September 1, 2010
By Tim Taylor
Drummer Of Aerosmith, Joey Kramer Hit Hard
A Story Of Hitting Rock Bottom At The Top
JAM's Exclusive Interview with Joey Kramer
Aerosmith, arguably, is the greatest American-bred rock and roll band in music history. The heartbeat of the group the past 40 years, its one true pulse if you will, has been its drummer, one Joseph Michael "Joey" Kramer. Recently, Kramer released the paperback version of his 2009 memoir, Hit Hard: A Story of Hitting Rock Bottom at the Top. The book is an intimate look at the musician's quiet struggles with depression and his four-decades of aggression with Aerosmith.
Earlier this year, it appeared as though the Boston-based band's internal disputes had finally gotten the best of it, with guitarist Joe Perry even announcing the group was looking for a new singer. Though Perry, Kramer, Tom Hamilton and Brad Whitford eventually ironed out their differences with the flamboyant singer, the interim period gave the Bronx native time to pursue another passion – iPhone games. On February 26, 2010, the drummer released the first version in the iTunes store, Joey Kramer's Hit Hard. The game challenges the player to a drumming contest featuring fifteen levels of Kramer's favorite beats to compete against. At the end of each month, the highest score in the global competition receives prizes and gifts from the drummer.
Uncertainty and speculation have been constant companions of Aerosmith literally since Steven Tyler sang his first note. During its heyday, the band members became almost as famous for their offstage debauchery and drug abuse as they did for the musicianship that created and performed hits like "Walk This Way", "Back in the Saddle", "Train Kept A-Rollin", "Sweet Emotion", "Seasons of Wither" and the classic "Dream On". Kramer's tell-all tome details the outlandish behavior that has shadowed Aerosmith throughout its existence as well as his own battles to overcome drug abuse, anxiety and depression.
JAM: So, your book, Hit Hard, just came out in paperback.
Joey Kramer: Yeah, it actually has been out for a year, but when it was released last June, it came four days after the passing of Michael Jackson. As far as the media was concerned, it went unnoticed. The book got lost in the shuffle of Jackson's death. A year later, it's out now in paperback and is enjoying a new lease on life. My publisher and I are trying to recharge it. From the feedback I'm getting, people are both relating and identifying with the book. They're enjoying it so everything seems to be working. JAM: It seems as though a great deal of the rock memoirs released today, from Nikki Sixx to Ozzy Osbourne, use the central of theme drug abuse and sex to tell their stories. What makes Joey Kramer's tales of drugs, sex and rock and roll any different from all the other sordid tales by rock stars?
My story is different from the others you mentioned because it's not just a rock n' roll memoir. It's more about my life story, and the trials and tribulations of all the wonderful things that life has to offer. Alcoholism, anxiety and depression affect people in all walks of life. Surviving it is the key, and my book tells how I got through those very traumatic periods when I truly was living on the edge. Honestly, how I beat these addictions are the parts of the book that really seem to be helping folks the most. My story lets people know you don't have to be a rock star to crash and burn. People in recovery all have their own unique story's dealing with the dark side of life. The one thing we all have in common is the pain we share. My goal with the book is to show people that no situation is hopeless as opposed to your typical rock memoir that glamorizes the good and bad times of addiction.
JAM: This book took you something like four years to write.
That's because it dealt with very serious subjects to me. Again, this isn't your typical tales of drugs, sex and rock and roll. It's an honest read with no bullshit to be found in it anywhere. Every thing you read in Hit Hard is true. JAM: Was writing this book, and getting your story out before the fans, a therapeutic way to deal with your past and congratulate yourself for surviving it as well?
Writing the book was a very cathartic experience. For instance, every night I do a meet and greet with fans and conduct a question and answer session with them. It's a combination of questions about the band and the book, and I enjoy answering every thing that comes my way.
JAM: I've been following this band closely for as long as I can remember. One thing I've noticed in the last couple of years is this. You've started interacting with fans a lot more than you ever used to, including book signings, charity events, pre-show parties and contests. Where is all this coming from?
A lot of what motivated me to come out of my shell, so to speak, has been my wife. She has really made me appreciate the fans this band has. Once I realized how dedicated these people are, and how much they love Aerosmith like I do, it really opened up my eyes to how amazingly lucky I am. I treat the people I meet with the utmost respect, because to do it any other way would be unacceptable as far as I'm concerned. You're right though. I used to avoid meeting our fans for a very long time. I was just a grouchy, grumpy guy who wanted to be left alone. I used to travel by myself on tours all the time simply because I wasn't happy with who Joey Kramer was as a person. Today, that period of my life is over. A big part of this turnaround goes to my wife, Linda. She taught me to be more appreciative of everything I have – especially the fans.
