The evening was like the Academy Awards ceremony, a rock & roll summit meeting and a Friars Club roast all rolled into one. A veritable pantheon of rock superstars and pop-music pioneers — their careers spanning half a century — convened at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on January 18th for the fourth annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner. The dress was black tie, but there was nothing formal about the way the assembled celebrities saluted their mentors, toasted their peers and roared through one another's biggest hits during the full-tilt jam session that climaxed the evening.
As in previous years, the roll call of inductees, inductors and big-name guests read like a pop Fortune 500: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Dion DiMucci, Anita Baker, the Temptations, Al Green and the reclusive superproducer Phil Spector, among many others. But what set this bash apart from the glitter of previous ceremonies was the gusto and sheer unpredictability with which the stars paid their respects and received their honors. There was a lot more laughter; Pete Townshend inducted the Rolling Stones by slicing them up in his speech, Don Rickles style. And there was a lot more music; Little Richard inducted soul great Otis Redding by singing the Big O's greatest hits, and Daryl Hall and John Oates paid tribute to the Temptations by breaking into a chorus of their 1965 hit "Don't Look Back," only to be joined by the Temps themselves.
On this Hall of Fame night, the emphasis was on the sound, spirit and humor of rock & roll itself. After all, as Mick Jagger aptly put it in his acceptance speech, "we're being rewarded for 25 years of bad behavior."
The evening commenced on a more solemn note. After the traditional opening medley of classic songs associated with the inductees — executed with relish by the Hall of Fame house band, Paul Shaffer and the World's Most Dangerous Band — Rolling Stone editor and publisher Jann Wenner, comaster of ceremonies with Atlantic Records chairman Ahmet Ertegun, dedicated the event to the late Roy Orbison, who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987. "We're very proud of the role we played in reestablishing Roy's career," Wenner said, noting that Orbison was the first Hall of Fame member to pass away since being inducted. The singer's widow, Barbara, who was sitting at Springsteen's table, took a bow to fervent applause.
Things took a soulful turn with the induction of artists in the forefather category: the highly influential black vocal group the Ink Spots, the legendary blues diva Bessie Smith and the gospel greats the Soul Stirrers. "There probably isn't any music that we listen to today that isn't in some way profoundly influenced by the gifts or imagination of what Bill Kenny, Ivory Watson, Charlie Fuqua and Jerry Daniels gave us," declared jazz warbler Bobby McFerrin as he inducted the Ink Spots. Petite Anita Baker did the honors for Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues.
The Soul Stirrers — whose groundbreaking vocal fusion of spiritual zeal and secular heat set the stage for the pop and soul revolutions and whose succession of lead singers included Hall of Fame member Sam Cooke — were inducted by the Reverend Al Green, quite a soul stirrer himself. On hand to accept their statuettes were original Soul Stirrers R.H. Harris and S.R. Crain, along with the widow of J.J. Farley and the wife of E.A. Rundless.
It took the Howard Hughes of rock, producer Phil Spector, who was inducted in the nonperformer category, to swing the pendulum from the sublime to the ridiculous. In her induction of the man Tom Wolfe dubbed the First Tycoon of Teen, Tina Turner recalled going into the studio to record the classic "River Deep, Mountain High" in 1966. "It looked like there were about 50 musicians, 25 singers, and Phil was in the midst of tearing up what looked like an arrangement," she said with a laugh. "I wish all of the people that I sing for could have seen Phil Spector in action, working there with all those people and getting that sound."
In fact, what the Hall of Fame folks saw was the man who built the Wall of Sound looking pretty plastered himself. Spector hit the stage bopping madly to the strains of the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," flanked by three beefy bodyguards who practically elbowed Tina out of the way. He mumbled a few incoherent words about George Bush and the presidential inauguration, and then his bodyguards carried him away again. Unbeknown to Tina, Phil Spector had invited her ex-husband, Ike Turner, to the ceremonies. Earlier in the evening, Ike had in fact been under the mistaken impression that he was going to induct Spector. "I'm happy to be here," Turner told Rolling Stone, "but it made me kind of nervous that she was going to be here." No doubt the feeling was mutual.
