By Brian Ives
Over the years, some have made the complaint that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony is too long. That seems to be ludicrous: how do you honor five or six acts, allow their members to make acceptance speeches and perform in one concert and not have it take a long time?
In years past, certain segments of the show seem to drag, and since the show has gone from a private affair held in the Waldorf Astoria to a ticketed event at arenas, there’s the issue of keeping the audience interested.
None of those issues seemed to come up last night, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 32nd Annual induction ceremony, held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. In fact, the show somehow felt like it was too short, even though it extended past four hours.
For example, even though there was a brief Chuck Berry tribute film (and Electric Light Orchestra played their version of Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”), it felt like the man warranted something more at the ceremony.
It was even more disappointing that there was no performance paying tribute to Award for Musical Excellence recipient Nile Rodgers’ career. And a four song Pearl Jam set seems way too short, even for a show like this one; Pearl Jam’s fans seemed to comprise over half the crowd (they’ve sold out this very arena multiple times over the years), and they surely wanted more.
But one of the amazing things about last night’s induction ceremony was that, no matter what artist sold the most tickets, every segment of the show got enthusiastic responses. Whereas in past years the lack of energy for certain acts was palpable, this year, everyone in the audience seemed excited to see everyone on stage. Well, almost everyone on the stage.
As always, Rolling Stone publisher and Rock Hall co-founder Jann Wenner introduced all the inductees to start off the night. Fairly or not, he’s often blamed by fans of specific bands for preventing their induction. The was certainly the case in 2013 for Rush’s induction; the band never got a lot of love from Rolling Stone magazine and that year, when he took the stage, the Canadian trio’s fans enthusiastically booed. There were audible boos in the audience tonight, likely coming from fans of another prog-rock band Yes (who share fans with Rush, and were in fact presented by two of Rush’s three members), as well as Journey’s fans.
But after he announced all of the other inductees — Journey, Yes, Tupac Shakur, Nile Rodgers, Electric Light Orchestra and Joan Baez, he said, “…and finally…” to introduce Pearl Jam, there was a roaring, standing ovation. Pearl Jam’s dominance of the zeitgeist and radio playlists may be decades behind in their collective rear view mirrors, but their fanbase seems as amped up by the band as they were in 1991.
Wenner’s most impassioned intro, though, was for Chuck Berry and rightfully so. If you were alive when Berry made his impact, surely little else that happened since compares. During the Berry mini-documentary, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Keith Richards enthused about the man’s impact, while footage of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix covering his songs were shown..”
Soon after that, Jeff Lynne led Electric Light Orchestra through their cover of Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”; their version features their patented combination of rock and roll with classical music, played by electric guitar and a trio of cellists, making the point that rock and roll music can find inspiration anywhere, a notion that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame takes seriously, evidence of which was seen throughout the night. They followed with “Evil Woman” and, of course, “Mr. Blue Sky.” The 12 person band was able to perfectly replicate the sounds of their highly produced records.
Dhani Harrison, son of George Harrison, presented ELO. “Jeff was one of my father’s dearest friends,” he said. “It was March of 1986 when I had my ‘First encounter of the ELO kind.'” That was when his father, he recalled, took him to see ELO in concert. This was my first big rock show. “I was seven and a half; it was more like seeing a 21st century extra-terrestrial. I sat in silent astonishment watching them. They reminded me of the Star Wars cantina band, but with more hair.”
He said when George joined them onstage, it was the first time he’d seen him perform in public. “They played ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ like in Back to the Future” – at which point, the cameras went to Michael J. Fox sitting the in the audience, who got a huge applause.
Years later, he said that he became friends with Jeff Lynne (the two of them co-produced the final George Harrison album, 2002’s Brainwashed, which they completed after the Beatle’s passing). “Seeing those beautiful blue eyes peeking over those glasses have helped me get over some of the most difficult times in my life, and for that, I thank you. ”
He saw some of their reunion concerts in L.A., which happened to have taken place after the presidential election.
“Trust me, everyone in L.A. were looking at the [ELO] spaceships saying, ‘Take me with you!'” It was not the first polticized moment of the night.
“Everything comes to him what waits!” Lynne said. “My mother didn’t really want me to do music at all, she thought it was all drugs and booze.”
He recalled telling his mother, when she tried to wake him up the morning after his first professional gig, “‘Mum, I’m a professional musician, and I never have to get up early ever again.’ It took 30 years for her to get used to it.” He was there, along with the band’s co-founder, Roy Wood, who left the band after thier debut album (he didn’t perform, however). The band’s two other members to be inducted, Richard Tandy (who is still in the band) and Bev Bevan, weren’t present.
