December 30, 2016

Open Arms: The Rock Hall Embraces Populism

The people have spoken—they want Journey in the Rock Hall. And so it shall be. Once again, the winner of the official Rock Hall fan vote will be inducted. This fact indicates various things, but perhaps most significantly, it reveals that the Hall has now completely embraced Journey's particular brand of populist, FM radio-friendly arena rock. Whether that's agony or ecstasy for you, it's time to accept that, going forward, the Hall will absolutely induct acts that get a thumbs-down from critics, yet are adored by a vocal majority of rock fans.

In short, the Rock Hall is on a Journey, steering this boat toward the Styx.
Surprised? You shouldn't be. The signs have been there for awhile now. For the Class of 2016, longtime Rock Hall snub/fan vote victor Chicago got in, and right alongside of such other AOR acts as Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, and Steve Miller. The year before, rock radio staples Joan Jett and the Blackhearts got in. Not to equate or disparage any of these exceptional artists at all, it's just that their inclusion collectively demonstrates a strong undercurrent of "crowd-pleasing" going on here. You could even argue that Guns N' Roses' first-ballot induction is another example of the Hall navigating toward the mainstream; they are increasingly canonizing artists that have dominated radio airwaves/soundtracked proms and backwoods keggers. Journey is just the latest of these.

Another example of the Rock Hall's pivot toward pop-rock's often syrupy center was Rock Hall CEO Joel Peresman's 2015 interview where he expressed surprise that Journey and Bon Jovi weren't inducted yet. Steve Perry and company's current welcome into the Hall feels less like prescience on Peresman's part than the Rock Hall's apparent institutional mission to enshrine acts that will drive viewership of the HBO induction ceremony broadcast, as well as visitors to the museum.

"Who cares?" many will say. Why examine or care so much about all this? That's more than fair—ultimately, this isn't life or death stuff. No one will die. (They will be inducted after they do, however.) The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony may just be another music awards show to the casual observer, but it's still one of the most intensively discussed music events of the year. It's partly notable because it legitimizes musical taste, and ascribes the elite "Rock and Roll Hall of Famer" distinction (which, sadly, has been slapped onto far too many popular musicians' obituaries this year). Still, the debate over who is qualified to enter those hallowed halls rages on, and will continue to in the coming years.

Speaking of the future, and now that Journey has been voted into the Hall, it's time to consider what other acts they are blazing the trail for in Cleveland. Groan or exult if you must, but there are many bands that fit the specific Journey AOR/arena rock template that could potentially start seeing nominations. Here are just a few:

Boston Just another band of Boston? Not quite. A staggering 75 million records sold, with their 1976 debut, Boston (a veritable greatest hits, track by track) shifting 17 million units. Guitarist Tom Scholz, a guitar, songwriting and production wizard, laid down a powerful musical foundation for late singer Brad Delp's warm, unmistakable vocals. Songs include "More Than a Feeling," "Peace of Mind," and "Foreplay/Long Time," where their prog-rock ambitions were especially on display. They're a "Rock and Roll Band" with Rock Hall written all over them. You can't turn on a classic rock FM station and not hear Boston (for better and for worse).

Foreigner - "Feels Like the First Time," "Double Vision," "Hot Blooded" and the mega-ballad "I Want to Know What Love Is" distinguish Foreigner, another band that has saturated FM airwaves for decades, and, impressively, has sold 80 million records globally. "Cold as Ice"? Hardly. Foreigner's chances of nomination are actually starting to heat up, with a possible reunion of a classic lineup and their 40th anniversary, according to band founder Mick Jones. Radio and TV personality/Rock Hall voter Eddie Trunk recently said he thinks Foreigner should be next after Journey, in terms of priority. He might have a point there.

Styx - "Oh, this truly IS Hell!" - Homer Simpson, literally floating down the river Styx as "Lady" plays. Hey, satire was going to happen to these guys. They might laugh last, as a Rock Hall nomination is very possible. There is some reunion potential/drama with their estranged singer Dennis DeYoung, and the unique yin/yang of their hard rock/musical theater pastiche, which has yielded multi-platinum records on the strength of such songs as "Renegade," "Too Much Time on My Hands," "Come Sail Away" and Kilroy Was Here's dystopian cyber-pop hit "Mr. Roboto."

REO Speedwagon
REO Speedwagon - With their 1980 album Hi Infidelity in RIAA's "diamond status" with 10 million records sold, plus 40 million albums sold overall, REO Speedwagon might have the right combination of industry and chart success to achieve a Rock Hall nod eventually. Overall, they have a boatload of hits, and their heavy MTV presence in the '80s can't hurt either. Sadly, REO guitarist Gary Richrath, co-writer of "Take It on the Run," died in 2015, but the group still hits the road, often with some of the other bands mentioned here.

Kansas - Hailing from Topeka, this legendary troupe is best known for their ubiquitous hits "Dust in the Wind" and "Carry on Wayward Son"—both classics that have become heartfelt verses in purist rock fans' collective song. Mainstream acceptance has far outweighed Kansas' critical respect, but the recent documentary Kansas: Miracles out of Nowhere nicely detailed the origin story of how a scrappy band with art-rock/prog ambitions (check out the remarkable "Icarus (Born on Wings of Steel)" from their Masque album) ascended to headliner status. They're easily a long shot, but with the current Rock Hall shift toward big, unabashed classic rock, they cannot be left out of the conversation entirely.

