By Brian Ives
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony kicked off with a unique David Bowie tribute: David Byrne, the Roots and Kimbra performed “Fame.” That was followed by a montage of great scenes from induction ceremonies from years past.
That was followed by a mini-documentary about Deep Purple, which got loud roars from the audience; clearly Deep Purple’s fans were in the building. Lars Ulrich of Metallica took the stage, recalling seeing Deep Purple at age nine, and that that show changed his life. “With almost no exception, every hard rock band of the last 40 years, including mine, traces their lineage to Black Sabbath , Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple, and they should been seen as equals. I am somewhat bewildered that they are so late in getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Current members Ian Gillan, Ian Paice and Roger Glover, along with former members David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes accepted, and then the current lineup of the band (which also features guitarist Steve Morse and keyboardist Don Airey) performed “Highway Star,” “Hush” and, of course, “Smoke on the Water.” If you haven’t seen Purple, rest assured that Gillan still hits the notes, and the current lineup still sound amazing.
After Steven Van Zandt presented late R&B songwriter Bert Berns’s family with an award, a mini-docmentary about Steve Miller hit the screen to cheers from the audience. The doc pointed out that Miller hadn’t had a hit for the first seven years of his career, but with “The Joker,” he became an arena headliner, and soon enough a stadium headliner. It’s interesting to wonder if that would even be possible today.
Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney from the Black Keys spoke about Miller. “When researching for this speech, we learned a lot about Steve Miller,” Auerbach said. Carney said that while lots of Millers come from Milwaukee, “Only one wrote ‘Fly Like an Eagle.’ Because cans of beer can’t write songs!” They noted that if you listened to the radio, you listened to Miller’s music in the ’70s. “The first five albums were a perfect snapshot of the San Francisco scene.”
Auerbach said, “It would be hard to find any band who could hold a candle to the Steve Miller Band’s stretch from 1974-1977. ‘The Joker,’ ‘Fly Like an Eagle,’ ‘Rock’n Me,” ‘Take the Money and Run.’ during the time we made this speech, there is a good chance all of these songs have been played on the radio somewhere.”
Miller said talked about starting a band with Boz Scaggs when they were teenagers, and backing up blues legend Jimmy Reed. He talked about being a war protester, playing rhythm guitar for Buddy Guy and being friends with Howlin’ Wolf . He talked about moving to San Francisco in 1966 seeing Paul Butterfield and sitting in with him. He noted that he played the Fillmore over 150 times.” He also urged the Rock Hall to be more inclusive of women, and to do more to provide music in our schools.
He and his band then performed “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Rock’n Me” and the song that changed the course of his career, “The Joker,” the latter with a sparkly guitar that he said was “Just for tonight!” On “The Joker,” he was accompanied by the entire arena singing along. Not that he needed it: Miller’s singing and playing were perfectly on point, and the band was solid as well.
“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.” As the last notes of the Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” finished ringing out, a short documentary on N.W.A. came on the screen.
“The World’s Most Dangerous Group,” Kendrick Lamar said, as he took the stage to discuss the group that changed his, and so many other, lives. He spoke about each member of the group: DJ Yella, MC Ren, the late Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.
“Cube, where you at? The storytelling genius, every bar had us hangin’ on our seats. Each verse giving us a glimpse of what it was like to be from Compton.” He talked about how Cube influenced his own debut.
“Dre! The scientist, the perfectionist, the producer extraordinary…. he’s one of the best producers of all time, through today. Believe that!”
Of Eazy-E he said, “He was a true mastermind, his persona was unmatched, his high pitched tone spoke to nations across the globe. He’s the reason I’m proud to say I’m from Compton.”
“For me, it was a look of what was happening in our neighborhood. Chuck D once said rap was the black CNN, and N.W.A. represented that to the fullest.”
“The fact that a famous group could look like us, and talk like us, proved to every kid in the ghetto that you could be successful and keep your voice. I know they said they never wanted to be role models… but I felt like each of them were black superheroes.”
