Born Stephen Michael Bonner in NYC to unwed parents in 1958 (his mother was Jewish; his father was of mixed African American/Native American/Polish descent), KRAMER stopped using his first name long before Jerry Seinfeld's fictional TV neighbor became part of the cultural vernacular.
Adopted by Gary & Rosalyn Kramer in 1959 and raised on Long Island, Kramer was never urged to read books or take an interest in the arts. Gary was a car salesman who urged him to become a salesman himself. "As long as you know how to sell, you'll always be able to find a job", he was told. Gary also put a small AM Radio tuned to the local top 40 music station next to his pillow each night, and let the battery die slowly as the night turned to dawn, leaving an indelible mark on Kramer's ears with the sounds of Phil Spector, Motown, Stax (and eventually The Beatles, as the 60's raged on) that have yet to fade away.
In 1976 Kramer left his Long Island home one day after his high school graduation and went to Woodstock to study music at The Creative Music Studio under Dr. Karl Hans Berger, where he met future collaborators John Zorn and Eugene Chadbourne, and began working with the co-founder of The Fugs, Ed Sanders, with whom he co-composed The Karen Silkwood Cantata in 1978. Later that same year, sick to death of Woodstock, he left for NYC and remained there until 2003. His first job was at his favorite place in town; STRAND BOOKS. He also worked as a salad chef at a restaurant called "Blazing Salads" in the West Village, a foot messenger, a bike messenger, a phone message service center operator, a real estate sales assistant, and a telephone ad salesman for a prominent music magazine, before finding work as a musician.
At the tender age of 21 (following a chance meeting with ex-Soft Machine guitarist Daevid Allen at Giorgio Gomelsky's NYC loft in 1979), his first "professional" gig was as keyboardist/trombonist with Allen's NY GONG on a 6-month long tour of the USA alongside future producers Bill Laswell, Fred Maher and Michael Beinhorn. Baptized by fire into the music "industry", Kramer psychedelically criss-crossed the country twice on a dilapidated school bus hastily stripped to sleep 20. Happy to see this experience come to a chaotic end at the Rock & Roll Supermarket in NYC early in 1980, Kramer soon had immersed himself in the "Downtown" music scene with Zorn, Chadbourne, Fred Frith, Christian Marclay and others, culminating in a one-off trio performance at NYC's legendary Mudd Club with Zorn and the founder of 20th Century Improvisation, guitarist Derek Bailey. Kramer recorded the gig on his vintage Revox A77 tape machine, but the recordings are now "presumed lost".
Joining Eugene Chadbourne in THE CHADBOURNES in 1981, he played bass and "cheap organ" alongside percussionist David Licht, saxophonist Zorn and the late cellist Tom Cora. That group became SHOCKABILLY upon the departure of Zorn and Cora in 1981, and Kramer began "producing" the new band's first recordings and finding label support from Geoff Travis at Rough Trade Records in London. Learning his producing & engineering craft on-the-fly, a rapid, voluminous output of 5 LP's resulted before the group splintered to a bright and brilliant end in 1985 with their final LP, SHOCKABILLY HEAVEN, but not before dozens of tours of Europe and the USA, including a mini-tour of Texas with the then-unknown Butthole Surfers, with whom he forged fast friendships.
In 1984 Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg re-formed THE FUGS (sometimes billed as "THE 1984 FUGS") with Kramer as musical director and bassist. Kramer brought in his friend Coby Batty, with whom he had worked in a trio with John Zorn called THE FRED MACMURRAYS. Soon disillusioned by Sander's habit of "correcting" his own original classic Fugs lyrics and turning them into new, watered down "PC" versions of the songs he so deeply loved, Kramer emotionally quit the band while on tour in Europe and flew home from Zurich. It was 25 years before chance dictated that Kramer and Sanders would meet again on a park bench in NYC's Washington Square Park, where they chatted amicably for an hour about family, daughters, before shaking hands and going their separate ways.