December 15, 2016

Rock Hall 2017 Predictions: The Pundits Weigh In

Who's going in? Plenty of intrepid Rock Hall pundits are letting their predictions fly for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2017. And wow, is there some consensus out there, or what?

The Rock Hall's official inductee announcement hits at 8 a.m. next Tuesday, December 20 on SiriusXM's Volume (channel 106). Until then, here are some of the undeniably similar predictions:

Troy Smith (Cleveland Plain-Dealer / 

Pearl Jam
Joan Baez
Tupac Shakur
Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)
...and if there's a sixth inductee: J. Geils Band

Future Rock Legends (

Pearl Jam
Joan Baez
...and if there's a sixth inductee: J. Geils Band

Tom Lane (

Pearl Jam
Joan Baez
...and if there's a sixth inductee: Tupac Shakur

Alex Voltaire (

Pearl Jam
Tupac Shakur
Joan Baez
...if 6 inductees: Chic
...if 7 inductees: Janet Jackson


Pearl Jam
Joan Baez
...and if there are sixth and seventh inductees: The Zombies, The Cars
Ahmet Ertegun Award: Don Cornelius

Rock Hall Monitors (

Pearl Jam
Joan Baez
J. Geils Band
Sixth and seventh picks: Tupac Shakur, Chic

Iconic Rock Talk Show (

Pearl Jam
Joan Baez
Tupac Shakur
...and if there's a sixth inductee: Yes

Donnie's Blog (

Pearl Jam
Joan Baez
Tupac Shakur
...and if there's a sixth inductee: Janet Jackson
...and if there's a seventh inductee: Chic
...and if there's a eighth inductee: The Cars

One thought on the near-uniformity of the predictions thus far: The Rock Hall's sure to shock and surprise us next week in some way. Expect some wild deviations from what you see above. Dark horses could emerge.

December 14, 2016

Candidates for the Rock Hall's Ahmet Ertegun Award, Part 2: Bob Geldof and Casey Kasem

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2017 announcement is due Tuesday, December 20 (see our inductee predictions here). However, there's another significant honor the Hall frequently bestows: the Ahmet Ertegun Award, which generally goes to producers, record executives, songwriters, and various industry figures that have made their indisputable mark on rock and roll.

In a previous installment, the merits of Rick Rubin and Daniel Lanois for the Ahmet Ertegun were reviewed. This time around, the focus turns to two more prospects, one a notable rock and roll activist, the other a legendary DJ.

Bob Geldof at Live Aid
Bob Geldof
His name is forever synonymous with Live Aid, the monumental 1985 all-star concert for African famine relief, but Bob Geldof's achievements are many. For instance, this time of year, you are very likely to hear Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas," a huge international hit from 1984 penned by Geldof and Ultrovox's Midge Ure, and sung by a then-who's-who of Irish and British music stars. This mega-selling single was a clear prercursor to USA for Africa's "We Are the World."

Geldof's activist achievements also include Live 8, a 10-concert charity extravaganza in 2005 intended to raise consciousness around African economic, hunger, and AIDS issues. (The internationally-held event was also notable for reuniting Pink Floyd's long-estranged members for an historic performance.) To this day, he continues to fight on behalf of the impoverished as a member of the Africa Progress Panel as well as the ONE Campaign.

Before activism was a major aspect of his life, Geldof was the frontman for the New Wave group the Boomtown Rats, best known for their 1979 single "I Don't Like Mondays"—a harrowing song that both bemoaned and offered commentary on a school shooting long before such events sadly became commonplace. Elsewhere in his resume, it seems most rock fans either forget or are unaware that he played the lead role of "Pink" in the movie version of Pink Floyd's The Wall.

A major figure in the realm of rock and roll activism, music, and even film, Bob Geldof should probably be a part of any future Ahmet Ertegun Award conversation. This Rock Hall trophy might be a tad anticlimactic, as Geldof has an honorary knighthood from the Queen, and a Man of Peace award from the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, among other honors... but for his high-profile, decades-long committment to the greater global good, he should be recognized.

Top 40 Legend: Casey Kasem
Casey Kasem
A broadcasting luminary hailing from Detroit, Kemal Amin "Casey" Kasem was one of the most well-known, household name-level DJs in America until his death in 2014. For a wide swath of the populus, his weekly show American Top 40 (which ran between 1970 and 2004) was a regular listening habit—a ritual marked by hearing the latest pop songs, "Long Distance Dedications" and Kasem's resonant, reassuring voice. And zoinks, lest we forget, Kasem, a busy voiceover artist, was even the voice of Shaggy on the beloved animated show Scooby-Doo.

Kasem's most obvious peer on some levels is Dick Clark, who was given the Ahmet Ertegun Award in 1993, and if we're talking DJs, the first recipient of this honor was Mr. Alan Freed himself. While Kasem is perhaps more of a "pop music" figure, there's no denying the fact his voice was deeply woven into the American tapestry; he held an important cultural position long before MP3s, streaming music, and irretrievably fragmented musical tastes became the modern norm. His worthiness for the Ahmet Ertegun Award is, well, off the charts.

November 23, 2016

Predictions: The 2017 Rock Hall Inductees

OK, overstuffed Rock Hall ballot, to warmly quote Steve Miller, "I'm going to wrap you up."  

Here are E-Rockracy's predictions for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2017: 

Pearl Jam - The Cubs won, too. It doesn't get Eddie Vedder than this. 

Journey - One is loathe to rely on polls at this point in history, but the Rock Hall fan vote winner reliably gets inducted, and Journey is currently tracking as the victor. Your move, Steve Perry.

Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) - There is a tremendous amount of respect out there for Jeff Lynne. Besides Electric Light Orchestra, his production work and collaborations with former Beatles and elite status as a Traveling Wilbury can only help the larger case. One envisions nearly every music industry person with a ballot checking that ELO box.

Chic - The prognostication here is that the Hall clears them off the nomination list, once and for all (never mind actual vote tallies). They're worthy of the honor, and it's high time to stop this wildly absurd nomination impasse. Also, while Chic transcends the genre, it will be 4 years since a disco-associated act (Donna Summer) has been inducted.

Joan Baez - A majority of the voting body will see the legendary Baez's name on the ballot, experience brief shock that she's not in, and check the box. Additionally, singer-songwriters/folk artists are prime targets for induction, if the past few Rock Hall classes are any indication (i.e., Laura Nyro, Donovan, Randy Newman, Cat Stevens). 

Bonus Predictions:

If there are additional performer inductees (the Hall can and does throw curveballs, even though Joel Peresman himself has said there will be only be five), here are two more: The Cars and The Zombies, in order of likelihood.  

Finally, a prediction for the Ahmet Ertegun Award: Don Cornelius

November 16, 2016

Beyond "Hallelujah": 10 Overlooked Leonard Cohen Tracks

There's always more if you're willing to dig deeper. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the world is enamored of the late Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." It's a magnificent achievement in song, and in no way should it be undervalued, but it's perhaps as widely misunderstood as the Police's "Every Breath You Take" (a stalker monologue people played at their weddings).  

"Hallelujah" sure sounds like a hymn, but the religiosity many listeners ascribe to it is undercut by its acquiescent stance on romantic love. Not a victory march. Cold. Broken. What's inherent is a difficult surrender, among other things. It's a mild source of frustration for so many Cohen fans, then, that this ubiquitous, American Idol-ized song has been embraced to the utter exclusion of his remaining musical repertoire—a veritable diamond mine sparkling with poetry, profundity, libertine angst, and gallows humor. 

Care for music, do ya? Here are 10 overlooked tracks spanning Cohen's entire career. These aren't necessarily "essential tracks" you might find on a compilation—you won't see "Everybody Knows" nor "I'm Your Man" below—but rather a selection of unheralded album cuts that also deserve to be heard. (Click on the song titles to listen to each.)

"A Bunch Of Lonesome Heroes" (Songs from a Room, 1969) - "I sing this for your children / And for all who do not need me," Cohen sings in the nascent stage of his career. A jangly, elegant ode to troubadours destined to be forever misconstrued.

"Avalanche" (Songs of Love and Hate, 1971) - A shadowy early moment, marked by a tense, finger-picked guitar and spiritual defiance: 
"Your laws do not compel me / To kneel grotesque and bare..." Poetic and ominous, one can practically hear Nick Cave's entire aesthetic being born right here.

"Field Commander Cohen" (New Skin for the Old Ceremony, 1974) - Cohen once described touring as something of a military campaign, so given its title, it's fitting this acerbic, self-aware march (a key line: "parachuting acid into diplomatic cocktail parties") made it into his live shows. He might be the "patron saint of envy" and "the grocer of despair," but he's still "working for the Yankee dollar." Oh, the trying nexus of art and commerce.

"If It Be Your Will" (Various Positions, 1985) - "From this broken hill / I will sing to you." A solemn prayer from the same album that yielded "Hallelujah." Never living an unexamined life, Cohen seems to meditate on his role as an artist and performer, accompanied by the lovely backing vocals of Jennifer Warnes.

"Jazz Police" (I'm Your Man, 1988) -  An exotic, synthesizer-flecked escapade, this track stands as one of the strangest volleys in the Cohen songbook, which makes it all the more compelling. And hey, feel free to decode the lyrics if you're feeling brave ("Jazz police are paid by J. Paul Getty"...huh?). Otherwise, piano, electronic beats, and backing singers swirl around in a late-'80s neon purgatory, demonstrating Cohen's taste for sonic adventure.

"Democracy" (The Future, 1992) - "I love the country / But I can't stand the scene / And I'm neither left nor right / I'm just staying home tonight / Getting lost in that hopeless little screen," Cohen declares, offering incisive commentary and a frighteningly accurate vision of the future. Don't let the gentle, airy musical arrangement deceive you; there's a storm brewing here... "Democracy is coming to the USA."

"I caught the darkness / It was drinking from your cup."

"A Thousand Kisses Deep" (Ten New Songs, 2001) - "You live your life as if it's real / A thousand kisses deep," rasps Cohen on this 2001 ballad, a standout from Ten New Songs. The illusory nature of love and life is examined, as Sharon Robinson's angelic vocals float alongside of it. The chiming guitar notes are like tolling bells.

"Darkness" (Old Ideas, 2012) - Mortality became a permanent passenger in the vehicle of Cohen's music as his hour drew nearer: "I got no future / I know my days are few." Sounds like a downer, but there's a bracing churn to the music, and inescapable wisdom within this hedonist's reconciliation. "I caught the darkness / It was drinking from your cup."

"Slow" (Popular Problems, 2014) - "It's not because I'm old / It's not the life I lead / I always liked it slow / That's what my momma said," this deliberate ladies' man explains to a little red corvette over a pulsing rhythm. He continues, "All your moves are swift / All your turns are tight / Let me catch my breath / I thought we had all night." And in the middle of this romantic negotiation, he breaks down: "So baby let me go / You're wanted back in town." Baby, you're much too fast.