“Yeah, what’s up Brooklyn?” Dre said as the group took the stage. “Theres not a doubt in my mind that Kendrick Lamar will be on this stage in a few years,” he said, thanking his protege.
“There were people who had problems with us, and I get it: the name of our group alone is shocking. But this is proof to tall the kids out there growing up in place similar to Compton that anything is possible. We’re not different or better than any of you. You just have to find that thing that’s special about you, apply hard work and anything can happen.
He added, “I’d like to thank Eric Wright, there’s no way we’d be here without him.” He also thanked all the guys who he collaborated throughout his career, for giving a voice to his songs. He also thanked his mom for keeping him on the straight and narrow, and “The person who changed my life,” Jimmy Iovine. He also thanked “the person who saved my life, my wife Nicole.”
MC Ren said, pointedly, “I want to say to Mr. Gene Simmons, hip-hop is here forever. we’re supposed to be here!”
Ice Cube spoke last, saying “I’m very grateful and humbled to be here tonight. Hey! You don’t make it to the hall by yourself. I’d like to thank Sir Jinx for teaching me to rap on beat. I’d like to thank my first manager for telling me to watch out for Jerry Heller’s a–.”
Also addressing Gene Siimmons, he said, “The question is, are we rock and roll? I say, you’re goddamn right we’re rock and roll! Rock and roll is not an instrument, it’s not even a style of music, it’s a spirit. It’s been going since the blues, jazz, be-bop, rock and roll, punk rock, heavy metal and yes, hip hop! What connects us all is that spirit. Rock and roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life. That is rock and roll and that is us! So: rock and roll is not conforming, rock and roll is outside the box , rock and roll is N.W.A.! ”
He ended by saying, “I just want to tell the world: damn that s— was dope!”
Sheryl Crow and Grace Potter performed the Eagles’ New Kid in Town. And then, after a short doc, Rob Thomas took the stage to speak about Chicago. He called their late leader Terry Kath “One of the best and most underrated guitarists of all time.”
“If you’re going to take the name of one of America’s great cradles of rock, blues, jazz and soul, you’ve got to be a great band. This is not a soft rock band, Chicago was a rock and roll band with horns!”
“Let’s talk about the kind of stones that these guys have. Their first album was a double album. Balls of steel! Second album: double album. Third album: double album! The titles, Chicago, Chicago II, Chicago III: f—ing fearless!”
“People say a lot of things about Chicago, and ‘badass’ is generally not one of them. But when they met Jimi Hendrix he said that their guitarist is better than him. That’s badass. So if you say Chicago is your mom’s band, then I want to party with your mom!”
Keyboardist/singer Robert Lamm said, “I’d like to first thank the audiences that come to see us year after year.” He thanked all the current and former members of the band, including bassist/singer Peter Cetera, who famously decided not to attend.
Lee Loughnane said, “I’m blessed with three things: music my trumpet and the guys in this band,” and later joked, “I want to thank my ex-wives for making sure I have to keep working!”
Former drummer Danny Seraphane introduced himself, “I’m Danny f—in’ Seraphine! I’m gonna get to play with my band for the first time in a long time. I wanna tell you a story about a band of brothers. 1968 we’re at a Dodger game, they were playing the Cubs, Peter gets in a fight with a marine — bad idea — he got his jaw broken. Ten days later he was on the road. When Rob [Thomas just] said we were badass… yeah we were a badass band!” He also noted that Lamm broke his leg in a basketball game — “white men can’t dunk, Robert!” — the band missed one gig and then the band hit the road for another six weeks.
Mentioning the band’s late guitarist Terry Kath, he said, “I miss him every day.” Soon the teleprompter flashed a “PLEASE WRAP UP” message. “‘Please wrap it up!’ F— you! I’ve been waiting 25 years for this!”
Finally, Kath’s daughter Michelle said of her father, “He would be beyond honored and extremely excited.”
