Gather round kiddies, it is time for a music history lession. The 27th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place this Saturday, April 14, 2012 in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. But do you know all of this year's inductees and what they have contributed to the world of rock and roll?
Guns N’ Roses may have began as just another long-haired band trying to make it on the L.A. Sunset Strip club scene, but when they unleashed their debut LP Appetite For Destruction on the world in 1987, they instantly established themselves as one the most dynamic and explosive hard rock bands in history. In many ways, they became the Rolling Stones for a new generation. While their peers produced glossy songs that romanticized the party atmosphere of mid-1980s Los Angeles, frontman Axl Rose, guitarist Slash, drummer Steven Adler, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin and bassist Duff McKagan wrote about the gritty realities of the scene, most memorably on their masterpiece “Welcome To The Jungle.” The massive single “Sweet Child O’ Mine” showed their gentler side, while “Mr. Brownstone” was a brilliant cautionary tale about the dangers of heroin. In 1991, inspired by Queen and Elton John, they released the highly ambitious Use Your Illusion albums on the same day. Epic singles “November Rain” and “Civil War” proved how quickly the band had evolved in a few short years, and they were soon packing stadiums all across the globe. When the tour wrapped in late 1993, the band paid tribute to their 1970s hard rock, punk and glam heroes by recording an album of covers called The Spaghetti Incident. The band took a long break starting in 1994, but in the new millennium Axl Rose brought a brand new line-up of Guns N’ Roses on the road and in 2008 they released their long-awaited album Chinese Democracy. In recent years, Rose has welcomed original members Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin onto his stage - but he remains committed to the new lineup and they remain a touring juggernaut.
Formed in the sin-and-glamour capital of America – Hollywood, California – in 1983, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the most flamboyant, commercially successful and musically influential bands of rock’s last quarter century. Singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Michael Balzary AKA Flea, guitarist Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons were high school pals who combined their passions for Jimi Hendrix, Seventies R&B and hardcore punk with sexual exuberance and local skateboard culture, immediately becoming famous for their outrageous (often near-naked) live shows and incendiary jamming. After Slovak’s death in 1988 and other personnel changes, the Chili Peppers – with guitar prodigy John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith – broke through with 1991’s BloodSugarSexMagik, a multi-platinum fusion of metal and rap that was pivotal in bringing modern black street culture and music to the Nirvana generation. The Chili Peppers’ hits have run the melodic and emotional gamut from the fierce hip hop of BloodSugar’s “Give It Away” and the 1992 Number Two ballad “Under The Bridge,” one of the best pop songs ever written about the grip of addiction, to the heavy riffing of “Scar Tissue” and the gorgeous melancholy of “Otherside” on 1999’s Californication. The Chili Peppers’ 2006 two-CD set, Stadium Arcadium, went right to Number One, an ambitious collection that added Sixties pop harmonies, blazing psychedelia and progressive rock dynamics to their heavy California soul. After their longest hiatus ever, the Chili Peppers returned in the summer of 2011 with a new album, I’m With You (which debuted at Number One in 17 countries), and a new tour that will take them through 2013.
The first British folk troubadour who truly captured the imaginations of early Beatles-era fans on both sides of the Atlantic, Donovan Leitch made the transition from a scruffy blue-jeaned busker into a brocaded hippie traveler on Trans Love Airways. As a folkie on the road with Gypsy Dave, Donovan became a Dylan-esque visual presence on the BBC’s Ready Steady Go! starting in 1964, and released several classics: “Catch The Wind,” “Colours,” Buffy Ste.-Marie’s “Universal Soldier,” “To Try For The Sun” and more. That changed in 1966, as he came under the production arm of UK hitmaker Mickie Most, and was signed by Clive Davis to Epic Records in the states. Donovan ignited the psychedelic revolution virtually single handedly when the iconic single “Sunshine Superman” was released that summer of ’66 (and the LP of the same name, with “Season Of The Witch”). His heady fusion of folk, blues and jazz expanded to include Indian music and the TM (transcendental meditation) movement. Donovan was at the center of the Beatles’ fabled pilgrimage to the Maharishi’s ashram in early ’68 (where, it is said, he taught guitar finger-picking techniques to John Lennon and Paul McCartney). Donovan’s final Top 40 hit with Most was “Goo Goo Barabajagal (Love Is Hot)” in the summer ’69, backed by the Jeff Beck Group. In the ’70s and ’80s, Donovan continued to record and tour sporadically, including songs for Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon (finally issued in 2004). During the 1990s, Rick Rubin (after working with Johnny Cash) produced Donovan’s Sutras. The 2008 documentary film, Sunshine Superman: The Journey Of Donovan is an essential overview of his career.
