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.