The music world descended on Cleveland on April 18 for the 2015 edition of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Honorees included Ringo Starr, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The 5 Royales, Bill Withers, Green Day, Lou Reed, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and while most of the action took place on stage, there was plenty to be seen and heard behind the scenes. Read on…
Green Day livened up its red carpet arrival before the ceremony by crossing over to the fan viewing area to press flesh, sign autographs and take pictures with some clearly surprised and overwhelmed fans. Afterwards, bassist Mike Dirnt spoke with Billboard. “It’s humbling, but I feel like it justified everybody’s belief in this band outside of just the band,” he said. “It’s really about the fans.” Drummer Tre Cool termed the experience “unreal. It’s so cool. Cleveland definitely rocks tonight.” Green Day, of course, opened the 2012 induction ceremony when it was last in Cleveland; asked if they could have imagined then being inducted upon its return, Dirnt said, “Never in a million years,” while Cool quipped, “I thought it would be four or five years later.” What’s next for Green Day, which recently resumed rehearsing, according to Dirnt? “More ass-kicking,” Cool answered.
Backstage before the ceremony, Ringo Starr told Billboard that the difference between Saturday’s induction and his 1988 induction with the Beatles: “I’ll remember this one,” Starr cracked, alluding to his past drug and alcohol addictions. Of the induction, Starr said, “It’s an honor, really, and it has to do with music.” As for being the last of the Beatles to be inducted as a solo artist, Starr noted that, “You’re recognized when you’re recognized. I’m only doing it so Paul can have a day out.” Still, performing again with Paul McCartney was a treat for Starr, who said, “I love it. It’s always a thrill for me when I play with Paul. It’s like good friends and people who know each other and have been through a lot together. The bassist and the drummer usually are friends.”
For the Eagles‘ Joe Walsh, Starr’s induction was a family matter; the two are brothers-in-law. Said Walsh in the press room: “I don’t know why he wasn’t inducted before. That always kind of bothered me, and this puts closure on it. His body of work as a solo artist is as valid as anybody. We had a long list of hits and singles and some great albums. I’m thrilled.” Walsh is already in the Rock Hall as a member of the Eagles, but as a native Ohioan he acknowledged that an induction for his band the James Gang would be welcome. “I’m thinking because we were from Cleveland that the James Gang is probably on the long list, and eventually maybe they’ll get around to it,” he said.
Ever the fashion chameleon, Miley Cyrus sported at least four different outfits on Rock Hall day. She wore an ensemble with prominent pasties while rehearsing “Cherry Bomb” and “Crimson and Clover” with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Dave Grohl late on Saturday afternoon, changed into a gown to walk the red carpet, showed off her midriff in a black outfit to induct and perform with Jett during the ceremony and had something more casual on when joining Ringo Starr and his assembled all-star ensemble at the end of the show.
In between inducting and performing in honor of Bill Withers, then joining the Starr’s all-star jam, Stevie Wonder dropped into the press room to share his thoughts on the lineup. “I think there isn’t anyone here tonight that I wouldn’t mind playing with,” said Wonder. “One thing that we as musicians, singers, love to do is improvise. So if there is someplace that one finds that they could maybe use me playing the harmonica or maybe keyboards, sing a little melody or something like that, I’m down with it. “ Wonder also waxed eloquent about breaking down musical barriers, explaining that, “When I hear names like soul, R&B, and all that kind of stuff, it’s kind of cute to hear that. But at the end of the day for me, soul is about your soul, about your spirit, music that touches the soul. And so I think that sort of a categoration (sic) has happened, soul as being black and pop as being white. Gimme a break. It’s just great music. So what it means to me in the context of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is being able to bring everyone together and put incredible music, incredible artists, songwriters, together in one thing.”
Joan Jett says she was “trying not to bawl” after receiving a standing ovation as the night’s first inductee. “I thought that maybe I’d cry when I talked about my parents, but to see the room stand up like that and applaud to that degree was pretty amazing… It was very, very moving.” Jett said she caught only some of Miley Cyrus’ induction speech — “I heard everyone laughing, and then I heard somethinga bout sex, but I didn’t hear the exact thing” — and she added that she wished other members of the Blackhearts, particulary long-term drummer Tommy Price, had been inducted along with the “core four” from the “I Love Rock and Roll” years. “I believe Tommy Price has certainly put in the work, the years, and played on many records and hits that are played on television, so I think [he] certainly, absolutely deserved to be inducted with the Blackhearts today.”
After inducting Green Day, the members of Fall Out Boy were asked what they’d most like to emulate about their heroes. “Their bank accounts,” quipped Pete Wentz before Patrick Stump added, “Longevity and staying power. They’ve gone through their ups and downs and we’ve had some ups and downs but we still have a long way to go… We’ve been a band since the late 90s. So if you can stick around that long and actually do this job, which we love, it’d be great.”