Following the demise of Shockabilly, Kramer purchased a Hofner "Beatle Bass" and played his first gig with the BUTTHOLE SURFERS two days later. It was around this time that Kramer purchased his first recording studio, NOISE NEW YORK; a 16track facility on 34th Street in NYC, with a 3rd floor, bird's-eye view of Madison Square Garden. It was here that he recorded classic Butthole Surfers tracks from some of their finest mid-80's releases, such as CREAM CORN FROM THE SOCKET OF DAVIS, and their first college radio "hit", AMERICAN WOMAN (from REMBRANDT PUSSYHORSE).
Six months later, after returning from a debauched debut European tour with that band, he turned his full attention to his studio and newly formed record label, SHIMMY-DISC, which he quickly filled with an endless stream of his productions for countless bands like King Missile, White Zombie, Pussy Galore, Royal Trux, Gwar, Half Japanese, Alice Donut, Galaxie 500, the list goes on -- as well as the output of his own '80s bands, B.A.L.L. (a partnership with Don Fleming which became Gumball upon Kramer's departure), and BONGWATER, a collaboration with performance-artist Ann Magnuson that mixed skewered pop classics and socio-political commentary in a satirical soup of Kramer's Dadaist tape manipulations and musical deconstructionist's world-view. Now working practically non-stop, his soon-to-be legendary production genius was in full bloom.
In 1985 he met and befriended PENN & TELLER, and subsequently worked for them as sound designer & consultant for PENN & TELLER ON BROADWAY in 1987. Also in 1987 following the expiration of his studio lease on 34th Street, Kramer moved Noise New York downtown into the historic Tribeca district, where he lived and worked until 1991.
Although half of Bongwater's 1988 two-LP masterpiece "DOUBLE BUMMER" initially came to life as Kramer's first solo LP (tentatively called THE MOON), his first proper solo release arrived in 1992; The Guilt Trip.
The first complete recording made at his new state-of-the-art 24track recording facility NOISE NEW JERSEY (located 10 minutes outside of NYC), THE GUILT TRIP, is a monumental opus. 36 songs recorded with stalwart drummer David Licht and high school chum Randy Hudson, the triple-LP's cover art (also issued on a Double-CD) is satirically styled after George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass", and is structured with a complete understanding on the pacing of six sides of music. Functioning both musically and literally like a 3D chess set on multiple planes, it is also a complexly subtle nod to Herman Melville. Sonically, Kramer layers on an array of hot-wired psychedelia and sandwiched ambiance...some of it grafted to simple pop song structures, some of it to grand instrumental overtures. Created during an emotionally violent period in his personal life (he was simultaneously going through a divorce while weathering a $5M lawsuit brought against him by Ann Magnuson at the time), lyrically, it's a highly personal work that throws revenge, love, devotion, forgiveness and atonement into the mix. He often refers to it as his "exorcism", insisting that he would not have survived the multiple traumas he was fighting without it. The healing power of Art is a constant theme of this huge piece of work.
Although Kramer had planned a trilogy of triple-LP's, what followed instead in 1994 was The Secret of Comedy, a conventional-length single album bereft of the weighty literary foundations of its enormous predecessor. "I set out to make the 2nd part of the triple trilogy, but once i'd completed the first two LP sides, I clearly saw that it had a beginning and an end, and I instinctively knew it was a complete work. I work spontaneously. If my plans don't proceed as planned, I abandon the plan."
The Secret Of Comedy stands alone as a darkly humorous but essentially "pop" work laced with Kramer's catchy songs and brimming with lyrical surprises that seem more universally accessible in comparison to The Guilt Trip, while maintaining the found-sounds and surrealist text manipulations that made The Guilt Trip and literally all of Kramer's output as an audio artist and producer so uniquely other-worldly. Featured prominently throughout this LP is the most sensitive percussion work of BILL BACON's long career. The first song on this LP, "Nine Minus Seven Is Two", is considered by many (Penn Jillette first and foremost) to be the very best example of Kramer's pop songwriting sensibilities. The 6th song, "I Can Watch", is considered by Kramer himself to be, "...the most truthfully naked song I have ever written."
