Billboard.com goes behind the scenes at the 20th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner, held last night (March 14) at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. U2, the Pretenders, Buddy Guy, Percy Sledge, the O’Jays, agent Frank Barsalona and executive Seymour Stein inducted into the hall. Highlights from the event will be broadcast Saturday on VH1.
Backstage, U2 frontman Bono was asked to comment on reports that he might win the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work in Africa, and/or assume the leadership of the World Bank. Before he could answer, guitarist the Edge chimed in, “Not taking both!” Added Bono, “And I have a paper route on the weekend. I’m sure I could fit it in.”
“I’m not sure a rock star who is already having the cream on the cake would ever have a Nobel Peace Prize,” he continued. “I’m just having the best life anyone could ever be given, just as it is being in a rock’n’roll band.”
The singer said being enshrined in the Rock Hall allowed him to gain perspective on U2’s accomplishments. “What’s great about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is that it’s very humbling,” he said. “And for very arrogant Irish rock stars, that might be important. It puts you back in your box. There’s very little chance for there to be another U2 the way the music business is constructed right now. You have to have a single immediately; if you don’t, you don’t get a second chance. Bruce Springsteen didn’t have a single for 10 years. Neil Young? I’m not sure he ever had a single. Every Neil Young song sounds like a single to me.”
The band also acknowledged the snafus that plagued fan-club presales for shows on the first leg of the upcoming Vertigo world tour. “The tour very nearly didn’t happen,” Bono admitted. “And as a result of scrambling to keep the tour together, we may not have looked after our fans getting tickets the way we wanted to. [Drummer] Larry [Mullen Jr.] has apologized on behalf of the band, but I would like to do it again. We have a great relationship with our audience, and want to thank them for the great life they have given us.”
As opposed to touring or recording, the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde said for the near future, she plans to “f*ck off, hang out and be a vagabond. Just be a dropout as much as possible.” Asked if the band was finished, she conceded, “No, but you know, I just want to hang out on the beach and not do anything. But that’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers paid tribute to late members James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, who died within months of each other in 1982-83. “It was so freaky when they both died in the same year,” Hynde said. “I thought, ‘Well, maybe we would have split up like a normal band would have after eight years.’ But because they both died like that, it was more like, I kept it alive for the tribute of keeping the music alive. Maybe I overdid it. I don’t know.”
The artist oozed rock’n’roll attitude in the media room, cutting off an interviewer who asked for her opinion on the rise of female pop vocalists with a terse, “I don’t care about girls. I like men.” And when a high-school student from Hynde’s native Ohio asked for guidance, she replied, “You’re going to college? Well, drop out, for a start.”
Buddy Guy recalled lean years of playing in Chicago with the legendary Muddy Waters, when “I thought they were living a life of luxury but it was just like an everyday job. If you had to split a hot dog with five people like I did with Junior Wells and the rest of those guys in Chicago, when you do get a place to stay and a hot dog to eat by yourself, you appreciate it!”
The artist said he had no regrets that his music rarely reached the commercial heights of mentor B.B. King, who, with Eric Clapton, joined Guy to perform “Let Me Love You Baby.” “Die-hard blues just needs a little more exposure,” Guy said. “I don’t envy anybody. I copied so much from B.B. King that without him, you probably wouldn’t be talking to me now.”
Guy just finished recording a new album for Silvertone in New York, and is already “in the process of doing another one.” He said, “I want a little freedom on my next record. I just want to go in there and be free. Just let me play what I know.”
Percy Sledge had nothing but kind words for the myriad artists that have covered his 1965 soul classic, “When a Man Loves a Woman” over the years. “Whenever anybody sings a Percy Sledge song, any song, not only ‘When a Man Loves a Woman,’ and they sing it from their heart, then they should have a good time with it, because my stories are so nice,” he said.
As for Michael Bolton’s oft-derided 1991 version, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Sledge said, “I think Michael Bolton is one of the greatest singers I’ve ever heard. For him to do my song, it was really an honor. He did it his way. He did a very good job. Can’t nobody do my songs like me, though.”
Last year, Sledge released his first new album in 10 years, “Shining Through the Rain.” The artist has a host of tour dates on his schedule for 2005, including a Friday-Saturday stand in Gastonia, N.C., an 11-show run in Sweden in May and a July 4th concert in Fort Polk, La.
Like many veteran acts, the O’Jays said their sales have suffered because R&B radio is hesitant to play their new material. “Radio is really the big problem,” said group member Eddie Levert. “If radio would play our records that we’re doing now, we’d still be on the charts. I think it’s what they call age-ism. Hip-hop/R&B radio [doesn’t] play people of age.”
However, the group has enjoyed a renewed boost of visibility thanks to the use of its hit “For the Love of Money” on the NBC show “The Apprentice.” “We did the finale show; we were like the house band. They wouldn’t give us enough room to do our dance steps,” Levert said with a laugh. “But I think it has meant a lot to our career for today, just being a part of that.”