Second Annual Rock Hall of Fame Bash
When a trim, healthy-looking Brian Wilson strolled onto the stage of the grand ballroom at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, the black-tie crowd at the second annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner snapped to attention. The reclusive Beach Boys founder was hardly shy or tongue-tied: he proceeded to bring on songwriters Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber — the very first of 22 all-time greats honored —– singing a line from a hit they produced and co-wrote for the Drifters. “They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway,” Wilson wailed in his familiar falsetto, setting the tone for an evening of celebration.
First, historical debts were paid to three ground breaking nonperformers: Leonard Chess, the cofounder of Chess Records; Ahmet Ertegun, the cofounder and chairman of Atlantic Records; and Ertegun’s longtime partner Jerry Wexler, who produced classics by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Wilson Pickett. These men were cited for giving early rock, R&B and blues a home at their independent labels when the rest of the recording world wasn’t interested. As Rolling Stone editor and publisher Jann S. Wenner put it in his introduction, “Rock & roll might not have thrived, might not have even survived, if it weren’t for these pioneers.”
Seymour Stein, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation and of Sire Records, took the stage to acknowledge the roots of rock in other styles of music. He inducted three forefathers whose influence was crucial: country great Hank Williams, jump-blues singer and sax man Louis Jordan and blues guitarist T-Bone Walker. T-Bone’s daughter Bernita Moss seemed relieved when she accepted the award for her late father. “Upon the completion of the hall-of-fame museum,” she said, “my dad’s guitar will be sent to be on display there. For 11 years now I have wondered what we were going to do about getting his guitar out of the closet!… So many people tried to steal it we had to hide it!”
Charter hall-of-fame member Chuck Berry wore a glittering tux to do the honors for Bill Haley, the first of 15 artists inducted into the hall this year. Fifteen-year-old Pedro Haley, decked out in his United States Marine Corps Junior ROTC dress uniform, accepted the award for his late father. “I don’t think my dad knew he was inventing rock & roll,” Pedro said before the ceremony. “He was just playing what he liked!”
The late R&B belter Big Joe Turner didn’t always sing about things he liked, according to songwriter Doc Pomus, who came up to induct his former collaborator. “Joe would call me every week or so and say, ‘Cuz, I’m in a world of trouble,'” said Pomus. “And I would say, ‘If you weren’t in a world of trouble, what would you have to sing about?’ Now, can you imagine what a world of trouble we’d all be in if we didn’t have a Joe Turner?”
Chicago bluesman Muddy Waters — another great who turned trouble and pain into beautiful music — was inducted by one of his foremost disciples, Paul Butterfield. Recalling the guidance and inspiration Waters had offered him as a struggling young harmonica player on the Chicago scene, Butterfield presented the award to the late musician’s wife, Marva Morganfield, and their daughter Rosiland.
Then Carl Perkins walked to the podium — in blue suede shoes, no less — and collected his trophy from his former producer, Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. “What a thrill it is,” Perkins said, “for a sharecropper’s son to be in this beautiful building.”
Throughout the ceremonies, inductees were introduced by vintage video clips of their performances. Even after Bo Diddley and his rectangular guitar had faded from the big screen, the crowd wouldn’t stop clapping along to the snaking rhythms that are his signature. Bo was inducted by all three members of ZZ Top, who definitely gave credit where credit was due. “He even taught us to put fur on our guitars and drums,” said Dusty Hill. “I didn’t realize until I saw the video that he always had pretty girls with him also,” added Frank Beard.
B.B. King, the original guitar hero, was welcomed into the hall of fame by Sting. “We’re here to celebrate another great King,” said the British rocker, referring to the recent national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Appropriately enough, the next inductee was Clyde McPhatter, an accomplished singer of both gospel and rock. Ben E. King, McPhatter’s successor as lead vocalist of the Drifters, presented the award to the artist’s widow, Lena McPhatter.
Before inducting the late Rick Nelson, John Fogerty summarized the career of the oft-misunderstood singer in very personal terms: “He wrote the lines to ‘Garden Party,’ a couple of which were ‘If memories are all I sing/I’d rather drive a truck’ – which I still firmly believe.” Accepting Nelson’s award was a striking blond trio — Rick’s daughter Tracy and his twin sons, Gunnar and Matthew.