Ex- Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff writes about 'Sex, Drums, Rock 'n' Roll'Musician revisits chart-topping era of John Mellencamp's band
By David Lindquist
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.
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.
An Indiana University graduate who grew up in western Massachusetts, Aronoff has increased his musical stature since exiting Mellencamp's band 20 years ago.
He has toured with John Fogerty, Melissa Etheridge and the Smashing Pumpkins. Aronoff played drums on studio recordings by dozens of acts, including Trey Anastasio, Kelly Clarkson, Tony Iommi and Brian Wilson.
Indianapolis producers Marc Johnson and Eric Klee Johnson, twin brothers who own Pop Machine studio, have hired Aronoff for multiple recording sessions.
“He makes any project he’s involved with a lot better,” Marc Johnson said. “He brings an energy and a positivity that just enhances everybody’s attitude and performance in the room, like no other person I’ve ever been in the room with.”
“You also have a feeling that what you’re doing has weight and importance,” Eric Klee Johnson said. “You feel like you’re embarking on something special with him there. We learn so much from him. It’s like having another record producer on the project.”
Aronoff said writing "Sex, Drums, Rock 'n' Roll" ranks as "one of the most challenging experiences of my life.”
Working with author Jake Brown, Aronoff said he dedicated 14-hour days to the book. To piece together his story, the 63-year-old relied on daily planners he had saved since 1977.
"I notated everything I had to do with the music business, and some personal life," Aronoff said. "So there it was. It was all laid out in front of me."
"Sex, Drums, Rock 'n' Roll" features new interviews with Mellencamp, Fogerty, Etheridge, Jon Bon Jovi and Billy Corgan. The book's unofficial mantra is "I hate taking days off."
"I focused on what it takes to be successful at anything in life," Aronoff said. "What it takes to be successful and stay successful."
Executives at Backbeat Books, an imprint of Hal Leonard, told Aronoff he shared too much wisdom in the book's first draft.
"The book came in at 600 pages," Aronoff said. "They said the magic number is 300 pages."
He agreed to edit aggressively but insisted his detailed discography be included at the end of the book.
The list of recordings, Aronoff said, tells its own story of years when his schedule was a whirlwind of Nashville, Tenn. Los Angeles and New York on consecutive days and constant repeat.
"No one else will ever have a discography like this in our lifetime," Aronoff said. "The music budgets have changed. There was so much money that people could afford to fly me anywhere, any time for one song."
Today, Aronoff does most of his recording at his Uncommon Studios in Los Angeles. He plays live dates with the BoDeans and Supersonic Blues Machine.
In December, Aronoff will accompany Neil Diamond during an appearance on "The Late Late Show with James Corden." And Aronoff continues his recording and touring work with Fogerty, founder of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
If Aronoff's book depicts Mellencamp as a restless seeker of sounds, Fogerty comes across as a relentless perfectionist.
Known as a vocalist-guitarist, Fogerty practiced the drums four hours a day for 10 years. He routinely oversees concert sound checks that last longer than the actual performances.
When Aronoff began working with Fogerty in the mid-1990s, the man who wrote "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising" and "Down on the Corner" insisted on tuning Aronoff's snare and preparing a blanket to muffle the kick drum.
"John Fogerty was my tech," Aronoff said.
As the recording of a single song stretched on for days, both Fogerty and Aronoff found room for improvement that invariably led to another take.
“I think I remember him smiling with a look of, ‘Oh, yeah, I can work with this guy,’ " Aronoff said. "I was just being me, and he was just being him."
In a chapter titled "Mellencamp — The End," Aronoff writes about his departure from the job that accompanied hit singles such as "Hurts So Good," "Pink Houses," "Authority Song" and "Paper in Fire."
In short, Aronoff became too in-demand as a session musician, a gig that came to be when Mellencamp focused on painting rather than music between the recording of 1989 album "Big Daddy" and 1991's "Whenever We Wanted."
By the mid-'90s, Aronoff's recording credits included work with Stevie Nicks, Shawn Colvin, Lyle Lovett, Bob Seger and Meat Loaf.
Ultimately, Aronoff said he chose to break away from Mellencamp's organization.
"That was a very heavy thing," Aronoff said. "It was like a divorce. I felt like those songs were my songs. Those beats were my beats. Those guys were my best friends. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, at all."http://www.indystar.com/story/entertainment/music/2016/11/21/aronoff-pasic-indianapolis-drums-mellencamp-fogerty-uncommon/93662630/