At last, rock & roll — the sound heard round the world for three decades — has its own hall of fame. Rock history is full of innovators, superstars and unsung heroes who transformed this primitive, propulsive devil music into a force for major cultural and social change. Now the establishment of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the induction this year of its first ten members enables fans, musicians and the music industry to pay formal tribute for the first time to rock’s pioneer artists and their historic achievements. Rock & roll is a living art, one that is refined and reinvented every day in big arenas, tiny clubs, sophisticated studios and cold, damp garages all over the world. It is fitting then that of the initial inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley — all but three are still alive and, in some cases, actively performing. And certainly Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Sam Cooke, long after their passing, continue to inspire, in style and spirit, new rock & roll generations.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was established in 1984 “to recognize these artists and their achievements in a dignified, uncommercial way,” according to foundation chairman Ahmet Ertegun. The first step was the creation of the hall of fame itself. The foundation — a nonprofit group led by prominent music-industry executives whose president is Sire Records chief Seymour Stein — created a list of forty-one hall-of-fame nominees. From that list, approximately 200 pop-music experts (among them, top critics and record producers) voted to select the first ten inductees.
The foundation also inaugurated special awards to acknowledge the contributions of important nonperformers and early influential blues, country and gospel artists. Initial inductees in these categories are Sun Records producer Sam Phillips, DJ Alan Freed, country singer Jimmie Rodgers and bluesmen Robert Johnson and Jimmy Yancey.
In the near future, the foundation plans to house a permanent hall-of-fame display in the first proper rock & roll museum. Ideally, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum will also feature a complete archive of rock & roll recordings and print material as well as films and videos. Cities under consideration for the museum include Cleveland, Memphis, Philadelphia, Chicago and New Orleans. “We’re not going to make this a rock & roll Disneyland,” says Ertegun, the chairman of Atlantic Records. “We have an obligation to the world of rock & roll, the artists and the fans, to make this a dignified place they can be proud of.”
Born January 8th, 1935, East Tupelo, Mississippi
Died August 16th, 1977, Memphis
On July 5th and 6th, 1954, at Sun Records studio in Memphis, Elvis Presley called to life what would soon be known as rock & roll with a voice that bore strains of the Grand Ole Opry and Beale Street, of country and the blues. At that moment, he ensured—instinctively, unknowingly—that pop music would never again be as simple as black and white. Between 1954 and 1958, Elvis was transformed into the world’s first rock & roll star—heartthrob, rebel, trendsetter, threat. He was simultaneously deified and denounced. Life magazine called him a “howling hilbilly.” Ed Sullivan vowed never to book him, but not long after “Heartbreak Hotel” topped the pop, C&W and R&B charts, Presley made the first of three appearances on the show. After serving a hitch in the army and making nearly thirty movie Evis staged a musical comeback on a legendary TV special aired December 3, 1968. What viewers saw and heard was the real Elvis, the archetypal rock & roll singer, working up a seat before the first lieve audilience he had faced since 1961. On the occasion of Elvis’ passing, August 16th, 1977, President Jimmy Carter declared, “Elvis Presley’s death deprives our country of a part of itself.”
Charles Edward Berry
Born October 18th, 1926 or 1931, St. Louis
On a trip to Chicago in 1955, the young St. Louis bluesman Chuck Berry got to know Muddy Waters. Impressed by Berry’s guitar playing, Waters introduced Berry to Leonard Chess, who was impressed not so much by his blues numbers as by “Ida Red,” a chugging tune with wryly enunciated lyrics that put a country & western guitar over a rhythm & blues beat Suggesting a title change, to “Maybellene,” Chess released the song—and Berry shifted gears into the simple and stunning sound that gave shape and style to rock & roll. Between 1955 and 1959, Berry charted the course for the burgeoning sound of rock & roll and its ever-growing audience. He described the basic attitude (“Roll Over Beethoven”), the roots of the style (“Rock and Rol Music”), the secret life of the typical fan (“Sweet Little Sixteen”) and the lay of the land (“Back in the U.S.A.”).And he gave rock & roll its central character in the autobiographical “Johnny B. Goode.”