Kramer's third solo LP (and the final part of the trilogy), SONGS FROM THE PINK DEATH, is a dark and deeply introspective work of suspended shadows in a subterranean world of his own inner demons. The exorcism comes home. More atypically "vulnerable" and brutally evocative than either of his previous solo releases, it features heartbreaking ballads alongside full-colour, succinct sonic statements that defy earthly description. It is a radical departure in tone from the previous two releases, thanks in great part to the musical contributions of ex-Galaxie 500 drummer Damon Krukowski and ex-Luna guitarist Sean Eden, each of whom donated some of their career-best work on this LP. Though it maintains signature moments of Kramer's unique sense of sarcasm, it is not for the faint of heart.
It was also during the 90's that Kramer and magician Penn Jillette (the larger/louder half of Penn & Teller) collaborated on two LP's and calling themselves THE CAPTAIN HOWDY, with friends Deborah Harry, Billy West, Bill Bacon and others adding vocals, guitars, percussion, etc...The collaboration ended when Jillette moved permanently to Las Vegas in 1998, where Penn & Teller have been the hottest show in town ever since.
Like a musical chameleon, Kramer completely shed his pop/indie skin for his next two solo releases, which were both commissioned by John Zorn for his new Tzadik label.
Coming first in 1998 (and featuring the extraordinary contributions of violist Deni Bonet) LET ME EXPLAIN SOMETHING TO YOU ABOUT ART comprises three compositions that take the listener deep into a Proustian world of memory, loss and longing. A wholly unsentimental meditation on aging and an imaginary soundtrack for the dying, it is quite possibly Kramer's most emotional work; an internal journey that begins in a world we all recognize as our own, and ends in a Kubrickian landscape as alien to us as the final scenes of "2001; A Space Odyssey". As Zorn himself stated, "Kramer has now come into his own as a composer."
Followed in 2003 by THE GREENBERG VARIATIONS, this is a work as different from its predecessor as can be imagined. While "Let Me Explain..." was the result of being given free reign by Zorn to submit any work he considered meaningful for a Tzadik release, The Greenberg Variations was commissioned specifically as a tribute to one of America's greatest baseball players, Hank Greenberg, aka; "The Jewish Babe Ruth". Seeing a satirical parallel with the two distinctly yet subtly contrasting recordings which sandwiched Glenn Gould's life & career, "The Goldberg Variations", Kramer set to work in marrying his personal love of the great game of baseball with his creative adeptness for juxtaposition of form and content. Creating musical motif's mirroring Greenberg's mastery over every pitch thrown by every pitcher he faced in his career, the resulting suite of musical "pitches" is like nothing Kramer had done before. As stated in the Tzadik literature...,"The dreamy tones of mellotrons, organs and other vintage keyboards (both real and imaginary) drift you off into a magical world where the baroque meets minimalism and anything is possible."
Kramer did not create another LP of "pop" music until (in 2012) he completed 7 years of work on THE BRILL BUILDING, commissioned once again (in 2005) by John Zorn for his Tzadik Label. For those who say Kramer was always at his very best when re-imagining the classics songs of our times, this latest collection offers strong evidence for that claim. A surreal yet solidly grounded tribute to the building itself and the songwriters who began their long careers there in the early 1960's, it contains 10 songs by Neil Diamond, Carole King & Gerry Goffin, Phil Spector & Harry Nilsson, Doc Pomus, Lieber & Stoller, and others whose songwriting skills changed the face of American music while also changing the world. Kramer's deconstructed renderings of these classic hit songs are made by him in his own image, while miraculously maintaining the spirit in which they were created. A time-capsule of the 60's and the artistic culmination of over 30 years as one of America's most vital "indie" producers, is this the greatest work of Kramer's long and varied career? It's certainly bound to be seen as the most fun, and perhaps the most accessible. Humor and heartbreak ride side-by-side on this rollicking gallop into a purple 60's sunset.
