Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2006

This is the third straight year I’ve reviewed the induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Music is extremely important to me and my tastes are diverse enough to encompass nominees as different as Miles Davis and Black Sabbath. This year’s nominees included both, as well as Blondie, the Sex Pistols, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. And while this show wasn’t quite up to the standards of the last couple years, it had some great moments.

Let me say first that while I was never really a Blondie fan, they sounded pretty good on stage. I was also never a fan of the Sex Pistols, and they didn’t sound at all. In true punk fashion, they refused to show up to get inducted. That left the night primarily for Miles Davis, Black Sabbath and Skynyrd and that was fine by me.

MIles Davis is, of course, a jazz legend. He was inducted by his friend and long time collaborator Herbie Hancock. There was a tribute to him after the induction. Wallace Roney was on trumpet and he sounded good and it was nice to see Jack DeJohnette back behind the drumkit. Unfortunately, the tribute focused mostly on his later jazz fusion and not on his extraordinary early career when albums like Birth of the Cool, Miles Ahead, and Kind of Blue earned him a place among jazz’ greatest composers and performers. That was certainly a disappointment to me. If Sandefur, who is a huge Miles fan, saw the show I’ll be curious to hear his thoughts.

Black Sabbath was inducted by Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield of Metallica, who then joined with the rest of their band to deliver an absolutely blistering tribute to the band (I don’t know why Sabbath didn’t play themselves, they sounded quite good when I saw them perform on TV a couple months ago). Lars rightly pointed out that Black Sabbath was the seminal band that launched heavy metal music. No band in that genre can possibly claim not to be influenced by Sabbath one way or another. Metallica’s version of Iron Man, probably the single best heavy metal song ever written, was appropriately dark and menacing, a fitting tribute to this influential group.

Lynyrd Skynyrd was the last band to be inducted. Skynyrd is a true American original, the undisputed kings of southern fried rock and roll. Their legacy nearly ended in 1977 with the famous plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant and two other members of the band, but they regrouped a decade later with Johnnie Van Zant replacing his older brother. And this is definitely one of those bands whose record of incredible songs somehow manages to slip out of our memory.

Think about this string of hits: Gimme Three Steps, Tuesday’s Gone, Freebird, Saturday Night Special, Give Me Three Steps, Don’t Ask Me No Questions, Workin for MCA, Sweet Home Alabama, Call Me the Breeze, Gimme Back My Bullets, What’s Your Name, You Got That Right, I Know a Little, That Smell, and my personal favorite, Simple Man. Now think about this: they were all recorded in a mere four years, 1973-1977. And even now, almost 30 years later, they still sounded pretty damn good. After a million “Do Freebird” jokes, they showed that they can still rip it up and the crowd had their lighters in the air for that classic encore just as they always do.

They also had an opening and closing performance with various artists, the first one a tribute to soul, especially Wilson Pickett, and the second one a tribute to New Orleans music. Allan Toussaint and Elvis Costello handled the last one, which was pretty good. The first one, which featured Solomon Burke and a brilliant new singer named Leela James, really set the tone for the show with a medley of R and B classics. If you get a chance to catch the reruns, it’s worth the effort.


  1. #1 KeithB
    March 22, 2006

    Well, it is the “Rock and Roll” Hall of fame, not the Jazz hall of fame, and it was Mile’s fusion stuff that influenced Rock and Roll.

    I am a Lynyrd Skynrd neophyte, but are “Gimme Three Steps” and “Give me Three Steps” different songs.

  2. #2 FishyFred
    March 22, 2006

    James Hetfield (not Hetford) of Metallica. If the Rock Hall has any sense, Metallica will be going in in the near future.

    They have a real knack for covering other bands’ music. They’ve done The Ramones, Skynyrd, Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, and Queen (it’s all on Garage, Inc.) Half the time, it sounds better than the original (like when they play “Breadfan” by Budgie and everytime they play something by Diamond Head). They’re just incredibly talented. Is there somewhere I can see their performance? :Checks YouTube: Can’t find it. 🙁

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    March 22, 2006

    Good lord, did I really write “Hetford”? That’s what I get for writing late at night.

  4. #4 BG
    March 22, 2006

    I’m an enormous Miles fan and thought the tribute was quite good and funky. His seminal fusion period was late 60s through the mid 70s, and if you pick up the amazing box set for all the sessions that went into A Tribute To Jack Johnson, you’ll see why he’s in the R&R HOF. It’s basically full of studio jams that owe a huge debt to Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, but taking their stuff in a completely different direction. His studio albums from that era were largely spliced out of jams like these, and between Miles and his producer Teo Macero, they created these often dense and always funky epic masterpieces that might be African, ethereal, bluesy, funky (I keep coming back to that), but are always deeply rooted in whatever middle ground he could find between jazz and rock.

    I’d recommend picking up In a Silent Way as a starting point, and Jack Johnson next. If you can afford the JJ box, absolutely pick it up. If you dig those, pretty much any albums you can find that fall chronologically between Silent Way and the two live shows Agharta and Pangea represent a great era of music to explore.

  5. #5 Matthew
    March 23, 2006

    I really liked Davis’ late-late stuff. The last few records he recorded where he blended in some rap were fantastic, I thought, but they are usually overlooked. I like his older stuff also.

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