Making a rare public appearance in a suit, punk godfather Lou Reed took the stage and waxed poetic about inductee Dion DiMucci. "It was 1958," said Reed in his notorious monotone, eyes riveted on his prepared script. "The cold winds of Long Island moved in from the ocean…. The sounds of another life, as Alan Freed pounded a telephone book and the honking sax of Big Al Sears seared the airwaves. "And then there was Dion — whose voice was unlike any other I had heard before — a voice that stood on its own, remarkable and unmistakably from New York. Bronx soul."
In the press room a couple of hours earlier, Dion had admitted being a little unnerved by all the hoopla. "I feel like an emotional nine-year-old, shaking inside," he said. "People are saying, 'Yeah, we received what you did.' It's like validation for making an impact and a contribution."
Still, when his big moment came, Dion was up at the podium rapping like the king of his street corner. "I want to be in that special section of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Mike Love," he chortled, referring to the Beach Boy's memorable performance at last year's induction dinner, "guys with hats who don't know when to shut up." Unlike Love, however, Dion had 'em rolling in the aisles.
"Rock & roll has sure changed since my heyday," he said. "I made $150 to record 'The Wanderer.' I went out on tour and made a little over $12,000. And when it went gold, they gave me $75 in royalties. I think, all told, that record made me a little over $14,000.
"Bruce Springsteen," he added with a mischievous smile, pointing to the Boss, who sat at the front-and-center table, "has $42 million on him — and that's for the kid who parked his car." Springsteen laughed as hard as the rest of the house, not to mention the rest of the gang at his table, which included his paramour and backup singer, Patti Scialfa, his manager, Jon Landau, and former E Street drummer Vini Lopez.
The irrepressible Little Richard, who was inducted in 1986 and who last year inducted the Supremes, came back for a return bout on behalf of the late Otis Redding. He did Redding proud at the podium. Paul Shaffer said later that Richard had asked him what the band was going to play when he came out to do his speech. "I told him 'I Can't Turn You Loose,' " said Shaffer, "and he said, 'Well, I'll just sing that when I come up to the podium.'" Which is exactly what Richard did, in a torrid version quickly followed by "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)." Later, as if to underline his claim that "when I first heard Otis sing 'Lucille,' I thought it was me," Richard launched into a quick reading of "Lucille." It was a genuinely historic moment, since it marked one of the few times that he has sung any of his old hits in public since he found God for the second time.
With his usual lack of subtlety, Richard salted his speech with a racy anecdote about first meeting Redding, not in their home town of Macon, Georgia, but in New York. "I gave him 50 dollars at the Statler Hilton Hotel," Richard said with a lascivious wink. "I wanted him to come to my room, but he was scared to come to my room.
" 'I know what you're talkin' about,' he hooted. He didn't want me to lock the door. I wasn't gonna do nothin'. I just wanted to hear him sing. By myself!"
Unfortunately, the combination of the occasion and the Little Richard Show proved too much for Redding's widow, Zelma, who accepted the award on her late husband's behalf. "We can't forget his music," she said before breaking into tears. His music, she can be assured, will never be forgotten.
White soul brothers Daryl Hall and John Oates were naturals to induct Motown's mighty Temptations. "What brought us together was a love of the Temptations," Hall remarked earlier amid the pressroom crush. "They just represented everything that I wanted to be." Oates echoed those sentiments in the duo's official speech. "We tried our best," he laughed," and we still haven't got there yet."
With that, Hall — who took the mike to pay tribute to the late Paul Williams, the Temptations' great original baritone — and Oates made good on their debt by stepping soulfully into an a cappella version of the great Temps ballad "Don't Look Back." To the pleasant astonishment of the audience, they were soon joined in rich harmony by the group's founding members Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin, along with the Temps' lead-vocal dynasty of David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Dennis Edwards.
