Inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concerts

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On October 28th, the day before the first Hall of Fame show, John Fogerty arrives at SIR, the rehearsal-studio facility on West 25th Street in Manhattan, to work on his guest spot with Springsteen and the E Street Band. As he walks up to Studio 1, he hears "Soul Man" coming through the door at full blast. "It was Sam and Bruce singing with that wonderful band," Fogerty recalls. "It sounded so freaking great." Springsteen, in turn, gets a huge kick out of playing the Creedence hits "Fortunate Son" and "Proud Mary" with the guy who wrote them. "I covered John's stuff," Springsteen says, "in clubs when I was 18."

Heavenly moments like these happen repeatedly at SIR every afternoon and evening for the four days leading up to the Hall of Fame Concerts, as singers and players move in and out of practice rooms and old friends bump into each other in the narrow corridors and at the makeshift coffee-and-snacks table at the front door. Dion, who turned up early in the week for his rehearsal with Paul Simon, is working on his 1961 hit "The Wanderer" with Simon's band when he spots Springsteen in the room. "I noticed he was singing," Dion says, "and I went, 'What?' He said, 'Well, there's a part on the record. . . . ' That's how close to the arrangements he is. He was singing and using his hands, doing a part from the record that we weren't playing."

On the afternoon of the 28th, Springsteen's caravan of soul and CSN's Seventies-troubadour revue — featuring Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor and Jackson Browne — are simultaneously hammering out set lists as Jeff Beck's crew sets up his gear in a third room, and Stevie Wonder's big band and guests, which include Beck, are ironing out kinks at another rehearsal space uptown. By the time Beck is done with Wonder and makes it down to SIR to plug in with his own band, it is after 9 p.m. They play until nearly midnight.

Springsteen's attention to detail — particularly the historical arc of his set and his own emotional connections to the songs he shared with the other singers — was in evidence before rehearsals started. E Street guitarist Steven Van Zandt says Springsteen's plan was simple: "Let's just play with people we know." Van Zandt had produced Darlene Love in the studio; Sam Moore was a frequent guest on Springsteen's Christmas benefit shows in New Jersey. And Tom Morello had been on Springsteen's radar since Rage Against the Machine cut a furious electric arrangement of Springsteen's hushed, acoustic modern-Dust Bowl ballad, "The Ghost of Tom Joad," for their 2000 covers album, Renegades. Last year, Morello did the song live with Springsteen and the E Street Band at a show in Anaheim, California — making it a natural for Morello's spot in the Hall of Fame set.

David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash were practically in residence at SIR during rehearsal week. Crosby and Nash spent the first of CSN's three days at SIR just working on harmony lines for Browne's "The Pretender" and singing with Taylor on his 1975 single "Mexico" — Crosby and Nash's choice. "We sang on it originally," Crosby says. "It was a hit. And it's a feel-good song. It makes people feel like having a tequila and kicking back." He adds, "James has written some of the best shit of our lives. He plays and sings like God on a good day."

Crosby describes the day, in the late Sixties, when he first met Browne, then 19, in a Southern California living room. Crosby was one of the biggest stars of the L.A. folk-rock scene; Browne hadn't made an album yet: "He sang 'Song for Adam' and 'Jamaica Say You Will,'" Crosby remembers, "and I said, 'Oh, shit, here comes the next generation.'"

Crosby and Nash sang on Browne's 1976 recording of "The Pretender." But Stills and Browne had to spend two days at Stills' home in L.A., prior to rehearsals, working on guitar parts. "Jackson is very exacting," Stills admits. "He put us through our paces." "'The Pretender' is unusual," Browne says. "It's not very rock & roll. But Stephen — the more he plays something, the more it becomes second nature. It frees him to play what he wants to play." Indeed, by showtime, Stills plays lead guitar with a heat and cutting melodicism often forgotten in the emphasis on CSN's eternal-boys-choir harmonies. His fuzzed whammy-bar flourishes and blasts of single-note staccato in "Almost Cut My Hair" have as much fervor as Crosby's firebrand vocal, while Raitt, playing slide on a National steel guitar, slips and skids lovingly around Stills' stabbing melancholy on acoustic guitar in CSN's cover of the Allman Brothers Band's "Midnight Rider."

During CSN's set, Bonnie Raitt notes that they were all together exactly 30 years earlier, along with Springsteen and the E Street Band, for the five No Nukes concerts organized by Musicians United for Safe Energy, the still-going nonprofit collective co-founded by Raitt, Browne and Nash. "No Nukes was a very passionate thing," Crosby says during a rehearsal break. "You're talking life and death — the human race." The Hall of Fame Concerts, he adds, "is a celebration. This is more about haying fun."

Jeff Beck was supposed to have it easy at the Hall of Fame Concerts, throwing some licks around with Stevie Wonder on the first night, then joining Eric Clapton as a special guest on the second, reprising the jamming finale of their co-headlining shows in Tokyo last February. But on October 22nd, Clapton announced that he would be forced to cancel his Hall of Fame Concert appearance. By then, Beck, who was quickly asked to step in as a featured performer, and his manager, Harvey Goldsmith, were scrambling to pull Beck's band together — the group was between tours — and book special guests. Beck's drummer Vinnie Colaiuta wasn't able to get from L.A. to New York until show day, missing two SIR rehearsals. "He got the red-eye — got there at 8:00 that morning and was ready to go," Beck says gratefully, a few days after the concert. "He went the whole mile for me."

Actually, for a guy pulling his own show together at the last minute, Beck runs through his set list at SIR like he's ripe to go on. He even looks stage-ready: tight black jeans, sleeveless T-shirt and a black-and-white-striped scarf draped around his neck; his legs bent in classic guitar-hero posture, his right hand pressing the whammy bar of his white Stratocaster with violent precision. He solos on "Big Block" and "Freeway Jam" with savage, slashing phrases and barking-dog harmonics, tapping strings up on the neck with his forefinger. This isn't just practice — it is genuine performance.

Before winding up for the night, he wails through an instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze." Tomorrow night he'll be joined by ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, a last-minute booking, flying in from a European tour to help Beck with a Hendrix tribute. By the time they get to the Garden, though, Beck and Gibbons end up swapping solos on another Hendrix song, "Foxey Lady." "I was so tired," Beck says, "that by that point, I couldn't tell one from the other."

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