One of the most diverse classes in the history of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which included Metallica, Run-DMC, 1950s rockabilly queen Wanda Jacksonand guitar legend Jeff Beck, were inducted into the Hall at a wild four-hour show Saturday night, April 4th. Held at Cleveland’s historic Public Hall, the event was open to the general public for the first time in the 23-year history of the Hall of Fame. The result was a show that felt more like an actual rock concert than any previous ceremony.
One of the most anticipated speeches of the night came from Eminem, who inducted Run-DMC and has rarely been seen in public in the past four years. Dressed like the fourth member of the group in a leather jacket and a fedora, an emotional Em spoke passionately about their influence on him and the world at large. “I still remember being in 9th grade when Tougher Than Leather came out,” he said. “I skipped school to go get it on cassette. As soon as I heard ‘Run’s House,’ it was pretty much a wrap for me. Marshall Mathers became Eminem.”
The evening began with 1950s R&B group Little Anthony & The Imperials performing their hits “Tears On My Pillow” and “Hurts So Bad” backed by Paul Schaffer and the CBS Orchestra. Lead singer Anthony Gourdine is 69, but he still hit the high notes like he did 50 years ago. Longtime friend Smokey Robinson inducted the group, calling it a “long overdue event.” Gourdine seemed to agree. As he stepped up to the mic he beamed and said, “Amazing grace, how sweet it is!”
Wanda Jackson was inducted by Rosanne Cash, whose father Johnny toured in the 1950s with Jackson, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. “I’m not standing here alone,” Jackson said. “I want to thank Elvis Presley for the push and encouragement I needed.” Jackson is said to have briefly dated Presley in the 1950s. Later in the evening Presley’s original bassist Bill Black and drummer D.J. Fontana were inducted by E Street Band members Garry Tallent and Max Weinberg. “This is the greatest honor of my life,” said Fontana. Black died in 1965, so his children accepted on his behalf.
Cleveland native Bobby Womack, who hadn’t been in his hometown in more than 20 years, was inducted by his longtime friend Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones. Womack brought much of the audience to their feet with a medley of “Across 110th Street” and “It’s All Over Now” (famously covered by the Stones in 1964), featuring Wood on guitar. “He brings me to tears,” says Wood. “That voice has always killed me.”
Soon afterwards the evening turned into an unbelievable guitar orgy. It began when Jimmy Page inducted his former Yardbirds bandmate Jeff Beck. “Jeff’s guitar style is totally unorthodox,” said Page. “He just gets better and better.”
After a hilarious speech by Beck, where he flicked off everybody in his life that ever stood in his way, Page and Beck played a blazing version of “Beck Bolero” — the 1967 Beck solo track originally recorded with Page, John Paul Jones and Keith Moon. “Ladies and gentlemen, a big chunk of Led Zeppelin right here,” Page said in the middle of the tune before Page played a segment of “Immigrant Song.” The first few notes caused the capacity crowd to go into absolute hysterics.
If that wasn’t enough, Metallica came onstage next. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea — sporting blue hair — gave the intro. “Metallica is fucking rad and their music is bitching,” he said, causing James Hetfield to cover his young daughter’s ears. “They did more to bring people together than any other peace-and-love band ever did,” he added. This was literally true at the ceremony: Metallica flew in 150 of their friends and family for the event. Former bassist Jason Newsted, who hasn’t performed with the group since he quit in 2001, was around for the weekend’s festivities. If there’s any bad blood, he certainly hid it well. “I’ve been levitating all weekend,” he said during his speech. He later performed with the band and his replacement, Robert Trujillo, on “Master of Puppets” and “Enter Sandman.” Both musicians played bass and often shared a mic on back-up vocals. Earlier, original bassist Cliff Burton’s father gave a moving speech about his son, who died on a tour bus accident in 1986.
The traditional all-star jam was a two-parter. First was “Jailhouse Rock,” featuring Fontana, Beck, Little Anthony & The Imperials, Bobby Womack, Wanda Jackson and pianist Spooner Oldham — who was inducted earlier in the night as a sideman. The night wrapped up with a guitar jam that will surely go down in history. Metallica played the 1965 Yardbirds staple “Train Kept A-Rollin’ ” with Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Flea and surprise guest Ron Wood. Yes, that’s six guitarists and three bassists. Unlike previous Rock Hall jams, this was one rehearsed the previous night and didn’t sound the least bit sloppy.
In previous years such an event would only be seen in person by a handful of people at a hotel ballroom. Saturday night, thousands of Clevelanders got to see it, bringing together the legends and the people whose lives they have truly touched.
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