"Save the Last Dance for Me" (Live in Dublin, 2014) - A Drifters cover that was the frequent closing song on the 2012-13 Old Ideas tour, this moment from Live in Dublin reminds the listener what a truly wonderful coda it was. Drawn skyward by the choruses of Robinson and Charley and Hattie Webb (the Webb Sisters), Cohen's deep resonance with his adoring fans is distilled beautifully here, as they clap and sing the chorus along with him. A grace note.

November 4, 2016

Induct These Artists! The Grassroots Rock Hall Campaigns

Plenty of people gripe about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; few do much to actively change it. However, there are passionate folks out there stumping for specific artists they want to see inducted into the Hall. These are hopeful individuals operating at a purely grassroots level, championing such acts as Janet Jackson, Electric Light Orchestra/ELO, the Big Bopper, Harry Nilsson, Link Wray, and Dennis Wilson for induction. (Full disclosure: The person behind Induct Dennis is a member of my family.)  

In select cases, these largely social media-driven efforts seem to be having at least some impact: Janet Jackson just received her second Rock Hall nomination, and ELO is enjoying their first. So what exactly drives these campaigns? The individuals behind a few of them recently agreed to answer four questions, shining a light on why they do what they do.  


Why Janet?
Janet created a blueprint in the '80s/'90s for the female pop/R&B/dance artist and it’s still being followed to this day. She helped to break down racial barriers on MTV and CHR/pop radio.  Her influence on the younger generation today is undeniable and can be heard in the music, seen in the videos and witnessed in stage performance. Janet is one of the most successful recording artists of all-time—Billboard ranks her as the 7th most successful Hot 100 artist in history, ahead of her brother—but many tend to overlook Janet’s creative input. She’s completely immersed in the album making process every step of the way. She wrote, co-wrote and co-produced that monster back catalog of hits. She managed to emerge from her brother’s shadow on her own merit and arguably eclipsed him in the '90s, and that needs to be recognized.

Janet’s 2015 Unbreakable album was one of her most critically acclaimed albums and appeared on dozens of “best of 2015” year-end lists. Having a #1 album 35 years into a music career is pretty impressive. Janet is truly deserving of induction and I was thrilled to see her on the ballot again this year!

What do you feel are the chances for induction this year?
I remain cautiously optimistic. In all honesty, the timing seemed perfect for Janet’s induction last year. It’s really exciting to see Janet back on the ballot. The NomCom agrees with us and clearly they think that Janet is worthy. She belongs in the Hall so hopefully this is the year.

It’s a bloated ballot at 19 nominees, so will we see more than 5 nominees? Apparently, Joel Peresman (NomCom President) was quoted that only be 5 inductees will make it this year so I guess we’ll see what happens. Since I mentioned president, did you catch the #Nasty social media explosion during the third Presidential debate?  If that’s not lasting cultural impact then I don’t know what is.
"Her influence on the younger generation today is undeniable."

Who would be your choice to do the induction speech if Janet gets in?
This wouldn’t be my choice, but I’d venture a guess that they’d try to get Beyoncé to induct Janet. Beyoncé is a huge Janet Jackson fan and pretty much her biggest inspiration and influence. Personally, I’d choose Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis to #InductJanet. Missy Elliott would also be a fun choice.

You've wholeheartedly thrown your support behind Janet. Just for fun, what artist would be your second choice to get into the Hall?
I have a bunch actually. Depeche Mode, The Cure, A Tribe Called Quest, Björk, PJ Harvey, Eric B & Rakim, Kate Bush, and The Smiths make up my short list. 


Why Harry Nilsson?
Why did I get inspired to start pushing for him? Who knows? It was an instinct I had. I’m not even sure I care about the Hall of Fame that much, but it pissed me off that he wasn’t in it.

My first memory of music was hearing him on a transistor radio at the beach (“…put the lime in the coconut…”), and then again that same day on the car radio during the drive home from the beach (“…can’t live, if living is without you…”). His voice was on the opening credits to The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (“‘…people let me tell you ‘bout my best friend…”), and there was a cartoon with his songs called The Point, (…me and my arrow…”). His music was just always all around me, but I didn’t know his name. In fact, I didn’t even know that all of these songs were by one guy. I didn’t realize that until I was in my 20s and bought a compilation album.  Then…it hit me hard.  I’ve been borderline obsessed ever since.  But does Harry Nilsson belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame simply because of my personal obsession? As self-involved as I can be, I’d never make that argument.

His influence has only grown since.  His songs were crucial to classic films such as Midnight Cowboy, Goodfellas and Magnolia and can be heard in several films every year since (most recently Angelina Jolie’s By the Sea, and the Bill Murray and Tina Fey vehicles Rock the Kasbah and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, etc…). His voice was heard on a commercial during this year’s Superbowl.  He’s been sampled by rappers such as Cypress Hill, P.M. Dawn, Jurassic 5 and Blackalicious, and covered by current artists such as Neko Case, LCD Soundsystem, Aimee Mann, The Eels, Shooter Jennings, Ron Sexsmith, Jellyfish, Shonen Knife, The Walkmen, and Macy Gray. More than 35 years after his last release, young bands still cite him as a primary influence and critics still use him as a touchstone. 

