“It’s like my record collection is actually sitting in this room,” Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong said midway through his acceptance speech at the 30th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “The fact that I heard Patti Smith’s Horses as a kid, and now there you are standing there.”
Armstrong paused for a split second to take in the moment, looking out across the rows of tables that included Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Joan Jett, Stevie Wonder, Peter Wolf, Steve Van Zandt, Bill Withers, Jerry Lee Lewis and many other of his favorite artists. “I love rock & roll music,” he said. “I have from the first moment I opened my eyes and took my first breath.”
That was a common sentiment throughout the five-and-a-half hour ceremony at Cleveland’s Public Hall Saturday night (which airs May 30th on HBO), perhaps the only event that could find Miley Cyrus singing into the same mic as Green Day’s Mike Dirnt on a Beatles song while Bill Withers, McCartney, Starr, Beck, Karen O, Wonder and Dave Grohl joyously played alongside them. “A lot of different types of music are in [the Hall of Fame],” Withers said. “Miles Davis has no resemblance whatsoever to Jerry Lee Lewis. But each type of music has its own constituents and there’s a commonality.”
About 10,000 rock & roll constituents crammed into the hall and took their seats right as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chairman and Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner delivered the opening address. “It’s wonderful to be here; it’s certainly a thrill,” he said. “It took a lot of years and a lot of struggle to open the Hall of Fame, but we did it and this year we welcomed our 10 millionth visitor.”
Last year’s ceremony wrapped up with Joan Jett fronting Nirvana, and this year, Grohl returned the favor by joining the punk pioneer at her own set. She kicked off the night with a smoldering “Bad Reputation” before Grohl came onstage for “Cherry Bomb,” the signature song by Jett’s 1970s punk band the Runaways. “A friend of mine is here,” she said. “He wrote one of my biggest hits.” With that, Tommy James came out to join her for “Crimson and Clover” alongside Cyrus, who then walked to the podium to formally induct Jett.
“I’m gonna start off this induction with the first time I wanted to have sex with Joan Jett,” Cyrus said, recounting the time they smoked pot in a hotel bathroom before appearing on Oprah together. “To me, she is what Superwoman should be. She’s had a life in music that is rare. She’s been the first in many things, not just as a woman but just as a badass babe on the planet.”
Jett was inducted with the classic lineup of her band the Blackhearts, and she stepped up to the podium after they all had a chance to speak. “I was going to try and not cry,” she said. “But that’s going to be tough. . .I come from a place where rock & roll means something. It means more than music, more than fashion, more than a good pose. It’s a language of a subculture that makes eternal teenagers out of all who follow it. It’s a subculture of rebellion, integrity, frustration, alienation and the glue that set several generations free of unnatural societal and self-suppression.”
After Jett and the Blackhearts walked offstage, Tom Morello and Zac Brown ripped into a fiery rendition of “Born in Chicago” by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, kicking off the blues-rock portion of the evening. “They transcended themselves into a territory that one only usually hears from the great jazz masters,” Peter Wolf said in his speech inducing the Chicago blues legends. “Witnessing the chemistry between them was spellbinding. They brought fury and volume to the electric blues and pioneered a new genre followed by the likes of the Grateful Dead, the Doors, Santana, Steve Miller, the Allman Brothers and I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the Geils Band.”
Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield passed away long ago, but their families were on hand, as were the surviving members of the blues-rock collective. “I remember a time when there was no rock & roll,” said guitarist Elvin Bishop, the only man in the building to wear overalls to the largely black-tie event. “That’s why I appreciate this so much. When I was a little kid, the best a young person do for pop music was guys like Perry Como and Lita Roza singing ‘(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?'”
There’s been no active version of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band for over 40 years, but the surviving members took the stage after their speeches and launched into “Got My Mojo Working,” the Muddy Waters tune they covered on their 1965 debut LP. It’s easy to imagine this is the last time they’ll ever play together, making the occasion all the more poignant.
John Mayer then stepped up to the podium to honor another blues rock-band whose namesake died many years ago: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. “Stevie Ray Vaughan is the ultimate guitarist,” he said. “He had incredible courage because he fought to overcome the evils of drug and alcohol addiction, and when he did, he returned to the stage as an even better guitar player for it. . .There’s a term that gets thrown around in conversation, especially about guitar payers, where someone is called a ‘wannabe.’ It means you’re a fake, a fraud, a phony. But if you straighten the words out, it means ‘want to be.’ Wanting to be something is very important, it’s meaningful, it’s a great way to live. I’m a Stevie Ray Vaughan wannabe.”
The three members of Double Trouble all shared touching memories of working with Stevie, followed by his older brother Jimmie, who explained how they battled severe addiction issues side by side. “I sometimes think he’s on tour and is going to come back soon,” he said. “Then I remember that I’m never going to be able to see him again. Every day I wake up clean and sober and I think of my brother. In the end, little brother taught big brother.”
No single blues guitarist could possible take the place of Stevie Ray Vaughan fronting Double Trouble, so Mayer, Doyle Bramhall II and Gary Clark Jr. all shared the burden alongside Jimmie Vaughan. They tore into “Pride and Joy” and “Texas Flood” before unplugging and letting Jimmie wrap up the set alone with “Six Strings Down,” a a tribute song he wrote for his brother in 1994. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph been listening to your playing,” he sang. “Heaven done called another blues-stringer back home.”
It was a heavy moment, though things lightened up pretty quickly when Fall Out Boy came out to induct Green Day. All four members stood together, though Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump did all the talking. “The more immersed in their world I got, the more I could tell that this band was one of the greats,” Stump said. “Every sound that came out of these three guys was as important to the entire thing. You couldn’t remove one guy. The silhouette of Billie Joe playing guitar would be as recognizable a posture as Michael Jordan’s mid-air dunk.”
