As you may already know, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is an eclectic award show hosting some of the biggest and most legendary names in rock & roll. This year’s 26th annual ceremony was held at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC, on March 14, 2011. (Below is the order the artists were presented as broadcasted on FUSE.)
The night opened up with John Legend inducting Dr. John. Legend discussed how Dr. John was a huge influence, bringing to the forefront the “musical gumbo” of New Orleans. “He never stopped flying the flag of funk.” Dr. John then accepted his award, stating “Music is a blessing, and everyone here is blessed to be here.” The artist then performed the appropriate “Such a Night,” with Legend on accompanying piano.
Next came Bette Midler inducting Darlene Love. In a humorous an enthusiastic speech, Bette mentions some of the many contributions Love made to the music scene, (often that she didn’t get credit for,) such as collaborations with Phil Spector, the Crystals, Sam Cooke, Elvis, the Righteous Brothers and more. Darlene accepted her award, thanking Luther Vandross and Bruce Springsteen, among others. The latter artist then came on stage to play guitar for Love’s “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry” and a wonderful rendition of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Bette Midler and Love then performed a duet of her popular single “He’s a Rebel.”
Third came Rob Zombie inducting Alice Cooper. Rob talked about how true rock villains weren’t around in the 60s until the “murderous gang of drag queens” came around (with the exception of Frank Zappa, who signed the band.) He went on to describe how Alice Cooper wanted to destroy the hippie dream and replace it with “Ferrari’s, switchblades and blondes.” The band came on to accept their award, with Alice himself sporting a boa constrictor round his neck and his face painted per usual. The band described how their influences contributed to their career, naming The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Duane Eddy & the Rebels and more. Wearing blood-spattered shirts and 80s prom get-up, Alice Cooper then performed “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out,” the latter song with a backing choir of school children (not to mention a little boy with an afro rocking out.)
Next was the moment I personally was waiting for: Neil Young inducting Tom Waits. Dressed in all-black attire (and a cowboy hat,) Neil states that he didn’t exactly prepare a speech, but goes on to mention how Waits could have won an award for composing, acting, visual performance, etc. But the multifaceted artist is there instead to accept his rightful place in rock history: “I will say that this next man is indescribable and I’m here to describe him. In the scope of things this man is a great singer, actor, magician, spirit guide, changeling and performer for you.” In his acceptance speech, Waits comically asked if the award could be placed on a key chain so he could carry it around with him incase he was arrested, before referencing a story about seeing Lightning Hopkins perform when he was younger, and just knowing he wanted to enter that world of performing. “Songs are really just really interesting things to be doing with the air… We love music but we really just want music to love us.” Waits then went on to perform “Make it Rain,” “Rain Dogs,” “House Where Nobody Lives,” and “Get Behind the Mule,” the last song performed with Neil Young. (Supposedly right after the performance, Elton John observed, “If Jackson Pollack could sing, he’d sound like Tom Waits.”)
Elton John then took the stage to induct Leon Russell, stating “He (Russell) gave me a recipe for my voice which I still use to this day.” In a very emotional speech, Russell accepted his award, stating, “A year ago, Elton found me in the ditch by the side of the highway of life. He took me to the high stages and treated me like a king… (Looking to Elton) Bless your heart. Hallelujah.” Russell went on to perform “A Song For You” and “Delta Lady,” with John Mayer on guitar.
Last but certainly not least in the night, Paul Simon came on stage to induct Neil Diamond. Said Simon, “He was supposed to be inducted in 1991… Now twenty years later- What happened?” Neil held up his cell phone to record Paul’s speech, as Paul comically noted, “In many synagogues across the country, Elvis was considered a bogus Neil Diamond.” In his acceptance speech, Neil stated, “There’s a lot of people out there who are not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame who deserve to be.” Although his demeanor was a bit cynical (reflecting that indeed, he was waiting a long time for this award,) the artist was not bitter, and reflected his joy for the occasion in singing “I Am, I Said” and his infamous “Sweet Caroline,” in which he went into the audience, inviting artists like Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson to sing along.
Also inducted in the non-performers category (also known as the Ahmet Ertegun Award- named after the founder of Atlantic Records) was Jac Holzman (founder of Elektra Records) and Art Rupe (owner of Specialty Records.)
Specifically in this show, the performances I was least looking forward to surprised me the most (notably Darlene Love’s energetic performance.) Tom Waits perhaps will never lose his uniquely phenomenal vocal chords (lucky for us,) and it’s good to know some celebrities have good taste in music (Catherine Zeta Jones, Michael Douglas and Liv Tyler, among others, were spotted in the audience.)
Overall, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame continues to be one of the most entertaining and genuine award shows for those who love an appreciate rock music. The audience can sense that for the majority of performers and inductors, the night was an unreal experience. To witness the full scope of past and present ceremonies, be sure to visit the Rock Hall in Cleveland, Ohio.