Aerosmith’s Joey Kramer : A Rock and a Hard Place

Photo By Ross Halfin
Interview By Peter Lindblad

The crisis hadn’t yet passed. When Aerosmith arrived, Japan was still reeling from the death and devastation wrought by the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami that slammed its shores in March 2011.

It was the fall of that year and the country was not a safe place to visit. Fears remained that radiation from the Fukushima Nuclear Plant meltdown was poisoning everything, and the country’s infrastructure was far from stable.

Aerosmith was cautioned to stay away and postpone its Back on the Road tour through a land so damaged emotionally and physically, so shattered by what they’d experienced.

Aerosmith, though, had to go. Japan had always been good to the band, starting in the mid-1970s, when they made their first trip there, barnstorming their way across the country in support of what would later be considered perhaps their finest hour, Rocks. A special bond had formed between the band and the people of Japan over the years. Aerosmith felt that, in some small way, they could help with the healing process.

A new concert film, Rock for the Rising Sun, follows Aerosmith’s mission of mercy. Making stops at a number of cities across the island nation, Aerosmith’s brand of bluesy hard rock was powerful medicine. Along the way, they brought out set lists that mined deep into their back catalog, and while they bumped-and-grinded through hits like “Sweet Emotion,” “Walk This Way” and “Love in an Elevator,” Aerosmith also trotted out “Rats in the Cellar,” “Toys in the Attic,” “Movin’ Out” and “Monkey on My Back” and lit them on fire.  

The shows were boisterous and spirited, as Aerosmith blazed away with a feverish exuberance and raw nastiness that made it feel like 1976 all over again. Directed and edited beautifully by veteran Aerosmith videographer Casey Patrick Tebo, Rock for the Rising Sun boasts colorfully shot video of the band’s ragged glory. Older and wiser, they still pack a mean sucker punch of raunchy riffs, gritty rhythms and Steven Tyler’s swaggering stage presence, and Tebo brings out the electricity and muscular drive of every single sizzling performance included here.

And there’s plenty of offstage, behind-the-scenes footage to enjoy as well. Joey Kramer, Aerosmith’s longtime drummer, thinks it’s a wonderful document of what was a very special tour. In a brief recent interview, Kramer talked about the film, the band’s experiences in Japan and his own drumming philosophy.

Peter:  What are your impressions of the new Aerosmith tour documentary Rock for the Rising Sun?

Joey Kramer:  Japan’s always been really special for us, and when they told us don’t go there because it’s dangerous, it was like, “Oh, don’t go ‘cause it’s dangerous? We’re on our way.” That’s just the way we are, but like I say, Japan’s always been special for us. The people have always taken really great care of us, they’re response to us has always been wonderful. And we’ve been going there for many, many years, since the mid-‘70s, and Japan is something special to us, and so that’s why we wanted to do that. And yet, in answer to your question, I think we captured some good shows. You know, I think that it was worthwhile. 

Peter:  How close did you come to not going?

Joey: I don’t think we came close at all, to be perfectly honest with you. I think it was pretty much a no-brainer for all of us.

Peter:  Some of the songs on the DVD are not as well-known as the usual Aerosmith stuff …

Joey: That depends on how big a fan you are (laughs).

Peter:  The drum solo is great. Do you still get a kick out of playing with your arms and elbows and other body parts?

Joey: Yep, that’s something that I do every night.  It’s fun for me, and if it’s going to be fun for me, it’s going to be fun for everybody else, because if you’re having a good time doing something, it usually comes out pretty good.

Peter:  What are your favorite memories of that tour?

Joey:  I don’t have any specific memories, but like I said, we always enjoy playing Japan, because we just love it there. The people take care of us and treat us well, and it’s always a good time.  I think that the people were just really appreciative of us being there, because they knew what they’d been through and obviously, they did as well. And I think they were extremely grateful that we came.

Peter:  Why do you think Aerosmith has established such a unique connection with Japanese fans?

Joey: That’s a good question. I think that it’s really an amazing feat to accomplish that when you can go to a land so far away and people still relate to what it is that you do related to your art the way that they do and understand it.  Music is the great healer; it brings everybody together. It’s the link in the chain that brings people together and unites them.

Peter:  You toured Japan for the first time on the Rocks tour.

Joey: That was the first time everybody went to Japan, and everything was new. We had never been there before. It was a great experience for everybody. I mean, we were like … well, I’ll just say that we were really young and inexperienced, and so that was a really big deal going there.

