Billie Joe Armstrong stared at the crowd assembled for the 30th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony and marveled out loud that it was like his childhood record collection come to life. When stars from so many generations and genres collide, sparks fly, and last night's extraordinary night in Cleveland demonstrated just how powerful rock & roll can be. Laughter, tears, fart jokes: Ringo Starr, Green Day, Bill Withers and Co. brought them all. These were the big night's biggest moments.
Paul McCartney, who inducted John Lennon in 1994 but skipped the Beatles own night in 1988, began his induction speech for Ringo Starr by his sharing earliest memories of seeing the drummer play before he even joined the Beatles. "We were just like, slamming around and doing stuff, but he had a beard — that's professional," McCartney said. "He had the suit. Very professional. And he would sit at the bar drinking bourbon. We'd never seen anyone like this. This was like, a grown-up musician."
When it came time to take the podium, Starr was in similarly light-hearted spirits and the opportunity to see him trade chuckles with his old bandmate was rare and spectacular. Ringo seemed genuinely touched by McCartney's words and also emphasized his pre-fame days in his speech, though he ended with hysterical advice for young bands. "When you're in a van, and you fart, own up," he said. "It'll cause hell if you don't own up because everyone will blame everyone else. Make a pact that you'll own up to it. We did and that's why we did so well."
Last year's induction ceremony in Brooklyn ended with the incredible sight of some of rock's most innovative women stepping in for Kurt Cobain as Nirvana joined the Rock Hall, with Joan Jett rocking side by side with Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic.
This year's show kicked off in nearly the same spot — with Grohl joining Jett as she received the Hall's honor. With a snarl that could still stop traffic at age 56, a gum-popping Jett tore through three killer classics: a snotty-as-ever "Bad Reputation," the Runaways' classic "Cherry Bomb" and, with help from "a friend of mine," the Shondells' namesake frontman Tommy James, her 1982 cover of his "Crimson and Clover."
Grohl and original Blackhearts bassist Gary Ryan helped out on the Runaways track, and the Foo Fighters singer-guitarist banged his head and tossed his hair wildly as he bashed out the chords. A soulful, swaying Miley Cyrus pitched in for the final tune's refrain without stealing the spotlight from Jett. Grohl also stuck around for "Crimson and Clover," creating the awesome sight of Tommy James, Dave Grohl, Joan Jett and Miley Cyrus playing together. It was a union of the 1960s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. It felt special and set the stage for the rest of the evening.
Jett, offering several winks and a devilish grin throughout the high-profile salute, afterward dabbed away tears — proving that anti-establishment types can get emotional, too. "It was acceptance; it was overwhelming," she told Rolling Stone. "And, um, I didn't blow it."
Bill Withers improvised his acceptance speech several times: "Hold that teleprompter for a minute," the feisty 76-year-old said, "because I'm about to go off script." ("I didn't use it," replied Stevie Wonder in jest, eliciting big laughs from the crowd). Wonder, who inducted the "Lovely Day" legend with a short but tender speech citing the West Virginia native's later-in-life success and deep emotional quotient, praised Withers' catalog as "songs that were for every single culture there is; everyone can relate, somewhere in the world."
Withers accepted his honor with a slew of good-natured barbs. He said he wasn't usually around people like this since he spends his time watching Judge Judy, and he later made a Big Bang Theory reference, citing it as his favorite show. He walked through his whole career, naming every single person that helped him out, carefully announcing who was alive and dead. He even thanked the DJs that turned his early single over and played "Ain't No Sunshine."
Some of his killer lines: "Stevie Wonder inducting me in the Hall of Fame is like a lion opening the door for a kitty cat"; "While I was sitting listening to people speak, Joan Jett was talking about A&R issues — I call them antagonistic and redundant"; "Steve Cropper was nice enough to mention my name, and Beck! I didn't know Beck and I were boys! He came up to me and said, 'We know some of the same cats!'"
But the line that brought the house down was a response to so many honorees and speakers referencing their rehab and addictions: "One other thing crossed my mind, this has got to be the largest AA meeting in the western hemisphere," he jested. Everyone roared.
