Gandolfini, Van Zandt, Schirippa*
BB King, Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton**
Chrissie Hynde and Neil Young*
Jerry Lee Lewis**
Bruce Springsteen and Bono*
The Edge and Bono*
* Photos by Scott Gries/
** Photos by Timothy A. Clary/
t was Monday evening, March 14, and I was walking down Park Avenue in New York City on my way home from a grueling day at the office. Passing by the Waldorf Astoria, I noticed this huge white canopy wrapping around 2 sides of the building, lined on the bottom by a plush red carpet that led to the front entrance of the famed hotel. I suddenly realized that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction was being held that night and envisioned some of rock's most elite performers making their way along that red carpet enroute to the festivities. It was a few minutes past 5 and there was already a huge crowd of fans gathered outside awaiting a glimpse of some of their rock and roll heroes. As I walked past the Waldorf, I started thinking about past induction ceremonies and how some of them had their share of very unsettling moments. For example, the night of the Beach Boys induction back in 1988 when lead singer Mike Love, standing at the podium addressing the crowd, began flinging disparaging remarks at several of his contemporaries in a humiliating and embarrassing display. For the record, Mr. Love had consumed more than his share of alcoholic beverages just prior to making his speech, and was known for becoming rather caustic under the influence. At the 2005 induction ceremony however, (based on what I read in the paper and saw on VH1) there were no such incidents. On this night, everyone seemed to be sober, coherent and very respectful of one another. No, Mr. Love was not in attendance. For excerpts from his acceptance speech, click here.
The 2005 ceremonies kicked off with the induction of Frank Barcelona, the gentleman credited for establishing the first major rock and roll booking agency. Inducting Mr. Barcelona was none other than Silvio Dante himself, aka Steven Van Zandt. Flanking Van Zandt on either side of the podium were his partners in crime from The Sopranos, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and Bobby Baccalieri (Steve Schirippa). It was definitely good for a laugh. Oh, and how can I forget the girls from the "Bada Bing" club, who were also there. Van Zandt has the ability to be incredibly funny, and he certainly had the crowd in stitches that night.
Next on the agenda was the induction of Seymour Stein, the founder of Sire Records. He was inducted by rapper Ice-T, who gave a rather heartfelt induction speech. Mr. Stein himself gave quite an emotional speech, reminiscing about his 50 years in the music industry.
Now with the non-performance categories out of the way, it was time to get down to business with some great Philly soul from the fabulous O'Jays, who were inducted by Justin Timberlake. In my opinion, Timberlake seemed out of place for this induction. I feel it would have been more appropriate to have one of the legendary R&B giants like Smokey Robinson, Lionel Ritchie, or Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops doing the honors, but Timberlake did make some credible remarks in his induction speech, saying at one point, "Anyone who's ever written, produced or performed something soulful stands in the shadows of these giants." And giants they were, as they came out to accept their awards, then give one amazing performance. I had forgotten just how many hits this extraordinary vocal group had - "Back Stabbers," "For the Love of Money," "She Used To Be My Girl," and of course the incomparable "Love Train." These guys were awesome, and certainly deserved to be finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The next performer to be inducted was soul singer Percy Sledge. Rod Stewart gave a warm induction speech before introducing Mr. Sledge and even had a humorous slip of the tongue when he said "I have the honor of inducting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Flame . . . . what the f___ did I just say?" Of course, Rod meant to say Hall of Fame, and after his speech, Sledge took the stage to accept his award, then sing his one and only hit, "When A Man Loves A Woman." This was the only induction of the evening that was questionable in my mind. I have no personal vendetta against Mr. Sledge, and I actually enjoyed his hit record (even though it was played to death back in the good old days of Top 40 AM radio), but I don't understand how a singer who is basically regarded as a one-hit wonder and hasn't written any of his own material ends up being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There are certainly many other notable entertainers that are much more deserving of the honor. The late Billy Stewart comes to mind, who had several classic hits and also had a totally unique vocal style all his own. Another grossly overlooked entertainer is the great Al Kooper, a rock and roll pioneer who founded and wrote timeless material for The Blues Project and Blood, Sweat and Tears, discovered and produced albums for the legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd band, and had a successful solo career of his own. These great artists, among many others are still awaiting induction into the Hall, while Percy Sledge is enshrined. Doesn't make sense to me.
The next segment of the induction ceremony was my personal favorite. Legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy was inducted by his good friends, B.B. King and Eric Clapton. In their induction speeches, Mr. King and Mr. Clapton had nothing but praise, respect and adulation for this behemoth of the blues. Clapton, who was heavily influenced by the blues masters - Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, and Muddy Waters, just to name a few - talked about his love for the blues and how it was solely responsible for shaping his musical style. Mr. Guy was introduced and warmly greeted with a standing ovation, after which he graciously accepted his award, then proceeded to give a blistering performance of "Damn Right I Got The Blues" followed by "Let Me Love You Baby" featuring Guy, King and Clapton creating a three-way guitar jam of epic proportions. If you love the blues, it doesn't get any better than this. The electrifying performance with these three giants brought the house down and left the crowd on their feet screaming for more. Welcome to the Hall, Mr. Guy. You are surely a well-deserved and long overdue inductee. The committee definitely made the right call on this one.
Up next were The Pretenders, inducted by the great Neil Young. In his speech, he complemented group leader Chrissie Hynde for soldiering on and keeping the group together after the untimely deaths of original members James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon. "They went through all the heartache that rock and roll is built on," Mr. Young said. "They lost two band members and they never gave up." After the group received their awards, Young grabbed his guitar and joined them onstage for an amazing performance of Hynde's powerful rocker, "My City Was Gone," a tune that proved to be a real crowd pleaser.
Before the final induction of the evening, there was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of rock and roll featuring Bo Diddley, Eric Clapton and Robbie Robertson performing "The Bo Diddley Beat." As an encore, "The Killer" Jerry Lee Lewis emerged from the wings to perform his classic hit "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." Mr. Lewis, now 70 years of age, was still very spry and put a lot of energy into his performance, even knocking over his piano stool and sitting on the keys just like he did all those years ago. These performances were also in celebration of the Hall of Fame's 20th induction dinner.
It was time for the final induction and Bruce Springsteen came out to give a very lengthy, yet very memorable speech, as he had the honor of inducting U2. He spoke about first meeting the band and poked fun at their supposed "sellout" because of their iPod advertising deal. When the band was finally introduced, it was well past midnight, and there wasn't an empty seat in the house. Everyone was anxiously awaiting to see one of the greatest bands in the history of rock and roll take their rightful place in the Hall. I must confess that I was never an avid U2 fan and as a matter of fact, I don't even own a U2 album (you see, I'm part of the original Woodstock generation - a baby boomer. In other words, I'm over 50 and over the hill). Despite that fact, I do recognize their importance in the rock arena and also find it amazing that over 25 years after their inception, they are still one of the biggest bands in the world. I also have tremendous respect for Bono, not only for his musical talents, but also for his humanitarian spirit. Anyway, back to the induction ceremony. After the individual members made their acceptance speeches, the band plugged in and treated those in attendance to an amazing performance featuring 4 songs. They started off with "Until The End of The World," during which Bono sauntered through the audience, popped open a bottle of champagne and sprayed it all over the jubilant crowd. They followed with "Pride (In The Name Of Love)," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," (Springsteen joined the band onstage for this number), then ended their mini-set with a supercharged "Vertigo."
It was an amazing end to an absolutely marvelous evening of great vibes, great music, and great showmanship.
If you would like more information about The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, check out their website at http://www.rockhall.com/