No…Harry belongs in because his work helped to set the standard for the music of his day and much of what came after him. He was influential in his moment, collaborating with Phil Spector, John Lennon, Randy Newman, Keith Moon, Dr. John, Cher, and more. He wrote songs for The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Yardbirds , Neil Diamond, Rick Nelson, Herb Alpert, The Turtles, Dave Brubeck, The Monkees, Ella Fitzgerald, Link Wray, Astrud Gilberto,  Three Dog Night, and more. David Bowie sang his praises on Saturday Night Live. John Lennon and Paul McCartney famously both named him their “favorite group” at the height of Beatlemania.

So yeah, he has the resume.  He deserves to be in—and not as the fringe candidate he’s so often regarded as by folks who really ought to know better.

What do you feel are the chances of induction?
It is just a matter of time.  Right this moment the Hall is trying to grapple with its need to stay relevant to younger fans. I fully understand that they can’t simply go on just enshrining baby-boomer era acts and ignoring all that came after, so I don’t begrudge them their recent nominations. But they’ll need to continue to reach back for “influence acts” as they move forward, and I frankly don’t see how they’ll ignore Nilsson for too much longer on that score.

Who would be your choice to do the induction speech if Harry gets in?
Ringo Starr was Harry’s closest friend, so I think he deserves the honor.

You've wholeheartedly thrown your support behind Harry. Just for fun, what artist would be your second choice to get into the Hall?
I’m really pulling for the Zombies this year! They were my band when I was a kid.


Why Dennis Wilson? 
Simply put, I think he is one of the most fascinating unsung figures in rock and roll. People know him as the handsome, incorrigible drummer of the Beach Boys, but when you really start digging into his life and work he was an incredibly complicated man who was very underestimated. He was an incredibly talented musician and songwriter who created a beautiful solo album called Pacific Ocean Blue that critics acknowledge is a masterpiece, it’s on a ton of “best album” lists, yet it remains unknown. I want to change that.  I know a lot of people talk about hits and artist popularity when arguing who deserves to be nominated in the Rock Hall, but this is a case where it's more about celebrating a work of art and educating the public on a little known artist. People need to know this stunning, swan song of an album exists.   

The campaign itself began as a personal love letter of sorts because Pacific Ocean Blue got me through a very difficult time in my life, and honestly some days it was the only thing that gave me strength to get through the day. Dennis and I have a lot in common, so listening to Pacific Ocean Blue was like commiserating with a friend, and there is also this weird sense of him confiding his troubles to the listener as well.  It’s such a personal album and there’s so much pain, self-loathing, insecurity, regret and the desperate need to be loved and accepted. It’s everyone’s deepest fears and insecurities that they never voice aloud. It's all delivered in his scratchy, world weary voice and the brutal honesty of it all is so intoxicating.  Dennis doesn’t hold anything back, he really lets you into his head, and it struck me how brave it was for him to put himself out there like this considering how painfully unsure he was of himself. You hear his seriousness and what this album meant to him in every single note. This was his everything. I've never heard anything like it or had an album affect me this deeply. To this day when I’m feeling anxious or having a bad day, I self soothe with Pacific Ocean Blue. When I hear his piano intro to “River Song” I instantly feel calm and like everything will be okay. His piano work especially is unexpected, delicate and absolutely enchanting. Daryl Dragon once compared him to Wagner and said that Dennis was "as gentle as a child petting a kitten" when he played. The musical arrangements are so ethereal and so ahead of their time, it's hard to believe the album is almost 40 years old.
"I want his story to end with triumph." 

Pacific Ocean Blue made me go back and revisit Dennis’ work with the Beach Boys just to get a sense of his evolution, and in one sitting I was overwhelmed by just how much he contributed to the band. He wrote or co-wrote over 30 songs for the Beach Boys, gave them the idea for their first song, and was the only original member who was a surfer, yet somehow he doesn't seem to get included in the conversation about them. During their Rock Hall induction he got mentioned exactly once, it’s honestly pretty disappointing because it's yet another instance where he's dismissed. All you have to do is listen to songs like the trippy "Little Bird" or the heartbreaking "My Love Lives On" to hear what Dennis had to offer the world if given the creative freedom. Most of his material with them sounds like something an indie band would put out now. When I play his work for people who profess to hate the Beach Boys, they are gobsmacked and don’t believe me when I say that yes, it’s the Beach Boys. It's important to talk about what he did with them because it really illustrates what he was capable of and it helps you follow the creative path leading to Pacific Ocean Blue. That album exists because Dennis wasn't supported or allowed to fully spread his wings with the Beach Boys, so he took this material and struck out on his own. He was creatively frustrated and tried so hard to be heard until the very end of his life. It shatters me a bit to think about it. I think if you’ve ever felt doubted, misjudged or invisible, his story and music will break your heart a little.     

I may get heat for saying this but personally I feel his genius and talent is equal to Brian Wilson’s. If he were here I imagine Dennis would be very bashful about me saying that because he was quite humble and adored his older brother, but it’s true! Every time I listen to his work, I shake my head and ask why doesn’t the world know about Dennis Wilson?  How is this beloved, talented, larger than life man so invisible? I got really fired up about it, so I decided to see if I could get him the recognition he deserves and bring him out of the shadows. I want people to hear Pacific Ocean Blue, be blown away and have it change their life. I want people see that Dennis was a genius in his own right. On a very personal level I want his story to end with triumph. I want him to have the acceptance and recognition that he wanted so desperately throughout his life. He was the ultimate underdog in many ways.  We all want the underdog to win in the end.

