SEX, DRUMS, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL! THE HARDEST HITTING MAN IN SHOW BUSINESS
AN INTERVIEW WITH DRUMMER KENNY ARONOFF
“I’ll never be as 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.”
Talent, energy, dedication, discipline, passion, innovation, education, drive, mind, body, spirit, vision, honour, truth and drums make the man: Kenny Aronoff. Voted by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the greatest drummers of all time, Aronoff is arguably the most sought-after recording and touring beat master ever. Ignited by the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, Aronoff’s passion for drumming fervently grew and carried him from his childhood kit in his living room to Bernstein, Mellencamp, Etheridge, Fogerty, Smashing Pumpkins, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles – his heroes and beyond. Kenny has managed to take some time from his completely insane schedule to pen his autobiography.
How could I be expected to condense his musical journey into twenty short minutes that was the personal challenge as I sat down with the drummer himself trying to find out just what makes him a unique living entity. In addition, I also managed to throw up a question which was an exclusive first.
After reading the book the major question was how had Kenny actually got the time to write the book. Was it something that he had always wanted to include in his schedule or instead perhaps something that was suggested to him by someone else? Kenny explained that the idea for a book came during another interview that he had done. Just after the Chickenfoot tour he had been interviewed for a Joe Satrianni book. The writer had made a suggestion to Kenny that he would like to write his autobiography as a future project. Kenny initially dismissed the idea due to his hectic schedule. The author persisted and said that he would take the work part out of the equation and thus made it sound much easier. Despite Kenny’s change of heart, it still proved to be four years of hard work. “The reason that he agreed was that the focus of the book would also include other topics and subjects. I would do it if it wasn’t just about drumming, if it would talk about real life things. What I had learned from being a drummer, being in music and I was just shooting from the hip.” The process involved Kenny dictating material to the writer for nearly a year and a half. Although it then encountered a problem when Kenny started reading it-he didn’t actually like it….
Cue a change of approach when Kenny started to rewrite it and tried to learn how to be a writer. It was quite a time consuming process with him sometimes having to spend 12-14 hours on a tour day off just to shape one chapter. Struggling to provide some semblance of structure and order to his story Kenny was aided by the discovery of some old calendars. These provided the foundation as they ran from 1977 until the present-day those he had chronologically listed every session and every tour-in fact everything that he done during that significant time period. It even included details of his personal life too. From that, coupled with personal recollection and photographs he was able to put a timeline together and begin to compose the book. He put everything in there and then had to try to organize it. The book was six months late and had to have a new release date. It then was coming in at over six hundred pages, although the publishing contract was only for three hundred and fifty. Kenny next task was to work with an editor to reduce it. At one point he was actually on the phone quite literally with a cheque book seeking to buy his own book back. “I want to buy the book back, I want to bury it – this is not coming out.” Fortunately they managed to talk Kenny down from the ledge and they persuaded him to let the editor try to shape and work with the book. Kenny found out that writing a book was so much more than just a chronological list of what happened. He learnt that it had to be balanced with some humour and also some personal stuff. “I revealed a lot of stuff in my book-as you can see that was very personal.” The biggest thing that he got out of the whole process was “I started to ask myself-why Kenny Aronoff? How did this happen. How did I make so many records and tour so much?” It became important through writing the book for Kenny to reveal what made it all possible. He had developed seven ways that he believed was the explanation for his success and why he has stayed successful. He now has taken that mantra further and gives lectures on its finer points, a performance presentation. Under the heading “An Evening with Kenny Aronoff” he puts this on for a variety of audiences from businessmen to schools-tailoring it appropriately each time. It deals with skills that are essential and beneficial in life and not solely applicable to the music business/industry.
Kenny doesn’t claim to be stating anything new or revolutionary. Instead he states that instead the message is in the way that he describes it-personalizing the principles in an honest manner. He believes that his openness and honesty of delivery is what makes it impactful natural delivery is what convinces people that he is for real in what he is saying.
