Okay, I made it in to the main ballroom.
I did have press credentials, but didn’t find out until I got here that press doesn’t get into the main concert room, just an adjoining press room with TV screens displaying the show. The inductees and various dignitaries will be paraded through for photo ops and a few quick questions, but it’s not like being there.
This blows dead ones. I have covered this event one way or another almost every year since 1995 and this is the first time since ’97 that it’s been in Cleveland. I expected full access.
The red carpet earlier was fun, though I couldn’t get any wifi access: Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Joe Perry just strolled on by, chatted with Joe – a rock guitar Hall of Fame right there. The weather was good – cool and windy but sunny, and the red carpet was under an awning, so it was very pleasant. As red carpets go, it wasn’t the Oscars, but it wasn’t bad either. My Plain Dealer pals were there in force and somehow I casually wedged between them as we strolled past the guards at the entrance to Public Hall. I feel the official swag bag awaiting me at the dining table is my birthright. As is the food.
The food by Executive Caterers is amazing: chicken AND beef – I inhale it. Of course, since I made it into the concert room itself, the wifi isn’t working; so I am now writing this in Word – will cruise over to the press room at some point to get this up on the web. It’s also very dark. And the right stem of my reading glasses just broke. I balance them on my nose. They fall more than once into my plush chow. My table mates look the other way politely. I fear the occasional typo under the circumstances.
Up first is Little Anthony and the Imperials, who sing “Tears On My Pillow,” “Shimmy Shimmy Koko Bop,” and “Shout.” Smokey Robinson introduces/inducts Little Anthony, who has 8 kids, one of whom has passed, and Anthony dedicates the event to Casey. The group came from Brooklyn and on the strength of Anthony’s tenor and some killer material, they hit big right away. But that was a long time ago. Anthony also lets it be known that they have never won a Grammy, and with a new album out (hint hint) they would like to see that rectified.
Next up is Wanda Jackson – who is a tiny little woman (saw her at the red carpet). She is being introduced/inducted by Roseanne Cash. Roseanne says Wanda was the only woman who could hold her own with the “Elvis crowd.” She’s been married for 47 years – a powerhouse but “always a lady.” Her father drove her to shows and her mother sewed outfits. She did packet shows with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins. “She was always a lady,” but had “rockin’ rhythm and a powerhouse voice, a rock ‘n’ roll queen.”
She was a country singer and Elvis told her to go rockabilly – she said she was a country singer, Elvis said he was too. That was all it took. She never gave up country as she rocked.
She mentions “Fujiyama Mama” and “Let’s Have a Party” as faves. She still plays up to 80 dates a years, is an international star, and now (Roseanne fighting back a tear) a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Wanda says her Mama and Daddy sacrificed to let her live her dream. Her mother is still alive at 95. At 14 she sang with the Brazos Valley Boys. Thanks Elvis for encouragement – DJ and Scotty are here tonight. Wanda feels the presence of Elvis. She thanks producer Ken Nelson, who “believed in his artists and never held them back.” Capitol signed her as a country singer and then she went rock ‘n’ roll crazy! They didn’t know what to do with her. She thanks her husband of 47 years, he is weeping.
Wanda didn’t get a lot of recognition back in the day, “with my fringe flying, breaking guitar strings, singing wildly,” but she has a new career at this point of her life: “It doesn’t get any better than that,” she says. She thanks Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen for taking up her cause to get into the Rock Hall. She thanks filmmakers for the documentary on her, now showing on the Smithsonian Channel, The Sweet Lady with the Nasty Voice – Wanda says she’s “not sure it’s an accurate title, not sure I’m a sweet lady.”
Now she’s gonna rock! The first song she wrote and recorded “Mean Mean Man.” Wanda still sounds like Wanda! She’s rocking her pink acoustic guitar – her voice sounds young and vibrant. “Let’s Have a Party” her “signature song.”
Paul Shaffer (who is leading the backing band) intros side man inductee Spooner Oldham, keyboardist extraordinaire. He played on “When Man Loves a Woman, “I’m Your Puppet,” “Cry Like a Baby” (co-wrote and played on), “Natural Woman.” “It’s not what you play, it’s what you don’t play – sometimes the silence is more powerful than the sound,” says Shaffer. Spooner is introduced.
Bobby Womack time. We see young Bobby on Soul Train. He started singing in the ‘50s with his four brothers, and played guitar with Sam Cooke. Bobby, wrote, sang, produced, played guitar on his recordings. Ronnie Wood inducts Womack, “an inspiration to our band.” Womack co-wrote “It’s All Over Now” (Stones’ first #1) for his first band, the Valentinos. Wood relates that Womack visited Jackie Wilson on his deathbed, sang some of Jackie’s songs for him, and for a time Wilson slightly revived, with tears in his eyes. Bobby comes out.
Bobby, from Cleveland, says with his mother and God in the house, all is well. He remembers the Sam Cooke song “A Change Is Gonna Come” – a change has come, he says. “Father time has changed the words to ‘HAS come.’” He gives a shout out to Barack O. “Now I’m gonna play a few songs.”
He plays guitar left-handed. They rock “Wait Until Tonight,” segues into “It’s All Over Now,” horns blowing. Ron Wood takes on the guitar solo.