Green Day were the only honored act of the evening that still pack stadiums and sell millions of records, and they seemed surprised to be entering the Hall of Fame only a couple years after they all turned 40. Billie Joe Armstrong dressed up like a prom king in 1979, and delivered a passionate speech about how music changed his life, name-checking everyone from the Kinks and Cheap Trick to Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and even super obscure California punk bands like Sewer Trout and Nasal Sex.
Two days earlier, Green Day played their first gig in over a year at the House of Blues in Cleveland, dipping deep into their pre-Dookie catalog and even reuniting with original drummer John Kiffmeyer. This time around, they opted for the hits, thrilling the crowd with “American Idiot,” “When I Come Around” and “Basket Case.” They didn’t have any signs of rust for all the time off, and Armstrong even ducked under Dirnt’s legs while playing a guitar solo. He’d occasionally pause and yell out “Cleveland!” or “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!,” still clearly in a minor state of shock that he’s now a member.
The crowd was less familiar with the music of the early 1950s R&B group the “5” Royales, though Booker T. and the MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper did an excellent job explaining their historical importance in just a matter of minutes, and how their songs have been covered by everyone from Ray Charles to the Mamas and the Papas to Mick Jagger. There are no surviving members, so Johnny Tanner’s brother Fred accepted the award on their behalf.
The most enduring song by the “5” Royals is “Dedicated to the One I Love,” which Leon Bridges sang during the In Memorial segment of the evening backed by Paul Shaffer and an expanded lineup of the CBS Orchestra. The song transitioned into “When a Man Loves a Woman,” by 2005 Hall of Fame inductee Percy Sledge, who died just four days before the ceremony.
Patti Smith then walked out to induct her good friend Lou Reed. She was unable to fight tears as she recalled their time together. “He was a humanist, heralding and raising the downtrodden,” she said. “His subjects were his royalty that he crowned in his lyrics without judgement or irony. . .His consciousness infiltrated and illuminated our cultural voice.”
Laurie Anderson accepted the award on behalf of her late husband. “Lou understood pain and he understood beauty,” she said. “He knew these two were often intertwined. That was what energized him and made him vibrate. . .You change forever when you have the love of your life die in your arms. When Lou died in my arms, I watched as he did tai chi with his hands. I watched the joy and surprise that came over his face when he died.”
Patti Smith recited a portion of Reed’s “Perfect Day” during her speech, but she didn’t actually perform a song. She left that to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O and Nick Zinner, who played a killer rendition of “Vicious,” and Beck, who strapped on an acoustic guitar for “Satellite of Love,” complete with horns and lush background vocals by Shaffer’s extensive backing group and Nate Ruess.
As the clock began ticking towards midnight, Wonder was escorted to the podium to induct Bill Withers. “Not only has this man written some great songs,” he said. “He sang them incredibly well. . .His songs were written for every single culture there is. Think of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ when she’s gone. He’s talking about a relationship where somebody is not around. As much as it’s about that situation, today I think about those 200 young girls in Nigeria that have been taken away.”
Withers hasn’t released an album of new material in three decades and hasn’t done a public show in nearly 25 years, but he hasn’t lost a bit of his onstage charisma. He had the place in hysterics with his partially impromptu speech, referencing everything from Judge Judy to The Big Bang Theory to the many people who helped his career along the way. “I’m the youngest living solo artist to be inducted tonight,” he said. “Don’t hate me because I’m precocious. . .Stevie Wonder inducting me into the Hall of Fame is like a lion opening the door for a kitty cat.”
The biggest mystery of the night was whether or not Withers would actually sing a song. He’s been very clear that he’s far from confident in his vocal abilities now, but he refused to rule it out. Things looked pretty good when he sat down inches away from Stevie Wonder for “Ain’t No Sunshine,” but he never opened his mouth and disappeared when John Legend came out for a spellbinding “Use Me.” Legend and Wonder traded vocals for a spiritual take on “Lean on Me,” with Withers standing near the background singers without a microphone. He came to the center of the stage towards the end of the song, took a mic and even sang into it, but it was impossible to hear his voice along with everybody else singing. This was clearly an intentional move, though the mere sight of him singing into a microphone was absolutely wonderful to see.
Some in the crowd were getting a little droopy by this point, but they perked up when McCartney came out to induct Starr. “We were four guys from Liverpool that set out on this journey,” he said. “Eventually we got on The Ed Sullivan Show and got really famous. . .Ringo is just something so special. When he’s playing behind you, you don’t have to look and wonder if he’s going to speed up or slow down. It’s just there. It’s a great honor for me to induce him — oh, induct him — into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Starr gave a long speech tracing his early career, at one point testing the patience of McCartney who walked up to him and jokingly tapped on his watch. “After the things I sat through tonight!” Ringo said in mock outrage. “Blah blah blah!” Near the end, he gave some crucial advice to 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.”
After a brief setup delay where Starr was forced to vamp to the crowd, even hugging women in the front row to kill time, Green Day came out and backed him on “Boys.” The entire band seemed overjoyed to be a part of the thing, and they remained on the stage for the inevitable “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Nearly every performer of the night came out for that, including McCartney and his Hofner bass. There were so many guitarists onstage that Grohl was content to merely clap his hands.
It seemed like the logical place to end the show, though Starr stepped behind the drum kit and led most everyone through “I Wanna Be Your Man.” Armstrong and Morello both took guitar solos, McCartney sang a verse and Wonder broke out his harmonica. It was one of the best all-star jams in recent memory, and it ended with McCartney and Starr holding their hands triumphantly into the air and bowing in unison, just like they did back in September 1964 when they last played at Public Hall together. There couldn’t have been a better way to end the evening and the two old friends had enormous smiles on their faces as they walked offstage together.