Kenny Aronoff, author of Sex, Drums, Rock ‘n’ Roll!, recently sat down for an interview on the Guitar Center blog, Music Aficionado. Sex, Drums, Rock ‘n’ Roll!, Take a look at the excerpt of the interview below.
It wasn’t my idea to write my autobiography. A writer, Jake Brown, who was interviewing me for a book he was writing about Joe Satriani made the suggestion. He was very enthusiastic and passionate about my writing an autobiography, he and his dad had seen me play at a John Mellencamp show in St. Louis when he was 14 years old. He had to convince me to write my book. The reason I didn’t want to write a book initially, was because I thought it would be a lot of work. And I was right – it took four years!
How did you get started playing music?
I have always been passionate about music. My parents had music blasting on their turntables or the radio all day long when I was a kid, playing mostly jazz, classical, and musicals. My mom taught my sister, brother and myself the piano when we were young, and we eventually took piano lessons, but at age 10 I decided I wanted drum lessons and no more piano – just drums, drums, drums! One year later, when I was 11, I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, aka “The Night That Changed America.” They performed for 72 million people that night. I immediately wanted to be in The Beatles, and when I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I started my first band, the Alley Cats.
What was your first musical “big win” that you let you know “I can do this, I can be a musician.”?
As soon as I played my first concert with the Alley Cats at age 11, I decided I had to do this for the rest of my life, and still feel that way. But I wasn’t sure how to achieve this. There were no mentors, no manuals, or people that I knew that had made it in rock ‘n’ roll. I grew up in a small town of 3,000 people in western Massachusetts. My big commitment was when I decided to go to college as a music major. I studied one year at the University of Massachusetts and four more years at Indiana University School of Music, now called the Jacob School of Music.
I spent one summer studying at the Aspen Music Festival, run by the Julliard School, and one year at Tanglewood, which is led by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We were considered the best student orchestra in America. Our teachers and mentors were the musicians in the BSO, so my percussion teacher was Vic Firth. After graduating from school, I had opportunities to join two orchestras, one in Jerusalem, Israel, and the other in Quito, Ecuador. I declined both offers because my heart still wanted to be in a rock band like The Beatles. So I started studying drum sets with two teachers, Alan Dawson in Boston and Gary Chester in NY, practicing relentlessly, eight hours a day unless I was performing. I lived at home for one year before moving to Indiana, where I started a band with a bunch of very talented musicians in Bloomington. Three years later, I auditioned for Johnny Cougar (John Mellencamp). That was my first big break.
You talk in your book about learning to practice “correctly.” What techniques/topics do you focus on while practicing? What recommendations would you make to someone starting out for practice/development?
Know what your purpose is when you are practicing. Know your goals. Know what you are trying to accomplish. If you are taking lessons, pick a teacher who you trust and believe in, and do what he or she suggests to make you a better drummer, musician, and person.
You’ve played with everyone! What universal qualities do those people share? What makes a good collaborator?
Successful people – no matter what business they are in or what they do in life – are self-disciplined, work their asses off, put in lots of time and know how to stay in the game even when they fail. They are driven to be great even when things get difficult.