Jackson Browne then took the stage to speak about Joan Baez. None of the progressive movements of the ’60s could be separated from the folk music of that era, he said, stressing that Baez’s influence went far beyond music. “We weren’t just listening to it, we were learning to sing and play these [protest] songs about the struggles and hardships of these people who came to this country as immigrants, and as slaves.”
“The first record I ever bought with my own money was Joan Baez’s second album, I was 14,” he recalled. He went to the record store and listened to it in the listening booth. “By the third song I was completely mesmerized,” he said, referring to “Lily of the West.”
Her influence was titanic: Browne pointed out that it was Joan Baez who first gave Bob Dylan a national audience. On a more personal level she turned Browne and his friends on to the idea of protesting. “We joined hands and we sang and we demonstrated and we started writing songs. When I saw that Joan was marching with Martin Luther King, I felt that I was represented there. They were marching for – to paraphrase Langston Hughes, ‘The America is not yet, but yet must be.'”
“There’s no way to quantify the importance of hearing her sing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ When I hear it now, I’m overcome with deep sadness… we need [that song] even more now. The injustices we opposed then, we still need to oppose now,” a line that got a good amount of applause.
Baez, clearly moved, said, “It gives me great honor to accept this very cool award, and thanks to the Hall of Fame for this somewhat unlikely honor. I’m aware I’m speaking to many young people, who, without this induction, would have no clue who I am. My granddaughter had no idea who I was. Until I took her backstage at a Taylor Swift concert where she got a selfie!”
A charismatic and funny speaker, she was also serious: “No one can overlook the role of folk music in rock and roll, and neither can anyone deny my role in it.”
She spoke about non-violence in her personal life and as a way of social change, and of her advocacy for the less fortunate. “I met and tried to walk in the shoes of those who are hungry, thirsty and cast out, who now live in hopelessness and despair. The excluded and the bullied, who fought for this country, and now live in the shadows of rejection, people of color, the old, the ill, the LGBT community, and now in the new reality, there’s much work to be done. Let us double, triple and quadruple our efforts to empathize and give more of ourselves.”
The line “Let us repeal and replace brutality!” got a great reaction from the crowd. Whether or not the majority of the audience own much of her discography, they respected her and loved her message.
“We the people must speak truth to power. I’m ready, I hope you are too. I want my granddaughter to know I fought against an evil tide.”
She then took her acoustic guitar and sang, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” changing the lyrics slightly: “They’re coming to carry me, to carry you — to even carry Donald — home!”
She was then joined by the Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin-Carpenter for “Deportee,” a song about Mexican immigrants, followed by her cover of the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
After that, it was time for Yes. It was odd that Rush — a band of Yes disciples — was inducted four years before the British prog-rockers. But last night felt like progressive rock fantasy football: there’s no other band you’d rather have paying tribute to Yes. In fact, as opposed to at Rush’s induction, Alex Lifeson used actual English words in his speech (no one will ever forget his immortal “Blah blah blah” speech).
“We all start somewhere, and my journey with Yes started when I was a teenager,” Alex Lifeson of Rush said. “I may have smoked a cigarette…or something. I spent hours picking my way through songs like ‘Starship Trooper’ and ‘Yours is No Disgrace.’ I must have played ‘Starship Trooper’ a million times. Yes helped give me the gift of music, which is everything, as you know.”
“The musical choices we make in our youth, helps to determine who we become. So choose Chris Squire’s amazing bass tone,” he said, turning to his bandmate, asking “Right, Ged?”
“Choose Jon Anderson’s ethereal vocals. Choose Fragile. Choose ‘Roundabout.’ Choose the glorious guitar work in ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart.’ And definitely, choose Yes.”
Lee added, “Blah blah blah,” but then shared his story. “I’d like to ask if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would indulge me.” He talked about a friend who turned him on to Yes.
“Time and a Word – I still thrill to the bass part of ‘No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed.’ Later Oscar played me ‘Yours is No Disgrace’ and ‘I’ve Seen All Good People.’ Through Yes, I was tuning into a wider world of possibilities.
He recalled seeing his first Yes concert. “It was like nothing I experienced before, it was profound. It changed the way I played music forever.”
