Kenny Aronoff: my best and worst gigs ever
Continuing our series My Best And Worst Gigs Ever, session and touring legend Kenny Aronoff talks about one show that stands out in his mind as being particularly memorable – and one that he'd like to forget.
“There are way too many great gigs to narrow them down to just one, but I can think of one that is certainly unique and personally very special to me. But let me start by setting the stage: I was 10 years old when I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and after that I saw A Hard Day’s Night in a movie theatre. Those two events made me say, ‘I wanna be in The Beatles!’
"So how does a 10-year-old kid in New England, in a town of 3,000 people, get in The Beatles? I didn’t know how to do it; I didn’t have any mentors. And The Beatles had a drummer anyway, so that was that. [Laughs]
“What did I do? I started a band, and I made believe I was in The Beatles. Fifty years later, after recording hundreds of records and doing hundreds of tours, I’m in the rhythm section honoring The Beatles and celebrating the night they played the Ed Sullivan Show.
"This is the TV special, The Beatles’ 50 Anniversary. I’m playing with Ringo, I’m playing along with Paul McCartney, and I’m performing with all of these other artists honoring The Beatles. For me, what could be a heavier, more significant experience?
10 weeks of work
“I always study hard and prepare for every gig I do. The Beatles show came at the end of 10 weeks of non-stop work, starting with the Kennedy Center Honors and ending with the Grammys. For all of the shows of various kinds during that 10-week period, I had to learn over 200 songs.
"The Beatles show came at the end of everything. At that point, I looked at myself as if I were an NFL player. By the time you get to the Super Bowl, you belong there. I didn’t have time to get blown away by what I was doing; I focused on the show – song by song. And when you do that, you win the Super Bowl.
“During the show itself, I thought back to being that 10-year-old kid, but only for a minute or so – I had to keep focused on the gig. Between performances with all of the artists I played with, I checked each song for the tempo. I put a click in my ear and ran over the songs and all the difficult areas, and I made sure that I was playing everything perfectly, in the exact tempo that we’d discussed in rehearsal.
“There was a lot of pressure on me – I’m playing drum parts that Ringo Starr had recorded, parts that people knew. Some of the things were from the records, and some were new arrangements that were a little more modern. But I couldn’t let the pressure get to me. I was dedicated to playing everything just right.”
“When it was all done, I had an incredible conversation with Ringo, right in the middle of the entire arena. I told him what an honor it was for me to play the show, and I basically starting telling him my story. But as I did, I caught myself and said, ‘Hey, you’ve heard this all before. It’s cliché.’ And he said, ‘No, no, tell me.’ So I told him: ‘You’re the reason why I play drums. You’re the reason why I play music. You’re the reason why I got in a band. You’re the reason why I’m here today.’ He went, ‘I love hearing that!’ And he told me I did an incredible job, which you know… What do you say to that?
“There’s a shot in the show where Ringo looks at me after I did a particular roll on Something. The only reason why I knew to do it was because the producer, Don Was, got me the isolated drum tracks. Ringo did this buzz roll on a rack tom and another one on a floor tom, on beats three and four. You can’t hear it on the record, but it’s there. So when I did it live, Ringo mimicked me and smiled. That was amazing.
“In addition to the conversation I had with Ringo, I had a long talk with both him and Paul after the show. What surprised me was, they had no idea what was going to happen after they played Ed Sullivan. They didn’t knew the show was so big back then. To them, it was just one more thing their manager had booked them for. And, of course, everything changed after that night.”
Kenny Aronoff: my best and worst gigs ever
“OK, so this show’s a lot different.
"I was playing with John Mellencamp on the Uh-Huh tour back in the ‘80s. All of a sudden during The Authority Song, my stick broke. It broke at the end, so the part I’m holding is sharp, and the other part went… How do I say this? It went right into my dick. [Laughs]
“I’d never felt anything like this in my life. It was like somebody had bullwhipped my dick. I didn’t know what was going on at first – I thought somebody stuck a knife in me or something. I started feeling a sensation of blood. There was no blood, but that’s what it felt like. My head got all light, and I started to faint. The whole band turned around and looked at me, ‘cause I was playing all weird. I’m almost passing out back there.
It's not my cymbals
“My drum tech rushed over to see what was going on. He said, ‘What’s wrong, man? Is something wrong with your cymbals?’ – that’s what he thought. And I go, ‘No, no, it’s not my cymbals. It’s my dick! My stick broke and hit me right in the dick.’ He slapped me on the head and said, ‘Sorry, dude, you’re on your own.’ [Laughs]
“I finally got it together and shook it off. I’ve played sports my whole life, so I’m used to physical injuries, but this was a new one. It was a freak-out at first. Man, what a feeling."