JAM: In your book, you describe your role in Aerosmith as sort of the "mother ship". That's a very curious analogy.
Well, that comment really is directed at my role in our live shows. I'm in the middle of the stage, and my job is to keep things on track if anything derails. I'm there for everyone to lean on, and I like to be dependable. That's pretty much a parallel of how I like to be as a friend, and the kind of man I want to be.
JAM: One of the most important parts of your treatment for depression was finding your identity as "Joey" instead of just "the drummer for Aerosmith". How were you able to do that?
That's something I go into great detail about in the book. It was a difficult journey to undertake and the most challenging aspect of understanding who I am. I had to separate 'who' I was from 'what' I was. It was a combination of therapy and my coming to the realization that Aerosmith is not the most important thing in the world.
JAM: When you are the "mother ship," it comes with responsibilities.
Yes, I carried those responsibilities with me for years. Once I began to take better care of myself – mentally, spiritually and physically – my life started to fall into place. As you noted earlier, I'm more at ease now and accessible to people. There is no "everything exists for the band" attitude I used to shoulder 24 hours a day. Today I concentrate on taking care of Joey the person first. When I do that, everything else, including Aerosmith, seems to work better.
JAM: One of the most intriguing aspects of your book is your relationship with Steven Tyler. You, Tom and Steven have been through hell and back the entire history of this band. You refer to your friendship with the band's only singer as one of a loving, brother type of situation that has its share of demons.
Steven and I have a very "earthy" connection between us. Whatever it is he's become to me – it's because I allow it. I own up to that fact in the book. Has he taken advantage of friendship over the years? Yes. Has he abused our friendship? Yes. But bear this in mind. Whatever Steven and I have been through, I take the responsibility for allowing the bad, and the good, to have transpired between us. The only way to change that situation was to draw certain boundaries, and keep them up, when it comes to dealing with Steven – or anyone else in this band for that matter.
JAM: You seem a different person just making the statement you just did.
If you let somebody take advantage of you – or if you let somebody make you a doormat – that's your own fault. Nobody else can fix that problem except you. I'm responsible for my own actions. Steven knew how to manipulate me, and he did it for years. It's those instances when he became my own personal demon. On the flip side, I have been very blessed to have Steven Tyler in my life. He taught me more about music, and myself, than you'll ever know. I can't begin to tell you how much I've learned about life itself from him. Pretty much from the beginning, Steven has been a very dynamic force in Aerosmith. I just sort of sat back behind the drums and kept the music on track while he did his thing. Over the years, I finally came into my own, and I'm very grateful for Steven easing me into the role I've taken. I love him dearly, don't get me wrong. We are brothers to the end and get along famously despite the politics that's always going on in Aerosmith. We love each other; we get mad each other. There are days we get along great, and times we need space from one another. The two of us have been through the ringer more times than I care to count the past 40 years. At this point in our lives, it has become almost comical to witness the ridiculous things that transpire in this band. But hey, it wouldn't be Aerosmith if there wasn't some sort of drama swirling around us.
JAM: How difficult was it for you to watch your friend and colleague go through his recent troubles, to the point where you had to call him out in the press?
Those problems Steven was having was the reason I called him out. Watching him trying to cope with his personal demons was a very difficult thing to do. However, I want to go on the record saying I'm really proud of him for doing what he did. Not a lot of people have the courage and strength to confront the problems he had. A lot of people would have just thrown up their hands, given way to temptation, and whatever happens, happens. Again, I'm extremely proud of Steven for tackling his problems head on, and for the band for standing behind him. At this point in time, I'm convinced the only thing that could get in the way of Aerosmith continuing on is if somebody dies.
JAM: An autobiography as personal as yours usually comes out after a band's career has come to an end. It took you four years to write this book. During this time, were you at all apprehensive to expose your vulnerabilities?
Not at all! We live in a different day and age now where people are more open to getting help. One of the things I learned writing the book was this. Because of my status in Aerosmith, I can reach out to people with problems and they'll listen to me. For instance, a troubled kid's parents can try and discuss with their child the same things I talk about in the book. The thing is these kids won't listen to mom and dad, whereas they will pay attention to what Joey Kramer from Aerosmith has to say. If the messages in my book can help out young adults, individuals my own age, or those in-between, and give people hope, then I have accomplished my goal. I already consider my book a success because of the people it has already touched.