Oddly (or perhaps not so oddly at all), Kramer's two biggest-selling downloads on iTunes were both written by Neil Diamond; first as a producer for Urge Overkill on their hit 1993 single, GIRL, YOU'LL BE A WOMAN SOON (for Quentin Tarantino's Palme D'Or winner, PULP FICTION), and most recently in Kramer's own voice, with his Cubano version of CHERRY CHERRY, from his most joyous and joyful collection of songs; THE BRILL BUILDING.
For more on The Brill Building, go HERE
In the midst of all this work on his own "solo" projects, Kramer has worked non-stop as producer/engineer on thousands of recordings by hundreds of artists at his own Noise Recording Studios and elsewhere, both at home and abroad. Some of his own personal favorites are as follows: all three GALAXIE 500 LP's, the first 2.5 LOW LP's, WILL OLDHAM's PALACE, the first 2 LP's for DANIELSON FAMILIE, the first two DAMON & NAOMI LP's, PUSSY GALORE and JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION, ROPE, INC., an amazing LP by DOT ALLISON titled "EXALTATION OF LARKS" which Kramer considers perhaps his finest work as a producer, and for his own Shimmy-Disc label; two extraordinary JAD FAIR & KRAMER LP's, the first two "studio recordings" by DANIEL JOHNSTON (1990 and ARTISTIC VICE), the first 3 LP's for KING MISSILE (in addition to their later Atlantic Records hits "Detachable Penis" and "Martin Scorsese"), GWAR, and numerous others, resulting in a robust catalog of 95 releases, many of which are now "lost in space".
In 1999 Kramer began a long working relationship with director Arthur Penn at The Actors Studio, during which time he handled sound design for over 20 plays Off-Broadway, and composed the music for FORTUNE'S FOOL on Broadway, starring Alan Bates and Frank Langella.
In 2003 following a brief stint as Live Music Engineer for The Mark Morris Dance Company, Kramer's mother suffered a skull fracture, followed by a stroke two days later. Kramer and his family moved to Florida to care for her, and remained there after her death in 2005. It was then that Kramer was able to re-focus his creative attentions and create a mixing & mastering room in his home (Noise Miami), where he now does most of his work, dividing his time between work-for-hire, and composing/recording an expansive catalog of "imaginary film soundtracks" for the film industry. Kramer's creative focus now resides in making films, and in the creation of music for the cinema.
A Digital music label (for "Download-Only") called Second-Shimmy was formed in 2007 for the specific purpose of releasing uniquely daring music by artists who deserve to be heard, but since you're reading this, you already knew that. 2014 will bring new releases from hOWARDaMB, Dew, and Kramer's own Rope, Inc. (among many others).
In 2008 Kramer's birth-mother made contact with him shortly following the death of his birth-father, Joey Bonner, a renowned record industry publicist who spent most of his life working independently in NYC while living just blocks away from Kramer's Noise New York home and recording studio. Bizarrely, Joey spent the last few years of his life in Hollywood, Florida, once again within walking distance of the son he never met. His tombstone reads, "Greatest Record Promo Man Ever".
It was at also at this time that Kramer discovered he had two half-sisters, and a Brother born in 1957, Larry Khan, who learned his craft from his father Joey and spent 20 years at JIVE Records/RCA in NYC as Senior Promo VP. He now resides in LA and performs the same tasks with distinction as Senior VP of Urban Promo for INTERSCOPE Records.
In April 2013 (25 years after producing Daniel Johnston's historic "1990" for Shimmy-Disc), Kramer planned a 4-day trip to Texas to record and produce new songs for DANIEL JOHNSTON, but found the troubled artist in poor condition, and reluctantly left after one fractured day of work which produced only one recording of an older song; SPACE DUCKS.
As 2014 fast approaches, Kramer is presently hard at work at his home studio on his rapidly expanding catalog of music for film, and on a trio of solo and collaborative "pop" projects;
JAD FAIR & KRAMER The Third, The Brill Building - Book Two, and the 2nd full length release from his ongoing collaboration with Matt Menovcik; ROPE, INC.
"I would like to be rich and smash my head in!" - Robert Walser