Before the finale superjam, almost all of the night's stars found themselves hanging around in a cramped backstage room, where we spied Tom Morello instigating a selfie with Beck, Bill Withers, Zac Brown, Karen O, Patti Smith, Billie Joe Armstrong and more.
Green Day were the first to arrive, then everyone else filed in and stood around together to listen to Ringo Starr's amusing speech. At one point the Beatles drummer said the word fart, which touched off a few moments of hilarity. "What'd he say?" Morello asked. "Fart," responded Zac Brown as Morello laughed. Then Withers walked over and started telling them stories (one involved the famous restaurant Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles).
Patti Smith danced to Ringo Starr's "Boys" very enthusiastically and then hugged Billie Joe Armstrong. "I love Green Day," she told us. Smith hugged John Legend too, saying, "You have really cool moves."
When Stevie Wonder arrived and started blowing his harp, all the heads in the room swiftly turned. "What key?!" Patti Smith said. Wonder started practicing "With a Little Help From My Friends" with Karen O sitting two feet away, grinning extremely widely.
Wonder and Legend chatted about perhaps going into the studio together when Stevie noticed Withers' voice in the room. "That was a great speech, Bill — a little long," he joked and everyone in the room laughed.
Green Day's induction was a rare personal window into the band's family. As screens showed his mother, wife Adrienne and two sons grinning in the crowd, Billie Joe Armstrong traced the history of the band, from growing up the youngest of six kids and getting into rock & roll watching Alice Cooper on Showtime to meeting Mike Dirnt ("my musical soulmate") after their schools merged, and meeting Tré Cool when he played for a local band called the Lookouts. "One of my favorite drummers of all time," Armstrong said. "He's the most dangerous drummer on the planet."
In charming speeches, Tré Cool thanked his family and a long list of drummers, from Buddy Rich to Keith Moon, while Dirnt thanked the Ford motor company for "creating the Ford Econoline van, the best damn van any smelly touring band could have." He also thanked his wife Brittney. "You're a wonderful mother. You kicked cancer's ass last year," he said, as she broke up laughing, her eyes watering up.
The band roared through raucous takes of "American Idiot," "When I Come Around" and "Basket Case" as the guys in Fall Out Boy hung out backstage, Patrick Stump drumming along on his jeans.
"When you look at their track record at every stage of the game they do kind of the coolest thing they could do," he explained. "Not just bringing kids onstage to play with them, but the most raddest, honest thing you can do as an artist: putting out a folk record, putting out American Idiot— that was a ballsy record."
It's been a few years since Miley Cyrus was known for her clean-cut character Hannah Montana (during which time she has done some trippy collaborations with the Flaming Lips and jumped out of an airplane with Rolling Stone), but there was still a sense of surprise at how genuinely, awesomely badass the 22-year-old was when she delivered a heartfelt speech for one of her heroines, Joan Jett.
Cyrus launched with a weed anecdote, then told a story about how Jett defied Orthodox Judaism's rules about women praying on the men's side of the Wailing Wall in Israel. She used those tales to demonstrate Jett's rebelliousness and how she's served as a role model for all the women — and punk rockers who felt different — who came after her. (Backstage, Jett deemed Cyrus "a rock & roller at heart.")
"In all of our lives, all of us are going to experience people who try to tell us who to be and what to be. Fuck those people!" Cyrus announced. "Instead of changing for all those people, if you don't like how the world is, change it yourself. She made the world evolve, her life and her success is proof that we can self-evolve. I want to thank you for fighting for our freedom, Joan, and I love you so much."
While Miley Cyrus spoke of smoking pot with Joan Jett in a hotel bathroom, we have to give a slight edge to Patti Smith, who opened her poignant, thoughtful speech inducting Lou Reed by sharing the details of an intimate conversation the two shared in — you guessed it — a hotel bathroom.
"I found him in the bathtub dressed in black," said Smith, who also inducted the Velvet Underground into the Hall in 1996. "So I sat on the toilet and listened to him talk. It seemed like he talked for hours, and he talked about, well, all kinds of things. He spoke compassionately about the struggles of those who fall between genders. He spoke of pre-CBS Fender amplifiers and political corruption. But most of all, he talked about poetry."