Former singer and the band’s co-founder Jon Anderson discussed the significance of the induction falling on April 7. “It’s 49 years ago tonight that I met Chris Squire at a bar,” he recalled. “It was a magic moment. He was so tall, I couldn’t believe it. We had a guitarist called Peter Banks. We had a drummer called Bill Bruford. Chris is in heaven, but him and Peter are here with us tonight.”
Alan White added, “This has been a long journey. I’d like to thank Chris Squire, I worked with him for 42 years he was one of my best friends ever.”
“I’m Steve Howe!” the band’s guitarist said. “I’d like to thank all our fans who believed we deserved to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Our fans have a different ear from normal music listeners. As Bill used to say, when asked what Yes music is, ‘Some of it’s fast and some of it’s slow.’”
Rick Wakeman — a huge personality — shared a bit of unexpected info with the audience: “Less than a half a mile from this very building was where I had my very first meaningful sexual experience. It wasn’t very good.”
He discussed the importance of prostate examination, “Which I, in fact, had on Monday!” He then described the process. In detail. And shared a conversation he had with his doctor during the process: “‘Mr. Wakeman, it’s not usual to get an erection with this procedure.’ I said, ‘I haven’t got one…’ And he said, “I know: I have!’”
Bruford didn’t speak, unfortunately, and didn’t play, and original keyboardist Tony Kaye didn’t attend.
Then, Anderson, Rabin, Wakeman, Howe and White, with Geddy Lee on bass, played “Roundabout.” Lee left the stage, Howe took over the bass for “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” during which Wakeman — on keytar — and Rabin walked into the audience during their solos.
It was a night of wildly divergent style: Snoop Dogg then took the stage: “I can’t believe it’s been 21 years since we actually got to hear Tupac, not the one clip on YouTube, not the hologram, Tupac Amaru Shakur the human being. Twenty-one years ago, Tupac Shakur was taken from all of us. ” Snoop was somber, but his speech also was joyful and filled with pride and humor.
He recalled meeting ‘Pac at a 1993 party: “And on that night, Pac passed me my first blunt. That’s right, Tupac is the one that got Snoop Dogg smoking weed… We became very good friends quickly thereafter.”
“I never shared this story before,” he said. “But it really speaks to our journey. I had just beat my case and Suge had taken us to South America… me and Pac was parasailing. You heard right. Snoop Dogg and Tupac parasailing together. Does anybody know what parasailing is? Because we damn sure didn’t! Me and ‘Pac were sitting on the edge of the boat with all this gear and s— on and all of sudden the boat pulls away and we start floating and slammed up into the water like, ‘Boom!’ I don’t know what was in there. Sharks, or octopus or whatever, I’m like, ‘Man!’ It was crazy because not only did we think we’re on top of the world; at that time we actually were on top of the world!”
What followed was one of the best tributes that the Hall of Fame has ever orchestrated: it began with Alicia Keys playing a medley, including “I Get Around,” “I Ain’t Mad At Ya,” “Dear Mama” and “Changes.” Then, Snoop returned to the stage with YG for “2 of Americaz Most Wanted.” Treach from Naughty By Nature did “Hail Mary,” and then T.I. performed “Keep Ya Head Up.” The idea of a huge hip-hop tribute in the middle of a show mostly dedicated to boomer-era rock and folk music could be risky, but the audience met each new performer to the stage with roars of approval.
After that, it was time for Journey, and anticipation was high: even hours before the show, no one seemed to know if their former singer, Steve Perry would join the band onstage.
Train’s Pat Monahan – whom we spoke to about Journey a few weeks ago – made an impassioned speech about the group:
“I’m just a kid from western Pennsylvania,” he said. “I moved to San Francisco because of the song ‘Lights,’ it made me think I could be something. They weren’t afraid to be romantic and hold women in high esteem; they weren’t afraid to do songs to make you feel good. I don’t believe in ‘guilty pleasures,’ you either like something or you don’t and I’ve loved this band my whole life!” The crowd was roaring as he finished his speech.
Neal Schon, clearly moved, said: “This is a long time coming, I thought this would never happen. This is all about you, the fans.”
He looked behind him at his former bandmate and smiled, warmly, “Steve Perry, you’re a one of a kind!” The vibe between the two, despite all of the drama, seemed genial.
Former keyboardist/singer Gregg Rolie said, “I want to thank Neal Schon for calling me and saving me from the restaurant business to start Journey,” he said, referencing the career path he almost took after he and Schon quit Santana in the early ’70s. “I want to thank the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for inducting this band, finally. This is really about the fans.”
Drummer Steve Smith thanked the band’s current singer, Arnel Pineda, for keeping Journey alive.
