By Brian Ives
This year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony returned to Cleveland’s Public Hall for the first time since 2012, and it was a fitting venue; Paul McCartney was on hand to present his former bandmate Ringo Starr. The Beatles played that same hall five decades earlier. The screams last night, while perhaps not as intense as during the height of Beatlemania, were a reminder of the band’s incredible popularity, 40+ years after their split.
That legendary duo closed the night. The show opened with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts‘ induction; they were joined by Dave Grohl, Tommy James and Miley Cyrus during their performance. Jett and her trusty backing band played “Bad Reputation,” then were joined by Grohl for “Cherry Bomb” and finally Grohl, James and Cyrus for “Crimson and Clover.” Read our full coverage of the Jett induction here.
Zac Brown and Tom Morello with blues artist Jason Ricci on harmonica hit the stage next, and proceeded to melt faces to “Born in Chicago,” one of the signature songs by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Morello dialed his style down, slightly, and stuck with high speed blues playing, rather than using his signature effects that make his guitar sounds like a turntablist.
Peter Wolf from the J. Geils Band then took the stage to speak about PBBB. “When I saw the cover of their first album, I said, ‘Man, you better not mess with them!'” He noted that they were a multiracial band in an era where that was not common. “It took me a while to realize that [Butterfield] was playing harmonica upside down,” he said, referring to the frontman’s distinctive style. He added, “Muddy Waters once told me how much respect he had for Paul Buttefield, I saw them play together and they brought the best out of each other.” Which is as high a compliment, probably, as being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But still, the surviving members of the band, and the families of those who are no longer living, seemed moved by the induction. Elvin Bishop, clad informally, in a flannel and overalls, said, “I’m older than most of you folks here, damn near all of you! I remember a time when there was no rock and roll, that’s why I appreciate this so much! I remember when music was all Perry Como and ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window?’ [But] two things I’m glad about, that we were a butt kicking band, and we helped blues cross over. And we showed that people of different races could work together.” After a lot of speeches, the surviving members took the stage for “Got My Mojo Workin'” sung by drummer Sam Lay. Drumming and singing is no mean feat for an 80 year old! It was great to see some of the surviving members of this great band, one more time.
Sticking with the blues theme, John Mayer took the stage to speak about the man who he’s said is his biggest influence, Stevie Ray Vaughan. “I figured out there was two ways to play guitar. There was playing chords, and doing that other thing, [which] was elemental. Stevie Ray was doing the other thing. Stevie Ray Vaughan is the ultimate guitar hero.”
“There was an intensity there. There was intensity that only he could achive, it was as otherworldly as Hendrix, but while Hendrix came from outer space, Stevie came from below the ground. He took the style of every blues guitar player who ever lived, and put it into one language. He entered into the neon-colored ’80s pop scene looking like Clint Eastwood in The Good The Bad And The Ugly. He introduced blues to a new generation who had not heard or felt it before. He made music that guitar players loved, but that everyone could feel. When [Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble] opened for someone, they gave the stage back to them in shambles. Guitarists can’t do that, bands could do that,” and mentioned the power of Double Trouble, Vaughan’s venerable backing band, who were being inducted along with their leader.
Mayer also noted that it was because of Vaughan’s ability to cross over to the mainstream that he himself became a blues fan; he said that without experiencing Vaughan on MTV, he never would have gotten into the blues. He said that Stevie’s post-rehab anti-drug concert sermons inspired him to turn down any drugs and alcohol that was offered to him.
After the members of Double Trouble spoke, Jimmie Vaughan, a solo artist and guitar legend, said that his younger brother loved playing guitar more than anyone he ever knew, and said that Stevie Ray would have been proud to be inducted. “I couldn’t be more proud of him; he was the most talented cool brother anyone could ever have,” he said, choking up. “Music lost a good man, our family lost our beloved. Every day I wake up sober, I think of my brother. In the end, the little brother taught the big brother.”
Vaughan then led Double Trouble, John Mayer, Doyle Brahmhall II and Gary Clark Jr. through explosive renditions of “Pride and Joy” and “Texas Flood.”All four six-stringers took fiery leads; John Mayer’s solos negate nearly all the negative press he’s ever gotten, while Clark’s solos show that the blues that Vaughan brought to the masses are alive and well, and will be as long as he is making records and touring.
The musicians shed their instruments, save Vaughan, who played his own song, “Six Strings Down,” a tribute to his brother, with the other artists singing backup.
Patti Smith soon took the stage to speak about Lou Reed. She spoke of hearing about Reed’s death, and returning to New York City from Rockaway Beach. When she returned, “Everyone was playing his music, everyone was crying.” She started doing the same. “He was not only my friend, he was a friend of New York City.”
“It was a complex friendship,” she said of their relationship. “Sometimes antagonistic, sometimes sweet. If I did something good he would praise me, if I made a false move, he would break it down.” She described going to see him in his hotel room, “He was in the bathtub, dressed in black.” She sat on his toilet seat and spoke to him for hours. “He spoke of people stuck between genders, he spoke about amplifiers, but most of all, he spoke about poetry.”
