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Side man extraordinaire Kenny Aronoff takes center stage at JCC


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The first real indication of the power of drummer Kenny Aronoff was when he unleashed the legendary drum break in the middle of John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” on music fans back in 1982.

"It (American Fool) was too labored over, too thought about, and it wasn't organic enough. The record company thought it would bomb, but I think the reason it took off was – not that the songs were better than my others – but people liked the sound of it, the 'bam-bam-bam' drums. It was a different sound."

——John Mellencamp in Creem Magazine (1984)

Aronoff, talking to us on the phone from his home in California, says that, “through all those years, I had to learn how to come up with a drum beat that would get John Mellencamp’s songs on the radio and become number one On the songs ‘Jack and Diane’, ‘Hurts So Good’ and a couple of other ones, my job was, and still is, to come up with the beats, and with the right creative ideas, to get that to the radio and become number one.

“That’s my job.”

His job these days to sit behind a drum kit for an artist — and there are hundreds who have used him to propel their music, whether on tour or in the studio – and make a record rock. He is the guy the A-list (and many others) call to get the groove and the blast into their music. His drum work is the soundtrack of heartland rock and roll.

And this week, Aronoff is in Indianapolis to tell his story of finding his was on the road to more than 30 years of steady rock and roll employment. How seemingly simple ideas like correct practice, hard work and finding a way to be both a leader and a team player can work for anyone. He is hosting a pair of events this Wednesday, October 28 at the Arthur M. Glick JCC, with both events open to the public..

Recall the shotgun blast of his snare in the grooves of John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow album and the crack that barrels out of the speakers near the end of the song “Small Town” as the singer shouts “Hey” and the band roars in the last bit of the song. That’s rock and roll. And to me, Kenny’s work ethic and rock and roll intelligence intersect most beautifully on Mellencamp’s The Lonesome Jubilee, an album-long exhibition of nuance and explosiveness. A defining moment; it made him as a rock star drummer, cemented during a tour in 1987 add 1988 that showcased the group as the tightest, most explosive and gritty rock band I’ve still ever seen.

Aronoff peels back the layers Wednesday on his process with a master class about drumming, techniques and then demonstrating his powerful style. He will perform live and share stories and his keys to success from his 40-plus years in the music business.

Aronoff is instantly recognizable behind the kit, with his smooth head, muscled arms, goggle glasses and pounding sound. Born in Albany, New York, he ended up in Bloomington, Indiana at the IU Jacobs School of Music after looking for a top college music program.

After his long stint with John Mellencamp ended in the early 1990’s. Aronoff became the big sound drummer for dozens of bands, in the studio and on the road. Aronoff toured with dozens of other bands, including multiple times with Bob Seger, Melissa Etheridge and he continues to play club and festival shows with longtime roots-rockers and Indianapolis regulars the BoDeans.

Aronoff talked to us about the upcoming events in Indianapolis, not just about the speaking and playing events like this that he does, but also about the value of hard work, flexibility of style, and knowing who the boss is. Like the time he played for Seger and Fogerty at the same time.

“I recorded with Bob Seger and John Fogerty together (for Fogerty’s Wrote A Song For Everyone album where Seger and Fogerty shared vocals on the CCR classic “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”) Kenny notes that Fogerty doesn’t like to play the CCR songs exactly like the record; he wants his drummer right at the front edge of the beat and pushing the song.

“For that song, I chose to play in the middle of the beat to accommodate Bob Seger on that record and sure enough I was going to the control room at one point and John saw me in the hallway and smiled at me, knowing that I knew what he was going to say. It made me laugh because I knew exactly what he would say. Bob likes it more in the middle, John likes it more in the edge.

“I’m hired to serve. I’m not the boss. I accommodate situations.”

In Indy on Wednesday night, Aronoff’s master class starts at 4pm and is open to all ages and abilities. Kenny will perform and demonstrate his playing style, He will also discuss the four concepts of drumming that apply to all styles of music and offer insights into practicing, recording in studios, and preparing for live or studio work. At 7:30 pm, he will speak about his life in the studio and how he got to a place that was unthinkable to the kid who grew up on the East Coast.

“It’s a two hour show presentation where I perform and talk, tell stories, and speak about my seven keys to a successful life and career. I hope people will walk away with benefits, whether it has something to do with how to stay healthy, be it mentally physically, emotionally, or how to stay relevant in the world we’re in.”

The idea and habits form a constant that allows for Aronoff to stay relevant and keeping working. He’s learned how to get better, while simultaneously serving the team; how to be great and have a compassionate ear.

“There are things I can share that play a huge part of my ability to work with so many different artists and have people constantly invite me to come back because they want me in their community," Aronoff says. “They want me in that room. They want me on the stage. They want me in the studio because I benefit the team.”

I ask him if he subscribes to the thought behind the book Outliers, the 2008 book from author Macolm Gladwell that deals with the "10,000 Hour Rule," saying that the key to achieving world class expertise is a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.

“Yeah, I do. I’m probably in my 40,000th hour,” he says. “I’ll never be as a great as I want to be, but I’m willing to spend the rest of my life trying to be as great as I can be. I’m never satisfied.

“You put the time in you get better,” Aronoff says. “If you do nothing, you get nothing. My job to practice. Sometimes I will go from the stage to a car to the jet, fly the next city, take a car to the hotel, take a shower and then I start practicing at 3:00, 4:00 in the morning for the next day. I know I have to do it everyday two or three times a day to execute what I want to do in a show.

And while he is a much sought-after drummer for people like Elton John and Paul McCartney (two he has previously worked with), he maintains one regular gig that I find fascinating: He still hits the road with the club-hopping bar band The BoDeans. Why would he want to still do that, when he is obviously an in-demand player for so many bands?

The BoDeans - that’s a perfect thing,” Aronoff laughs. “I’ve been playing with them on and off for 24 years for one reason: I enjoy it. It’s that simple. Obviously I get paid to do it, but I enjoy it. I like the guys in the band and like the songs and I recorded a bunch of them. It’s fun.”

Aside from his bang-and-smash brilliance behind a rock band, his up-close event at the JCC brings him back to a place that has meant a lot to the fly-anywhere-to-rock drummer.

“Let me say one thing about coming to Indianapolis. Indiana I spent 35 years and I still consider it my home probably more than anyplace else,” Aronoff says. “I’ve lived there more I lived anywhere else in the world. It’s great coming back. I’m friends with a lot of people in Indiana. Friends and family, ex-wife, you name it. It’s good to come home.”


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