"Hall and Oates, we have a special camaraderie that goes back to the Sixties, the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia," Franklin said backstage. "They're like little brothers to me.
"I think it's a nice twist," he said of the induction. "It's a touch of class."
Pete Townshend brought a touch of sass to his induction of the Rolling Stones. Offstage, he suggested that putting the Stones in the Hall of Fame was a little premature. "They're such a big act, they're still alive," he said. "We all know who they are. Why do they need to be inducted into a hall of fame?" Onstage, Townshend answered his own question. "They're the only group I've been unashamed about idolizing," he declared. "Each of them in their own way has given me something as an artist — and it would be crazy to suggest that any of the things that they gave me were wholesome or practical or useful."
With that, Townshend launched into a riotous succession of jibes delivered with typical English drollery and not a little genuine love. He roasted Bill Wyman for his taste in younger women, zapped Charlie Watts for "having a much more dramatic drug problem than mine" and followed up with a shot at Keith Richards who, he said, "had a much more dramatic cure.
"Now, Brian Jones hurt me," he continued, getting serious for a minute, "by not bothering to take the cure. Because I loved him a lot. He was the first real star who befriended me in a real way. I miss him terribly."
After that brief tribute to the late Rolling Stone, Townshend was soon back in comic overdrive. "Mick gave me something too — a bad case of VD," he said. "No, I mean a CD with a bad case." He brought up the band's long-rumored return to active duty this year. "If it weren't for the vast sums of money they'd make, they might not bother at all. Or at least Mick probably wouldn't." And he joked about their blues roots. "So much of what I am I got from you, the Stones. I had no idea how much of it was secondhand."
But when it finally came time to hand out the awards, Townshend stated the case for the Stones' induction quite eloquently. "They epitomize British rock for me," he said. "And although they're all now my friends, I'm still a fan. Guys, whatever you do, don't try and grow old gracefully. It wouldn't suit you."
The Stones' appearance at the Hall of Fame dinner was the talk of the music biz weeks before the event. Would the Glimmer Twins, Mick and Keith, show up together in spite of their recent press feuds? Would the Stones play? Would this be the official kickoff for the '89 reunion? Well, yes and no. Jagger and Richards did show up, draping arms over each other's shoulders, digging elbows into each other's ribs and cackling like errant schoolboys at the jokes in their respective acceptance speeches. A beaming Ron Wood was there, along with ex-Stone Mick Taylor.
Playing hooky, however, were Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. When spotted in a London nighterie a few nights later and asked about his absence at the induction dinner, Wyman snapped, "I was busy!" So he was, it turned out — working on the opening of a kind of hall of fame of his own, a restaurant in the Kensington section of London that will feature selections from his extensive personal collection of Rolling Stones memorabilia.
Back at the Waldorf, Mick Jagger made sure the other two absent Stones were not left out "A good friend," he said of the late Ian Stewart, a founding member and the band's faithful roadie and pianist, "whose odd but invaluable musical advice kept us on a steady bluesy course for most of the time. And to Brian Jones, whose peculiarities and musicianship often took us off the bluesy course with some often marvelous results." Keith Richards echoed Jagger's sentiments about Stewart. "I still feel like I'm working for him," said Richards. "It's his band."
Jagger wasn't about to let Townshend off the hook for his ribbing. "Next year, Pete, a sobering thought," said Jagger, alluding to the Who's likely future induction. "You're going to be in this sort of pop shoe here — somebody's gonna wind you up like that." He said this with a smirk, as if he'd already applied for the job.
With the final induction of the evening, that of Motown boy wonder and adult soul genius Stevie Wonder, the action went from the comic to the cosmic. Paul Simon served up half of each in his introduction. "Can anyone imagine what the last 25 years of American popular music would be without Stevie Wonder?" said Simon. "He is the composer of his generation." Then he related a great anecdote from the "We Are the World" session, during which Wonder kept the all-star troupe waiting until three in the morning while he called Nigeria to get the proper Swahili pronunciation of one of the verses. "Ray Charles said, 'Shit, man, it's three o'clock in the morning. I can't sing in English,' " said Simon. "And Stevie said, 'Just relax, we can do it in one take, and I'll drive ya home.'
