The 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, held at Cleveland’s historic Public Hall, was packed with moving speeches and memorable performances. The show, however, was influenced as much by artists who were present as it was by absentees.
The first inductee of the long evening was the late blues legend Freddie King. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill spoke about their fellow Lone Star Statesman with Gibbons saying that his unique style of guitar playing earned him the title”The Texas Cannonball.” After an acceptance speech from King’s daughter Wanda, Gibbons and Hill hit the stage with blues rocker Joe Bonamassa and Allman Brothers Band guitarist Derek Trucks. The all-star lineup played “Hideaway” and “Goin’ Down.”
John Mellencamp’s induction speech about Donovan mocked artists who reference being “influenced” by other artists. The roots rocker scoffed at the idea and said that “influenced by” is another way of saying “stealing someone else’s [expletive].” And he pointed out that he stole a lot of Donovan’s. Not that he was the only one: he said that Donovan taught The Beatles guitar techniquesthat they later used in songs like “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Julia.” Donovan performed “Catch The Wind,” “Sunshine Superman,” and, joined by Mellencamp, “Season Of The Witch.”
Laura Nyro, who passed away in 1997 after a battle with cancer, was represented by her son, Gil Bianchini. Bette Midler gave a rousing speech about the artist who she first idolized and then befriended, saying “I fell in love with her the minute I heard her.” She mentioned that Nyro embodied the essence of New York City, that despite theruin and despair and decay (joking that in the ’70s, NYC was more of “a dump” than Cleveland) “the city was an extraordinary place to live and love.” Breaking into tears, she said, “She embodied what everyone in our line of work would be, if we only had the guts.” Singer/songwriter Sarah Bareilles then took the stage to perform “Stoney End.”
After Carole King feted music publisher/TV host Don Kirshner, Darlene Love sang “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” in tribute, and then R&B singer Ledisi took the stage to sing “At Last” while a montage of artists who passed away in the last year (including Amy Winehouse, ClarenceClemons, Whitney Houston and Heavy D) were shown on the screen.
Little Steven Van Zandt from The E Street Band, famous for advocating underdog choices for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (including The Rascals, The Dave Clark Five, The Hollies and Darlene Love) talked about two bands: The Small Faces and The Faces. He joked that The Small Faces were so good looking “my imagination isn’t good enough to imagine all the sex they must have had!” Addressing the Faces’ singer, he recalled being surprised when he found out that Rod Stewart was white.
Stewart’s absence was felt, especially during the performance where surviving members Ron Wood, Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan were joined by singer Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. The Faces have toured England with Hucknall, but Stewart had originally planned to reunite with his former band. However, yesterday Stewart bowed out due to illness, and Hucknall got on a plane headed for the U.S. He had the difficult task of filling in for both the late Steve Marriott on The Small Faces material, and Stewart and the late Ronnie Lane on The Faces songs. Judging by the audience response, the U.S. might be ready for a Faces tour with Hucknall: his version of “Stay With Me” was the first moment of the night to get the crowd out of their seats.
Smokey Robinson then presented a number of “backing bands” who were inducted, including Buddy Holly’s Crickets, Bill Haley’s Comets, James Brown’s Famous Flames, Hank Ballard’s Midnighters, Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps and Robinson’s former band, The Miracles.
Hip-hop legends Chuck D of Public Enemy and LL Cool J then took the stage to talk about their former Def Jam label mates The Beastie Boys. Chuck D praised their courage in following up the first #1 hip-hop album ever (1986′s Licensed To Ill) with a completely different album (1989′s Paul’s Boutique) and not going for a hit just for the sake of having a hit. He also talked about how Adam Yauch led the group “From fighting for their right to party to partying for their right to fight” (paraphrasing songs by The Beasties and his own group, respectively). LL Cool J added that the trio showed the world that hip-hop could come from any street, not just inner city streets. He also credited them with starting his career, as they were the ones who passed LL’s demo to producer Rick Rubin.