Jonathan Cain thanked the Cubs for winning the World Series — the cameras panned to Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, a noted Cubs fan, in the audience. Cain also thanked his dad for saying “Don’t stop believin’” to him when things got rough, thereby inspiring the band’s most famous song.
And then, Steve Perry grabbed the mic.
“Hello, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! You sure look good to me tonight!” speaking as if he was about to perform; surely the entire arena wished that that was going to happen. He recalled being a Journey fan before he joined. “I would always go to see Journey perform, I watched with amazement, their musicianship was par to none. There was one instrument that flew above, that was the magic guitar of Neal Schon.” Schon, who clearly wanted to perform with the singer, looked moved.
Perry spoke warmly about his other former bandmates, and then the man who replaced him, Journey’s current lead singer. “I must give a shout out to a man who sings his heart out every night, Arnel Pineda.” Pineda, in the audience, was surely moved as well.
He even thanked the people who used to run Journey’s fan club. “Speaking of fans….” he said, as the audience roared.
“Speaking of fans! You’re the ones who put us here. You’re the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! From my heart, I must tell you, I’ve been gone a long time, you’ve never not been in my heart. Thank you so very much.” It seemed that he hasn’t lost his love for, or his talent for, addressing an arena filled with screaming people. But it was disappointing that he chose not to sing to them.
And with that, he left the stage; leaving the current band, with Pineda, to perform without him. They started with “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart).”
Schon then introduced some former members of the band – drummer Ansley Dunbar and Gregg Rolie, but not Perry — for “Lights.” He dedicated it to Steve Perry. They closed with “Don’t Stop Believin’,” a song that lit up the Barclays Center. Pineda did a great job with the song, and the others — as he does every night Journey performs — but fans were clearly bummed that Perry didn’t join them. And were confused as well: why wouldn’t he want to perform those songs, one more time.
Pharrell Williams then took the podium, and talked about his first time working with Nile Rodgers. He recalled working with “the robots” – Daft Punk — and he recalled telling them that he was in a “Nile Rodgers place,” and then they played him the “Get Lucky” demo. “It was the first time I worked with Nile physically, but spiritually, he’s been in the studio with me for 25 years.”
He cited his work with Chic, Bowie and Madonna. “Nile never needed to upstage anyone, he was always about the artist first. But not tonight, Nile, not tonight.”
“Tonight we honor you for staying true to your mantra for 40 years,” referencing the Chic song “Dance Dance Dance.” “You have moved and rocked so many generations, for more than 40 years you’ve always been the coolest guy in the room.”
Rodgers, whose induction was somewhat controversial — he’d wanted to be inducted as a member of Chic, who didn’t get voted in. But regardless of that, he was clearly moved. “I was hoping to get just one hit record. They just told me a couple of months ago that I’ve sold 300 million records and 75 million singles. I just wanted one hit single!”
He said that when he produces an artist, he’s not their “boss”; instead, he’s joining their band. “This award is because of all the people who have let me join their band,” naming Mick Jagger, Sister Sledge, David Bowie, Madonna, Daft Punk.
The “In Memoriam” segment followed, ending with Lenny Kravitz, accompanied by a huge choir, doing a radically different version of Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” which was followed by an excerpt of “The Cross” from 1987’s Sign O The Times.
And then, it was time for Pearl Jam.
“I can’t begin to tell you what an honor and a privilege it is for me to be out of the house,” presenter David Letterman said. His speech would veer between his usual sense of humor and some really earnest moments, including where, at one point, he called for the Hall of Fame to induct his friend Warren Zevon. “I know Neil Young was supposed to be here. People are asking why – the truth is that he can’t stay up this late.”
“For 33 years, every night I got to experience the gift and the blessing of live music. When I got here, I remembered: ‘Oh my God, what a gift live music is.”
“I first met most of the people involved in Pearl Jam, they were in a band called Mother Love Bone. And then in 1991 things in the musical culture changed with an album called Ten. it had anger to it, and it appealed to 20-something people who felt left out. I was almost 50 and even I felt pissed off! It was easy to dance to, but that’s another story…”
“They were something more than a band. they were a true living cultural organism. They would recognize injustice and they would stand up to it. They would stand up and react. In 1994, these gentlemen risked their careers by going after those beady eyed blood thirsty weasels at Ticketmaster…”
Mass booing from the audience.
“And because they did, I’m happy to say that today every concert ticket in the U.S.A. is free!” He soon joked that one of the balconies at Barclays was filled with former Pearl Jam drummers.
