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. 

October 11, 2016

Candidates for the Rock Hall's Ahmet Ertegun Award

There is always someone behind the scenes. It's the unsung heroes, the inconspicuous figures that have a hand in holding everything together and creating magic.

This very concept is formalized and honored by the Rock Hall in the form of the Ahmet Ertegun Award (previously called "Non-Performer"). The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's website defines it as an honor for "songwriters, producers, disc jockeys, record executives, journalists and other industry professionals who have had a major influence on rock & roll.Previous recipients of this award (granted under either "Non-Performer" or the later label, "Ahmet Ertegun") include Alan Freed, Jerry Wexler, Bill Graham, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Clive Davis, Quincy Jones, and, last year, Bert Berns.

While it's unclear if the Hall will give the Ahmet Ertegun Award out during the ceremony next April, it's been a regular feature, and reasonably likely. Time to shine a light on two deserving icons—one a record label founder, artist mentor, and producer extraordinaire, the other a unique studio wizard with a vibrant discography of his own.

LL Cool J with Rick Rubin
Rick Rubin
A more significant figure in the American recording industry in the last 30-plus years is tough to think of. Co-founder of Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons in 1984 out of his NYU dorm room, Frederick Jay "Rick" Rubin's early activity involved releasing LL Cool J's first single "I Need a Beat," and signing Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys (both acts now Rock and Roll Hall of Famers). The label head and producer was present at one of the major convergences of rap and rock, 1986's "Walk this Way," where Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. were forever joined in record-scratch matrimony. If that wasn't enough, he produced Slayer's Reign in Blood the same year. 

With an ear for hip-hop, metal, rock, folk, country, and whatever it is the Mars Volta does, Rubin proceeded to form American Recordings and serve as co-head of Columbia Records. But ultimately, it's the astounding list of musicians that he's manned the boards for that makes him such an airtight case for the Ahmet Ertegun award—such varied, multi-platinum artists as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Jay-Z, AC/DC, Dixie Chicks, Adele, and scores of others. Rubin has been a major force in popular music and something of an expert at artist reinvention and revitalization; from the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill, to Aerosmith's reboot, to the Chili Peppers, to Cash's priceless late-career triumphs, the producer has overseen it all. A ubiquitous icon of the industry, Rubin is very much due for Rock Hall recognition.

Daniel Lanois

Daniel Lanois
Given his decades-long string of shimmering, atmospheric albums, there's certainly an argument for the gifted, Quebec-born songwriter-guitarist-arranger Daniel Lanois to enter the Rock Hall as a performer. But wow... does that seem like a long shot, or what? Not as remote a possibility, however, is his receiving the Ahmet Ertegun Award for his sterling, otherworldly production work. Here's a multi-hyphenate that has earned his spot in the Hall.

It was a slow start for Lanois; after a few years in the early '80s working alongside his brother Robert offering buzz-worthy production services in Hamilton, Ontario, Lanois began a collaborative relationship with none other than Brian Eno, and he and Eno went on to co-produce U2's The Unforgettable Fire. After the Fire, Peter Gabriel came calling, and Lanois produced the blockbuster album So, as well as U2's 1987 soaring masterpiece The Joshua Tree. Other highlights include his career-boosting work for Bob Dylan (Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind) and his production of Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball. Along the way, Lanois' genius was also poured into his own records; he's forged his own highly-regarded discography, from his debut Acadie to the harrowing score for the movie Sling Blade to 2016's Goodbye to Language. History, and the Rock Hall, may yet end up canonizing him for his high-profile production work, and that's not at all a bad thing. This sonic conjurer would be a totally worthy Rock Hall honoree, however it happens.

September 9, 2016

Predictions: The 2017 Rock Hall Nominees

So who are the lucky 15? Given last year's Rock Hall class, expect at least a partial shift away from classic rock. For the Class of 2017, newly eligible Pearl Jam is the consensus favorite, and previous nominees will be back. However, it's the unforeseen wild cards that always hold the most intrigue, and some of the picks below are very much in that anything-can-happen spirit. Let's go crazy. Let's get nuts.