What do you feel are the chances of induction? 
I am realistic that I picked the darkest of dark horses to champion, but I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't have 100% faith in Dennis. If it's next year, if it takes 20 years, I'm committed until the end. If life were perfect the nomination would come next year, which is the 40th anniversary of the Pacific Ocean Blue release. It's not a question of getting Beach Boys fans on board, people in that community as a whole agree that Dennis was not taken seriously enough, that he was incredibly talented and Pacific Ocean Blue is genius. He's beloved in the Beach Boys fan world. It's convincing people outside of that bubble, and unfortunately I'm up against Dennis' past and a bit of snobbery about anything Beach Boys-related. People think the album is bubblegum fluff about surfing and cars, even though it's about as far away as you can get from that. In my gut I feel like it's going to come down to one person with Rock Hall ties. Someone young, open-minded and passionate about music, someone like a Dave Grohl, seeing this campaign and saying to the nomination committee "hey, this is valid, we need to look at this guy." That's what it's going to take. I admittedly have days when I’m really discouraged at our chances, but then I see artists like Laura Nyro or Bad Brains getting Rock Hall recognition and it gives me hope that even underdogs have their day.  To quote the song “Dreamer” from Pacific Ocean Blue, “Killed the man, but you couldn’t kill the dream. Who said it was easy?” Those lyrics are my mantra.

Who would you pick to induct Dennis at the ceremony? 
Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters, without question. Besides the fact that he’s a drummer and a Dennis/Pacific Ocean Blue fan, he also helped Gregg Jakobson finish a track of Dennis’ called “Holy Man” when they did the long anticipated reissue of Pacific Ocean Blue in 2008. He's the perfect choice.

You've wholeheartedly thrown your support behind Dennis. Just for fun, what artist would be your second choice to get into the Hall?
God that's hard! Can I cheat and say my choice is not so much a band but a desire to see some more edge in the Rock Hall? I know that’s amusing for me to say considering I’m championing a sensitive, quiet singer/songwriter, but I really do love metal, punk and hard rock too.  Artists like Black Flag, Ronnie James Dio, Judas Priest, Motörhead, Mötley Crüe, and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds are not only deserving but would add some much needed excitement to the ceremonies.  The mere thought of a ceremony with Nikki Sixx setting a pentagram on fire, Nick Cave strutting around like Satan’s wingman crooning “Red Right Hand.” or Henry Rollins boring his eyes into the audience and screaming out “Rise Above” delights me. I want a class that blows the roof off the building and has people clutching their pearls by the time the ceremony is over.  


Why the Big Bopper?
My life is music, my job a scrap metal dealer in the North of England, my muse J.P. Richardson—"Jape" to his friends and family, the Big Bopper to the world. He who lost his life alongside Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens Feb 3, 1959, known as The Day the Music Died, but as you and I both know, it's when it awoke. 

J.P.'s voice and indeed his amazing achievements have been muffled far too long, and this is my attempt to show the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the world the real J.P. Richardson, a genius in every aspect of the word and the profession he chose to follow. I'm 58 years old, and as long as I can remember, music has played a massive part in my life, whether I'm happy, sad, melancholy or just relaxing with a glass or maybe a bottle of red. Be it rock, blues, country, be it J.P., Buddy, Bowie, or Willie Nelson, I have a crop for all corn so to speak, but it has to be good. And believe me, J.P. was very good.

The first time I ever heard J.P. was back in the early '70s, as we in the UK, being a little backward, had groups like Mud, Showwaddywaddy, Alvin Stardust, etc. imitating your stars of the '50s. Initially, I thought [that was] great, until I listened to Buddy Holly and wow my world changed. It was one morning while playing a 8-track compilation of '50s music when I first heard "HELLO BABY"; my hair stood up, my eyes stood out I was like a long necked goose. Oh my, he was fun, he was different, he was the Big Bopper.

Many, many years later I start writing song lyrics as a pastime, country music being a great passion of mine. I visited Nashville whenever I could, even being invited to join some top country stars at a writers convention, but I never did anything with my lyrics, I just filed them away. Anyway, I wanted a catchy tune to run a singing ad for my scrap metal company and so I started to listen to catchy tunes... and then, yep, "Hello Baby"—let's say the rest is scrap metals advertising history! I changed some of the words and recorded it, and to my surprise, it was a massive hit with the listening public, with people even coming to the scrap yard to see who sang it, and congratulate me. It ran for three months and was the best received advertisement. At the end of its air time, the radio station contacted me, requesting I do another... so I looked for another catchy tune and it didn't take take long. Johnny Preston's version of "Running Bear" was my next choice, again [I changed] some words i.e. "Running Bear young Indian brave" to "Uncle Billy and little Dave."

It was at this time I discovered something I wasn't aware of: This massive Number 1 hit of 1959, "Running Bear: was written by no other than J.P. Richardson, and given to his good friend Johnny Preston. I was amazed and intrigued, I had to know more about this amazing if virtually forgotten artist. This is when I discovered he had written George Jones' first number one hit, "White Lightning," the hit song "Beggar to a King" for Hank Snow, and many more, including being involved with The Beverly Hillbillies theme tune. It was at this point I felt I must try and show people who this guy was and what he had achieved before being tragically taken from us and the Music world on that dark winter's night in 1959 aged just 28.

When I spoke to his late son Jay Richardson on the phone one summer's afternoon and [found out] he wasn't an inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—something Jay himself had pursued— it came as quite a shock. But as he explained, J.P. had always been portrayed as this singing and dancing clown, and only ever appeared as a cameo in the films about Buddy and Ritchie. That made my mind up, if I do nothing else in my life I'm going to make a movie, a documentary of my quest to get J.P. Richardson inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Jay was to feature in the movie, but unfortunately he passed away from complications due to heart surgery. I sent him some song lyrics I had written and I received a wonderful email back saying "my dad would have loved these." Unfortunately the email was from Ashlyn, Jay's daughter; her dad had passed away the day before. So as you see, the torch has been passed to me.
"He wasn't only a star, he was a genius of the highest order."

