The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony is all about honoring the past achievements of legendary artists who helped build the rebel foundation of the genre. But on Saturday night (April 4) in Cleveland, it was a pair of contemporary artists who showed the crowd how those wild and wooly seeds sown by a ragtag group of rockabilly shouters, soul stirrers, boogie-woogie piano bangers and country hollerers more than half a century ago have grown to include everything from hip-hop to heavy metal.
One of the night’s highlights was a moving induction speech from Eminem , making a rare public appearance to honor his musical heroes, [artist id="944"]Run-DMC[/artist], only the second hip-hop act to enter the Hall. “Two turntables and a microphone, that’s all it took to change the world,” [artist id="502642"]Em[/artist] said, his all-black ensemble inspired by the Queens trio’s signature look. Praising their music’s ability to spread hip-hop around the world, Em said there was something about the sound made by rappers Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and late DJ Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell that “grabbed hold of my ears and changed my life.”
Repeating the simple refrain, “two turntables and a microphone,” like a mantra, Em described Run-DMC as, “something fresh, something tough. Something dangerous. Something beautiful and something unique. Two turntables and a microphone.”
Run and DMC graciously accepted the award surrounded by their families and that of Mizell, paying irreverent homage to Run’s brother, Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons, for his wacky idea of mixing rock and rap. DMC, who learned just a few years ago that he was adopted, also urged the crowd, “The best thing y’all can do is give love to a kid, because that kid may grow up and be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one day.”
This year’s ceremony was back in Cleveland, home of the Hall of Fame building, for the first time since the first-ever induction ceremony in 1997. And for the first time, the general public was allowed to buy tickets to the event, held at Cleveland’s Public Auditorium. That suited honorees Metallica just fine, as the Bay Area masters of metal repeatedly gave shout-outs to the thousands of head-banging followers who have made them one of the biggest metal bands in rock history.
Appearing onstage with ex-bassist Jason Newsted for the first time in more than eight years, as well as with the father of late bassist Cliff Burton, guitarist/singer James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo, all reflected on the job they likened to a brotherhood built on rock-and-roll fantasies.
“I think rock and roll is about possibilities and about dreams,” Ulrich said, as the band took the stage following a funny, profane, reverent induction by [artist id="1012"]Red Hot Chili Peppers[/artist] bassist Flea. “The fact that the six of us can be up on the stage tonight, snot-nosed kids, outcasts, loners who grew up in very different parts of the world, in very different situations and make it here tonight, to this wonderful night in front of all these people down here … Rock and roll truly is about possibilities. Look at us. [artist id="995"]Metallica’s[/artist] in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Can you f—ing believe that?”
Hetfield encouraged young musicians, “Dream big and dare to fail. … I dare you to do that. Because this is living proof that it is possible to make a dream come true.”
The band concluded with a murderous set that began with their classic, genre-defining metal anthem, “Master of Puppets,” and segued into a menacing, vein-popping trip through another modern heavy metal cornerstone, “Enter Sandman.”
The show opened with inductees Little Anthony and the Imperials harmonizing on a medley of classic songs, including their swaying doo-wop staple “Tears on My Pillow.” Founding singer Anthony Gourdine, 69, hit his signature falsetto notes, working the stage despite a shoulder injury he sustained Friday morning.
The group was inducted by Hall of Famer and Motown legend Smokey Robinson, who said of his lifelong friends, “It is a joy for me to be here for what I consider a long-overdue event. … I think they are one of the greatest groups to have ever decided to sing together.”
British guitar god Jeff Beck, 64, became a rare two-time honoree — he was previously inducted as a member of the Yardbirds — when he was called up again by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page in honor of his 40-year career of electric six-string wizardry in genres ranging from rock to blues and fusion jazz. Joined by Page, Beck gave the crowd a taste of his blistering chops with a thundering blues-jam meltdown take on Zep’s “Immigrant Song.”
Also inducted was Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson, 71, who blazed a trail for female rock singers with her raw, uninhibited work on such early hits as “Let’s Have a Party.” She was inducted by country royalty Roseanne Cash, daughter of the late Johnny Cash, who proclaimed, “For girls with guitars, myself included, Wanda was the beginning of rock and roll. Everyone who cares about roots music and rock and roll reveres Wanda. But in particular, every young woman I know, musician or otherwise, worship her as the prototype, the first female rock star.”
Cleveland native and soul giant Bobby Womack, 65, (“Looking for a Love,” “Across 110th Street”) was inducted by the Rolling Stones’ Ron Wood, which was fitting, since Womack wrote the Stones’ first #1 UK hit, “It’s All Over Now.” Womack reminisced about being a guitar player for Sam Cooke. “The last song he wrote, he made a statement, and that statement was ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’ … When I think about it, that subject has come up again. A change has come,” referring to the election of Barack Obama.
Among the sidemen inducted on Saturday night were Muscle Shoals band keyboard master Spooner Oldham (Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan) and two members of Elvis’ band, bassist Bill Black and legendary drummer D.J. Fontana.
The night ended with the obligatory all-star jam, which featured all the members of Metallica, plus Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, Flea, Page, Beck and Wood cranking up the aggression for a snarling, guitar-geek-nirvana version of the Yardbirds’ “Train Kept A-Rollin’.”
Artists are eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25 years after the release of their first record, and inductees are selected by a panel of 500 “rock experts” who evaluate each candidate.