Entertainment

Aerosmith's drummer wanted to play at the Grammys — so he sued the band to do it

Key Points
  • The classic rock band Aerosmith will perform at this weekend's Grammy Awards ceremony  without founding member Joey Kramer, their drummer of 50 years.
  • In April 2019, Kramer suffered minor shoulder injuries that forced him to miss dates on the band's "Deuces Are Wild" residency in Las Vegas.
  • Kramer filed a lawsuit against the group to regain his place with them at the ceremony, but it was denied.
(L-R) Brad Whitford, Joey Kramer, and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith perform during the 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course on May 5, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage)
Tim Mosenfelder | WireImage | Getty Images

The classic rock band Aerosmith will be performing at this weekend's Grammy Awards ceremony, but when they do, it will be without founding member Joey Kramer, their drummer of 50 years. Kramer filed a lawsuit against the group to regain his place with them at the ceremony, but it was denied.

In April 2019, Kramer suffered minor shoulder injuries that forced him to miss dates on the band's "Deuces Are Wild" residency in Las Vegas. His drum tech John Douglas filled in, but when Kramer tried to return, they threw him a curveball – if he wanted to come back, he would have to re-audition, and the rest of the band would evaluate his performance to see if he could still play well enough to rejoin the band.

Aerosmith said they invited Kramer to rejoin the group, but he "has not been emotionally and physically able to perform with the band, by his own admission for the last 6 months."

"Joey has now waited until the last moment to accept our invitation, when we unfortunately have no time for necessary rehearsals during Grammys week," the band said.

Kramer, for his part, sued the six companies jointly owned by the five band members for breach of contract. However, Kramer said that the lawsuit was not about money.

"I am being deprived of the opportunity to be recognized along with my peers for our collective lifetime contributions to the music industry," he said in a statement. "Neither the MusiCares' Person of the Year Award nor the Grammys' Lifetime Achievement honors can ever be repeated."

Kramer's lawsuit was denied by a Massachusetts court, which said he "has not shown a realistic alternative course of action sufficient to protect the band's business interests."

With the lawsuit out of the way, it would seem that's the end of the story. However, CNBC spoke with attorneys and music industry professionals, some of whom said that this is not over.

"From a publicity angle, this is not the best look for the band," said Tommy Marz, founder of the music site Sound Vapors. "You're talking about an original member of the band that fans have come to love and expect to see on stage."

Dan Passarelli, an options trading educator and a member of the band The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club, said that the situation looks bad, but for the plaintiff more so than the defendants.

"This makes Joey Kramer look bad," he said. "Aerosmith is the brand name. The band will get much more support from the public. I think the perception in most people's minds is that if he didn't pass, he must not be very good at this point."

He added that the lawsuit might have created a rift that may never go away.

"There's really no coming back from this," he said. "Joey is probably out of the band for good after this."

As far as whether the band was within its legal rights to bar Kramer from returning, attorney J.R. Skrabanek said that depends entirely on the agreement that was in place.

"We can presume Aerosmith has a legal entity and an operating agreement that governs how it is to be managed, and the agreement may provide certain rights and remedies, including conditions members might have to meet to be eligible to play shows," Skrabanek said. "We really have no way of knowing because the band's operating agreement is a private – and likely confidential – document."

Be that as it may, Skrabanek said that it would have benefited all parties involved to keep this situation private.

"From a non-legal perspective, band infighting is always bad optics, and band members are well-served to keep any disputes between them out of the media," he said.

Rafe Gomez, co-owner of VC Inc. Marketing, said that there was a very simple remedy that could have bypassed the U.S. legal system entirely – use a second drummer, as was the case at the 2014 Grammys tribute to the Beatles.

"When [Beatles drummer Ringo Starr] was on stage, he was joined by veteran drumming superstar Kenny Aronoff," he said. "Kenny's performance was prominent in the audio mix, while the camera focused on Ringo's drumming. Everybody won with this arrangement... a similar approach would keep Joey's bandmates happy, and Aerosmith's fans would be thrilled."

Michael Stover, owner and president of the MTS Records label and the MTS Management Group publicity firm, said that this entire affair will go away the second the next news cycle comes up.

"From a PR standpoint, I don't see it making much difference," he said. "Aerosmith is a juggernaut. They will most likely reach some kind of settlement, and this will all go away."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report

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