The key to rock’s longevity is it never defines itself into irrelevance. So while there were some loud dirty guitars at the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony (presented by Klipsch Audio) in Cleveland on Saturday night (April 18), there was as much recognition for rock’s antecedents in soul and blues, speaking less to a particular taxonomy than a spirit that’s beyond words.
It’s easy to talk of such spirit when Paul McCartney is there to honor Ringo Starr and Yoko Ono is on hand as well. Speaking briefly backstage, Ono expressed feeling that it was wonderful for Starr to be honored, “just sad John and George aren’t here,” referring to her late husband John Lennon and Beatles guitarist and fellow songwriter George Harrison.
Starr was certainly happy to be there — after a long wait, he’s the final Beatle to be inducted as a solo act. “I’ve finally been invited and I love it,” said the 74-year-old drummer. “I got lucky and it was actually in Cleveland,” he said to enormous hometown applause.
Fifty-one years earlier, Starr had been in town to play the very same Hall, he admitted backstage that he didn’t remember the cops stopping the show during “All My Loving” and making the Beatles return to the dressing room for ten minutes until the fans could be calmed. Starr said in a backstage interview that he couldn’t recall the incident specifically, but admitted that there had been a lot of shows in between.
“I’ll remember this one,” he promised.
Others receiving Rock Hall honors included Paul Butterfield Blues Band, early soul act The 5 Royales, singer Bill Withers, punk rockers Green Day, Lou Reed, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
It was a night for the young to honor the old and perhaps perhaps prepare for a later visit. John Mayer hailed his longtime idol, the late Vaughan, in a heartfelt speech. John Legend came out to honor Bill Withers with a performance of “Use Me” backed by Stevie Wonder, who inducted Withers. The two then shared “Lean on Me,” until Legend went and pulled Withers to the front of the stage to join them.
The 76-year old soul legend hasn’t performed live in many years but had hinted in the months leading up to the induction ceremonies that he might sing once more. Withers sounded great, though he may have an even brighter future in stand-up.
“This has got to be the biggest AA meeting Western hemisphere,” said Withers, alluding to an earlier moment in the show when Jimmie Vaughan confessed, “I taught my brother guitar and he taught me how to get sober.”
He called being inducted by Wonder, “A lion holding the door for a kitty cat.”
The moment of relative levity was welcome after moving tributes paid to the late Lou Reed by Patti Smith and Reed’s widow, music artist Laurie Anderson, who shared the three rules for life that they came up with: “One: don’t be afraid of anyone; Two: get a really good bullshit detector and learn how to use it; Three: be really, really tender.”
Smith had to push back tears on at least three occasions. She recalled a night when they wound up in the same hotel and Reed invited her up. She found him in the tub dressed in black and she sat on the toilet and talked with him.
Green Day was inducted by Fall Out Boy, who referenced the length of some of the speeches. Cracked FOB frontman Patrick Stump: “I feel like I’m in a line at the DMV.” As one of the youngest acts, it’s not surprising they gave one of the two most exciting performances of the evening.
The other belonged to Tom Morello, Doyle Bramhall II and Zac Brown with harmonica player Jason Ricci performing “Born in Chicago” in tribute to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Not only did Ricci slay, but Morello played a nasty scabrous solo that raised the hairs on your arm it was so alive.
Miley Cyrus inducted Joan Jett in her own inimitable way, recalling a time she walked in on Jett smoking pot and being so turned on by her strength, wisdom and soul that the young pop star wanted to have sex with the legendary rocker. Blackheart guitarist Ricky Byrd clarified during his speech, “Let’s get it straight, Miley, we all wanted to f— Joan!”
Jett joined the Blackhearts and Foo Fighters‘ Dave Grohl for a mini-set that include such classics as “Bad Reputation,” the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” and “Crimson and Clover,” the Tommy James & the Shondelles cover that Jett took to No. 1. But it was nothing compared to the soundcheck with Cyrus earlier in the day, during which she performed in a very loose halter and what looked like rubber nipple pasties. Or maybe she was just excited to be there.
It was that kind of a night, and it closed with a rousing version of the Beatles’ “I Want to Be Your Man,” where just about everybody who could make it out on stage did, including a near-end guitar scrum/lead-off between Gary Clark Jr., Morello, Zac Brown and Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ Nick Zinner.