A Considered Look at Every Inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 5

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1 and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.

But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought 2 So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal?

And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.

Click the links for Part 1,Part 2,  Part 3 and Part 4 of this series.

Class of 1992

Bobby “Blue” Bland

WHO HE IS: “Frank Sinatra of the Blues,” Bland was a Beale Street guy 3. He was a singer, predominantly, and sang a sort of gospel-y blues.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was connected to B.B. King, opening for him for decades, so maybe that? He also uh…”pioneered” the practice of getting super-duper fucked by his record label, which is a time-honored rock and roll tradition. Poor guy.

AND….?: I don’t know, man. He had a nice voice. He’s in the Blues Hall of Fame, which seems right. I can’t imagine what any of his music as to do with Rock music, or anything outside of the Blues circles in which he was very famous.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Probably not.

Booker T and the MGs

WHO THEY ARE: The house band for Stax records. Two of them are also members of the Blues Brothers’ band. You probably know “Green Onions,” even if you don’t think you know “Green Onions”

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were a fantastic band that played on a bunch of amazing records by people who are also inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame 4, as well as making their own tremendous records. Still not Rock music, but still great.

AND…?: Oh, they were fantastic.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Johnny Cash

WHO HE IS: The country musician that it’s “ok” for non-country dudes to like 5. The last of the million-dollar quartet to be inducted. The Man in Black.

WHY HE’S HERE: You know, sometimes I pessimistically talk about the need for people to take things that are very good and, rather than use the quality of the thing to challenge their own assumptions (i.e. “this is good country music, so there must be good country music”), they remove the thing from its original context/genre and insist that it’s so good it must be something else entirely (i.e. “Johnny Cash is, if you think about it, more like a rock star” etc.). But I’m feeling chipper today, so I’ll just say his songs were good enough that they won people over that would ordinarily be opposed to his approach. He did have significant influence on folks of all sorts of genres, despite never really having anything at all to do with rock music. My favorite under-reported influence was that his band for a couple of decades, the Tennesse Two, pioneered the kind of primitive amateurism that would be celebrated in rock music. What I’m saying here is that Luther Perkins, his guitar player on his most famous albums, could barely fucking play his guitar, and Johnny Cash wasn’t much better at it.

AND…?: Great records, except for the ones that are terrible. The American Recordings records manage to be great even while they’re ridiculous, which, come to think of it, is also something that Johnny Cash did consistently.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Absolutely.

The Isley Brothers

WHO THEY ARE: Well, the logline is that they were a long-running R&B group, but that leaves aside that they spent several decades being amorphous, ambitious and able to do pretty much everything they tried. They were wildly successful for a very long time, and really didn’t make much bad music along the way.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: A handful of their songs are songs everyone knows – “Shout” first and foremost among them, but also “It’s Your Thing,” “This Old Heart of Mine”, “Nobody But Me” and “Who’s That Lady”, to name a few more – and whatever their actual influence on rock and roll music may have been. Oh, and for one not-particularly-successful year, Jimi Hendrix was their guitar player (that’s him playing on “Testify”).

AND…: they were a fantastic band who made fantastic records. They fell off in the eighties, as the general currents of R&B and the production of the time carried them into some fairly uninspiring places, but they were very good for a very long time. They were even much closer to rock and roll than many of the R&B bands listed here.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

WHO THEY ARE: Jimi Hendrix’s first, longer-running band. The band that made all of his studio albums 6.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they were Jimi Hendrix’s vehicle. It’s not very often that the person who is the best at something makes himself apparent with few challengers, and Jimi Hendrix is one of those people. He is the best player of the electric guitar that ever happened. There are lots of great guitar players, and plenty of super-great guitar players, and none of them are as good at playing the guitar as Jimi Hendrix. So this, his band that helped him create his studio work, is a band with an assured place. That said, they were also a fantastic band. Mitch Mitchell would have been the best musician in literally any other band he could’ve been in, and Jimi Hendrix is an underrated singer. And Noel Redding was, y’know, a bass player. He did a fine job.

