Kenny Aronoff

By Rick Mattingly

Kenny Aronoff

He’s played with everybody, but he doesn’t get called just for his technique.It’s been more than thirty years since Kenny Aronoff first received national attention as the drummer on John Cougar Mellencamp’s hits “Hurts So Good” and “Jack and Diane.” After playing on numerous Mellencamp records, Aronoff became an in-demand studio and touring player whose credits range from Bob Seger and John Fogerty—the latter an ongoing gig—to Willie Nelson, Travis Tritt, Smashing Pumpkins, the BoDeans, Meat Loaf, Alice Cooper, and hundreds more. So how has he managed to maintain an active career for so long?
“I think the biggest thing that has kept me relevant is self-discipline,” Aronoff says. “You don’t achieve success through laziness, entitlement, and trophies coming to you with no hard work. To become and stay successful you need a foundation of self-discipline, hard work fueled by the love of what you do, and education.

“No matter how many hit singles I’ve played on, no matter how many great tours I’ve done, I never believed that I had reached all my goals,” Aronoff continues. “I create a goal, and then I make a plan and execute it. A lot of people want things to just come to them, but some goals can take a long time. There are technical things I might work on for a year before I can play them fluently.”

The wide range of musicians Aronoff has been able to work with reflects his versatility—especially on shows like The Kennedy Center Honors, where he’s backed artists from a wide variety of genres. But he says it’s not just the playing that makes one successful. “I get hired because a producer or artist wants me in the room or on stage with them because of who I am as a person—my ability to get along, to follow orders, to be a team player. At this point, with most of the sessions and tours I do, I don’t care how famous the artist or producer is—I’ve made more records than they have, and I have more experience and knowledge. But I’m a sideman; I’m not the boss. If I want to be the leader, I should start my own band.”

A phrase Aronoff often uses is “a healthy life is a wealthy life,” and part of his daily routine involves exercising to stay physically, mentally, and emotionally strong.

“The last thing,” Kenny says, “is that I’ve adapted to the ways music has changed. When there were big budgets for records, I was recording several sessions a day at studios in Nashville, New York, and L.A. But all of that changed, so I realized that I would have to build my own studio, Uncommon Studios L.A., so I could record drums for people at an affordable rate. I didn’t really want to do that, but that’s what I had to do to keep being a recording drummer.”

MD Cover Nov 07Kenny Aronoff first appeared in Modern Drummer in an “Up & Coming” article in June 1983. Since then he’s been on the cover three times, most recently in November 1997, when he first recorded and toured with John Fogerty. “John had worked on Blue Moon Swamp for five years and had recorded with about thirty drummers,” Aronoff recalled. “After one day of recording he told me, ‘You’re the drummer I’ve been looking for my whole life.’ John wants me to push him hard and play on top. Even at soundcheck, if I lay back on a single hit, he’ll turn around and say, ‘Kenny, did you get enough sleep last night?’”