The band, with Danny “f—in'” Seraphine, played “Saturday in the Park,” and were joined by Rob Thomas for “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is.” They finished with “25 or 6 to 4.” Like Deep Purple and the Steve Miller Band, the current lineup of Chicago does the band’s legacy proud.
Kid Rock, a veteran of Rock Hall speeches (he did the honors for Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bob Seger in the past) then took the stage, clad in an American flag scarf. “Has anyone kept tabs on what’s going on here tonight? Lars Ulrich, the drummer from Metallica, is a great speaker! Ice Cube tells kids to stay in school, and then the drummer from chicago turns out to be a badass!”
“As long as we’re keeping it real,” he continued, “I’d like to address the issue of drugs in America. If you do drugs, there s a good chance you’re gonna ruin your life. But there’s also a chance you’ll be in a band and be rich and bang hot chicks and write great songs!”
“Here’s a secret about bands,” he continued. “We all think we’re great live. You think you rip the roof off of any club. And you think you do it better than anyone else. Then you go see Cheap Trick. And then you think, ‘We suck!'”
“When disco and soft rock were taking over our radios — thank God I wasn’t alive then — they were exactly what we needed. They were made in the USA, but Japan caught on before we did. A lot of bands say ‘We’re big in Japan.’ Man, you’re f—ing big in Kentucky. But Cheap Trick is the only one they call ‘the American Beatles.'”
“They’ve been knocked down but they never stopped. These crazy f—s got they got three more gigs this week. And probably a lot of ex-wives.”
Frontman Robin Zander said, “Thank you Bob,” Kid Rock’s birth name. “This was a surprise and a real honor, we’ve never won anything before. ‘I Want You To Want Me’ – it seems like such a stupid phrase, but it works I guess.”
He also talked about “backstabbing and corruption in the business – and that’s just the road crew,” adding cryptically, “I think you know what I’m talking about.” He may well have been talking about the band’s legal issues with original drummer Bun E. Carlos, standing on stage with them at that moment.
And then he said, “Bun, its your turn to change the channel,” and shook hands with his former bandmate. Bun E. Carlos then came to the mic to roars. He thanked his bandmates, and made no references to their issues.
Bassist Tom Petersson joked : “We were considering getting a keyboard player, but no one wanted to sit in the middle seat in the van, I don’t know how Chicago did it,” referring to the size of their fellow inductees.
He also thanked a number of industry people, including KROQ DJ Rodney on the ROQ. He also took a different take to KISS’s Gene Simmons, thanking him and Paul Stanley for taking the band out on their first big tour.
He also spoke about his son Liam’s work, using music to help autistic kids via Rock Your Speech.
Rick Nielsen then took to the mic “Yeah! I’m the last speaker of the night, I’ll keep it short. My parents were opera singers, I didn’t want to play their music, I’m so lucky that I get to play music even though I don’t like all the songs that I wrote.”
He then gave Steve Miller a guitar shaped as a Miller Beer logo. Returning his attention to his bandmates, he noted that he’s an only child, and that his bandmates are his brothers. “I’d kill for them, But I feel like killing them most of the time. OK I’ll cut it short! Let’s go play!”
About a minute later, with Bun E. Carlos behind the drums, maybe for the last time, Robin Zander yelled, “I want you! To want me!” and went into that very song, followed by “Dream Police” and “Surrender.” They were then joined by the members of Chicago, Deep Purple (including David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes) and Steve Miller, along with Sheryl Crow, Grace Potter, Rob Thomas, Paul Shaffer and Steven Van Zandt for a grand finale of “Ain’t That A Shame.”
Rick Nielsen mentioned that he wanted to collaborate with N.W.A. as well, but that didn’t happen. The stage was crowded enough though. And with that, the show ended.
An edited version of the ceremony will air on HBO on April 30.
Earlier in the day, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced that Inductions will be in Cleveland every other year, beginning in 2018. They have yet to announce where next year’s will take place.