AND…?: It can be hard to throw on a Jimi Hendrix record for funsies in 2018 – the best parts have been jackhammered into everyone’s skulls all the time by five decades of radio play – but they hold up really well, and are quite good. I have nothing bad to say about any of them, even though this is the first time I’ve really listened to them of my own volition in many years.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Sam & Dave

WHO THEY ARE: Double Dynamite! The Sultans of Sweat! You didn’t have to love them, but you did but you did but you did! And they thank you!

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They did a lot to invent modern R&B. They sang the shit out of everything all the time. They had a large number of giant hits. They had absolutely zero to do with rock music.

AND…?: Great singers, great songs. Bruce Springsteen goes on and on about them every now and again, which is pretty cool.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Oof. There are unlikelier people who I think are rightfully inducted, so I suppose they can get past me, but they really very much entirely were not a rock concern.

The Yardbirds

WHO THEY ARE: A british white-blues outfit with a bunch of famous guitar players or whatever. Eventually they morphed into Led Zeppelin, which was the most productive use of anyone’s time.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because they are a trivia question – “which band had all these famous guitar players in it?” – and because they pioneered white-blues. Their primary influence on rock music was finding reasons to praise them that had nothing to do with their bog-standard (but competently executed) take on the blues.

AND…?: there is nothing in any of these descriptions that should leave you with the impression that I think any of this is any good.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Several of the members of the Yardbirds would go on to be inducted, most rightfully, and that’s fine, but the band themselves are, once again, the answer to a trivia question, and aren’t due the seriousness with which they are considered.

Elmore James

WHO HE IS: Blues guy. He played more or less all the kinds of blues at once, on a really loud slide guitar.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was pretty great. He’s an “early influence” and for once I can’t argue: the dude had the coolest guitar sound in the world for a good decade for his entire career, and he was a fantastic, inventive player.

AND…?: I’m into it. He came up through a system where all music was music to dance to, and he got really good at making downright weird music that still compelled people to dance. That’s a pretty cool approach, and even if a lot of his acolytes make dumbshit music that I can’t get behind, he was very good.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Professor Longhair

WHO HE IS: A New Orleans jazzbo. He was around for a long time, and was big stuff in the seventies (right before his death) when a bunch of people were vocally into him.

WHY HE’S HERE: I guess the “big stuff in the seventies” thing? I don’t really know. He wrote some songs that get covered fairly often. My guess – and this is purely baseless, as the nomination/induction process is notoriously opaque – is that they wanted New Orleans jazz represented somewhere in the “early influences” section, and they landed on Professor Longhair. To be fair, if this is the case, that’s probably just about what I would’ve done.

AND…?: I don’t know. It doesn’t have anything to do with rock music. The people that took the most from Professor Longhair – the Meters, and the assorted Neville constellation – are absent from the HOF completely, which is a crime and a miscalculation, so it’s not even like his influence is felt very much among the artists that are in there.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really, but as a token representative of a subgenre, I suppose I can’t fight against it too hard.

Leo Fender

WHO HE IS: The guy who founded Fender guitars, and the guy who designed the Telecaster, the Stratocaster and the Bassman amp, among other things.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, those three things (and their long, long list of copycats) are pretty indispensable to rock music as it is played.

AND…?: No argument here. Pretty open and shut.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yep.

Bill Graham

WHO HE IS: The show promoter who booked the Fillmore, which is a very famous (and historically important) venue, as well as a bunch of big extravaganza-type concerts.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because the Fillmore is a very famous (and historically important) venue. And the big, extravaganza-type concerts as well.

AND…?: I dunno. On the one hand, rock music is primarily live music. It certainly needs places to happen, and the Fillmore was definitely one of those places. On the other hand, he was still just a promoter.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really

Doc Pomus

WHO HE IS: An early lyricst. He wrote the words to “This Magic Moment.”

WHY HE’S HERE: I guess the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would like you to believe that forties lyricsts have an appreciable impact on the form or content of Rock and Roll.