He listed many of their classics: “Jeremy,” “Rearviewmirror,” “Sirens,” “Given to Fly,” “Yellow Ledbetter,” marveling that the latter didn’t make Ten. “They have too much good material, they decide we don’t want to put this song on there, so later it’s released as a b-side. 25 years later, it’s an anthem. For a lot of people that song would be a career!”
“They were on my show ten times, every time they were there, they would blow the roof off the pace. I’m not talking figuratively: for two years I did a show without a goddamn roof on the theater!”
“You know the song ‘Black?’ There was a period in my life where I couldn’t stop singing ‘Do do do do do do do!’ How many times does this refrain occur in the song? I had to go to a hypnotist!”
He recalled singing that refrain on his show frequently. “One day, I’m doing the show and the door bursts open and in comes Eddie Vedder. he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Stop doing that.’ And I was cured, ladies and genetlmen!”
“I had three shows left to go and Eddie Vedder was on that show, and he sang ‘Better Man,’ I liked to tell myself it was because it rhymed with ‘Letterman.’ At the end if the show Eddie Vedder came up to me and handed me this,” pointing to an acoustic guitar, with his son Harry’s name on it.
“He gave me a letter for my son,” as the monitor showed a photo of young Harry smoking a cigarette as the audience laughed. “We’ve had him to all the best clinics!” Dave hasn’t lost his touch.
But he then got serious: “If there was a club for cynicism, I’d be the president… except for things like this!” He read the letter in which Vedder told Harry that if he learned to play one song on the guitar, he’d get him a new one.
He then introduced the band, and Stone Gossard took the mic, saying, “Maybe the most important reason to be here tonight is to honor the people who work so hard to make this band flourish and function. This award is as much for you as it is for us.” He then thanked many of the people who have worked, behind the scenes, for the band, thanking most of them only by their first name.
Former drummer Dave Krusen said, “Pearl Jam saved my life.”
Matt Cameron thanked his brother and sister, who took him to his first concert: David Bowie’s Station to Station tour. He thanked his “brothers” in Pearl Jam, and in his other band, Soundgarden (another glaring omission from the Rock Hall, by the way).
Mike McCready recalled being a Boy Scout in 1976 when a friend told him about KISS, changing his life. He thanked his first band, Shadow, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers for taking Pearl Jam out on an early tour.
Jeff Ament lamented that many of the band’s influences – including Roxy Music and Jane’s Addiction, hadn’t been inducted yet (and we agree).
Eddie Vedder — in a speech that will surely make conservatives groan — talked about global warming. “We’ve got a lot of evolving to do, it’s evolution baby. Climate change is real. That is not fake news, and we can not be the generation that history will look back up on, and ask why didn’t we do everything humanly possible to solve this crisis.”
“Anything is obtainable: the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series is proof. But we don’t have 108 years.”
Moving on to himself, he said, “Lucky and grateful are two things I am every day. I want to publicly apologize for making my bandmates suffer for the singer who was climbing on the rafters and hanging off of pipes,” referring to his dangerous onstage antics in the band’s early days. “They didn’t deserve that. They didn’t know that their singer was really an Evel Knievel. It was the power of music.”
He thanked his family and said, “If somehow Chance the Rapper sees this, I want to tell you my daughter Olivia loves you. Thanks for the great work you’re doing in Chicago!”
He thanked former drummer Jack Irons: “I was working as a crew guy at a Joe Strummer gig, I got to meet Jack; without him, none of this would have happened. Jack, thanks so much. Thanks for your friendship and you were a great drummer for our group.”
“We had a few drummers, they were all kings, every one of them was great, but Matt Cameron kept us alive for the past 15, 16, 17 years, when we weren’t sure what was gonna happen, he helped us not just to survive and to thrive,” noting that he’ll probably be inducted again, with Soundgarden.
“I love these people so much. I feel like we’re halfway there to deserve this, but this is very encouraging.”
They then performed “Alive,” with Dave Krusen on drums, their first performance with their original drummer since 1991. Then Matt Cameron replaced him for “Given To Fly,” which Vedder dedicated to Michael J. Fox, who wrote about how the song inspired him in his memoirs. That was followed by “Better Man.”
And then for the all-star jam, they were joined by Journey’s Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain, Rush’s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson and Yes’s Trevor Rabin and their former drummer Jack Irons for Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” The audience surely would have stayed for more, but with that, the show ended.
If you missed it, HBO will air an edited version of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on April 29 at 8 pm ET.