Bronx-born singer, songwriter and pianist Laura Nyro (1947-1997) was still a teenager in 1966 when she recorded her debut album, and Peter, Paul & Mary cut “And When I Die.” At age 19, Nyro played the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, which brought her to the attention of first-time manager David Geffen. He led her to Columbia, Nyro’s record label for the next 25 years, starting with 1968’s iconic Eli And The Thirteenth Confession. Other artists scored hit after hit with her songs, led by the 5th Dimension’s “Stoned Soul Picnic” and “Sweet Blindness” in 1968 (then “Wedding Bell Blues” in ’69 and “Blowin' Away” in ’70). During two consecutive weeks in October 1969, Blood, Sweat & Tears entered the Hot 100 with “And When I Die,” and Three Dog Night followed with “Eli's Coming.” In 1970-71, Barbra Streisand charted three consecutive times with Nyro songs, “Stoney End,” “Time And Love” and “Flim Flam Man.” Nyro’s 1971 LP with vocal group Labelle, Gonna Take A Miracle, an entire program of R&B covers, produced in Philadelphia by Gamble and Huff, remains a classic four decades later. Elton John acclaimed her influence to Elvis Costello: “The soul, the passion, the out-and-out audacity of her rhythmic and melody changes was like nothing I’d ever heard before.” Nyro’s tragic death of ovarian cancer at age 49 robbed popular music of one of its purest lights.
Founded in London in 1965, the Small Faces were two great bands in one: visionary mods who were creative peers and commercial equals of the Beatles, the Who and the Rolling Stones, then reborn in the early Seventies with a shortened name and a thrilling inventive hard rock sound. Together, the Small Faces and Faces have been a lasting inspiration on artists like the Black Crowes, the Jam’s Paul Weller, the Replacements and Oasis. Named for their diminutive stature and mod slang for a snappy dresser, bassist Ronnie Lane, organist Ian McLagan, drummer Kenney Jones and singer Steve Marriott recorded an explosive series of U.K. hit singles and classic albums, mostly written by Marriott and Lane, that set the standard for Sixties soul-inflected pop and English psychedelic romanticism. Marriott’s Cockney-Otis Redding wail was a profound influence on heavy-rock singers like Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. When Marriott quit in early 1969, Lane, Jones and McLagan recruited singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood, both from the Jeff Beck Group. Fusing R&B, country roots and Fifties rock, the Faces made joyful roots music with arena muscle, cutting their own immortal body of work (1972’s “Stay With Me,” Lane’s elegiac gem “Ooh La La”) while conquering America with boozy-brother showmanship. The Faces broke up in 1975 when Stewart went solo full-time and Wood joined the Stones. (Lane died in 1997.) But in their exuberance and pioneering spirit, the Small Faces and Faces have always been one band: brilliant, unprecedented and as influential as ever.
At different times over the past three decades, the Beastie Boys have been shaven-head punks, hip-hop bad boys, Seventies-funk students, political activists and style icons. Most important: they have had one of the richest, most important careers in hip-hop and rock, introducing rap to a huge new audience and then pushing the frontiers of what a hip-hop group could do. Their 1986 debut album Licensed To Ill – a supremely bratty, hard-punching, pitch-perfect mix of rap and hard rock – was hip-hop’s first number one album, and remains near the top of the Billboard catalog charts to this day. The single “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!),” became a teenage party anthem of the 1980’s; a generation of hip-hop fans memorized hits like “Brass Monkey” and “Paul Revere,” songs which are now part of the rap canon. Their follow-up, 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, was one of the high points of hip-hop’s golden age of sampling, piling hilarious, streetwise rhymes over everything from Loggins & Messina to the Ramones. In the 1990’s, they came full circle musically, picking up their instruments and bringing back hardcore punk and funk into their music repertoire. They recorded three classic albums, Check Your Head, Ill Communication and Hello Nasty, and smash hits like “Sabotage” and “Intergalactic.” Along the way, they’ve kept experimenting with what a hip-hop band can be: becoming the most politically active group of their generation with the Tibetan Freedom Concerts; recording classic videos; putting their fans behind the camera with their film Awesome I F**king Shot That; and recording three new studio albums in the last decade, 2004’s To The 5 Boroughs, 2007’s The Mix-Up and 2011’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two.
