Kenny Aronoff Chats with IndyStar
Kenny Aronoff, author of Sex, Drums, Rock ‘n’ Roll!, sat down with the Indy Star to discuss his book including his time during the John Mellencamp era. Check out an excerpt of the interview below.
In his new autobiography, Sex, Drums, Rock ‘n’ Roll!, Kenny Aronoff pulls back the curtain on the dangers of being a Hoosier rock star in the 1980s.
Aronoff writes about the time John Mellencamp survived a motorcycle crash one week before the recording of breakthrough album “American Fool.” Toby Myers, who played bass in Mellencamp’s band from 1982 to 1998, lost a toe in a boating accident during an East Coast tour. In an episode that parallels music movie “Almost Famous,” the entire Mellencamp entourage could have died when a charter plane lost power between Miami and Biloxi, Miss.
And everyone in the band was required to participate in a fall pastime known as the Mellencamp Football League. No pads, full contact, highly competitive.
But there’s more than misadventure detailed in “Sex, Drums, Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which arrived in bookstores Nov. 15. Aronoff, the drummer in Mellencamp’s band from 1980 to 1996, mostly writes about an unyielding mission to succeed.
“We weren’t the best rock ’n’ roll band in the world,” Aronoff said in a phone interview. “We made ourselves great by hard work.”
Mellencamp, who sold 16 million albums from 1982 to 1987, maintained regular rehearsal hours for the musicians: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., interrupted by a 5-7 p.m. break, five days a week when the band wasn’t on tour.
Before the Seymour native renovated a Brown County house into Belmont Mall studio, Mellencamp worked at “The Bunker,” a cramped, concrete room in rural Bloomington that once was a dog kennel.
Those were days, Aronoff said, when the musicians grasped for the secret of making hit records. They took a field trip to catch a date of Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” tour. They studied Tom Petty’s “Damn the Torpedoes” album for tips on arranging songs.
Mellencamp, known then as John Cougar, had written a song called “Jack & Diane.” It wasn’t working, however, as anything other than a stripped-down solo acoustic tune.
“We knew it was a cool song, but we didn’t know what to do with it,” Aronoff said.
John Mellencamp, center, points his American Music Award at guitarist Larry Crane after collecting an American Music Award in 1983. Drummer Kenny Aronoff, author of 2016 book “Sex, Drums, Rock ‘n’ Roll,” is seen at right. Bass player Toby Myers is second from left, and guitarist Mike Wanchic is to the left of Aronoff.
Working at Miami’s Criteria Studios with producer Don Gehman, the Mellencamp crew heard the Bee Gees experimenting with an early drum machine, the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, in a nearby room.
Aronoff said Gehman borrowed the Linn “out of desperation” for a potential fix for “Jack & Diane.”
“I was insulted,” Aronoff said. “I grabbed the thing out of anger and said, ‘At least I want to have control over this thing.’ ”
Aronoff programmed the hand-clap beat heard during the first half of the song, and he added the distinctive midsong solo on conventional drums. “Jack & Diane” reached No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart in October 1982.
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