Episode 244: Kenny Aronoff Legendary drummer Kenny Aronoff (Mellencamp, Etheridge, Fogerty, Smashing Pumpkins) sits down with Pat, Murray and Kyle to discuss his career as a sought after musician. I guarantee you will be air drumming throughout this episode! From March 17, 2016
With your hosts:
Pat, Murray, and Kyle welcome us to the show. Joining the boys in the recording studio today is the very talented (and very busy) drummer Kenny Aronoff!
Kenny is so busy recording and touring with various musicians that it's making people mad. Now he's writing his autobiography. Kenny wrote a lot, luckily he kept calendars of everything he's done over the years. He feels like it's too obnoxious, writing about going from Bon Jovi to Elton John to Bob Seger to Indigo Girls to Willie Nelson to John Fogerty to Rolling Stones. "And that's just page one," says Murray. But that was what was normal for Kenny.
Kenny had to keep rescheduling the podcast (for obvious reasons), but Pat and Murray are super excited that he's finally here. Pat introduces a little bit of Kenny's talents on the drums with a song by John Cougar Mellencamp. It's "Justice and Independence '85" off the album Scarecrow. Kenny had to come up with the drum solo on the spot for Mellencamp. He'll use the first takes, even if there are fuck-ups. JCM does not like perfection. He doesn't like putting things "on the grid," nor does Kenny. "Mediocrity has become the norm," he says. "People are accepting shit." Pat prefers the period of Mellencamp with Kenny on drums over everything else.
Mellencamp is a proud motherfucker, according to Kenny. He's a fighter, a guy who lost his deal with the record company and had to work hard to get it back. When Mellencamp and the band had a hit record, they did not want to stop because they didn't want to be a flash in the pan. Back then, record companies had money to spend to help bands out. Now there's no money. Mellencamp wanted Kenny's drums loud in the mix and even fought guys to get it done. He wanted "Hurts So Good" to blow the other songs off the radio.
John and Kenny and the rest did the AC/DC approach to recording: loud and clear. No clutter. As a result, Kenny was playing simpler, but the sound was mammoth. Oftentimes Mellencamp would warn Kenny not to fuck up the song they were recording. One time Mellencamp literally kicked an A&R guy in the ass for not liking a song they were working on in the studio. Like Kenny said, proud motherfucker.
The album American Fool gave them a number one hit. And back then, when you were number one, you were NUMBER ONE. Pat plays the song, "Jack & Diane". When "Hurts So Good" took off, they started making music videos in Indiana with real people. Kenny lets slip that he had sex with one of the women that was dancing at the bar in the "Hurts So Good" video. Mellencamp owned the midwest like Springsteen owned Jersey and Seger owned Detroit. When "Jack & Diane" hit #1, there was one second of joy, followed by a mountain of worry. How were they going to follow it up?
The follow up album, Uh-Huh, was recorded very quickly on a pig farm. When they finished the album, John realized they didn't have a single, so he wrote "Crumblin' Down" in a jiffy. Once again, "Don't fuck it up, Kenny." Kenny defines his purpose in the Mellencamp band: Get those songs on the radio to #1.
Kenny was born in Albany, NY, then grew up in a town in Western Massachusetts. It was an artsy, cool place to grow up; a lot of famous people would summer there. He was drawn to the drums as a kid when he saw, who else, The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Kenny got his first cheap drum kit and played Beatles and Beach Boys covers in a band. Then 50 years later Kenny helped honor The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl and recorded with Brian Wilson in the same year. Side note, Pat saw Kenny with The Smashing Pumpkins at a Halloween show where the band dressed as The Beatles. Nobody in the crowd got it. Side side note, Murray brings up the "Pink Houses" contest (which he sadly didn't win). It was called "Paint the Mutha Pink." You could win an MTV Party House (which they would then have to paint pink) and party with Mellencamp and the gang. Kenny remembers this contest fondly. He also remembers they had to sell the house because the land it was situated on was polluted with toxic waste. Rock and roll!!! Anyway, Kenny was self-taught to begin with, then he got classically trained by a Boston Symphony Orchestra member.
He was practicing like crazy. He went to college at UMass Amherst for a year, but it wasn't the right fit. Then Kenny went to the Aspen School of Music and discovered he was the worst percussionist there. But he really liked his teacher, so he followed him to Indiana University.
During his training, Kenny had to go through rigorous, intense auditions. When he auditioned for UMass, he couldn't sight read, but he still got in because the teacher knew he could teach him. Then Kenny had to play in front of the school and he forgot the first note. It made Kenny realize that yeah, there will be times when he will be scared, but there is no room for fuck-ups. He has to always be prepared because people rely on him for a lot of things.
Pat plays a song by a different artist that Kenny worked with, Mary Chapin Carpenter. It's "Shut Up and Kiss Me" off the album Stones in the Road.
Kenny has worked with a lot of ladies, but the one Pat wants to talk about is Melissa Etheridge. They met when Kenny was coming in to record a song with Rod Stewart and he bumped into Melissa and her producer Hugh Padgham. Kenny was blown away by her powerful singing; they really motivated each other. Pat plays "I Want to Come Over" off the album Your Little Secret.
Kenny left Mellencamp in 1996, he was touring with Bob Seger. On his days off, he was booking recording sessions. He was making SERIOUS BANK. When the tour was over, it was the first time in his career that Kenny wasn't part of a band. Then all of a sudden, Melissa calls him up and asks Kenny to go on tour with her. Kenny enthusiastically and immediately agreed.
Unfortunately Kenny only had a limited time to rehearse the songs because he was booked solid with recording sessions. Kenny's approach to learning songs is that he writes all of the cues out on charts. He really liked being with Melissa because he felt he was doing something relevant. He also describes himself as a problem solver when it came to recording.
Pat brings up a few other ladies that Kenny's played with. He had a number one hit with Belinda Carlisle. He plays "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" from th album Heaven on Earth.
Kenny once recorded 13 tracks in one day, eight of which were for Alanis Morissette. Off the album So-Called Chaos, Pat plays "Eight Easy Steps".
One more lovely lady that Kenny's worked with is Avril Lavigne. Pat plays "My Happy Ending" off the album Under My Skin. Kenny recorded th song by himself in the room. With every song he does, he envisions himself as an actor learning a role. He has to figure out which sound works for the song.
Switching gears, Pat brings up Kenny's work with Tony Iommi and Glenn Hughes on an album called Fused. Pat plays "Dopamine". They were actually supposed to be a band. Then another band decided to get back together (a little outfit called Black Sabbath), so that was the end of that.
Murray has a few tracks that he wants to showcase. The first is by a guy named Michael Penn (Sean and Chris' brother). Penn actually used two drummers in the mix, Kenny on the left and Jim Keltner on the right. Kenny was surprised when he showed up and saw two drum kits in the studio. Murray plays "Evenfall" off the album March. Kenny worked with Jim again on Charlie Watts' solo record, which led him to working with The Rolling Stones. Kenny also worked with Bob Dylan. The only thing Bob said to him was "Hey Kenny, Bob. Bob Dylan." Don Was was the producer for the album (Under a Red Sky), and him and Kenny became great friends. Don worked a lot with Kenny on live broadcasts.
Murray plays a big song in Kenny's career, "Blaze of Glory" by Jon Bon Jovi off the album Blaze of Glory. Pat follows this up with a song off the same album, "Never Say Die".
Those sessions are where Kenny met Aldo Nova. He played on Aldo's album Blood on the Bricks. Pat praises the album. Kenny played so hard back then that he had to change the snare head three times per song. Pat plays "Blood on the Bricks".
Pat plays two more songs from the album, the first being "Bright Lights" and the second being "Touch of Madness".
Murray brings up another artist, an Australian named Jimmy Barnes. He plays a cover of "Piece of My Heart", a duet with Tina Harrod from the album Double Happiness. Kenny also performed the song with Melissa and Joss Stone at th Grammys after Melissa had her cancer treatments.
Kenny is John Fogerty's guy as often as he can be. Fogerty is very particular; he went through 30 drummers before settling on Kenny. Kenny also had to audition to be in The Smashing Pumpkins, which surprises Pat. It's not just about playing, it's about how you are offstage. Who does Kenny admire? Dave Grohl, he likes. Neil Peart. Neil is actually writing the forward to Kenny's book. When an artist uses multiple drummers on an album, who decides who gets to play on which song? They cast it. Which catalogue is the most fun to play? Bob Seger's.
Kenny also enjoys playing Joe Cocker's catalogue, Melissa's, Styx's, Smashing Pumpkins'. Billy Corgan is in the book. Mellencamp is in the book. Kenny wanted John to write honestly. If Mellencamp called, would Kenny answer? Absolutely.
The book is coming out in the fall. Kenny says the reason he's had so much work over the years is because he's had to adapt. Either you adapt and move forward, or you die on the vine. Melissa is in the book, Jon Bon Jovi, Taylor Hawkins, Tommy Lee, Tommy Lee's penis. Murray compliments Kenny on how he can play any style. Kenny is also in great shape. Kenny works out a lot and eats healthily.
Kenny says it's all about being active and having a plan and DOING SOMETHING. "Nothing equals nothing," he remarks. You should also base your actions on your values, not your emotions. He doesn't believe in pampering your kids. Not everyone can be winners.
What about Kenny's family? Kenny has a son, 31, who is also a kickass drummer. Kenny is a total workaholic, which he admits led to a few failed marriages (that and him not being the biggest fan of monogamy). But now he's happily married (and happily monogamist), and he makes sure his wife always comes first. Kenny also gives lessons and does speaking engagements. His website is KennyAronoff.com. His Twitter is @AronoffOFFICIAL. The title of his autobiography is the appropriately titled Sex, Drums, and Rock & Roll.
This was a very fun and informative show with Kenny. Pat and Murray would love to have him back on when the book comes out because there is so much they didn't get to. Thanks to Kenny for taking time out of his very busy schedule for joining the show. Pat takes us out with a song that features two other Rock Solid guests. It's "Between the Lines" by Bruce Kulick featuring Steve Lukather from the album BK3.