Smith nimbly danced between personal details ("If I did something good, he would praise me; If I made a false move, he would break it down") and passages that explored the musician's broader cultural impact ("His consciousness infiltrated and illuminated our cultural voice"). When Smith momentarily teared up reciting the words to Reed's "Perfect Day," it served as a reminder how much the world lost when the groundbreaking musician died in 2013.
Anyone with even a passing interest in Lou Reed was riveted by Laurie Anderson's speech on behalf of her longtime partner, who died in 2013 after a battle with liver disease. Her long, insightful remembrance had Dave Grohl, Miley Cyrus and Gary Clark Jr. all tearing up as she described Reed's self-aware gift for moving between writer and rock & roll star. "He could take his fame off like one of his leather jackets, or, he could just decide to use it," she artfully explained.
In a rare peek into Lou's inner world, Anderson enumerated his three rules for life: "One: Don’t be afraid of anyone. Two: Get a really good bullshit detector. And three: Three is be really, really tender. And with those three things, you don't need anything else."
She even spoke about his death, explaining that he did tai chi with his hands in his final moments on this Earth as he passed away in her arms. "I watched with joy and surprise that came over his face . . .and I became less afraid," she revealed.
Anderson singled out some of her husband's most polarizing work, specifically mentioning "the live versions of Metal Machine Music" and his final album, Lulu, recorded with Metallica, and her internal struggle with the LP – until David Bowie convinced her it was great. "I've been reading the lyrics and it is so fierce. It's written by a man who understood fear and rage and venom and terror and revenge and love," she said. "And it is raging."
If Joan Jett & the Blackhearts had been inducted any other year, the night would have surely wrapped up with a wild jam on "I Love Rock and Roll" featuring everybody from the evening. But when Paul and Ringo are in the house, there's simply no other option but to bust out some Beatles tunes.
There have been countless all star renditions of "With a Little Help From My Friends" over the years at Ringo concerts, but never one with this level of star wattage. With Paul McCartney playing his Hofner bass right next to him, Ringo led Miley Cyrus, Green Day, Patti Smith, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, Joan Jett, Dave Grohl, John Legend, Beck, Karen O, Joe Walsh, Gary Clarke Jr, Zac Brown and everyone else from the night through the sing-along tune. Miley Cyrus had a bigger smile on her face than anybody as she shared a mic with Mike Dirnt and belted out the chorus.
It seemed like a finale, but then Ringo got behind the kit and closed out the whole evening with "I Wanna Be Your Man." Billie Joe Armstrong and Tom Morello took killer guitar solos, while an ecstatic Grohl was happy to merely clap along. Even though it was 1:00 a.m., nobody would have minded had they played a few more, but when the song wrapped Paul and Ringo raised their hands in triumph, took a bow and walked offstage together.
Stevie Ray Vaughan's prowess on the guitar is well documented, so in accepting the Rock Hall honor for the late musician, who died in a helicopter crash in 1990 at the age of 35, his older brother Jimmie Vaughan was careful to make note of the man behind the music. "Our dad used to say, 'He's a mean motor-scooter,' and he is," he said. "But what you heard with Stevie was his enthusiasm for everything."
In a backstage interview, Vaughan elaborated on his reasons for focusing on the brother he knew away from the music. "Most people know he was an incredible guitar player and a great musician and a singer," he said, "but what they may not know is that he was a sweet guy and he would do anything for you, and that was just the way he always was."
Vaughan's tribute offered a nice counterpoint to John Mayer's induction speech, which focused on the late musician's guitar heroics and the intensity of his playing ("It's a rage without anger; it's devotional, it's religious," he said) — elements that defined an all-star tribute that featured the likes of Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. performing alongside members of Stevie Ray Vaughan's freshly inducted backing band Double Trouble, including keyboardist Reese Wynans, bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton.
For surviving members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, playing the group's electric fare still feels as comfortable as an old pair of blue jeans. Guitarist Elvin Bishop took the notion literally: Throwing a black-tie dress code to the breeze, the 72-year-old took the stage in overalls and a green plaid shirt.
