Drumming legend Kenny Aronoff doesn’t look like one of those classically trained percussionists you’d see in a grand orchestra.
Everything about him screams rock ‘n’ roll — the constant sunglasses covering his eyes, the edgy clothes, the rebellious attitude and especially the unrestricted language. Guys like him who have played with the Rolling Stones, the Smashing Pumpkins, Rod Stewart, Cinderella, John Fogerty and Bob Dylan generally have that certain indescribable “it factor” in common.
But there’s more to Aronoff than meets the ear or the eyes. Most are familiar with him as being the rocker that lit up the drums on John Mellencamp’s hit albums for 17 years. Fewer know of his intense training as a musician at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. If anyone can be a musical chameleon while still remaining internally unchanged, it’s Aronoff.
After packing up the last of his stored belongings from Bloomington this spring following a move to the west coast, the percussion master reflected about his times in the heartland.
Even though he’s associated with one of the most iconic Hoosier performers of this era, Aronoff actually started his training back in Stockbridge, Mass., home of Norman Rockwell. Always an energetic kid, he began his own band at age 10 after being mesmerized by The Beatles’ epic film “A Hard Day’s Night.”
“It was really simple. I was a hyper-energetic kid so you gravitate toward things that have energy,” he said. “I was a huge lover of music and the instrument I gravitated toward was the instrument that had the most energy, which was drums.”
Predominantly self-taught, at 16 Aronoff began to seriously study classical music with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. By age 18, he was practicing drums nine hours a day, seven days a week and playing five nights a week in a band. Plain old hard work, he said, gave him an advantage over some of the more gifted musicians.