Here are one or two facts about J.P. and why he should be seated alongside Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens in his rightful place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. J.P. was an innovator and doesn't just fit into one category:

1) Radio - May 1957, whilst a DJ with KTRM Radio he broke the world record for spinning 1,821 discs continually over a five day, 2 hour, and 8 minute period. [He only had] an occasional shower during news breaks, at one stage becoming delirious and having a premonition of his own death in a plane crash. He lost over [14 lbs], and he was given a watch by the radio station to mark his amazing achievement.

2) Video - J.P. was the first artist ever to make  a music video ("Little Red Riding Hood"). During an interview with the British music magazine Disc in January 1959, just days before his death, he stated that the future of the music industry would be video, a machine next to your TV where you could play tapes of your favorite stars who would not only have to sound good but also look good. This was some 20 years before the first VCR. Who knows, if he had lived we would maybe watching Bopper Vision, he was an innovating genius of this, there is no doubt. What I like about this article he is talking about the future of the music industry, not trying to promote himself, but the very industry that cost him his life.

3) Artist - As a performer, J.P. as the Big Bopper released "Chantilly Lace," which was a massive hit and one of the most played songs of the decade. By the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's own admission, one of the most influential rock and roll songs of all time.

4) Artists who have performed his material - Jerry Lee Lewis had a Number 1 in the '70s with "Chantilly Lace"; The Rolling Stones have performed their version of Chantilly Lace live; the Damned, Led Zeppelin, Leon Russell, Waylon Jennings, etc. Even Van Halen's song "Good Enough" from their 1986 album (5150) starts with Sammy Hagar's hollering out "Hello Baby!"

Need I say more, apart from there has never been a film made about the life of J.P. Not only would it be a great film, it would be a tribute to a real man of music, be it performing, writing, filming, or as a top DJ. He came through the ranks, and you know, he was just like you and me—all he ever wanted was to go to work, feed his family, and build a career in a business he loved. He agreed to the Winter Dance Party for the money, as he was planing on opening his own studio back home. 

He wasn't only a star, he was a genius of the highest order. I really feel a bond with J.P. and only wish he had been around so I didn't have to try to prove his worth almost 60 years after his demise. The proof would have been all to obvious, but in my eyes at least his legacy lives on. 
John Cumberland, the man behind "Bopper and Me"

What do you feel are the chances of induction?
I feel I have a massive Hill to climb, but at least I'm here to climb it. Once the facts are out there and the documentary film is released, hopefully the full impact of his importance will be realized and appreciated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members. And maybe even a feature film portraying him in all his glory may be made. So the answer is, I'm optimistic but the proof is in the pudding, and J.P. is walking in my dreams.

Who would you pick to do the induction speech if the Big Bopper gets in? 
Steven Van Zandt. He is both a great musician and actor who has helped and continues to [help] little-known musicians. He is knowledgeable enough to appreciate what J.P. achieved. 

You've wholeheartedly thrown your support behind the Big Bopper. Just for fun, what artist would be your second choice to get into the Hall? 
For me there is no one else who comes close to J.P. He was unique. But just for fun, as a performer and again innovator it would have to be the Modfather Paul Weller of the Jam, Style Council, and as a solo artist. He has stood the test of time and is a British institution. 

On an ending note, I would be honored if I ever get to meet J.P. in the afterlife. If nothing else he says, "you can call me Jape." Wow. That would do.

Why Link Wray?
Link Wray was the first to use intentional distortion in a rock and roll recording. He was the first to bring the power chord to rock and roll. He was the first Native American rock star. He was the first - and only - artist to have a song banned for fear it would incite violence. This was a remarkable feat for a song with no words!

Link lived and breathed the rock and roll lifestyle for over half a century. During that time he never settled for the “oldies circuit.” Link continued to release new music throughout his career.

Jimmy Page, Neil Young, Iggy Pop, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, Elvis Costello, Robbie Robertson, Pete Townshend, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys… all these rockers and more cite Link Wray as a career influence. He continues to influence a new generation of guitar slingers to this day, with the tribute record GUITAR REBEL released earlier this month.

To quote Terry Stewart, past president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “Rock and Roll would not be what it is without the contribution of Link Wray.”

A more detailed answer to this question - with quotes on Link from the artists mentioned above - can be found here. 
"He was the first to bring the power chord to rock and roll."

What do you feel are the chances for induction? 
Having released his first sides in 1956, Link was eligible to be inducted to the Rock Hall from day one. Should he have been inducted in 1986? That’s not for me to say, but he certainly could have been a welcome nominee that year alongside Duane Eddy another guitar instrumentalist of the day.

After pushing for Link’s induction for several years via letter writing campaigns, petition drives, then social media, etc., I was quite floored when Link was nominated to the Rock Hall in 2014 in the Performer category, over 30 years after first becoming eligible.

Needless to say, I was disappointed to see Link was not nominated as a Performer this year, but I haven’t written his chances off yet for induction in 2017.

