In an about face from last year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which saluted such punk and New Wave acts as the Clash, Elvis Costello and the Police, this year’s crop of inductees is mostly meat and potatoes rock.
The nineteenth annual induction ceremony, which will take place on March 15th at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, will honor late Beatle George Harrison, pop legend Prince, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, Texas blues rockers ZZ Top, psychedelic pop band Traffic, Detroit rocker Bob Seger and vocal group the Dells.
In his first year of eligibility, Prince will be honored for twenty-five years of funk, soul, rock and experimental pop albums that made him, along with Madonna and Bruce Springsteen, one of the biggest stars of the 1980s. The enigmatic singer, who has played and produced most of the music on his twenty-plus albums, released his pop soul debut, For You, in 1978 and reached his commercial pinnacle with 1984’s Purple Rain. He has also written songs for artists including the Bangles, Sinead O’Connor and Sheena Easton.
George Harrison will become the third member of the Beatles to be inducted as a solo artist, joining John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Harrison, who died of cancer in November 2001, was the first to go solo, with his 1970 Phil Spector-produced triple album All Things Must Pass. The intensely spiritual Harrison followed the album with rock’s first big charity event, the Concert for Bangladesh, which took place at Madison Square Garden in 1971 to raise money for the famine-stricken nation. After recording sporadically, he returned to the charts in 1987 with his Cloud Nine album and joined Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison in 1988 as the Traveling Wilburys.
Jackson Browne was among a group of quintessential Seventies singer-songwriters that included James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. He began his career in the late Sixties writing and recording with various groups and as a solo act and co-writing the Eagles’ first hit, “Take it Easy.” But it wasn’t until 1976’s The Pretender that Browne broke through on his own. That album was followed by his blockbuster, 1977’s Running on Empty, which featured the hit title track as well as “Stay/The Load-Out,” a ballad that spawned a legion of copycat “hard life on tour” songs.
Motor City rocker Bob Seger has been the standard bearer for no-nonsense rock & roll for more than thirty years. Blending a love of garage rock with his lifelong devotion to soul and R&B, Seger began his career in 1961 playing in a series of garage bands before going solo in 1966, releasing his debut, Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, in 1968. He formed the Silver Bullet Band in 1975, with which he has released a string of indelible singles such as “Night Moves,” “Rock & Roll Never Forgets,” “We’ve Got Tonite,” “Old Time Rock & Roll” and “Like a Rock.”
Formed in England in 1967, Traffic were fronted by former Spencer Davis group singer-songwriter Steve Winwood. Over the next eight years, a revolving lineup of the band released a string of albums that melded the pop sensibilities of the Beatles with jazzy improvisation, folk rock and the jamming experimentation of such psychedelic peers as the Grateful Dead on songs like “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” “John Barleycorn Must Die” and “Freedom Rider.” The group’s sound relied on the unusual combination of Winwood’s organ playing and high, sweet vocals, mixed with Chris Wood’s flute, Jim Capaldi’s restrained drumming and Dave Mason’s elegant guitar playing.
Texas boogie trio ZZ Top are almost as well known for their look as for their thirty years of blues rock classics. Guitarists Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill sport the two most recognizable beards in rock, while drummer Frank Beard, ironically, is clean shaven, a tip of the hat to the band’s legendary sense of twisted humor. The Houston-bred band formed in 1970 and quickly established a reputation with songs such as “La Grange,” based on John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen” and “Tush,” from 1975’s Fandango. The band hit its peak in the early Eighties with a string of albums that mixed their bluesy sensibility with slick keyboards and even slicker videos filled with scantily clad women and spun off such hits as “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’.”
Vocal group the Dells have had hits over five decades, making them one of the longest running R&B groups ever. More amazingly, the group, formed in Chicago in 1952, has had most of the same members the entire time, not having changed any since 1960. The Dells had their first big hit in 1956 with their signature tune, “Oh What a Nite,” followed by such memorable singles as “Stay in My Corner” and “Thinking About You.” They toured as Ray Charles’ backing group in 1966 and had their first million-selling single in 1973 with “Give Your Baby a Standing Ovation.” The band continued recording and touring throughout the Eighties and were hired as consultants on Robert Townsend’s 1991 film The Five Heartbeats.
Artists are eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame twenty-five years after the release of their first record. Criteria for consideration includes “the influence and significance of the artist’s contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is located in Cleveland, Ohio.
Among those on the ballot who did not make it this year are John Mellencamp, the Sex Pistols, the Stooges and Black Sabbath.