The Beastie Boys rarely make appearances without all three members present, so Yauch’s absence (he’s been battling cancer since 2009) was acutely felt. Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond both thanked their family and gave credit to New York City, and Horovitz also read a letter from Yauch, expressing his gratitude. They then watched as their DJ, Mixmaster Mike, along with The Roots performed a tribute, with green-jumpsuit clad MCs Black Thought, Kid Rock and Travie McCoy from Gym Class Heroes.
Green Day, who opened the show with a surprise performance of their own “Letterbomb,” (they’ll be eligible in 2014), returned to the stage to induct Guns N Roses (although only frontman Billie Joe Armstrong spoke).Armstrong talked about hating power ballads and “jock party jams” and said that GNR provided him with just what he needed with Appetite For Destruction, which he called the best debut album ever. He then discussed the individual members of the band, before asking if he was forgetting anyone (he hadn’t yet mentioned the most conspicuous absence of the evening, singer Axl Rose). This was metwith boos (a rarity at Hall of Fame induction ceremonies) to which he responded “Shut up! The man’s a badass! He tells the truth, no matter what the cost.” But later referred to Rose saying, “Sometimes you have to look back at the old chapters of your life to move forward and not forget where you came from.” Gunners Slash, Duff McKagan and drummers Steven Adler and Matt Sorumwere present, with Izzy Stradlin and Dizzy Reed (the latter a member of thecurrent Guns N Roses) also opting to miss the induction. Duff McKagan said that “We created brutality and beauty and we told the truth,” adding that it didn’t matter who was (or wasn’t) in attendance, it was about the music. But it did matter: Axl Rose loomed as large with his absence as he would have had he been there. Myles Kennedy of the band Alter Bridge (who also sings for Slash’s current band) filled in for Rose on “Mr. Brownstone,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Paradise City” bringing the crowd to their feet.
After Robbie Robertson made a speech about recording engineers being inducted (Cosimo Matassa, Tom Dowd and Glyn Johns) Chris Rock took the stage to talk about The Red Hot Chili Peppers. He first thanked The Beastie Boys for inspiring great white rappers like Eminem (“and too many crappy ones to mention”) and joked that had Axl Rose decided to attend the ceremony, everyone would still be waiting for him to show up (referencing Rose’s legendary penchant for lateness).
Rock remembered going to see The Red Hot Chili Peppers by accident: he’d meant to see Grandmaster Flash, but went to the wrong club and stayed there. After that, he said he thought that “all white groups wear socks on their d***s. But tonight, they’re wearing black ties on their d***s!” Describing their music, he said “If George Clinton and Brian Wilson had a baby, he’d be ugly as f***,” but the baby would sound like the Chili Peppers.
The Chili Peppers were another induction marked by those who weren’t there, notably former guitarist Hillel Slovak, who died of a drug overdose in 1988. Also absent was former guitarist John Frusciante, who left the band (for the second time) in 2008. Former guitarist Dave Navarro wasn’t included in the induction, but current guitarist Josh Klinghoffer was, making him the youngest person ever to be inducted into the Rock hall (at 32). Klinghoffer didn’t speak from the podium, but former drummers Cliff Martinez and Jack Irons were and did. Anthony Kiedis and Flea both sang thepraises of Slovak (with Flea welling up with tears at that point) and Frusciante. The band took the stage as Kiedis sent best wishes out to Adam Yauch and performed “By The Way,” “The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie” and were joined by Martinez and Irons for “Give It Away.” Then, the band requested that Ron Wood and Slash join them on stage (they obliged) and they, along with George Clinton, Kenney Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong, played Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” to close the ceremony, nearly six hours after it began. After an extended funk version of the song, the musicians left the stage, and the exhausted audience filed out of the venue.
A presumably edited version of the ceremony will air at 9 pm ET on HBO on May 5.