JAM: Steven Tyler recently described the band as having more ups and downs than a hooker. Here's a simple question – well maybe not. Give me the highest high and the lowest low for Joey Kramer the past 40 years?
Hmmm! The highest high and the lowest low – wow! The lowest low, for me, had to be when I had my nervous breakdown in 1995 and the band was about to record songs for the Nine Lives album.
JAM: At the time, Aerosmith had left Geffen, where it had sold something like 20 million albums, for an incredibly large advance from Sony. Did that have anything to do with your emotional state?
No. I had several issues that finally all came crashing down on me. I was at the worst place possible in my life when news came to me – at the facility where I was undergoing therapy – the guys were going into the studio and would use another drummer to record the songs. Once I was released, supposedly I could go back in and re-record the drum tracks. Receiving that piece of news, while I was working on healing myself, was really devastating and definitely one of my lowest lows. As far as the highest high, I'd like to think that I haven't experienced it yet. I'm pretty high on the band right now, because of the way we're playing and how everyone is getting along. The amount of respect we have established for one another as brothers, musicians, and men is really at an all-time high right now. We've cleared the air, thrown the B.S. out the window and learned to back off and play nice. The five of us used to be quite judgmental or argumentative towards one another. Not anymore.
JAM: From lesser known gems like "Young Lust", "Round and Round" and "Movin' Out" to more popular songs like "Livin' on the Edge", "Janie's Got a Gun", "Rag Doll", "Love In an Elevator" and "Cryin'", the drums are the driving force and give those songs their power. What is your favorite Aerosmith drum album?
Probably Pump, which was released in 1989. We recorded that album when I was freshly sober and I had a new lease on life. I'm pretty proud of the playing on that album and it is still one of my favorite Aerosmith recordings.
JAM: A friend recently commented that the 1976 release of Rocks changed his life when he listened to the music, much like Permanent Vacation, Pump, and Get a Grip greatly impacted the MTV generation. After all these many years, how does it feel knowing your music has influenced two divergent generations of fans?
How does it feel – it feels fucking spectacular! It's a great honor to still be doing what we do after all these many years and still have people love it the way they do. That's why I appreciate my fans more than ever now because of their show of support for this band. To this day, it's truly an amazing thing to behold, and I love it.
JAM: The last drum solo I remember seeing you perform was the Permanent Vacation tour in 1988 that also introduced Guns N'Roses to America. That amazing outfit you wore actually allowed you to walk all over the stage drumming. Afterwards, you sort of stopped the self-indulgence and stayed behind your kit on subsequent tours
Yeah, I started thinking that drum solos were kind of passé after that. If you've seen one, you've seen them all, although I will say I did enjoy wearing that particular outfit which allowed me to drum all over the place. Over the years, I didn't realize people had a hankering to see my solo act again until my wife brought it to my attention. I argued with her, and she said, "No, you're wrong!" I said, "No, you are wrong." Then she said, "Oh yeah? Go ahead and try it and we'll see who's right." So I tried it a couple of times and people loved it. We put the drum solo back into the show.
JAM: What made you switch back to Ludwig drums?
I was in too big of a pond over at DW Drums. They weren't really doing that much for me though they make a spectacular product. The drums I'm using now – the Vintage Classic Ludwig's – are being manufactured the same way they were back in the late '60s and early '70s. I have four or five vintage kits from that era, and they've always been my favorite drums. When Ludwig first started to make them, I actually went out and bought a kit, put it in my basement, and started playing them. One day I started thinking I was with Ludwig for twenty years, so why don't I just talk to them again and see what they would think about me coming back. They were stoked when I contacted them, and so far our relationship has worked out really well. I love playing the drums and feel like I'm back home again.
JAM: If you had to pick three rare gems to put in the setlist, what would they be?
Let's see, "Kings and Queens", "Lick and a Promise" and "Adam's Apple".
JAM: Aerosmith has accomplished much in its illustrious career and circled the globe many times. With that said, what kind of goals has the band set for itself and what do you see in the group's future?
This may sound a bit cliché, but I want to see a new album and another tour. As long as we are, God willing, healthy, happy and getting along, there's no reason we can't accomplish that. We've been together for forty years. Wouldn't it be an amazing thing if we made it 50?