Inducted members: Jerry Allison, Sonny Curtis, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan
The Crickets were Buddy Holly’s group from 1956 to 1958, a period of time when Holly was one of rock and roll’s hottest stars and main musical innovators. In fact, Holly appears to be a member of the Crickets himself on the cover of his first album, which is credited to the “Chirping” Crickets. Although there’s no question that Holly was the central figure – lead singer, lead guitarist and chief songwriter – the Crickets contributed heavily to Holly’s sound and success. As guitarist Joe Mauldin told Holly biographers John Goldrosen and John Beecher, “Other stars kept their musicians on salary but Buddy said, ‘No, man – share and share alike. You’re as much a part of this group as I am. If it wasn’t for you guys, I couldn’t perform the show that I put on.’” Moreover, Buddy Holly and the Crickets were a self-contained group that had two guitars, bass and drums and wrote their own material, serving as the blueprint for a torrent of rock bands that followed in the Sixties, including the Beatles.
When Buddy Holly got offered a contract with Decca Records in 1956, he put together a group configured like Elvis Presley’s. Holly himself played guitar and sang, and he recruited three fellow musicians from his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, to join him: guitarist Sonny Curtis, drummer Jerry Allison and bassist Don Guess. Curtis was a proficient guitarist in the style of Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore (Presley’s guitarist). Allison shared Holly’s love of rhythm & blues and rockabilly. They all knew each other from having attended the same schools in Lubbock. This lineup cut Holly’s first series of recordings in Nashville, and although no hits resulted, those sessions yielded such classics as “Midnight Shift,” the Curtis-penned “Rock Around With Ollie Vee” and an early version of “That’ll Be the Day.”
By early 1957, both Guess and Curtis had left, with Curtis attributing his departure to the fact that “we weren’t making any money.” In addition, he saw himself as a lead guitarist, and with Holly filling that role himself, Curtis was relegated to playing rhythm. For a spell in late 1956 and early 1957, Holly and Allison performed in Lubbock as a guitar-and-drums duo, which further tightened them musically. In late 1956, Holly visited producer Norman Petty at his studio in Clovis, New Mexico. Petty urged Holly to form a band before returning to cut demos. In January 1957, another Lubbock native, Niki Sullivan, joined the duo as rhythm guitarist. Like Holly, he loved rhythm & blues and country & western, and he proved well-suited to Holly’s Southwestern hybrid of those forms. They needed a bassist for recording purposes, and Holly turned to Larry Welborn, with whom he had previously played in a country & western outfit that included Holly’s original musical collaborator, Bob Montgomery.
It was this lineup that cut the definitive version of “That’ll Be the Day” at Petty’s studio in the early morning hours of February 25, 1957. “That’ll Be the Day” was issued on the Brunswick label and credited to the Crickets – the group identity utilized as a hedge against legal action from Decca Records, from which Holly had not yet received a formal release. Ironically, thanks to A&R man Bob Thiele, “That’ll Be the Day” was released on the Brunswick label, a Decca subsidiary, and Holly also issued records on the Coral label, another Decca subsidiary. The Brunswick releases were credited to the Crickets, and those on Coral to Buddy Holly.