Link was always an outsider, and you can read my theory for Link’s outside shot at induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2017 here

Who would be your choice to do the induction speech if Link gets in?
Steven Van Zandt. He said some wonderful words when he inducted Link into the Native American Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

You've wholeheartedly thrown your support behind Link Wray. Just for fun, what artist would be your second choice to get into the Hall?
Can I pick more than one? I’d like to see the Hall induct Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio, Sister Rosetta Tharpe… those would be my first two, but there are too many to count that are worthy inductees and have been waiting for years—decades—to be recognized. I’d like to see the Rock Hall look back, before they move forward.

October 25, 2016

Zombies, Brains, and Addiction: Considering the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall Fame Nominees

So... 19 nominees. 19! This startling move on the part of the Rock Hall might best be described as "public outreach," i.e., "See, we nominated someone you like!" Whether you're into hardcore (Bad Brains), synth-pop (Depeche Mode), anthemic Top 40 pop-rock (Journey), rap (Tupac Shakur), or folk (Joan Baez), there was something for you on this ballot. At the same time, there are naturally a lot of frustrated Moody Blues, Harry Nilsson, Monkees, Nine Inch Nails, and Judas Priest fans out there. (Nothing like a Rock Hall nominee list to spotlight the artists that are not getting their due.)

In any case, here are E-Rockracy's (relatively) quick takes on the 19 Rock Hall nominees:

Bad Brains - The ballot's forehead-slapping surprise, and maybe a turning point. This tremendous nomination just gave hope to any fan of fringe/cult acts no one had any reason to imagine would ever be nominated. Alien Sex Fiend, 2018 is your year! Or maybe it'll be Black Flag's.

The Cars - Most predicted a return to the ballot this year, and here they are. A worthy act that should get in eventually.

Chaka Khan - Back again this year, and fresh from honoring Prince at a tribute concert in Minneapolis. Does she get enough of the 800+ votes, though?

Chic - What comes after 10 nominations? An 11th. Hopefully not a 12th. Inductee predictions will come later, but Chic has just got to be inducted at some point. Their inclusion here yet again makes one think that that the Rock Hall went with a whopping 19 nominations because Chic was taking up one of the spots yet again. Good times.

Depeche Mode - To see them on the same ballot as Kraftwerk is encouraging on one hand, but disjointed on another.  The Mode is deserving, this is a welcome nom, and they'll be inducted eventually, but no follower of electronic-based music would argue they should go in before Kraftwerk. This nomination seems to have simultaneously subtracted Nine Inch Nails and the Smiths from the ballot.

Electric Light Orchestra - Jeff Lynne finally gets his due. ELO is one of those acts people automatically assume was in years ago. There seems to be big momentum with them already.

Jane's Addiction Here we go... with a few nominations in the coming years. Apparently Dave Grohl had a hand in this nomination. However it happened, they belong in the conversation. Their recognition will open the door for other acts of the Lollapalooza/"alt-nation" era that have been snubbed thus far. The Pixies come to mind.

Janet Jackson - Truly a stunner that she didn't get in last year. With this overstuffed ballot, though, there's reluctance to to say Janet is a 100% lock for the next class. 

J. Geils Band Their fourth nomination. Picturing them among the final five is difficult, but if the Hall pulls a December surprise and inducts six or seven acts, they could easily be included.

Joan Baez - "She's not in yet?!" - nearly anyone I've mentioned Baez to, in discussing the nominees this year.  An overdue nomination.

Joe Tex - This fifth nomination for the widely respected, late soul/R&B performer was unexpected, as he'd not been put on the ballot since 2011. His first nomination was way back in 1998. So this year's nod may primarily be a gesture of respect, as few would predict he makes the induction cut.

Journey - Rock Hall CEO Joel Peresman did an interview earlier this year saying he was surprised Journey wasn't in yet. Interesting! Spoiler alert: He also mentioned Bon Jovi. We're halfway there!

Kraftwerk - A fourth nomination. It just doesn't seem like the wider voting body is checking the box for them. They might end up being the Robot Chic, as the years go on.

MC5 - The committee recognizes MC5's influence on punk rock with this nomination, which is great. Do they get lost in this huge ballot? Hopefully not, but probably.

Pearl Jam - If the Cubs win the World Series this month, Eddie Vedder's life will have peaked. This Rock Hall thing though, will be pretty nifty too! As others have noted, Neil Young is an ideal induction speaker, but I'm actually pulling for Vedder's spiritual godfather Pete Townshend. The Who album Quadrophenia maybe has a larger footprint on Pearl Jam's music than any one Neil album, though Young's fierce independence is unquestionably a lighthouse for these sure-thing inductees as well. (The induction speaker gig, though, might be Chris Cornell's to lose.)

Steppenwolf - Refreshing on one level to see a name almost no one has really been talking about for the Hall; this is a truly out of the blue nod. But many would have preferred "heavy metal thunder" by way of Judas Priest, not to compare them in any way, shape or form. Steppenwolf, like others on this ballot, are most likely earning the "we were nominated" distinction (still enviable by any standard). 

Tupac Shakur - As many predicted, on the nomination list the first year this rap icon was eligible. Does he get in this year? It might be 50-50.

Yes - Eligible for 22 years, and this is their third nomination. It's feeling like it may be their year finally. Telling that the Rock Hall listed the members that would be inducted.

The Zombies - This British Invasion group, who created some truly artful and impeccably crafted '60s rock, do feel conspicuous in their absence from the Hall. This is their second nomination, and they're bound to garner a competitive amount of votes when the ballots are distributed. Still, and nothing against them at all, there's a lingering sense that they got the spot that might have went to the Moody Blues or the Monkees.