Born December 25th, 1932 or 1935, Macon, Georgia
It was while washing dishes at the Greyhound bus station in Macon, Georgia, that Richard Penniman (a.k.a. Little Richard) was struck with the inspiration for his most legendary songs. By his own account, he wrote “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Long Tall Sally” in that kitchen as he scrubbed the pots and pans. Art Rupe of the Specialty label was attracted by the hard edges of Richard’s voice, which he thought would jibe well with the New Orleans R&B sound. One of the first songs Little Richard cut for Specialty was “Tutti Frutti,” a knockoff whose obscene lyrics had been cleaned up for the occasion. Released asa single two weeks later, “Tutti Frutti” sold 500,000 copies, and Little Richard’s voice rocked & rolled through two years’ worth of hits, including “Rip It Up,” “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “Lucille.” In 1957, claiming to have had an apocalyptic vision, Little Richard decided to give it all up for the Lord. But in 1964 the British Invasion lured him back to rock & roll, and he scaled new heights of flamboyance in the Seventies with his “bronze Liberace” persona — until the Lord came calling once again.
The Everly Brothers
Born February 1st, 1937, Brownie, Kentucky
Born January 19th, 1939, Brownie, Kentucky
The sons of a traveling country & western team, the Everly Brothers first performed with their family on the road and on the radio. Then, as angeliclooking teenagers, they transformed the sound of their Kentucky roots into a bittersweet form of rock & roll. “Bye Bye Love” marked the beginning of a string of hits, most of which offered a beguiling vision of adolescent romance: “Wake Up Little Susie,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Bird Dog,” “When Will I Be Loved” and their all-time best seller, “Cathy’s Clown.” Even after the hits stopped, the Everlys’ reputation grew. Performers like the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and Linda Ronstadt imitated their style and covered their material. In 1983, after a ten-year separation, the brothers had an emotional onstage reunion in London and subsequently began recording together again. Their magical harmonies, as well as their influence, have endured.
Born 1928 in Tennessee or 1933 in Georgia
James Brown once said of Elvis Presley, “He taught white America to get down.” Brown himself did Elvis one better in that regard: he encouraged everyone to get down. As an impoverished child, Brown picked cotton, shined shoes, danced for spare change and tried his hand at boxing and baseball. When a leg injury sidelined him, he turned to music. The gospel vocal group he joined, the Swanees, became the Famous Flames and scored a Top Ten R&B hit, “Please Please Please,” in 1956. Two years later they had a second hit, “Try Me,” and James went on to develop his three-ring circus of soul, the James Brown Revue. A live album recorded at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre in 1962 remains a milestone in soul music. In 1965, Brown had chart success with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).” That same year rock & roll fans witnessed the slickly rehearsed drama of James’ fainting-and-reviving ritual in the film The T.A.M.I. Show. Brown, the self-proclaimed Hardest Working Man in Show Business, collaborated with Afrika Bambaataa in 1984 on “Unity,” a funk-rap message to a new generation.
Born January 22nd, 1935, Chicago
Died December 11th, 1964, Los Angeles
When Sam Cooke recorded his first pop song, “Lovable,” in 1956, he released it under the name Dale Cooke so he wouldn’t alienate the gospel following he had amassed in his five years as the lead vocalist of the Soul Stirrers. A year later Cooke cut his “You Send Me,” which sold 1.7 million copies and reached Number One on both the pop and R&B charts. Cooke combined sensuality and spirituality, sophistication and soul, matinee-idol looks and gospel-singer poise. He enjoyed a steady run of hits on RCA, including “Chain Gang,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Bring It On Home to Me” and “Another Saturday Night.” Cooke established his own record label, Sar/Derby, and publishing company — significant moves for a black artist at that time. His life came to a brutal end when he was shot to death on December 11th, 1964. RCA posthumously released “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which returned Cooke’s voice to its familiar gospel home.
