We haven’t had a good Rock and Roll venting around here for a while, so here goes.
The 2015 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame took place a couple of months ago, and, let’s see, who’s in this year? Ringo Starr, The Five Royales, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Green Day, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bill Withers. Compared to some other years, this isn’t a terrible list by any means. There are some good rock bands here, and some fine, if not particularly original, guitar work in Vaughan. I always thought Reed was over-rated as both a songwriter and a performer, but that’s probably just me—lots of people think he was really deep, and he had what a lot of non-New Yorkers thought was a New York attitude, or something. And I’m absolutely delighted about the (long, long overdue) induction of the Butterfield Blues Band. But Ringo Starr? As a solo performer? Really? Levon Helm was a much better drummer, put together much better All-Star bands, and he’s not in. What’s up with that? Well, Ringo is LA through and through, and Helm—upstate New York. There you go.
And it raises the usual questions about how this works, exactly. The Hall jumps through prodigious hoops justifying who gets chosen, and how. But it doesn’t matter, really. What matters is who isn’t in, who is, and what that tells us about who runs things in the music business.
So who’s not in who should be?
Delaney & Bonnie—The first major country soul group, who influenced just about everyone, from Bonnie Raitt to Graham Parsons (also not in the Hall, cough, cough) to the Eagles to Poco and to just about everyone else with a country edge, and, course, Eric Clapton himself. Their live album, with Eric Clapton and Dave Mason playing along, remains one of the best live albums ever. The bands they put together were pretty good too—one went off to back Joe Cocker on his legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, another became the core of Little Feat. As influential, if not more, than most of the people already in the Hall.
Richard Thompson—going strong for nearly five decades, and still powering out great albums. One of rock’s supreme songwriters whose stuff has been covered by artists ranging from Tom Jones to June Tabor to Dinosaur Jr. And, oh, by the way, one of rock’s great guitarists as well. As someone once pointed out, Thompson’s problem is that he’s perhaps too prolific—he just keeps writing one great song after another. You start taking him for granted.
Arthur Lee and Love—An inter-racial LA group that did just about everything—rock, metal, strange ballads—before anyone else did them. Lee was a quirky but brilliant songwriter, but the group also had another strong writer in Brian Maclean, who wrote some of the best songs on their best album, Forever Changes. Most of the group is dead now, which happens far too often in music. I still remember about ten years ago Lee came to Glastonbury, England’s largest and muddiest rock festival, and the BBC did a film of his performance in front of a couple of thousand English kids—who knew ALL the words to ALL his songs. Remarkable.
Family—a great English band that got lost in the shuffle. They’ll never get in, because they didn’t sell many albums in the US, but they deserve to. Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney were a great songwriting team, and after Family broke up they continued for a number of years as Streetwalkers. Chapman, who is the best rock singer I have ever heard, bar none, still tours with a basic bar band, and he still puts on one hell of a show. Like the Kinks and the Faces (both in the Hall), they drew a lot from the British music hall tradition.
Jan Akkerman/Focus—the guitarist with Focus for a number of years, and with a successful solo career since then. If you’ve never heard Hocus Pocus, you haven’t heard rock guitar. Akkerman is simply the best rock guitarist ever, and Focus one of the best European bands ever, but he’s virtually unknown in the US, so it doesn’t count, does it?
Lowell George/Little Feat—one of the best live bands ever, with a fine song catalog to boot, mostly from George, who played a mean slide guitar. A great melding of southern boogie and intelligent LA discipline.
Jane’s Addiction—like them or not, Perry Farrell and his guys were hugely influential. And Dave Navarro, who still has not made the Rolling Stone List of 100 Greatest Guitarists, has been one of the great guitarists. Jann Wenner must really hate these guys.
Fairport Convention—the most influential English folk/rock group ever, which not only gave us Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson, but a whole gaggle of good albums, and who influenced a generation or two of English rockers, Liege and Lief being the most important. The current version of the band, which has been going strong since 1967, has two fiddlers, which probably means they’re ineligible on principle. If there was any doubt about the RORHOF’s anti-English bias, it’s here.
Sandy Denny—one of England’s greatest songwriters, with Fairport and several other groups, as well as a solo career before an early passing. “Who Knows Where the Time goes” is, and always will be, a better song than anything ever written by Randy Newman.
Nick Drake—see Sandy Denny.
Bert Jansch—one of the three or four most influential guitarists of the past forty years, including on a whole raft of British guitarists who are in the Hall. His 1960s group, Pentangle, brought folk music to the rock audience for the first time, and it’s never left.
Brian Eno—just one of the most influential musicians and producers of the past four decades. If we’re going to have people in the Hall who were only producers, and we do, what about guys who are extraordinarily influential producers, AND who played in some of the most influential bands of the 1970s and 1980s.
Ry Cooder—this one is sort of baffling. How can Ry Cooder not be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? He lives in Los Angeles and everything. He’s made amazing music for, like, decades. He’s heavily involved in social justice movements. He’s done film scores, just like Randy Newman. He played with Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. He did that whole Cuban thing. He even played on a Rolling Stones album, and, even more importantly, had his stuff stolen by the Stones. And he’s still not in? Jeez. What does a guy have to do?
Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler—who can say why these guys aren’t in? Straits were a great rock and roll band, Knopfler a gifted and brilliant guitarist, and they sold a whole lot of records. “Money for Nothing” remains a classic, as does “Sultans of Swing.” Who cares if he’s gotten boring recently? So has Rod Stewart, for like decades, and that didn’t keep him out. What’s the deal here?
The Blues Project/Al Kooper—the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is deservedly full of early black artists, many of whom were blues players. It’s one of the really good things the museum has done, there’s no question. Often they’re called Influences, as if their playing didn’t matter. In some cases, like BB King and Muddy Waters, they’re called Performers. And this is a valuable thing that the Hall does, whatever the label. But, you know, someone re-discovered all these guys and brought this music to the attention of the white audiences in the 1960s that later gave BB King his first standing ovation. And that was these guys, the Chigcao Jewish kids that formed the Butterfield Band, and the New York Jewish kids that formed the Blues Project. We had the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in this group, but they got in this year. Good for them, as overdue as it was—Butterfield and his gang produced some gripping albums, especially when the late Mike Bloomfield was the guitarist. East/West remains one of the most influential albums ever. Ditto for the Blues Project, whose second album, Projections, had a similar impact at the time. They just don’t do rock and roll like “Wake Me, Shake Me” any more. Kooper, who played with the Blues Project for a while (and was the vocalist on “Wake Me, Shake Me”), went on to found Blood, Sweat and Tears—who are also conspicuous by their absence in the Hall. (Not that I was a David Clayton-Thomas fan—far from it. But the band itself was one of the most influential bands ever, to put it bluntly.) There were other groups too—Siegel/Schwall, also out of Chicago. But let’s stick with the basics.
Who’s in but shouldn’t be?
Donna Summer—Disco is not rock and roll. Yes, you can dance to it, and it‘s allegedly working class. The main thing going for her is that the Chinese government said bad things about her. But, really, disco is not rock and roll.
Randy Newman—if there’s anything that shows how the music industry, and this museum, has been taken over by the Los Angeles money crowd, this is it. Newman is an ok songwriter, and has scored a bunch of movies. So OF COURSE let’s put him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His dad was a famous Los Angeles conductor.
Donovan—yes, he wrote lots of cute songs, and had one rock hit, with a screeching Jimmy Page solo. But most of his output is not rock and roll. It’s some sort of mellifluous folkie nonsense that was pleasant enough to listen to at the time, and may still be. Don’t misunderstand—I’ve still got my Donovan albums from back in the day. And he made lots of people want to sing absolute nonsense, but harmless nonsense. Still, this is just record sales. Where’s Nick Drake?
Miles Davis—well, I suppose this one was inevitable, but really, this is really just some self-aggrandizement by the museum to try to provide itself with a veneer of validation. This is the last thing a museum about the history of rock and roll should be concerned about. Davis did not play rock and roll. He really didn’t. Instead, he revolutionized jazz, and the music we listen to today. But he did not play rock and roll.
Leonard Cohen—yes, yes, some good songs. But Leonard Cohen does not do rock and roll.
The Dave Clark Five—people are still hauling out their old Dave Clark albums and listening to them, huh? Georgie Fame had a better group, and a lot more influence, than these guys.
Bob Seger—he let his music get used for pick-up truck commercials.
The Hollies—if Graham Nash hadn’t been in the Hollies, the Hollies wouldn’t be in the Hall. Really, we might as well get Herman’s Hermits next.
Alice Cooper—quick, name one memorable Alice Cooper song. Other than “School’s Out,” I mean. But boy, did they sell records.
Rod Stewart—a couple of good songs (especially “Stay with Me”), but boy, did those records sell, which is, after all, what’s it’s all about. Great chops, sure, but that’s true of Tom Jones too, and Meat Loaf, and a lot more true of Roger Chapman, who is still going strong singing rock and roll, as opposed to Stewart, who has been going through the motions of pretending to sing rock and roll for decades.
Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, and other non-performers. Yes, important people, but really, this just makes the whole thing kind of meaningless. Lou Adler has made it. Brian Eno didn’t. And far too many sidemen—Steve Douglas is a good sax player, and has been on lots of albums. So what? If we’re down to session sax men, where the hell is Junior Walker? Ditto Earl Palmer on drums—good session man, and played on lots of good stuff. So where’s Sam Lay?
Ringo Starr—Really? As a solo performer? I think I already said this.
Cat Stevens—no comment.
None of this matters, of course. It’s just venting. But like any art form, and rock and roll is that, there has been an increasing divergence between the performers and those that gravitate around them. It’s been common knowledge for decades that music management is corrupt. Yeah, well, so is the defense industry. It’s just a bit more personal for most of us when that corruption seeps into the fabric of an institution that should be celebrating rock’s essence, rather than its capacity to make money for people. The irony is that the museum itself does do that, and does a good job of it, too. The awards, however, are another matter.
Categories: Music/Popular Culture