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Famous drummer returns to alma mater to share tips for success



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Drummer Kenny Aronoff reveals life stories, discusses music theory and shares tips on professionalism in the music industry during his meet and greet hosted by Project Jumpstart on Saturday morning in the Musical Arts Center. Project Jumpstart is a student-led initiative in the Jacobs School of Music that aims to teach music students entrepreneurial skills to take charge in their future careers in the music industry. Andrew Williams Buy Photos

Rock ‘n’ roll drummer Kenny Aronoff stood at the front of Ballantine 013 with a list of names projected behind him – Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Garth Brooks, John Mellencamp. 

There were more than 40 names on the list, but those were only a portion of the extremely famous artists the Jacobs School of Music alumnus played with throughout his career. 

Aronoff was in front of Glenn Gass’ history of rock and roll music class Oct. 19, telling stories of sex, drums and rock 'n’ roll – the title of his latest, and first, book. He was back in Bloomington for an entrepreneurship workshop Oct. 20 for Jacobs students.

Although Aronoff looks exactly like a stereotypical rock star – all black clothing, leather jacket, heavy black boots, big jewelry and sunglasses on inside – he sounds like a motivational speaker. One of Aronoff’s claims to fame is being the only rock star professional speaker, his website boasts.

“I’ve worked really hard to create this amazing life, and I’m addicted to it,” Aronoff said.

He said the Friday workshop would focus on his seven principles of success, which have helped him get where he is today.

“Those are skills that made me successful in my business and have kept me successful,” Aronoff said.


IU students and Bloomington residents listen as drummer Kenny Aronoff says why he left Bloomington during his meet-and-greet hosted by Project Jumpstart on Saturday morning in the Musical Arts Center. Project Jumpstart is a student led initiative in the Jacobs School of Music that aims to teach music students entrepreneurial skills to take charge in their future careers in the music industry. Andrew Williams Buy Photos


These seven items will be detailed in his next book, which he is still writing.

“The opening line is: are you living your life loud or are you dying on the vine?” Aronoff said. “If you’re dying on the vine, you’re not taking enough action. If you live your life loud, you take action.”

Action is the only way to be successful, he said.

“Zero equals zero,” he said. “If you do nothing, you get nothing.”

He called the upcoming book the why and how of his success, while his autobiography, “Sex, Drums, Rock ’n’ Roll!: The Hardest Hitting Man in Show Business,” is a book about what he has accomplished.

“It means so much to our students to be able to learn from and interact with one of the most successful musicians working today, in any field,” percussion department chair John Tafoya said in a Jacobs press release. “He is truly an inspiration.”

"This is the most amazing music school in the whole world," Aronoff said, also expressing his excitement about the new building additions. "It's off the hook, man. I've never seen anything like it."

Aronoff was not the best drummer at Jacobs when he was there, he said. He was dedicated, though. He would stay until late at night, hiding in the bathroom while the building was cleared, then would continue his practice. 

When Aronoff first came to Jacobs, his mom asked his teacher if he had what it takes to make it.

His teacher said to ask again in 10 years.

Ten years later, Aronoff was featured on a little ditty called “Jack and Diane” by John Mellencamp. He had previously been fired from Mellencamp’s band but refused to go home. He eventually created the unique drum fill in the 1982 hit, which is still Mellencamp’s most successful single. 

[Kenny Aronoff is one of the links connecting Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed to IU | IDS]

Now, Aronoff’s life seems to be constantly on the move. He rattled off months of shows with famous musicians, upcoming albums to record, speaking events and award shows he was being honored at. 

He only slept four hours the night before showing up in Gass’ class, making him probably not so different than most of the students in front of him.

Only, he has played on over 300 million records sold worldwide, 60 Grammy-nominated recordings and has 1,300 gold, platinum and diamond records, according to the press release. He was also named No. 1 pop and rock drummer by Modern Drummer magazine several times.

“I’m a rock and roll star, man,” he said. “I’m the real thing. I’m authentic. It’s not an act.”

So maybe a little different than the class.

Gass called Aronoff one of the people he loved and admired most in the world. Gass and Aronoff attended Jacobs together as students, and Aronoff said he always comes back to Gass’ classes when he visits Bloomington.

"I landed, got in a car, came down here and went to class," Aronoff said.



Aronoff said he loves Bloomington, and never would have left if he hadn't needed to go to Los Angeles to continue his career.

"It's always good to come back here," Aronoff said. "I'm always going to keep coming back here. I might even move back here some day."

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