But no wardrobe choices could distract from the significance of the late Butterfield's sonic and boundary-breaking social contributions to the blues. A graying Bishop, who performed the Muddy Waters track "Got My Mojo Working" with drummer Sam Lay and keyboardist Mark Nataflin, explained, "We kind of set an example, which was badly needed in those days, that people of different races could work together."
With J. Geils Band singer Peter Wolf offering the band's induction speech (Butterfield died at age 44 in 1987 of a drug overdose; he and deceased guitarist Mike Bloomfield both were recognized), the tribute also featured Zac Brown and Tom Morello on fierce dueling guitars during a hot cover of the Butterfield standard "Going to Chicago." Amid a night of pomp and flash, the skillful Windy City bluesmen — and four-time Rock Hall nominees — displayed their continued model of modesty. "They were musicians first, stars second," Morello, a longtime Butterfield fan, told Rolling Stone backstage.
Though he hasn't properly performed in years, Bill Withers proved he'd lost none of his performing chops with the most memorable speech of the night, maybe one of the greatest in Hall of Fame history, packed with classic one-liners and personal reflection.
In the hall, the anticipation of what Withers — who hadn't sang onstage in years — was going to do after his speech, was palpable. With no mic in front of him, he sat next to Stevie Wonder as Wonder began "Aint No Sunshine" in front of harpejji instrument, just watching as Wonder belted the song, making Withers' presence feel almost ghost-like. After that, John Legend joined for "Use Me," and "Lean on Me." Withers materialized with a microphone for the chorus, bringing the crowd to its feet, even if he couldn't be heard. "The idea was to make them think I was singing," he told Rolling Stone backstage. "I was just sort of fooling around behind John Legend, you know. It's just something i don't feel comfortable doing right now. If I was to go to the gym and jog around the track and everything, you know, but it's been a long time for me. I haven't done that in like 25 years or something."
"I think what determines a great songwriter and singer is when they are able to let you feel every word they sing and express," Wonder said before the feel-good salute. Withers' fans, glad to see him momentarily back in a groove, no doubt felt the love.
In his induction speech, Booker T. & the M.G.'s guitarist Steve Cropper noted the Hall's decision to include the "5" Royales was long overdue — a point later echoed by surviving family of the vocal R&B group, whose original members (John Tanner, Eugene Tanner, Lowman Pauling, Jimmy Moore and Obadiah Carter) have all died. Still, as Fred Tanner, Eugene and John's brother, noted in his acceptance speech, the spirit of the music lives on.
"We didn't really know the impact [the music] would have on people like James Brown and Ray Charles," said Tanner, interviewed backstage. "I was a young kid, just getting out of high school and college and. . .I didn't know the impact it was having. I look back now and say, 'What if? What if they would have known?'"
There's certainly a greater awareness now.
Patti Smith has covered Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" many times and wrapped up her tearful induction speech for the Velvet Underground leader by reciting some of the lyrics, but she ceded the performance stage to a younger generation. The Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O and Nick Zinner came out first for a fiery "Vicious" from Reed's 1972 classic Transformer backed by Paul Shaffer and his band. Karen wore sunglasses and one of her studded leather jackets, truly capturing the look and vibe of her New York rock forefather. They were followed by Beck, who sang a faithful rendition of "Satellite of Love" complete with horns and backup from fun.'s Nate Ruess that helped recreate the lush sound of the original recording.
Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump briefly went a little Single White Female during the band's loving tribute speech inducting California punk trio Green Day. "I tried to dress like them, I tried to play my dad's music real low like Billie Joe did," he said. "I followed every interview, I watched every TV performance…and the more immersed into the world I got, the more I thought that this band was one of the greatest."
The members of Fall Out Boy took turns trying to define the term "punk" in their speech. Stump bluntly referred to it as "pissing people off," while guitarist Pete Wentz defined it, in part, as having a willingness to buck expectations. "When conventional wisdom demanded another fast rock punk song and instead you put down a stripped-down ballad single that became the go-to prom song for a decade, that was pretty punk rock," he said.
It's a spirit that permeated Green Day's beautifully irreverent acceptance speech, which included bassist Mike Dirnt's shout-out to the Ford Econoline, "the best damn van a smelly touring band can have!"