Peter:  What’s been your favorite tour over the years with Aerosmith?

Joey: Hmm … favorite tour? I don’t know that I can answer that. I don’t really have a favorite specific tour, because there have been so many. I love them all. I love what I do, and I’m grateful to be able to do it, especially for this long. And, you know, to have a favorite tour, I don’t think I do.

Peter:  Having watched the DVD, is it hard to watch yourself on video? Do you like watching yourself perform live?

Joey: I always watch it with a critical eye and that helps me improve. No, I don’t have any problem watching it – not at all.

Peter:  How do you think this DVD compares to other ones Aerosmith has put out. Do you think this is one of the best?

Joey:  I think the set list is a lot more interesting than it’s been before, because we dug into some deep cuts and some older material, and just the main reason why we were there, because of the catastrophe that happened, it makes it special in and of itself.

Peter:  Were you able to see any of the damage?

Joey: No, no. We didn’t get out and about.

Peter:  How were the people doing by that point? Did you get the feeling they were still in shock over what had happened or were they on the road to recovery?

Joey: Yeah, they were definitely in shock. And I think some of them were shocked that we were even there – but grateful at the same time, which made it that much more enjoyable. They couldn’t believe that we were there knowing what kind of danger was involved.

Peter:  There’s a scene in the DVD where you’re at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.  What was it about that experience that was so sobering for you?

Joey: Just to realize that an incident like that could go down in history and just … it was what it was. It’s just hard to believe that things like that can happen between human beings on the face of the earth. It’s beyond me being able to recognize it and accept it, although you have no choice. It did happen and it is what it is. It’s just a very difficult thing to swallow even all these years later.

Peter:  I read a story about you and your philosophy of drumming, and how you feel drummers need to be chameleons and listen to others. That’s such a humble approach. Do you feel all drummers are that way?

Joey: No, I don’t. I think that more of them should be that way, but you know, if you’re having a problem being a drummer, then you should have been a lead singer. If you have a problem with not being in the spotlight, you should have been a guitar player. For a drummer to understand what it is that his job really is, he is really a chameleon because he has to adapt to and make a song with a piece of a music that he’s working on feel the way the originator of it had in mind when he wrote it. So you have to adapt to that, and of course, you can always put your own spin on it, but that’s the beauty in being able to do what you do inside a band such as mine, because when my guys ask me to play something they assume that I’m going to make it feel the way they wanted it to when they originally came up with it. But at the same time, I’m going to put my own little spin on it and so that’s why it sounds the way that it does. That’s what makes Aerosmith sound the way the way that it does, because everybody does the same thing. You can take one guitar part and have three different guitar players play it, it’s going to be three different things.

Peter: Is it necessary for a band like Aerosmith, where there are such strong personalities and writers, to have somebody like you who can be humble and really listen to what other people are telling you?

Joey: I think I speak with my instrument. Joe Perry said it the best and that is, “Let the music do the talking.” And I believe it that, and as far as having a humble attitude, I think that speaks louder than anything else. When all is said and done, the humility talks and the bullshit walks.

Peter:  Has there ever been a time where you haven’t given in and stood your ground about a particular drum part you felt strongly about?

Joey: I’m not going to get into it for the sake of your article and mine (laughs). You know, it’s a very personal thing when you’re asked to play one thing and you have such strong feelings about playing another, and you have to come to a compromise. It’s like trying to compromise your art is a very difficult thing to do. And at the same time, that’s what being in a band is all about. You know, it can become difficult.

Peter:  What did you take back with you from your experience in Japan as far as life lessons?

Joey: Humility is an important part of it, because I think that the Japanese are a very humble people and I appreciate that of them. And they’ve taught me a lesson in humility and in treating people the way they need to be treated. And that’s an important thing that I think a lot of us need to learn a lot more about.

Peter:  Steven [Tyler] talked in the DVD about how they hang on every word and every note you guys play. Is that something you noticed as well?

Joey: Yeah, they’re very curious as to how to figure out what it is that we do. Like, they think that if they play the same drums and use the same drum sticks and everything is exactly the same, there’s just no reason that it shouldn’t come out the same way. It’s like giving somebody a recipe, or anything else that you give three or four people the same recipe for the same thing, and I think it’s going to come out a little different as far as each person’s interpretation of what the recipe is. And that’s the thing a person is about, being an individual.

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