On that note, in no particular order, here are E-Rockracy's 15 nominee predictions for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2017:

Pearl Jam - Arriving fully formed in 1991 with their monolithic debut Ten, Pearl Jam has never wavered, building a sterling rock career that has to be the envy of any of their peers. They've held a firm grip on that elusive, all-too-rare thing artists like Neil Young and R.E.M. possess: artistic integrity. They've got the anthems, the diehard following, and they continue to play stadiums and arenas. And what a saga: They outlasted "grunge," battled Ticketmaster, endured tragedy, and forged a contemplative yet triumphant identity that is singular, earning fans from Pete Townshend to your little sister. Plainly, they are this year's shoo-in. Eddie Vedder and company will serve as a ceremony headliner and heavy draw for the HBO broadcast. 

Subversive Spudboys: Devo

Devo - Just a hunch, but given Gerald Casale's recent talk at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum in August (titled "It's a Beautiful World: Devo and the Subversive Politics of Rock"), it appears the institution is finally warming up to the Ohio spudboys. Devo is a truly special act with intelligence, a distinct worldview, and an unforgettable aesthetic. Their influence reaches far and wide. Case in point: Pearl Jam once dressed up as Devo and performed "Whip It" at a Halloween concert, so there's "all star jam" potential there if both acts went in. Imagine a dozen or so rock legends wearing red flower pot hats, it's almost worth inducting them simply to arrive at that scenario.

Los Lobos
Los Lobos - This eclectic troupe, which refers to itself as "just another band from East L.A." was a welcome addition to last year's list of nominees, and one few could have predicted. They didn't make the induction cut, but their rootsy, shape-shifting rock, multiple Grammys, and reportedly strong advocacy within the NomCom should keep them on the ballot.

Judas Priest - If one was to bet on which two artists Tom Morello is putting forth in this October's nomination scrum, the smart money would be on MC5 (below) and Judas Priest. Furthermore, Rock Hall voter Eddie Trunk went on record again recently, voicing his support of the metal gods' induction. Regardless of your opinion of Trunk, he is arguably metal and hard rock's most visible and active champion: the man who directly speaks to/fires up the larger base. Trunk represents a wider legion of metal fans/defenders of the faith that want Judas Priest (and other metal acts) to get their due. This is as much about validating heshers' personal taste as it is giving it up for one of the reigning titans from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Black Sabbath is in, Deep Purple is in... it's Judas Priest's turn.

Nine Inch Nails - Nominated the last two years, and there's no reason to think industrial-rock necromancer Trent Reznor won't be back again. (Three times is probably the charm for induction, too.) The purist, and even Reznor, might passionately argue that Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, and even the Cure should enter the Hall first, but NIN commands immense respect in the industry.

Billboard chart toppers: The Go-Go's
The Go-Go's - Rolling Stone published a recent interview with singer Belinda Carlisle, and it was noted twice in the article how the Go-Go's stand alone as the only all-female group that writes and plays its own music to hit the top of the Billboard chart. It's a solid reason for Rock Hall consideration, and a possible signal that they're headed toward a nomination. Even in the absence of this article, there's a valid case to be made for the Go-Go's, who emerged from the L.A. punk scene and took the airwaves and MTV by storm with "Our Lips are Sealed," "We Got the Beat," and "Vacation," among other hits. They're on a farewell tour right now, so it might be a shrewd move on the Hall's part to catch them while they're still relatively active. 

The Cure - Nominated once in 2012, and they're too iconic and influential to ignore forever. With their entrancing repertoire, longevity, and current tour, they're an easier sell on the ballot than the never-going-to-reunite Smiths, whose place they'd be taking this year. Robert Smith and company are a legendary British troupe with a global multitude of followers. "Just Like Heaven," pretty much a perfect song, would almost be enough to enshrine them. And what a spectacular addition to the Rock Hall ceremony they would be.

