Memories of Inductions Past

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Written by: Andy Schwartz

Before cameras, tweets and the broadcast, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's Induction Ceremony was a closed-door event. 

Get an inside look at ceremonies from years past from writer Andy Schwartz.

By Andy Schwartz, past managing editor of the Rock Hall's induction program book.

I consider myself very fortunate to have attended most of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions since the second ceremony was held in January 1987 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. On that occasion and for the next few years, I served as managing editor of the induction program book; later, I earned my ticket by writing inductee biographies and essays on aspects of pop music history for the program.

The inductions are still a lot of fun, and some outstanding musical moments are guaranteed. But the atmosphere was quite different in the years before the event was filmed for broadcast and tickets sold to the public. Back then, the feeling seemed to be that “what happens here, stays here” – and this intimacy, combined with five or six hours of alcohol consumption, often made for some surprising, memo­rable and sometimes hilarious moments not available today on YouTube (*Editor's note: except when the archive footage is released on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's page).

At that 1987 event, Fifties rock and roll pioneer Bill Haley was inducted posthu­mously: He died February 9, 1981, only age 55. Haley’s award was accepted by his widow Martha and his youngest son Pedro, who wore his Marine Corps dress blues for the occasion. Another first–generation rock and roll legend, Eddie Cochran, also was inducted that year. It was almost shocking to have his mother accept his statuette, for Eddie had been gone more than a quarter–century – killed in a 1960 car crash while on tour in England.

In January 1988, the Beach Boys’ Mike Love delivered the most stridently pugna­cious speech in Hall of Fame history. Mick Jagger was there to induct the Beatles, and I seem to remember Love stoutly declaring, “the Rolling Stones couldn’t rock for shit.” Noting that the his group still played 150–plus shows per year, he hurled derisive challenges at other acts like (in his words) “the Four Moptops” and “The Boss.” In response, Bob Dylan (in his own acceptance speech) thanked Love “for not mentioning me,” noting that “I play a lotta dates every year, too!”

January 17, 1991 will go down in history as (I sincerely hope) the only Hall of Fame induction to coincide with the onset of a U.S. military invasion. The cere­mony in the Waldorf Grand Ballroom began with a video transmission of President George H.W. Bush’s speech announcing the aerial and naval bombard­ment that marked the beginning of Operation Desert Storm, i.e. the first Gulf War. In response, Rolling Stone founder/publisher Jann Wenner recited a verse or two of “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

Among that night’s inductees were the Impressions, including former lead singers Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler along with Sam Gooden and Fred Cash. Mayfield had been rendered a quadriplegic by a tragic on–stage accident in Brooklyn, New York in August 1990; speaking by video hookup from his home in California, his calmly dignified speech brought tears to the eyes of many. When Jerry Butler accepted his award, he said that there were “three things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime: The Impressions in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Curtis Mayfield in a wheelchair, and the United States in another war.”

Soul singer Wilson Pickett was inducted that night as well, but failed to appear at the Waldorf. (Seymour Stein announced that he was “fogged in,” although at the time Pickett was living about 45 minutes away in Englewood, New Jersey.) Perhaps it was just as well, since the artist was “honored” by Bobby Brown, who admitted that he “really didn’t know much about Wilson Pickett” until asked to induct him. The Northridge earthquake of January 1994 prevented Rod Stewart from attending his induction, but Jeff Beck was there to do the honors. “Rod and I have a love/hate relationship,” said the guitar wizard, who’d hired Stewart for the first edition of the Jeff Beck Group. “He loves me, and I hate him!”

Inducting The Stooges at the 2010 ceremony, Billie Joe Armstrong began his re­marks in a curious but effective way. Having been born one year before the re­lease of the Stooges’ landmark Raw Power in 1973, Billie Joe had no personal memo­ries of the original band performing in its own era. Therefore he chose to begin by quoting at length from the account of Dictators guitarist Scott “Top Ten” Kempner, describing the Stooges’ set at New York club Ungano’s in 1970, as told to Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain for their 1997 book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. (Anybody still with me here?)

The Green Day front man then proceeded to reel off the names of some of his favor­ite bands not yet inducted into the Rock Hall, a list that ranged from the Germs and Social Distortion to DEVO and the little–remembered British group Penetration. At this writing, Billie Joe is still waiting.

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