Run-D.M.C. film. Ripping. Promoters asked “where’s the band?” “Not paying some ‘turntable band’ $2000.” From Hollis, Queens. Eminem inducts Run-D.M.C – “two turntables and a microphone,” he says. Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels, (the late) Jason Mizell. “They broke away from the pack by being a pack.” Huge beats, rock/metal guitar samples – tough rhymes. The first rock stars of rap, the first rap group to go platinum, have own sneakers, appear on MTV, infuse rap with rock ‘n’ roll. Baddest of the bad, coolest of the cool. Run-D.M.C. showed him what he wanted to be, Eminem says. “Three kings from Queens.” (Endless reiteration of “two turntables and a microphone”). Jay influenced and tutored Curtis into 50 Cent. Eminem inducts Run-D.M.C.
Rev Run: “Mrs. M let us create routines in her living room, ‘Rock Box’ was created in her living room. Thanks for not telling me to turn down the music. So much help, so many smart people.” He thanks his brother Russell Simmons. “We can mix rap music with rock music and create this thing!” says Run. He says Russell was high at the time – screwdrivers and weed gave him an idea! “We wouldn’t be here if Russell hasn’t had all those crazy ideas and hung out with crazy white people like Rick Rubin.”
D.M.C. thanks his mother and father tearfully. “When I speak to kids I tell them to not let their situation define who they are. I am living proof. I represent purpose and destiny – you are looking at what can happen when you take time and give love to a kid. The best thing you can do is give time to a kid, because that kid might grow up to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one day.”
Jam Master Jay’s mother thanks all: “He broke up every turntable I have, he said ‘Mommy, I need another turntable.’ I told him I’d buy another when I got paid. He had another turntable on Monday.” Jason’s three sons are here and his wife. His mother continues, she believes in Jesus Christ, she cried when he died and his death broke their bond of love. But she then went to NYC to be a grief counselor. Jay’s wife thanks all.
Run-D.M.C doesn’t perform! Why? Hmm, the absence of Jay? At the red carpet Joe Perry said he was going to play on “Walk This Way” – maybe it’ll be in the jam session.
Gary Tallent and Max Weinberg induct drummer D.J. Fontana and the late bassist Bill Black, Elvis’ original rhythm section (the throne the King sat upon), who played and recorded the original hits. When they came together in 1954, Bill was already seasoned pro. Bill encouraged Elvis’ showmanship. We see pics of Elvis and the boys: what a bunch of crackers.
Max is, frankly, droning on. Gary and Max are tag teaming, which is stretching it out even more. Max thanks D.J., Garry thanks Bill, who is deceased. Bill was only 39 when he died – his three children reminisce.
I could move back to the press room and get the freaking Internet connection, but that could take years and cost thousands of lives.
I’m back in the press room, by way of the connecting stage between the main ballroom and the smaller press venue. I am clearly not supposed to be here. The press woman keeps asking me how I get to the various places I get to where I am not supposed to be. She gives me side eye. I tell I just ask people for directions and do what they tell me.
Despite my desire to remain in the main ballroom and see the rest of the show in person, I had to head back to the press room because my laptop battery was getting dangerously low, and I still couldn’t get an Internet connection in the main room. If this is to be any kind of “live blogging” event, I kind of need to do something actually live – so here I am.
We are speaking with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. Jeff is happy to be inducted on his own rather than just as a “member of a successful pop band” (Yardbirds). They are coy about a recording project together.
Back in the main room, Flea is inducting Metallica: “A magical, holy fucking thing,” he says speaking of the degree to which Metallica rocks. It’s weird to be watching the show on TV now as in years past (when the ceremony was in NYC and I was live blogging from the Rock Hall in Cleveland via closed circuit screens). I feel the sense of removal creeping back in. It’s okay, I have electricity and an Internet connection, and sometimes that’s the most important thing.
Metallica is now on the stage thanking everyone and their mothers, literally. It’s very cool that Metallica is being inducted while they are still a “current,” best-selling band. That’s relatively rare (Springsteen, Aerosmith, Madonna). Metallica is only second metal band in the Rock Hall (after Black Sabbath), third if you count Led Zeppelin. Metal, and even more so, prog rock, are wildly underrepresented.
How can Deep Purple, Rush, KISS, Yes, Genesis not be in the Rock Hall? Don’t get me started. Then there’s Roxy Music, The Cure, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode – my brain is going to explode.
James Hetfield mentions the importance of the “business” side of the music business, and the reality that if the biz isn’t happening, then neither is the band. He challenges young musicians to “dream big and dare to fail.”
Metallica is rocking “Enter Sandman” with vicious authority, with two bassists no less: new addition Robert Trujillo, and former bassist Jason Newsted. Metallica may or may not come to the press room to speak to us, we are told. Now we’re told they’ll come after THE JAM.
They’re showing Spinal Tap on the screens while they prepare for THE JAM – “Hello Cleveland!”
The jam begins. Wanda Jackson is singing “Jailhouse Rock.” Bobby Womack sings a verse, Jeff Back rips a solo. Break between songs. Sounds like they are warming up for “Train Kept a Rollin’.” Given that Joe Perry is here and Jeff Beck rocked the tune with vicious abandon with The Yardbirds, it’s appropo. Hetfield is singing, after a fashion.
Metallica comes back to press room to answer questions. They answer one, snap pics, blow the joint. They have better things to do. Joe Perry is up for questions. He is doing a solo album. Aerosmith is on hold because “Steven is kind of sick.” He is proud of helping to usher Run-D.M.C. into Rock Hall (via “Walk this Way”).
That’s it for another year – they claim the Inductions will be in Cleveland every third year from now on. I’ll believe it when I rock it.