After the initial recording session with Petty in Clovis, 16-year-old Joe Mauldin, who was still attending high school in Lubbock, joined the Crickets on bass (replacing Welborn, who’d been a temporary addition). As an ensemble that backed Buddy Holly, the Crickets were always rather fluid, but the most stable lineup occurred in 1957 during the period between Mauldin’s arrival and Sullivan’s departure. It was this foursome of Holly, Sullivan, Mauldin and Allison that was pictured on the cover of The Chirping Crickets, Holly’s first album.
In August 1957, “That’s Be the Day” – now finally out as a single, five months after its recording – entered the charts, hitting Number One for a week on September 23. Buddy Holly and the Crickets became bonafide stars, and other hits – including “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!,” “Maybe Baby” and “Rave On” – followed. Exhausted from touring, Niki Sullivan left the Crickets at the end of 1957. Holly, Mauldin and Allison carried on as a trio for several months. Tommy Allsop, a guitarist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who Holly met at Petty’s studio, joined in the summer of 1958, recording such classics as “Love’s Made a Fool of You” and “It’s So Easy” with Holly and the Crickets.
In August 1958, Holly married Maria Elena Santiago, having proposed to her on their first date in June. In October 1958, he began severing ties with Norman Petty, who’d served not only as producer but also publisher and manager. The Crickets remained with Petty, parting ways with Holly. Returning to New York to live with Marie Elena in their apartment, Holly planned to continue as a solo artist. However, he died only months later in the February 3, 1959, small-plane crash that also killed Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (a.k.a. “The Big Bopper”). Holly had recruited guitarist Allsop, drummer Carl Bunch and Waylon Jennings on bass for the ill-fated tour, billed as “The Winter Dance Party.” Ironically, on the very evening Holly died, three of the Crickets – Jerry Allison, Joe Mauldin and original guitarist Sonny Curtis – had gathered at Allison’s house, discussing the break with Holly and deciding to contact him to clear the air and possibly reunite. They never got the chance.
In the years following Holly’s death, the Crickets carried on, with Allison as the only consistent member and Mauldin and Curtis involved at various points. In 1978, at a Buddy Holly fan-club convention in Connecticut, the original Crickets – Jerry Allison, Joe Mauldin, Niki Sullivan and Sonny Curtis – performed together for the first time in 20 years. There have been various recordings by the Crickets over the years, including 1988’s T Shirt, made with support from Paul McCartney, one of the most inveterate fans of Buddy Holly and the Crickets.
Inducted members: Bobby Bennett, Bobby Byrd, Lloyd Stallworth and Johnny Terry
The Famous Flames served as James Brown’s backup singers from their formation in 1953 until they disbanded in 1968. One of the Famous Flames, Bobby Byrd, remained with Brown through1973, essentially serving as Brown’s right-hand man for 20 years. Brown’s years with the Famous Flames represent his greatest period of impact as a driving force in soul music and as a live performer. The Famous Flames not only sang but also were part of the stage choreography that made Brown’s shows so spectacular. Although James Brown was the undisputed leader, the Famous Flames – not to mention all the instrumentalists in Brown’s band – played a significant role in his success. In fact, Brown himself was initially just one of the Flames before he busted out to become the Godfather of Soul.
Brown’s talent was discovered by Bobby Byrd, whose baseball team played the prison team Brown pitched for while serving a term for armed robbery at a reform school in Toccoa, Georgia. Thanks to the sponsorship of Byrd and his family, Brown was paroled in 1952. He joined Byrd’s group, which sang both gospel (as the Gospel Starlighters) and rhythm & blues (as the Avons). Brown played an increasingly central role in the group. The band performed around Georgia and South Carolina as the Flames (amended to the Famous Flames) in 1954 and 1955. Byrd played keyboards and shared lead vocals with Brown. The other original members were guitarist Nafloyd Scott, bassist Baroy Scott and singers Sylvester Keels, Fred Pulliam and Derek Oglesby. The latter two were replaced by Nashpendle “Nash” Knox and Johnny Terry in1955.
Late that year, the Famous Flames cut a demo of “Please Please Please” at Macon, Georgia, radio station WIBB. Their manager, Clint Brantley – who’d also managed Little Richard – circulated the demo to various labels. Ralph Bass (of King Records) signed the Famous Flames to the label over the objections of owner Syd Nathan. They recut “Please Please Please” for official release at King’s studio in Cincinnati. Released in March 1956, the record was credited to James Brown and the Famous Flames, with Brown’s top billing causing dissension within the group.
