Written by Josh Jackson
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You either love it for the recognition it gives to the greatest of the genre, or hate it because of all the arguably deserving artists who have been left behind. Me? As a music lover, it’s hard for me not to be sucked into the scene. This was my 3rd year attending the ceremony, and in my opinion, was perhaps one of the best celebrations yet.
Green Day exploded onto the stage opening the show with the fan-favorite, “Letterbomb.” Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong went as far as to berate the mostly industry crowd, encouraging them quite colorfully to get out of their seats and celebrate.
After the early fireworks, things settled down quite a bit as President of the Rock Hall, Terry Stewart & Chairman, Jann Wenner, both gave longer than necessary ‘welcome’ speeches to the crowd. But things wouldn’t be geared down too long as Billy Gibbons & Dusty Hill from ZZ Top came to the stage to induct bluesman Freddie “The Texas Cannonball” King. Admittedly, I am not very familiar with King, but his daughter Wanda was truly a delightful lady who shared some amazing stories about her father to me backstage – including the time as a child that she broke his 1960’s gold top Les Paul! (Ouch!) Her acceptance speech (Mr. King passed away in 1976) was filled with other colorful stories, and it was a very personal and heartfelt moment.
ZZ Top then joined modern day bluesmen, Joe Bonamassa and Derek Trucks for a jam of King’s “Hideaway” and “Goin’ Down.” As a fan of the blues, it was a thrill to see Joe, Derek & Billy trade licks. While the whole segment was great, the highlight was Bonamassa’s nimble fretwork. I am amazed every time I see him play!
The next induction was for Donovan. John Mellencamp seemed to be trying a little too hard to fit into the rock and roll vibe, as he came to stage with a lit cigarette. I would have never guessed it, but Mellencamp is a really big fan of Donovan. He even went as far as to say he had ‘stolen’ a lot of material from him back in the day – calling it (as many musicians do) being “influenced by him.”
After the induction and acceptance, Donovan played songs from across the spectrum of his career. An acoustic & double bass rendition of “Catch The Wind,” the trippy “Sunshine Superman” with the Paul Shaffer Orchestra, and perhaps his best-known classic, “Season Of The Witch,” trading lyrics with Mellencamp. It was a good moment, but this is one of the inductions that I’m sure had many scratching their heads. Sure, he was an influential artist in the folk scene, but how can you induct someone like this and leave Kiss out? Or Rush? Or any other number of classic acts.
The same goes for the next inductee, Laura Nyro. Ultra-diva Bette Midler tearfully presented the award to Nyro’s only son, and then Sara Bareilles performed Nyro’s hit “Stoney End.” I’m sure some of the true rock fans in the audience were rolling their eyes, but it sure is a catchy number and Bareilles’ take was spot on.
Music industry legend Don Kirshner was inducted next. His old friend Carole King did the induction, and included many personal stories of his dealings in the industry. It was a good thing, too. Most anyone in the audience under the age of 50 had no idea who he was. In case YOU don’t know, he was a popular publisher in the 50’s & 60’s and helped break many artists including The Monkees & Kansas. See, you learn something new every day! After the induction, Darlene Love came to the stage to perform the classic, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” She dedicated the performance to Don who passed away in 2011.
E-Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt was met by thunderous applause as he came to the stage to induct The Small Faces and Faces. It was cool to hear the history behind these bands – and what great bands they were, and proved that they still could be, jamming together after the induction. Rod Stewart was ill with the flu, so Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall joined Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan & Ronnie Wood as they blitzed through “All Or Nothing,” “Ooh La La” and “Stay With Me.” By the end of the set, the crowd were on their feet. Much of the talk afterwards was how ‘cool’ Ronnie Wood still is, and how spot on Mick Hucknall was with his performance. He really tapped into the early 70’s Rod Stewart vibe, and surprised everyone with his vocals.
Smokey Robinson came to the stage next to induct several backing groups to the Hall. The remaining members of The Comets, The Famous Flames, The Crickets, The Blue Caps, The Midnighters, and Robinson’s own Miracles each took more than a few minutes to say their thanks. It was a bit of a slow down to the show after The Faces performance, but as before, things didn’t stay down long.
When Chuck D and LL Cool J came from back stage, the crowd erupted, as they knew it was time to induct one of the fan favorites, The Beastie Boys. Chuck and LL had both come up with the Beasties and had great things to say about the three ‘punks’ from New York. A grateful acceptance by Mike D & Ad-Rock (MCA was not in attendance) was followed up by an amazing performance from several modern hip-hop artists. The Roots, Kid Rock & Travie McCoy from the Gym Class Heroes zipped through a medley of Beastie Boys songs – all adorned in matching, lime green Adidas track suits. “No Sleep Til Brooklyn,” “So, What’Chu Want,” “Sabotage” & “The New Style” all left the crowd wanting more. It was a great, true to original performance, and the only thing that I felt would have been better would have been the Beasties themselves.
If the crowd erupted for the Beastie Boys, it exploded for Guns N Roses. Green Day came back to the stage to do the induction and Billie Joe Armstrong did a great job talking about the highs and lows of the band. When he got to mentioning Axl, the arena echoed with BIG boos. You can’t take away the fact that he was one of the best front men of all time, but did you expect anything less? The guy has dug his own musical grave. Each member gave their own thanks (mostly to the fans) with Matt Sorum rambling on and quite literally trashing his predecessor Steven Adler for his drug use. Pretty rough stuff directed towards a guy who has had a hard time both publically & privately with his problems – and who quite honestly seemed to be the most excited to be there. Besides this moment, he had a silly grin plastered on his face all night. After the speeches, the past members (Slash, Duff McKagen, Steven Adler, & Matt Sorum) then went to the stage, and with Myles Kennedy on vocals, and Gilby Clarke joining on guitar, tore through “Mr. Brownstone,” “Sweet Child Of Mine,” and “Paradise City.” It wasn’t perfect, but it was loud and full of attitude – exactly what you would expect from GNR.
After two great inductions and performances, it was almost like someone hit the brakes as Robbie Robertson from The Band came up to induct legendary producers and engineers Cosimo Matassa, Glyn Johns and Tom Dowd into the Hall. Worthy? Probably, but at this point in the night (almost 4 hours in) people wanted to continue with the jam.
And boy did they ever get to. Chris Rock gave one of the better inductions of the night bringing in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. While most of the speeches to this point had been pretty ‘speech-like,’ Rock’s played more like his stand-up routine. RHCP’s acceptances were all genuine, with Flea getting a little misty in his speech. One thing I thought was cool was that he mentioned growing up in New York and playing football with Steven Adler from GNR and the Beastie Boys living a block or two over. Who would have thought that the neighborhood they all grew up in would produce FIVE members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!? Like Iggy Pop a couple of years earlier, Anthony Keidis couldn’t wait to get his shirt off and start performing. They very enthusiastically played “By The Way,” “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” and “Give It Away” before having Slash, Billy Joe Armstrong, Ronnie Wood, George Clinton and others join them on the finale of “Higher Ground.” It was a great way to end a good, long night of celebrating one of the greatest institutions of all time, Rock and Roll.
Written by Josh Jackson
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