"We've been driving home with Stevie Wonder for 25 years," Simon concluded, "and I want to thank him for being alive and on this planet."
Escorted to the stage by his two children Keita and Aisha, Wonder requested total quiet and, taking off his omnipresent dark glasses, asked everyone in the audience to close his or her eyes "as I take you through the experience of my life. The experience of hearing the sounds of many different voices from many different cultures." It was the beginning of a long, moving soliloquy about the universality of music. He cited Hall of Fame greats John Lennon, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Roy Orbison, using the titles of their best-known songs, and ended with a prayer to "let us sing forever, let us play forever — and forever till we die give as much as we can."
Wonder wasn't finished though. As soon as all the stars got their guitars and mikes plugged in for the obligatory end-of-night jam session, Stevie assumed control of the bandstand and led the musical multitude into a nonstop 15-minute medley of hits by the new Hall of Famers: "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Respect" and "Be My Baby," along with a reprise of "Lucille" by Little Richard and, for some odd reason, a snippet of "Come Softly to Me," by the Fleetwoods.
The guitar army onstage included Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend, Lou Reed, Mick Taylor and Foreigner's Mick Jones. Wonder, Paul Shaffer and Daryl Hall tickled three sets of ivories, while Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Dion, assorted Temptations, Anita Baker, Little Richard, Ben E. King and Paul Simon clustered around the various vocal mikes. "Bring it down, bring it down," Wonder would shout, trying to direct band traffic into the next tune. "Go to E, go to E…. Keep it going." Highlights included a Jagger-Wonder duet on "Satisfaction" and David Ruffin trading lines with Jagger in "Ain't Too Proud to Beg."
With the Hall of Fame rockestra revved up by Wonder's mega-medley, Dion didn't need too much persuading to take a stab at his 1961 hit "The Wanderer." Ruffin then stepped up to the mike for "My Girl," with Springsteen and Simon helping out on background harmonies, while Anita Baker and Ben E. King slow-danced off to the side. An ensemble blast through the Temptations' "Get Ready" segued quickly into the Stones' "Honky Tonk Women," Jagger and Tina Turner torching the song as Keith, Bruce, Mick Taylor and Mick Jones played the song's last great lick in monster guitar unison.
Jagger stripped down to fighting trim — peeling off his jacket and dress shirt — and joined Little Richard in a roaring "I Can't Turn You Loose," followed by Larry Williams's "Bony Maronie." Jagger then concluded the Stones portion of the program with "Start Me Up," complete with classic metallic Keith Richards guitar, proving that after a couple of solo albums, the Stones' rock & roll telepathy is still intact.
Springsteen's performance of Roy Orbison's pop-opera classic "Crying," in tribute to the late singer, was one of the few jam numbers actually planned in advance. Well, sort of. "I asked him about it beforehand, at the dinner," Shaffer said. "He wasn't sure whether he'd do it. But it seemed like a good idea to him." Once Springsteen got onstage, all it took was a brief review of the song's chord changes before he turned on that deep, tremulous tenor. He made up in emotive resonance what he missed in high notes.
Just when it seemed things couldn't go any higher, Tina Turner took the center mike for a stunning if slightly chaotic version of "River Deep, Mountain High." She carried it off with power and aplomb, toning down the trademark Tina pelvic swing and pouring everything she had into her vocal.
Tina is always a tough act to follow, and her performance at the induction dinner was no exception. Shaffer tried to kick the band into "Under My Thumb," but Jagger was heading for the exit by then. He was overheard saying, "That's enough of me," on his way out.
By one in the morning the jam was over, but the revelry continued as many of the inductees and guests moved on to respective private parties. As Springsteen was leaving one soiree shortly after 4:00 a.m., he was heard to say, "It's the kind of night that you just don't want to end."