Even if you watched all four hours of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 24th annual induction concert, you didn’t see everything that happened at Cleveland’s Public Hall last night. Backage and on the red carpet, guests of honor from Metallica to Rosanne Cash fired zingers, dropped news about upcoming projects and reflected on a night that honored rock’s family tree, from its roots to extreme branches.
The first inductee to walk the red carpet was Elvis Presley drummer D.J. Fontana, who was dressed to the 9s — but shown up in short order by best-dressed-band Little Anthony & The Imperials (and their immaculately coiffed wives). Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons was the last major figure to arrive in front of the swelling crowd. Simmons — older brother of Run-DMC’s Reverend Run — praised his sibling’s group as part of a “groundbreaking musical and social movement” that didn’t just change MTV, but the entire country. “I don’t think the president would have been elected if not for hip-hop — what we’ve learned about each other when people learned about African American culture,” said Simmons. “As much as all civil rights [activism] and all that we do, culture has a much greater impact.”
The Rock Hall is now Run’s House, but it hasn’t forgotten who built it. After Wanda Jackson’s set, inductor Rosanne Cash praised the rockabilly queen as a seminal influence for girls who wanted to play guitar. “She was template for all of us,” said Cash. “She could really rock out, and kept her felinity intact. Wanda’s induction is overdue.” Cash also revealed she’s working on an album titled The List comprised of covers culled from a list of 100 essential country songs that her father, Johnny Cash, gave her when she turned 18.
Later, Fontana tossed some cold water on a major element of the Wanda Jackson myth: that she’d been a hot-and-heavy item with Elvis. “They were tight,” said Fontana. “But not that tight.”
Cleveland native Bobby Womack was the night’s hometown boy done good, having grown from Sam Cooke’s guitarist to soul singer to superbad songwriter who penned the Rolling Stones’ “It’s All Over Now,” the group’s first Number One U.K. single. His assessment of his career would echo in Flea’s passionate explanation of why Metallica matters. “When you tell the truth, whether it’s positive or negative, you reach people,” said Womack, still beaming from accepting his statue. “People like to know, ‘I’m not alone.’ I made music from the heart, and touched some people who didn’t know they had a heart.”
Run and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels — the only two members of Run-DMC’s big crew who weren’t wearing shell-toed white Adidas — also explained why their music struck a chord. “For us, it wasn’t just about making records to impress 16-year-olds,” said DMC. “We knew politicians, preachers, teachers, doctors and lawyers would hear and see what we were doing. People thought [rap] was a fad, but we knew it was a way of life. We were young guys with new music that impacted a generation of people — I guess that’s what rock & roll does.”
Jam Master Jay’s mother, Connie Mizell-Perry, joined her late son’s group backstage. Smiling, she remembered completing college coursework as Jay and his friends would practice in the other room. “I always knew Jason was special,” she said. “I tried to train him. Jason joined our church choir at age five. He broke every turntable in our house.”
It wasn’t the first trip to the podium for original guitar hero Jeff Beck, who was inducted for a second time, as a solo artist. In 1992, after being inducted as part of the Yardbirds, Beck dropped an F-bomb at the group that had fired him. Last night, flanked by lifelong friend Jimmy Page, a grinning Beck said the second time was “twice the fun, innit? I really didn’t enjoy the first one, because I had to be part of the band.”
Beck brought out the guitar stars: Aerosmith’s Joe Perry made the trip to Cleveland just to see his six-string idol’s induction. On the red carpet, Perry said Beck is “the best on guitar. It’s a guitar lesson every time I see him play. And he’s a good guy, too.” After the show, Perry gave another reason he could be on hand: Recording for Aerosmith’s new album is on hold while frontman Steven Tyler recovers from pneumonia. In the meantime, Perry is working on a solo album. The guitarist plans to sing on it, then tour after Aerosmith’s fall trek.
Perry helped close the show, joining Metallica, Flea, Beck, Page and the Rolling Stones’ Ron Wood in a building-shaking version of classic-rock anthem “Train Kept A Rollin’.” After, leaning on a silver-capped cane, Perry looked downright regal compared to the Metallica, who were still sweaty from their previous 15-minute thrash workout.
It wasn’t clear if the metal champions were winded, didn’t feel like chatting, or both. They did pose for pictures, but kept comments brief. Guitarist Kirk Hammett said of the 10-man jam, “From a guitar player’s point of view, I just died and went to heaven.” Drenched, drummer Lars Ulrich mugged for photographers and showed why he’s been a driving force in the band: After more than 25 years playing speed metal, he’s still got fast feet — and a quick wit. When a journalist asked where the afterparty was, Ulrich had an answer ready for the room: “Your mom’s house.”
Soul man Sam Moore (of Hall of Fame duo Sam and Dave) played the official afterparty at House of Blues, turning in a set that included a nuanced rendition of the Police’s “Every Breathe You Take.” Metallica bassist Rob Trujillo was at the bash, but our party reporter said the rest of Metallica weren’t in sight. Maybe Lars wasn’t kidding.