“Everything Lou taught me I remember, He was a humanist, raising the downtrodden.” Calling him a poet, she tried to recite the lyrics to “Perfect Day,” and started to sob. “I thought I was someone else, someone good,” she quoted from the song. “You are good, Lou, you are good.”
Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson, accepted on his behalf. “Lou would have loved this. He would have been so immensely proud to be part of this. He’s here with his heroes Otis and Dion, Aretha who we saw so many times, his dear friend Doc Pomus. He was my best friend and he was the person I admired most in the world.”
“They say you die three times: one, when your heart stops beating. Two, when you’re buried or cremated. Three, the last time someone says your name.” She expressed gratitude that that was unlikely to happen to her late husband, and then asked the audience for a big “LOOOOOUUU!” and the audience was happy to oblige.
Karen O and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, backed by Paul Shaffer’s band, then performed Reed’s “Vicious.” After that Beck with Nate Ruess of fun. did a surprisingly energetic “Satellite of Love.”
Stevie Wonder then spoke about Bill Withers. “I’ve always felt that Bill Withers’ songs were songs that were for every single culture there is. Everyone could relate, somewhere in the world, to the greatness of those songs. ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ is so elemental.”
He surprised some in the audience by saying, “As much as it is about a relationship, it’s about those 200 girls in Nigeria taken from their mothers and fathers.”
Returning back to music, he said, “I always said, I wish I wrote ‘Grandma’s Hands,’ ‘Lovely Day,’ ‘Just the Two of Us.'”
Withers then walked on stage and said, “Hold that teleprompter, I’m gonna go off script here.” He seemed amazed at Wonder’s speech. “Stevie presenting me is like a lion opening a door for a kitty cat.”
A charismatic and funny speaker, he said, “When Joan Jett was talking (during her speech) about ‘A&R issues,’ I call them ‘antagonistic and redundant.'”
He later joked, “This has got to be the largest AA meeting in the universe.”
He said that he was happy to be among so many other musicians, as he hasn’t mingled much since retiring decades ago. “I watch a lot of Judge Judy, I don’t get out and about. I’m honored to be this year’s youngest living solo inductee, Please don’t hate me because I’m precocious. Besides who else came in with a Legend and a Wonder!”
That “Wonder” then sat down on stage with his harpejji (a sort of guitar-piano type instrument) to sing “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Withers sat right next to him, not singing a word. Wonder then moved to keyboards, and John Legend took the mic for “Use Me.” Then Legend and Wonder played dueling keyboards, and did “Lean on Me.” During the song, Legend left the stage and dragged Withers on stage with a mic. Bill didn’t sing on his own, but joined in, it was his first public performance of any kind in decades. He seemed not thrilled to be on stage, but the audience loved the visual.
And then, the audience watched a short film where drummers including Dave Grohl, Questlove, Max Weinberg, Tre Cool, Abe Laboriel Jr., Chad Smith, Taylor Hawkins and Stewart Copeland were interviewed while sitting behind Ringo’s drum kit. “You hear his drumming, and you knew exactly who it was,” Grohl said. Questlove added, “Ringo was the coolest one.”
And then screams greeted Paul McCartney.
“As all the other drummers said [in the film], he’s something so special. Other bands look at their drummer to see if he’s gonna speed up or slow down. You don’t have to look at Ringo! It’s a great honor for me to be able to induce him, I mean, induct him, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tonight.” What Paul didn’t mention, though, was Ringo’s post-Beatles career. But that oversight seemed worth it; after wall both surviving Beatles were on stage.
And Ringo, also, didn’t spend much time talking about anything after 1970. “It was an incredible journey for me with these guys who wrote these songs. It was a joy. A tip I’ve got for all bands: if you fart, own up! We made a pact in the van, if we fart in the van we admitted it. That’s what we did, and that’s why we got along so well.” Bands, now you know the big secret: whoever smelt it, dealt it.
And then it was time for his performance: first, he was joined by Green Day for “Boys,” a Shirelles song that the Beatles covered, with Ringo on vocals. After that, there was long break to re-set the stage, and then he played with Paul Shaffer’s band with Joe Walsh for his solo classic “It Don’t Come Easy.”
And then: “I’d like to introduce another friend to you, he plays bass occasionally. Paul McCartney! I think you know this song. If you don’t, you’re surely in the wrong venue!” Of course, they went into “With a Little Help From My Friends,” joined also by Green Day, Joan Jett, John Legend, Zac Brown, Dave Grohl, Stevie Wonder, Gary Clark Jr., Peter Wolf, Beck, Nate Ruess and Miley Cyrus. And finally, another Beatles classic: “I Wanna Be Your Man.” While many of the guitar heroes were taking solos, Ringo got back behind the drums and Paul took over on lead vocals, and for about a minute, it was the greatest rhythm section of all time, back together again. Just like 50 years ago. And with that, the show ended, in spectacular fashion. Read our full coverage of Ringo’s induction here.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony airs on HBO on May 31 at 8 pm.