Charles Hardin Holley
Born September 7th, 1938, Lubbock, Texas
Died February 3rd, 1959, Clear Lake, Iowa
During 1956, Buddy Holly played at a youth center in Lubbock, Texas, opening for a number of major acts, including Elvis Presley. In those seminal rock & roll performances, Holly worked out his inimitably succinct style. On February 25th, 1957, Holly and his band, the Crickets, recorded their first hit, “That’ll Be the Day,” at the New Mexico studio of producer Norman Petty. Their new, effortlessly rocking sound landed them a contract with the New York-based Coral/Brunswick label and a Top Five hit on both the pop and R&B charts. Although Holly’s rock & roll career was brief — he was killed in a plane crash in 1959 — it yielded a wealth of material. “Words of Love” inspired the Beatles (whose very name was a homage to the Crickets), and “Not Fade Away” provided the Rolling Stones with their first British Top Ten hit. Holly’s approach suggested the shape of rock & roll to come: he wrote his own material, exploited studio technology and employed the now classic lineup of two guitars, bass and drums. In a short span of time, Buddy Holly created music that was timeless.
Ray Charles Robinson
Born September 23rd, 1930 Albany, Georgia
Ray Charles melded the passion of gospel with the pain of the blues as both a vocalist and a pianist. The gospel side came from his Baptist upbringing in Greenville, Florida. As for the blues, that was something that Ray, who was blinded at six and orphaned at fifteen, lived as well as learned. At first emulating the smooth style off Nat “King” Cole, Charles worked his way into the blues, scoring a Top Ten R&B hit in 1951 with “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand.” But Charles really found his voice at Atlantic Records, where he had a string of hits from 1954 to 1959, including “I’ve Got a Woman” and “What’d I Say.” Moving to ABC Records, Charles scored Number One pop hits in the early Sixties with “Georgia on My Mind” and “Hit the Road, Jack.” He also released a landmark album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western, which yielded another million-selling classic, “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”
Born May 10th, 1929, New Orleans
The New Orleans style of R&B that Antoine “Fats” Domino grew up playing instantly became part of that brand-new thing called rock & roll. But Fats never had to compromise what was for him a family tradition in order to reach a huge young audience. By the age of ten, Fats was following in the illustrious footsteps of such piano greats as Professor Longhair and Amos Milburn and performing for change in local honky-tonks. At fourteen, Fats dropped out of school and spent his nights in the clubs, often playing alongside his musical mentors. It was at the Hideaway Club that bandleader Bill Diamond dubbed him Fats. It was there, too, that he met trumpeter, bandleader and Imperial Records A&R rep Dave Bartholomew. Their first session together in 1949 produced “The Fat Man,” a million-selling hit. This marked the start of an artistic relationship that spanned twenty years and twenty-three gold singles—among them, “Ain’t It a Shame,” “I’m Walkin’,” “Blueberry Hill” and Fats’ last million seller, “Walkin’ to New Orleans.”
Jerry Lee Lewis
Born September 29th, 1935, Ferriday, Louisiana
The very titles of Jerry Lee Lewis’ best-known tunes—”Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Breathless” — succinctly describe the man and his music. Audacious and arrogant, rollicking and rowdy, Jerry Lee Lewis took spontaneity to the brink of danger. In 1956, after cutting country-oriented demos at Sun Records in Memphis, Lewis was instructed to “go learn some rock & roll.” Upon his return to Sun, he recorded his debut single, a cover of Ray Price’s “Crazy Arms,” which became a regional success. At the end of a session to record a follow-up, Lewis was told to play whatever came to mind, as the tape rolled Jerry Lee launched into his one-take wonder, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” combining a ferocious piano attack with a lascivious, uninhibited vocal. The single broke out of the South and swept the nation. Although overwhelming notoriety chased him off the pop charts within a year of his breakthrough, Lewis made an impressive comeback ten years later as a country artist.