Alice Cooper, who was inducted into the Rock Hall in 2011, was pleased to report that “everybody I voted for got in. I went five for five,” including the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. “That was a band [where] I just said, ‘Man, does anybody belong in the Hall of Fame more than this?’ And all the musicians sit back and go ‘Yeah, absolutely, Butterfield, yeah.’ That was the one band I thought would never get in.” Cooper added that he likes coming to the induction ceremonies as an inductee. “I’m like a senior partner now,” he explained. “it’s fun to watch people get in. It’s like graduating.”
Tom Morello joked that Jason Ricci, who played harmonica on a rendition of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “Born in Chicago’ with him and Zac Brown, “had to do a serious negotiation with his probation officer in order to play tonight. And it was a high level negotiation with a lot of rockers and whatnot to get him here, but we didn’t want to go for second best, so we’re very pleased to have him share the stage with him tonight. He’s a great musician.” Brown, meanwhile, admitted to being “kinda rattled” from being part of the show. “That’s a lot of heroes and legends out there. It’s like hanging with your, like, superheroes. In the middle of it it was kind of weird, but Tom carried me through it, man. Getting to play with him was amazing.”
John Legend said performing with Stevie Wonder in honor of Bill Withers was more exciting than intimidating. “The first time I played with Stevie was back in 2005, and that was pretty intimidating back then,” Legend recalled of a 2005 BET Awards mash-up of his “Ordinary People” and Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.” “I won best new artist that year and that was like my entrance into where I am now — being able to perform my song with Stevie Wonder onstage at BET. We’ve been friends ever since. He came to my wedding and sang at that and we’ve done many performances together. It’s always a pleasure to sing with him.”
Doyle Bramhall II, his guitar in a bag slung over his shoulder after taking part in the Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble tribute segment, was beaming in the ballroom at the end of the night. “This was literally a dream come true,” he told Billboard. “I don’t think I’ve wept like that in front of this many people, ever. I mean, I grew up with Stevie. My dad was close with Stevie and Jimmie [Vaughan], so when Jimmie asked me to do it, I was like, ‘Yeah, man, whatever you want.’” Bramhall, who’s putting out an album next month and will be touring this summer with the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, also had praise for John Mayer’s induction speech, which he called “beautiful… really brilliant. He’s such a huge Stevie fan that he definitely belonged up there,” performing alongside Bramhall, Jimmie Vaughan and Gary Clark, Jr.
As the crowd filed out after the ceremony, Patti Smith hung out near her table with longtime cohort Lenny Kaye, Alice Cooper and his daughter Calico and Karen O and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. She was still coming to terms with her moving induction speech for the late Lou Reed, acknowledging to Billboard that, “It was a lot more emotional than I expected. I thought that I knew what to do, to do my duty, but once I was up there the reality of him being gone was so present that it brought tears to my eyes. But it means a lot. He was my friend. I know Lou would’ve been OK with me doing it. I just tried to do my best.” Smith is getting ready for the Oct. 6 publication of her next memoir, M Train, insisting that “it’s not a sequel to Just Kids. It stands on its own. It’s more present tense, but there’s a lot of reminiscing about Fred (Smith, her late husband). It goes back and forth to Michigan, so Fred is very present in the book. “
Karen O and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were enjoying a verklempt moment at the end of the night, after performing Lou Reed’s “Vicious” during the ceremony. “I was in shock most of the night,” O told Billboard. I’m seriously humbled by the level of artistry around me, man. It was a special opportunity. I’m overwhelmed, really happy to be a part of it.” Zinner called it, “One of the most surreal and fantastic and incredible nights of my life. I can’t believe I’m here. It’s so weird, and I’m really happy we got be here to pay tribute to Lou Reed, who just meant the world to us. It’s a fuckin’ huge honor.”
Just before walking down the red carpet Gary Clark, Jr. told Billboard that it was “extra special” for him to be at the ceremony to play “Pride and Joy” and “Texas Flood” as part of the Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble segment. “When I first started playing guitar, loike two weeks later I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan on television performing with Double Trouble, and I saw Jimmie Vaughan alongside Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray and Buddy Guy — all my heroes, actually. I sat in my room as a kid learning ‘Texas Flood’ and ‘Pride and Joy’ for hours and hours until my mom would bang on the door and tell me it’s time to shut up.”
Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton noted after the group’s performance that it was important — and proper — for the band to be inducted along with Vaughan. “Well, you know, 13 years I worked with him,” Layton told Billboard. We actually all contributed to the music, so we were there for all fo it and we participated in all of it. We’d do interviews together and people would call us his backup band, and Stevie would stop ‘em and say, ‘These guys are my family. We’re a group called Double Trouble. I’m the guitar player in Double Trouble. They’re not my backup band.’ ”