2Pac - A towering, near-mythical figure in rap, the late Tupac Amaru Shakur has sold 75 million records globally. He started out initially—and relatively inauspiciously—as as a backup dancer and emcee for the Digital Underground, then struck out on his own and released 2Pacalypse Now in 1991. Controversy and violence were the hellhounds on his trail, never far behind, but his raw talent, extensive discography, and ongoing influence are irrefutable. 2Pac's most revered album statement is his Death Row Records debut, All Eyez on Me, released in 1996the year he died at age 25 after being gunned down in Las Vegas. As far as his Rock Hall chances, he's #86 on Rolling Stone's 2011 "Greatest Artists of All Time," a 100-entry list that, per Future Rock Legendsputs him among only 7 artists that are not yet inducted. It's just a matter of time.

The Shangri-Las
The Shangri-Las - Eligible since 1990 but never nominated, these purveyors of widescreen teenage dramas produced by George "Shadow" Morton nonetheless feel like a natural fit for the Hall. Their achievements in song include the death-courting "Leader of the Pack" and the poignant, seagull-accented "Remember (Walkin' in the Sand)." Countering the more prim and proper girl groups of their time, the Shangri-Las cultivated a edgier image, decked out in boots and leather pants. Their influence can be seen and heard in everyone from punk rockers to Madonna to Adele.

MC5 - Eligible for 25 years, and nominated in 2003. Time to "Kick Out the Jams" again. One of the key building blocks of American punk rock, Detroit's fiery MC5 is a favorite of NomCom member Morello, who may be advocating for them this year. In fact, Prophets of Rage, his current combo alongside of his Rage Against the Machine rhythm section as well as Chuck D and B-Real, recently covered MC5's "Kick out the Jams" in Toronto with Dave Grohl on drums. That sure is a lot of Hall of Famers digging on one punk band. 

Hear that "Rumble"? It's Link Wray
Link Wray - 33 years eligible, and nominated in 2014. The pioneering guitarist, who essentially invented the power chord and inspired Pete Townshend to pick up a guitar, is one of the more glaring Rock Hall snubs, and is bound to return to the ballot. A wildly deserving and influential figure in rock and roll. 

The Cars - "Hello again!" Nominated last year, and it was surprising the beloved, percolating new wave crew—a staple of FM radio like many of the eventual inductees—didn't make the final cut. They'll be back this year. How many groups can boast that Andy Warhol directed and appeared in one of their music videos, anyway?

Kool the Gang  - This year's ballot will have some stunners, and Kool & the Gang could be among them. They're an American musical institution (try getting through New Year's Eve without hearing "Celebration"—it can't be done), and their accomplishments are legion. They've been doing it since 1964, when they started as a jazz unit, but broke out in the next two decades, mastering funk and achieving crossover pop/R&B success with an avalanche of charting singles. They are among of the most sampled acts ever ("Summer Madness" alone has been sampled 160 times by artists including Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and Mary J. Blige),  and "Cherish" was a smash hit in 1985. They've been a presence in theaters too; "Summer Madness" appeared in Rocky, and Quentin Tarantino memorably featured "Jungle Boogie" in Pulp Fiction. So there's career longevity, a catalog of hits, and, given their astonishing sampling statistics, clear influence

The Monkees
The Monkees - It may be now or never for the Monkees and the Hall, but the timing sure feels right. They have an acclaimed new album, Good Times (on which they collaborated with Rivers Cuomo, Ben Gibbard,  and Noel Gallagher, among others), and a current tour that will even find Mike Nesmith sitting in with both Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork for one show in L.A. They were a pop culture sensation in the '60s, have plenty of smash hits, and are still at it 50 years later. Detractors should get over that "fictional band" stigma; it's been proven wrong time and time again. 

Sonic Youth - New York City's masters of guitar noise and left-field alt-rock hits ("Kool Thing," "100%") exuded a remote urban cool, yet were wholly committed to their punk-inspired craft... that is, until they disbanded in 2011 due to the marital breakup of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. The band is a darling among the rock intelligentsia, but lest you think they're too fringe, they once appeared on "The Simpsons." Also, it doesn't hurt that Gordon performed Nirvana's "Aneurysm" during the 2014 induction ceremony. It may take a few nominations to get them in, but Sonic Youth is due to hit the ballot