He puts the hit in hit record.
He makes the phrase "stick figure" both figurative and literal.
He is a master of cymbalism.
He is one of the few drummers in the world who could conceivably be recognized in the average public setting and, until he called The Citizen to talk about his upcoming clinic this week in Prince George, he did it all without his voice being heard.
Kenny Aronoff transcended the largely anonymous profession of drumming. He did so with technical proficiency on one hand, and a shining personality on the other that made him stand out in concert and on television. When John Fogerty - a man reputedly insistent of top shelf musicianship in his band - goes out on the road, he has Aronoff on the kit. Fans attending the last CN Centre concert by Fogerty might remember that the CCR superstar turned around, pointed at Aronoff and called him "the best rock 'n' roll drummer in the world" at one point in the show.
Go ahead and argue. You'd get a diversity of rebuttals from Bob Dylan, Cinderella, The BoDeans, Elton John, Bob Seger, Joe Cocker, Michelle Branch, Smashing Pumpkins, Melissa Etheridge, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Meatloaf, Bonnie Raitt, Adelle, Miranda Lambert, Daryl Hall for his webshow Live From Daryl's House, he laid down beats for Jon Bon Jovi's seminal solo hit Blaze of Glory, he's been the house drummer for several years of Kennedy Center Honors Ceremonies, and for the thickest part of John Mellencamp's career Aronoff was his exclusive kitmaster.
It was through the Mellencamp connection that mutual friend Sue Medley got Aronoff to play on her lauded debut record That's Life. It was one of many relationships Aronoff forged with Canadians, including Celine Dion, George Canyon, Avril Lavigne, Andy Kim, Alanis Morrisette, Jann Arden, Aldo Nova, Amanda Marshall, Corey Hart, and when she found out Aronoff was holding a clinic in Prince George it prompted country queen Patricia Conroy to shout it out.
"He filled in as my drummer at a big Canadian Country Music Awards showcase we had years ago," Conroy said. "My drummer bailed at the last minute and we called Kenny. He flew up from L.A. Every musician in town was crowded around that stage and from the first downbeat it was magic. He stayed afterwards and chatted with the guys who were dying to ask him questions, etc. Truly one of the nicest guys I've ever met. And what a musician."
Aronoff was thrilled that Conroy remembered that pivotal night so fondly. She won Canadian Country Female Vocalist of the Year that same evening and he loved being part of the thrill.
"Oh, man! She's cool. She's (living and working) in Nashville now," said Aronoff in return, proving he keeps tabs on his friends even though they number in the thousand.
"I was just there, doing a Merle Haggard tribute," he added. "I played with Keith Richards, John Mellencamp, Billy Gibbons, Warren Haynes, Sheryl Crow, Loretta Lynn, Jamie Johnson, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Hank Jr., Willie Nelson, I'm leaving people out, on and on and on, all in one night. That's heavy. You have to know every intro, every tempo, every ending, and I have to lead the band. The musical director counts on me, and I can never stop for two hours or whatever it is. The show is in front of 15,000 people, being filmed and recorded. That basically means I cannot make one mistake. It's so much beyond drumming, now, it is leadership, it is communication skills, it's being able to solve problems on the spot, and I've become one of the go-to guys for that, and I love it. I love being that guy."
Some people brag by dropping names. With Aronoff it couldn't be more matter-of-fact. He's just talking about his day at work. So, when he just got off the phone in between flights from Toronto to Edmonton, talking with Sammy Hagar trying to arrange a quick drumming job down in the States (and other constant busyness), would he divert his attention to a drumming clinic in B.C.'s rural capital?
"It used to be one of the foundations of my career: education, sessions and touring. These rarely come up anymore. And I implement my speaking message into my clinics so it's something I believe in, very much so," he said.
Lately he has added two titles to his resume that most drummers rarely attempt, even the successful ones. He is now a professional public speaker and he is an author. He penned the book Sex, Drums, Rock 'n' Roll!: The Hardest Hitting Man in Show Business. And before anyone dares say "yeah, but he's no Neil Peart," guess who wrote the book's forward? The drummer of Rush himself.
"I tell people that there are seven ways I really believe people can become successful in their life and their career - the same seven ways that led me to have an extraordinary career for almost four decades, in one of the most difficult businesses in the world. They aren't anything unique, but you can be reminded," Aronoff said.
The bedrock of success in life, Aronoff summarized, is to never forget and always keep at the forefront of your everyday actions and emotions, that you are part of a collective. Respect the groupings we all live in - family, friends, community, country, society, globe. He learned that directly from the drum kit.
As the drummer, "You're the engine, you're the spirit, you're the driving factor. But it's a team effort. Look at Led Zepplin - who could you replace? No one. Look at The Beatles - who could you replace? No one. That's what made Michael Jordan, the basketball player, so powerful. He knew that he was dangerous because he would do the right thing - pass, dribble, shoot - always thinking about team. How do we - we - win the game?"
The G.O.A.T. of drumming comes to Electron Sound & Percussion on Wednesday at 6 p.m. It is part show, part instruction and it's free of charge.