After a few seconds of talking with Kenny Aronoff, you understand why he is so celebrated as one of the great living drummers in popular music over the last four decades. His passion, enthusiasm, compassion and life force are infectious. He has played on world tours and on thousands of recordings for an impressive list of artists, including The Rolling Stones, John Mellencamp, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Alanis Morrissette, Brian Wilson, Vince Gill, Johnny Cash, Smashing Pumpkins, The BoDeans, Bon Jovi, Avril Lavigne, plus thousands more. More than 300 millions records have been sold featuring Kenny’s work.
When he is not behind his drums, Kenny can often be found doing his other favorite gig— motivational speaker— turning his life experience into words of wisdom to help others.
To forge a stellar career in the demanding and warp-speed changing world of popular music requires more than great talent. There are good reasons why so many that have achieved that level of success and stardom often become the architects of their own self-destruction.
Kenny is living testimony to the unlimited possibilities we can all create when we combine talent, hard work and passion with a 24/7 mindfulness approach to living.
When I speak about the seven ways to be successful in your life, the first one on the list is self-discipline. Self-discipline is making you do something that you don’t want to do physically, emotionally or mentally. But self-discipline makes you do it to get the results that you want. When you couple that with hard work, which is “The Transportation,” you start to get somewhere. If you don’t do the hard work, it’s like the math equation 0+0=0. You do nothing, you get nothing. Self-discipline means that I have to be both the coach and the player in my mind—the coach telling the player what we need to do and the player executes. There are no excuses of why I can’t do something. It’s understanding what I need to do to get it done and then taking action.
In my work, I have to always be on point—always sound good, look good and act good whether you feel like it or not. We all have good days and bad days. Maybe I don’t feel good or I didn’t get enough sleep. I have to understand my condition in order to manage it. It’s not if I’m going to do it but how and when. I’m constantly adapting and correcting. It’s a daily practice. Mindfulness doesn’t come from only doing meditation. It’s an approach to life. You have to be honest with yourself and identify the situation so you can make it better.
How does music itself relate to mindfulness? There’s no question that music, when you’re doing it right, is not strictly academic. When I play music, it is spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical, especially on the drums. To be a great musician you have to be great on all these levels. The spiritual and emotional parts are connecting with an area that is intangible in life, always trying to be in the flow. You can’t touch it with your hand but it exists obviously. When you’re in that state, the music sounds better. It’s more sincere and pure and connects on a higher level both with the musicians playing together and the exchange of energy with the audience. At the same time, my brain has to stay grounded, present and conscious of anything that might go wrong, so adjustments can be made to get everything back into that flow. I’m addicted to the excitement and adrenalin of it all, taking on more and more, sometimes working on 10 projects at once. There are deadlines, pressure and constant stress. To deal with it means following one of my other rules for success—“A Healthy Life is A Wealthy Life.” Of the 8 tips I speak about to achieve and maintain this healthy life, meditation is purposely last on the list.
I tell the audience that you can forget about all the other items on the list if your mental and physical stress is so extreme that it makes you ill. You can eat right, exercise right, sleep right, do everything else right, but if you’re stressed out and beat up, you will go down. Down go your career and the quality of operating at the level you want! At the very least, if we’re stressed out, going into a meditative state to relax the body and mind will make us become clearer about who we are and where we are. There are obviously a million other things that make meditation good for you. To put it another way—the coroner doing an autopsy will never say, “You know, this guy was told to meditate no more than 20 minutes at a time and he did 23, so he died.” There is not one negative aspect to meditation.
My view of mindfulness is that we’re all born with it, like any other natural ability you have develop it. Adding to self-discipline and hard work I mentioned before is something I call RPS— Repetition is the Preparation for Success. Even though I have been a drummer for over 50 years, I still need to practice and rehearse.
Why I became a musician I can trace back to a single defining moment that was an early doorway to the power of mindfulness. At age 11, I was playing outside with my twin brother when my mom screamed and yelled at us to come into the house immediately. Of course, I thought I was in trouble. But when I came into the family room, there was something else waiting for me. On the old black and white RCA television with the rabbit ear antenna was the Ed Sullivan Show, and there were 4 guys with long hair singing “she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
I was bouncing off the wall, flipping out. I had never felt anything like that before. I didn’t know how to describe it back then, whether it was an emotional rush or something spiritual, but it was beyond tangible. It was a connection to an understanding of the higher state that music helps create. I turned to my mother and asked, “Who are these guys?” “They’re called the Beatles.” “Well, call them up because I want to be in that band.” I also told my mother that I wanted to play the drums. My mother knew I was serious but she obviously didn’t call
the Beatles. Two weeks later, I started my own band, The Alley Cats, and we played Beatles music songs, of course.
The most amazing thing about this story is that 50 years after I saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, I got to perform with the two remaining members, Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Richard Starkey (better known as Ringo Starr). But here’s the crazy part: The night I played with them, they were being honored for that exact Ed Sullivan appearance, called “The Night that Changed America.” And I was the only drummer on stage performing with them that night that had seen that same show as a kid in 1964. That kid’s dream finally came true. It doesn’t get any better than that.
For more information about Kenny, check out his website: www.kennyaronoff.com