Master Drummer Kenny Aronoff's Memoir Hits as Hard as He Does

Sex, Drums, Rock ‘n’ Roll! The Hardest Hitting Man in Show Business
By Kenny Aronoff
Backbeat Books
, 320 pp., $29.99

You might not know the name, but chances are you’ve seen the bald, tightly muscled guy in the wraparound sunglasses pounding skins somewhere.  He’s the go-to drummer anchoring the beat on pretty much every Grammy/Kennedy Center/Rock Hall/music-special televised event. Or he’s in concert behind John Fogerty, Melissa Etheridge, and the Smashing Pumpkins.

Or you’ve seen his name on liner notes from a wide variety of albums by Celine Dion, Elton John, Sting, Bon Jovi, Bonnie Raitt, Meat Loaf, Lady Gaga, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones. And that just scratches the surface. This guy is everywhere, and his memoir delivers on the title’s promise while recounting Aronoff's decades in the music biz.

Aronoff is best known for his 17-year participation in John Mellencamp’s band, including his prime hit-making period of the ‘80s and ‘90s. He writes of his love/hate relationship with the prickly Indiana boy (who fired his drummer a total of three times during his tenure).

Mellencamp comes off as a distant, intense, sometimes dickish egomaniac, but also as someone who is highly driven, very involved in all aspects of his career, and consistently following his musical muse and direction.

Fear of failure, of being only as good as your last record, and using that fear to push you harder and higher is a tenet that Aronoff takes into his own insanely busy freelance career to this day, although they often didn’t see eye to eye on musical or personnel matters, and a few times came close to all-out fistfights.

“John definitely ran that band with a Machiavellian approach,” Aronoff writes. “At times, he ruled with fear, because our popularity kept getting bigger and bigger, from album sales to concert crowds…it was sometimes a painful process making a Mellencamp record, where 99 of 100 ideas being suggested get thrown out, but that one great idea is worth all the shitty ones combined.”

Aronoff does lapse into drummer jargon about cymbals and tom toms here and there, but not too much. But artists he’s worked with occasionally pop into the narrative to offer their perspective on working with him; one of them is Mellencamp, who seems to have grown mellower.

This master drummer also writes with a fan’s flair and passion for the music; the pages fairly burst with energy and Aronoff's love of rock and roll. And for the kid who wanted to get into music after seeing Ringo Starr on the Beatles 1964 Ed Sullivan appearance, a chance to back the two surviving Beatles themselves 50 years later is a career — and life — highlight.

As for the title, there’s actually less of the sex part than the other two elements, though one erotic story about Aronoff’s assignation with two female Melissa Etheridge fans at the same time (one bi, one gay) gives new meaning to the oft-heard phrase “give the drummer some!”
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero