutely! Steven’s a perfectionist and he and I have a very volatile relationship. We love each other very much and when we get along, we really get along and when we fight, it’s just like brothers. Just like the five of us are. He kind of put me onto a little bit of a style. When we first started 40 years ago, the problem was I had the chops that he didn’t have but he had the direction and he had the knowledge of being a songwriter and what was needed for that. So he’s the one who turned me onto that and I took the ball and ran with it until it got to the point where everybody said, “OK Joey, you’ve got to do a drum solo now.” I didn’t want to do that. The first night that I did a drum solo was in 1976 at Pontiac Stadium in Michigan in front of 80,000 people. When I got the reaction back from the fans when I did that, that’s what drove me to doing a drum solo every night for the next 30 years.
GM: Aerosmith stood apart from other like-minded hard rock bands by not drawing just from hard rock and blues but healthy doses of funk and soul. Explain how that sensibility lent a more expansive dimension to your sound.
JK: I really appreciate you appreciating that (laughs) ‘cause not a lot of people do. I came from a rhythm and blues background. I played with some singing groups which were like a Temptations sort of a set-up with five guys out in front singing and I was in the backup band. Those guys used to bring me to the Apollo to see James Brown and to the Sugar Shack in Boston to see the O’Jays and the Temptations. They used to tell me, “Sit and watch the drummer” and the drummers would accentuate the choreography that the singers were doing. And so I used to go to rehearsals with just the singers and they showed me what it was that they wanted. Once I learned how to play like that, it was an approach where you’re playing for what the song is all about as opposed to what a lot of guys do, which is just play drums. I am a street player; I have no formal teaching or learning and I picked everything up by myself. But what I do with my playing is about emotion and coming from the heart. That’s pretty much how I approach everything in life, but especially my playing because that’s what I love the most. That’s pretty much how it came to be.
GM: Once you achieved success with Aerosmith, was it better, different, worse than you imagined?
JK: That’s a very interesting question. I can only sit and, in retrospect, look at it now and talk to you. At the time that it was happening we were so busy and involved and wrapped up in actually doing it and being what we were that we never took any time to stand back and go, “Oh, look at this, look at all our success, this is really cool.” We were just so busy in making Aerosmith as good as it could be that we never did that. Now that I’m older, I can take a step back and look at what I’m doing. I don’t ever take our success for granted anymore. I’m very grateful and I’m very thankful for my career and for the length of time that we’ve been able to do it, for the fans that have stuck with us and to my partners in the group. We’ve been through some f**king serious sh*t and the fact that we’re still together with the original guys in the band is really something. GM