BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- When the students in Professor Glenn Gass' rock-history class at Indiana University arrived for class Monday, little did they know that they'd be getting a special lesson from the newest touring drummer for Smashing Pumpkins, veteran rocker Kenny Aronoff.
The subject: his plans to tour with the mega-successful rock band to support its forthcoming album, Adore.
Seated in the large lecture hall at the university, senior Ryan Brown said he was shocked and thrilled to hear that former Indiana University professor Aronoff would take over the backbeats for the Pumpkins.
"It will be cool to see him open up a whole new bag of tricks with the Pumpkins," said Brown, a friend and former student of Aronoff's. "I was really surprised when I heard the news."
Aronoff, who was not scheduled to guest lecture the class, made the surprise appearance and announcement to more than 200 students in the hall. He told the class that he had recently taken a new job as the touring drummer for the Smashing Pumpkins and proceeded to lay out some of what went into winning the position, Brown said.
"I won the audition as the new Pumpkins drummer," Aronoff later told SonicNet Music News.
"Personally, I think the Smashing Pumpkins are one of the best American
rock bands today," Rock and Roll History professor Gass said. "I admire him for doing it. It takes a lot of guts. There's a lot of room for Kenny to experiment with his music."
Best known for his years providing the backbeat for Bloomington's own
rock hero John Mellencamp, Aronoff, who is in his 40s, recorded the legendary Scarecrow album with Mellencamp but has also played on countless other albums from some of rock 'n' roll's most elite members, including a stint in 1997 playing behind Creedence Clearwater Revival leader John Fogerty on tour. Folk-rock legend Bob Dylan, folk songstress Jewel and pop diva Celine Dion are all on Aronoff's long resume.
A source close to the Pumpkins confirmed that Aronoff will be the "touring drummer" for the Chicago-based band for its upcoming two-month promotional tour. The band is scheduled to release its fourth studio album, Adore, late next month.
Known for his straight-ahead rock style, Aronoff will be joining a band that has been instrumental in advancing the modern rock sound with a focus on blending potent pop melody and dynamic arrangements. "On paper, it's weird," Gass said, adding that Aronoff said he had turned down a tour with Fogerty to take the Pumpkins job.
But Aronoff's former students also said they understand the band's decision to recruit a veteran to fill the position left vacant by the group's original drummer, Jimmy Chamberlain. "He can fit in with any band," said Brent England, a percussion major at the school. "He's the best."
Aronoff left his teaching post at Indiana University's School of Music last year.
Aronoff told Gass' class that he had auditioned for the Smashing Pumpkins in Los Angeles and won the part by working with the band on an "unplanned, improvisational number that kept getting better" as the rehearsal continued. "[Aronoff] lifts up any band he's in," Gass said. "It's definitely a surprise, but only in a good way."
The Smashing Pumpkins' drummer troubles started in 1996, in the middle of
their two-year tour supporting the mega-successful double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, when Chamberlain was dismissed for drug problems after their touring keyboardist, Jonathan Melvoin, died of an overdose.
Matt Walker, formerly of Filter, was recruited to replace Chamberlain as a touring drummer. However, the Pumpkins recorded their latest album without a permanent drummer, using drum machines on a majority of the tracks.
Aronoff has several weeks to learn the new material for the summer tour in support of Adore; the tour has not yet been officially announced.
"Aronoff is the quickest learn in the business," Gass said.