I wondered if Kenny’s life positivity and general bon hommie character came from a deep sense of personal spirituality. There were a few examples in the book but this aspect hadn’t been further explored or fully answered- his response was “I am a spiritual guy but I don’t belong to any religious group. I believe that there is something way bigger than us little humans and that I believe that there is an energy out there and there is something bigger than us that is very influential on our life.” He believes that if you tap into that it can make your life better. That reply had answered my question before Kenny further elaborated in his response, “We make mistakes, the universe and the spiritual thing forgives you. It is almost like there is something looking over us and it is there to help us and it is there to help us and assist us if we need it. If we make a mistake it is still there regardless.” He felt personally that he wanted to get as much as possible out of life not knowing what comes afterwards but he genuinely believed that something great comes after life. He remained humble, thankful and very appreciative of his own life “that I have been given”
Kenny s recording career as outlined in the book in great detail is unbelievably extensive. I wondered if looking back on that filled him with a sense of personal pride at what he had accomplished so far in his career. His response was quite surprising given his existing achievements and accomplishments: “Writing the book made me aware of what I have done, I don’t dwell on what I have done because I am more concerned with what is coming next.” That in a nutshell summed up the man’s character never content to stand still and rest on his laurels but rather instead focus on still achieving more even now. The book did though give Kenny a sense of perspective on his accomplishments. “The book did give me a sense of wow, I have definitely achieved a lot.” A famous producer Glenn Johns who had produced all the greats Zeppelin, The Stones, The Who etc. had once asked Kenny “What have you not done in life that you wanted to do” – (this was actually a question that I had lined up myself to ask him.) Kenny’s response was quite telling: “Just more of what I am doing.”
Writing the book had given Kenny a new goal and target when he would take it out and fulfill these speaking engagements. That had become his focus in addition to sustaining his recording business, and touring business. The book had proved a huge learning experience for Kenny that had allowed him to share what he had done, and the skills to keep him going and gave him the chance to perform and talk to new audiences outside of what he had previously been familiar with during his career.
Was there any living musician that Kenny would still like to work with and create with whom he hadn’t yet done so. ”I would like to tour and make a record with Sting. I just think that he is such a virtuosic and accomplished human being and musician. Paul McCartney would be great too. Queens of the Stone age, I love that band – Foo Fighters. The reason I pick Sting is because the man is evolved, he is a deep human being. I would like to be around that.”
Further evidence of Kenny single-mindedness and work ethic was that he stated that he was still learning all the time. He still practices intensively every single day. He also focuses on personal self-development.
Kenny had achieved a level of success way beyond anything any other musician can realistically expect to achieve. I questioned if he had subsequently paid a price for that maybe in terms of his own personal life. He agreed “In the book you can see that I picked work over everything, therefore some of my relationships …suffered as a result. I had some divorces. I wasn’t as developed in relationships as I was in music, because I put all my time into music.” I wondered if this may have been an aspect in his life that Kenny Aronoff regretted. His reply was surprising. “No, if I had not done this and been such a workaholic I feel so happy with my achievements. I am just wired that way – I love it. If I had not done that, knowing that I could – would have had major regrets.”
I ended up by asking Kenny if he was to sit down and interview someone-maybe a personal hero, inspiration or icon who would it be. His response was actually also quite personally flattering as well as enlightening. Laughing he responded “Nobody has asked me that question ever Mark. You are the first. How does that feel? Oh, wow! you opened the door to so many possibilities. I would love to interview somebody like a world leader like a Bill Clinton, Obama somebody who has seen the whole world and has a kind heart to give me a perspective. Stephen Hawking…somebody like that. Einstein. People that have lived and seen stuff from their perspective. Maybe an athlete like Lance Armstrong who overcame the worst case of cancer lived, got seven tour de Frances and got beat up by the press. People like that, in the arts it is endless. So many musical heroes, actors and stuff. Anyway there are a few of them…”
Kenny Aronoff is a true musical legend, who has worked with all the greats in many different musical genres – I can without doubt predict that everyone reading this will have at least a couple of albums that he has played on…in their collection. Pick up a copy of his book to reveal and illuminating insight to the man behind the glasses.