Leader of the Band
by Richard Paige
Following a backstage video interview of bandleader Ben Kitterman ’06 before Aaron Lewis’s concert in Indianapolis’s Old National Centre, WM asked Associate Director Richard Paige for his first impressions of the tour bus driver turned working musician.
There is no more telling place than backstage; the truth resides in the labyrinth of hallways and dressing rooms.
You learn about performers onstage. You learn about people backstage.
I walked into the theater with my own assumptions about Ben Kitterman ’06 and the rock-and-roll lifestyle. I had heard about his time at Wabash, his departure from the school, and how he became a tour bus driver for Tom Petty, John Legend, Motley Crue, Ted Turner, and others. I knew that he had been driving for Aaron Lewis when the singer invited him onstage to play dobro, and that Ben had been playing with him on tour and in the recording studio ever since.
When I met him backstage at the Old National Centre, I expected the performer. Ben gave me the truth. In three hours with Wabash staff members and a student, he proved to be an engaging, thoughtful, and insightful guy who makes others feel at home.
Although he is Lewis’s bandleader (watch Ben’s arrangement of Sheryl Crowe’s “Strong Enough” as played by Lewis and his band) and a recording multi-instrumentalist (last year he played on the soundtrack of The Lone Ranger), Ben acts like a driver. He washed the bus that afternoon before the sound check. He casually drops a “copy that,” “roger,” or a “what’s your 20?” into conversation. His time in the driver’s seat still resonates.
“It’s really a fraternal bond you have with other bus drivers,” he says. “Just being on the road itself; it’s like you are on a long, extended vision quest. I took a lot of pride in every bit of it.”
Glance at the daily schedule posted on the wall (3 p.m.—sound check; 9:15 p.m.—on stage; 2 a.m.—departure; 6:30 a.m.—arrival) and the lifestyle loses its glamour. Add to the mix the lap-band surgery he had in 2012 to lose weight (to quote the Stone Temple Pilots, he’s literally “half the man he used to be”), and the road presents its challenges. Even so, he talks cheerfully about cooking his own meals on the bus and the rigors of shopping for one egg at a time.
Ben took the time to talk to us, not just about Wabash, but about us. He made Luke Walker ’15 the center of attention for a long time, discussing Spotify and Walker’s musical preferences. It was one of the most memorable Wabash moments of my year, both unexpected and genuine.
Ben was secure enough to admit that even though he’s now a performer, he still seeks acceptance as a musician. “I still feel like a stranger up there, which may be better than the opposite of feeling entitled,” he explains. “You try to find a good vibe, a pocket where you aren’t overplaying. I tend to overthink the notes I’m going to play, especially if I’m with someone new, and I still do that every day with Aaron.”
He talked about the “Personal Identity DVD” he made for Professor Warren Rosenberg’s class. It celebrates his father’s career driving tour buses for Neil Young and others and expresses Ben’s own passion for driving. He calls it his “crowning achievement” at Wabash.
“I’ve met some of the best friends I’ve ever had at that school,” Ben says. “It seems to attract men of good character, good qualities. I still talk to some of those folks on a daily basis.”
He’s a musician’s musician and a regular guy. Wabash is lucky to have attracted a man like Ben.