AND…?: He’s a lyricist.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

Nesuhi Ertagun (actually from 1991, but I forgot to put him in there so he’s here)

WHO HE IS: Ahmet Ertugun’s brother. He was actually inducted in 1991, but I missed him. He got a lifetime achievement induction.

WHY HE’S HERE: In addition to being his brother, he was also Ahmet’s business partner.

AND…?: I mean, I guess if he did all the stuff Ahmet did, only wasn’t as out in front, he’s probably due.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, why not?

Class of 1993

Ruth Brown

WHO SHE IS: A fifties R&B singer. She was also an activist for the rights of musicians.

WHY SHE’S HERE: She was very popular. Specifically, she was very popular for Atlantic records, which you may remember is the label founded by Ahmet Ertegun.

AND…?: She maybe should have been inducted as a non-performer for her activism, but she had nothing at all to do with rock music, and I’m not sure how much influence she’s had beyond her popularity.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really

Cream

WHO THEY ARE: A supergroup containing the “cream of the crop” of British blues musicians, largely according to…well, the members of the band.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because people cannot get enough of inducting Eric Clapton. Cream is probably the best band he’s ever been in 7. Ginger Baker was a terrific drummer, also.

AND…?: I mean, I get it. These guys got together and fulfilled a lot of the fantasies for the people who were then young people who, in 1993, were voting on whom they should induct into the rock and roll hall of fame. But this is very much a “you had to be there” situation, or else it requires a lot more of a premium placed on the pedigree of band members rather than on the actual music they actually made, which was sometimes fine, and mostly tremendously forgettable.

 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

 

Creedence Clearwater Revival

WHO THEY ARE: A bunch of dudes from El Cerrito who want you to believe they are from the depth of the American South.

 

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were an incomparable influence on Southern Rock, which did big business there for awhile. They were front and center about their politics, and took on a position of defending the underclasses. They created a half dozen actually great albums, and there’s not much wrong with their last couple. They got out while they were ahead.

 

AND…?: I mean, I love CCR to death and little pieces. The aforementioned six great albums came between July of 1968 and December of 1970, and they wrapped it up by 1972. In that time they wrote more great rock songs than most bands write in decades of work. They did it while only sounding like themselves, while at the same time never actually repeating themselves. Everything about their career was pretty admirable. Oh, and their last album, Mardi Gras, is their least-good, but has maybe their best song, “Lookin’ for a Reason.”

 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Inarguably

 

The Doors

WHO THEY ARE: The subject of a 1991 biopic by Oliver Stone.

 

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they made an enormous impact in their time, and their behavior contributed to a tonne of legends and semi-truths that inflated the story around that enormous impact. They managed to create the “wildman singer”, and thus paved the way for your jumping-around Iggy Pop/Henry Rollins types, as well as giving your extra-cool Steven Tyler/David Johansson types someone that wasn’t Mick Jagger to crib from. They were a storied rock and roll band during a storied time in rock and roll history, and they managed inspire a bunch of people to make bands.

AND…?: There is a lot that goes with The Doors that is not any of those things. They managed to build this sort of legend, fuelled largely by half-truth and gossip, about their relationship to the world that’s all pretty hard to take, especially when it burrows into the idea of Jim Morrison as a shaman or a poet 8. It is impossible to deny that The Doors, as they are, were a band that inspired a bunch of people. It is also very, very difficult to listen to their music with any sort of clear-headedness, without also buying into the considerable unearned mythology, and also ignoring that half the band was composed of some pretty terrible people, including Mr. Morrison himself. It’s also worth noting that most of the things that are remembered and/or important about the band are extramusical – their singer’s shenanigans, their drug use, their approach to their music – which is always a red flag for a band’s presence in this sort of thing.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: On paper, they were popular and influential, and people still like them, so there’s not really an argument for them not being inducted. So yes. But I implore all of you to listen to them as music, and not as the musical wing of a legend, and try to explain why any of it is special.

