For their latest album, veteran Boston rockers Aerosmith decided it was time to return to their blues roots.
Thus, Honkin’ On Bobo – possibly the most memorable title of 2004 – was born. The 12-song disc, released March 30, saw Aerosmith tackling old blues/roots covers such as Muddy Waters’ I’m Ready and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s You Gotta Move plus one Aerosmith original, The Grind.
Drummer Joey Kramer, down the line from San Antonio, Tex., prior to the band’s Thursday night stop at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, said the concept has been in the works for a long time.
“The new album is back to the roots of what Aerosmith is all about,” said Kramer, 53. “A lot of people have been bugging us to do that kind of album for years. Like, ‘When are you going to do an album like your old stuff?’ Well, here it is. But it’s some old blues songs and it’s renditions of some stuff that we dug up out of our past. It’s a pretty interesting record.”
Kramer said the blues classics helped inspire the band, rounded out by his fellow original members – singer Steven Tyler, 56, guitarist Joe Perry, 53, guitarist Brad Whitford, 52, and bassist Tom Hamilton, 52.
“It did but so much of our roots is there in the blues to begin with,” Kramer said.
“I mean, we’ve done other albums which have a lot of blues in them. But this one is specifically around that. We’ve done an old song by Blind Willie McTell and an Aretha Franklin cover, and most of the songs, except for one, are cover songs. But they’re not your traditional contemporary blues like Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan. We dug back into the ’30s and ’40s and came up with stuff from there and did our renditions of that. And it was a little bit more of a challenge because the feelings which those guys played with back then was a lot more difficult for us to cop.”
In other words, when you’ve sold more than 100 million albums in the past 34 years, as Aerosmith has done, it’s hard to sing the blues – Tyler’s and Perry’s well-documented personality clashes and heroin use in the past notwithstanding.
Perhaps the most stimulating thing for the rock quintet this time out was recording Honkin’ On Bobo in Perry’s basement studio, a.k.a. The Boneyard.
“We did a lot of recording and we had a lot of fun doing it,” Kramer said. “It was the first time in a while that we all just piled into a room, down into Joe’s basement. And the beauty of the record is that it’s just the five of us in a room playing. And we had a blast. There are very, very few overdubs on this. It’s just the real band playing the real s-t. There were a lot of (covers) that we did that aren’t on the record.”
Speaking of the record, what’s up with that title?
“It’s really an old slang saying for old jazz musicians, referring to a saxophone or a trumpet or whatever – you know, ‘honkin’ on bobo,’ ” Kramer said. “You can make out of it whatever you choose. Which I hope most of us do.”
Aerosmith’s previous album was the 2001 studio effort Just Push Play, which spawned the hit Jaded.
The Grind, meanwhile, was written by Tyler in Hawaii, and fit neatly into the blues concept of Honkin’ On Bobo.
When asked about the band’s longevity despite early drug use, a rotating lineup in the ’80s, and Kramer’s own battle with depression when his father died in 1996, the drummer attributed it to just one thing.
“I think basically, the bottom line, it’s really been the music,” Kramer said. “That’s what we’ve always been about. And we’ve been through our pettiness, and our nonsense, and our arguing over money and wives and all the other bulls-t that breaks bands up, drugs, and we just finally came to a point where we realized that there’s something that we do and it’s only the five of us that can do it together. And so, fortunately for us, we came to our senses about that and we just continued on.”
Given the band’s wild lifestyle of the past, Kramer also had a few surprising things to say about Janet Jackson’s breast-baring stunt during her Super Bowl halftime performance with Justin Timberlake.
For those of you who may have forgotten, Aerosmith, who also have an upcoming cameo in the new Get Shorty sequel Be Cool, were part of the Super Bowl pre-game show back in February.
“We were sitting in the audience and I was too far away to actually see it happen,” Kramer said. “I thought it was a pretty cheap ploy, to tell you the truth. Because it was planned. It was done on purpose. Unfortunately, I think that they’ve pretty much ruined it for the future because they don’t want to take a chance on anything like that ever happening again. So, I think, pretty much what you’re going to see from now on is marching bands and pom-pom girls. They’re all running scared.”
Meanwhile, Kramer said the band’s own tour, with fellow ’70s rockers Cheap Trick as opening act, will be a more scaled-down affair than past outings.
“It’s basically the same kind of a thing as the way we rehearsed and the way we recorded the album,” he said. “It’s going to be the five of us on stage and we’ll have a great light show and the band will play great and we’re looking forward to just being out there on our own.”
Aerosmith last hit the road with KISS in 2003 and the potent combination made for one of the top-grossing tours of that year. (Sadly, the pairing didn’t make it to Toronto.)
“It’s kind of the opposite ends of the spectrum,” Kramer said of touring with KISS. “They were more the show, we were more the music.”
So what does Kramer make of Gene Simmons’ releasing a solo album called A-hole next month?
“Good luck to him,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s called A-hole? Ah, good. If the shoe fits…”