Is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame cutting ties with its roots? Or is the Hall looking for a new approach in appreciating the founders of rock ‘n’ roll? Industry pundits fear the worst but hope for the best.
On Thursday, Jon Landau — the head of the nominating committee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — emailed an undisclosed number of committee members telling them their services are no longer needed. Sources suggest that as many as 16 of the 42 nominating committee have been given their walking papers. But what’s got some worried is that the move has wiped out more than half of the Hall’s Early Rock and R&B Influencers subcommittee, as at least four of the seven subcommittee members were among those given the heave-ho. They are veteran A&R executive Joe McEwen, a blues and R&B expert; Greg Geller, a label executive specializing in reissues; Arthur Levy, a senior writer at a number of major record labels; and Bob Merlis, one of the industry’s most renowned publicists who is now independent but was at Warner Bros. Records from the early 1970s through the 1990s.
“They just got rid of the guys who have all the histories of thousands of artists in their heads,” says one longtime music industry participant. “That’s like letting go the intent of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
The Influencers subcommittee — which still includes Q-Prime principal Cliff Bernstein, Sire Records chairman Seymour Stein and Roots drummer Questlove — are a panel of knowledgeable people who come up with nominees to be considered by the wider nominating committee.
“I just hope that the musicians whose contributions in the past made rock ‘n’ roll the thing that it became are not forgotten,” says one member of the nominating committee who didn’t want to be identified but confirmed he was thanked for his services.
Changing the committee members isn’t unprecedented: In the past, members were let go to make way for new members, say Hall of Fame insiders. But some Hall of Fame watchers worry that this latest move by Landau and Jann Wenner — widely seen as the dominating figures in the Hall — is meant to reduce the focus on the pioneers so that going forward the Hall can focus on artists who came to the fore in the 1980s and soon the 1990s, who might still have more cachet with mainstream music fans and HBO, which broadcasts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s show. “There are still a lot of worthy artists from the 1950s and the 1960s that deserve to be in, but now it looks like their chances are reduced further,” says one industry participant.
The members of the subcommittee either refused to comment or didn’t respond to request for comment. Landau said to call his office Monday and he and Wenner didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.