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

WHO THEY ARE: Another doo-wop group. You thought there weren’t any more doo-wop groups? I HAVE BAD NEWS FOR YOU, MY FRIEND.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they were very famous, certainly. And since the cutoff for “early influence” seems to end at about 1950, they are inducted as performers, and this is, of course, infuriating.

AND…?: Look, they were a perfectly fine doo-wop group, and they were at least more rock-adjacent than other doo-wop groups, such as it is, but holy smokes, folks.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: It’s a shame they’re this far in, because if any doo-wop group belongs in here it’s probably them, but man, am I tired of having to evaluate doo-wop groups.

Etta James

WHO SHE IS: A tremendous singer who rode the blues all the way into early rock and roll.

WHY SHE’S HERE: This is another pretty open-and-shut case 9 – she was great, she sang great songs that people liked and remembered, and a lot of people have tried to sing that way.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Van Morrison

WHO HE IS: A Northern Irish singer who’s been making music pretty much continuously for fifty-odd years.

WHY HE’S HERE: A lot of people get credit for being great rock and roll singers without having a traditionally great voice, but none of them are as nontraditionally great as Van Morrison. That guy turned a set of really weird attributes into a surprisingly elastic, remarkably expressive instrument. He also wrote a bunch of songs that people really like, and admirably pursued whatever his own muse was at any given moment.

AND…?: I’m lukewarm-to-middling on most of his actual music, but I get what there is to like, and reserve the right to someday come around on it.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Sly and the Family Stone

WHO THEY ARE: Earth’s finest psychedelic funk band, and a band that still putatively exists in some form or another.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Their completely bugshit crazy frontman aside, they made some incredible music. At their best, they were as good as anybody, and they managed to throw all sorts of influences into their sausage machine and make it all sound good and like it belonged together.

AND…?: They weren’t always at the top of their game, but their best work is some of the best work. That’s good enough for me.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Dinah Washington

WHO SHE IS: The Queen of the Blues! Blues has a lot of royalty, guys. A lot.

WHY SHE’S HERE: Well, she was an accomplished jazz singer 10, and sang in a style that would influence a bunch of people that would go on to influence rock music. Once again, the early influences are a little too early.

AND…?: She also recorded the best extant version of Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart,” which is no small feat.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, why not?

Dick Clark

WHO HE IS: The deceased host of American Bandstand. And, more modernly, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

WHY HE’S HERE: American Bandstand did genuinely bring rock and roll music into people’s houses, and he was the creator of it.

AND…?: I mean, there are lots of reasons to hold Dick Clark in disdain, but he did have a positive effect in this way.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure.

Milt Gabler

WHO HE IS: A record producer who made a bunch of pre-rock and roll records of note.

WHY HE’S HERE: Some of those records were important, influential ones by people who are in this very hall of fame.

AND…?: The relationship that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has with record producers seems weird and nonsensical, but I’m feeling charitable today.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes


  1.  also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold. 
  2.  although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3.  B.B. King being the most famous Beale Street guy, musically speaking. 
  4.  My thoughts on Sam & Dave are below, and on Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett are elsewhere. 
  5.  as generally expressed in the phrase “I don’t listen to country music. Except Johnny Cash.” This is sometimes also extended to Willie Nelson and/or Hank Williams. I’m sure you’ve all heard people say it. Some of you are even the people who say it. 
  6.  Band of Gypsys, a glorious mess of a record that, nevertheless, features my actual two favorite Jimi Hendrix guitar performances – the opening one-two punch of “Who Knows” and “Machine Gun” – was actually a live album featuring a different band (the titular Band of Gypsys). 
  7. this is a pretty thin compliment. 
  8.  both of which were things that Jim Morrison called himself. 
  9.  with the usual kvetching that the bulk of her work was not done in the rock and roll idiom, although at least in this case some of it was.AND…?: I have neither an argument nor much to add to this one.  
  10.  I know! But she was queen of the blues! It’s crazy! 

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