The combination of Brown’s relegation of the Famous Flames to backup band and a sustained lack of chart success caused instability within the lineup. Brown assembled a new set of backup singers (with only Terry remaining from the original lineup) and retained the J.C. Davis Band as his musicians. Byrd rejoined in 1959, and the further addition of Bobby Bennett and “Baby” Lloyd Stallworth – who’d been valets for James Brown and J.C. Davis, respectively – cemented the definitive lineup of the Famous Flames as Brown’s backup vocalists, dancers and onstage foils. The Famous Flames were a huge part of Brown’s live act, audible on Live at the Apollo and evident in performance footage from that time, including an unforgettable segment in The T.A.M.I. Show. However, Brown used the Famous Flames less frequently on record after 1964.
The Famous Flames disbanded in 1968, with Byrd returning to Brown’s fold a year and a half later and remaining with Brown until 1973. He received a co-writing credit with Brown on such tracks as “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” “Talkin’ Loud and Saying Nothing” and “Licking Stick – Licking Stick.” Under Brown’s auspices, Byrd even had a respectable number of R&B hits under his own name, including “Baby Baby Baby” (with Anna King), “I Need Help (I Can’t Do It Alone)” and “I Know You Got Soul.”
Inducted members: Henry Booth, Cal Green, Arthur Porter, Lawson Smith, Charles Sutton, Norman Thrasher, Sonny Woods
Hank Ballard and the Midnighters were one of the great vocal groups of the Fifties, delivering solid harmonies, lively beats and slyly risqué lyrics. As testimony to their crossover popularity, they made the pop and R&B charts a nearly equal number of times, scoring more than a dozen hits on each. Moreover, they topped the R&B chart three times over a six-year period with “Work with Me Annie,” “Annie Had a Baby” and “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go.”
Ballard was adamant that he and the Midnighters were a group. In fact, it was he who joined them, back when they were known as the Royals. The Detroit-based Royals were formed in 1950 by Ardra “Sonny” Woods, and they signed to Syd Nathan’s King/Federal labels. The original quintet – all of whom worked at automobile factories in the Motor City – consisted of bass singer Woods, tenor Henry Booth, baritones Charles Sutton (who sang lead) and Freddie Pride, and guitarist/arranger Alonzo Tucker. Lawson Smith replaced Pride, who was drafted. Hank Ballard then replaced Smith, who was himself drafted. At first Ballard was a background singer, but he gradually began singing leads, with his first being “Get It,” released in 1953. It was the Royals’ breakthrough, reaching Number Six on the R&B chart, and it became representative of the more uptempo and ribaldly funny style they adapted.
The group’s biggest and most controversial hit was “Work with Me Annie,” whose words, rhythm and delivery were overtly sexual. Perceived as obscene, “Work with Me Annie” got banned by some radio stations, which further fueled its popularity. It was a Number One R&B hit for seven weeks and remained on the chart for nearly half a year. It spawned the sequels “Annie Had a Baby” and “Annie’s Aunt Fannie.” Ballard also wrote and sang “Sexy Ways” in the same suggestive, uninhibited style. The Midnighters’ intricate, full-bodied vocal arrangements complemented Ballard’s leads, and unbridled electric-guitar playing frequently added to the frenzied party atmosphere.
As “Work with Me Annie” was becoming a hit, the Royals changed their name to the Midnighters at the insistence of Syd Nathan, who wanted to avoid confusion with the “5” Royales, another popular R&B group.
Along the way, there were more personnel changes. Guitarist Arthur Porter, who first appeared on “Work with Me Annie,” took over from Alonzo Tucker in early 1954. Later that year, Porter was replaced by Cal Green, who remained through 1958. Charles Sutton left in late 1954 and was replaced by Lawson Smith, who’d returned from military service.
Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ original version of “The Twist,” released as the B-side of “Teardrops on Your Letter,” became a minor R&B hit in 1959. Sixteen months later, Chubby Checker’s nearly identical cover version topped the pop and R&B charts and ignited the twisting craze. A re-release of Ballard and the Midnighters’ version fared somewhat better the second time around, reaching Number Six R&B and Number 28 pop. The group had three of its biggest hits in 1960 and 1961: “Finger Poppin’ Time” (Number Two R&B, Number Seven pop), “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” (Number One R&B, Number Six pop), “The Hoochi Coochi Coo” (Number Three R&B, Number 23 pop) and “The Switch-a-Roo” (Number Three R&B, Number 26 pop). Hank Ballard and the Midnighters were performing up to 300 shows a year, but personnel changes began taking a toll, and Ballard disbanded the group in 1962 and went solo.
With a resurgence of interest in their work, Ballard re-formed the Midnighters in the mid-Eighties, and they performed and recorded into the Nineties. Among the Midnighters, Henry Booth, Cal Green, Arthur Porter and Sonny Woods are now deceased, and Ballard himself succumbed to throat cancer in 2003.
Inducted members: Franny Beecher, Danny Cedrone, Joey D’Ambrosio (a.k.a. Joey Ambrose), Johnny Grande, Ralph Jones, Marshall Lytle, Rudy Pompilli, Al Rex, Dick Richards, Billy Williamson
Bill Haley and His Comets were crucial to the rise of rock and roll, igniting the craze in 1955 with their mammoth hit “Rock Around the Clock.” With its irresistible beat and compelling musicianship, including Danny Cedrone’s remarkable guitar solo, the song stayed on top of Billboard’s pop chart for eight weeks and sold an estimated 16 million copies. The historic session occurred at the Pythian Temple in New York City on April 12, 1954. The members of the Comets at that time were steel guitarist Billy Williamson, tenor saxophonist Joey D’Ambrosio (a.k.a. Joey Ambrose), pianist Johnny Grande, bassist Marshall Lytle and drummer Dick Richards. All but Richards played on “Rock Around the Clock,” as producer Milt Gabler chose to use a studio drummer.
Already Bill Haley and His Comets had scored two major early rock and roll hits with “Crazy Man Crazy” (a Number 12 hit in 1953) and their cover of Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” (a Number Seven smash in 1954). “Rock Around the Clock” wasn’t a hit at first and almost didn’t get recorded at all. The producer at Essex Records, Haley’s prior label, wouldn’t let him cut the song, prompting Haley’s move to Decca Records. But even at Decca it wasn’t a priority. “Rock Around the Clock” was cut quickly at the end of a session for another song, “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town),” the intended A side. On its initial release, “Rock Around the Clock” was indeed the flip side of “Thirteen Women,” which didn’t chart when released in May 1954. “Rock Around the Clock” finally entered the charts in May 1955, gaining exposure from its inclusion on the soundtrack to Blackboard Jungle, a film about juvenile delinquency. The song became an anthem for the rock and roll revolution and, some have argued, the first rock and roll song to top the charts.
Sadly, session guitarist Danny Cedrone died on June 17, 1954. Three of the Comets – Joey Ambrose, Dick Richards and Marshall Lytle – left the group in September 1955 and formed the Jodimars, who had a minor hit (“Well Now Dig This”) before breaking up in the late Fifties. They were replaced by tenor saxophonist Rudy Pompilli, bassist Al Rex and drummer Ralph Jones. Guitarist Franny Breecher was added to the lineup, as well. This configuration recorded a number of other hits, including “See You Later, Alligator,” “Rock-a-Beatin’ Boogie” and “R-O-C-K.” Saxophonist Pompilli was an especially notable musician, as evidenced on his signature song, “Rudy’s Rock.” Pompilli continued to play with Haley into the Seventies.
In 1956, at the peak of their fame, Bill Haley and His Comets starred in a movie titled Rock Around the Clock, which featured performances of nine songs. The hits began to decline in 1958, however, and Bill Haley and His Comets broke Billboard’s Top 40 for the last time that year (not counting a 1974 reissue of “Rock Around the Clock”). Members of Haley’s Comets regrouped in the Nineties, touring and recording as the Original Band, the Original Comets and Bill Haley’s Original Comets.
Inducted members: Tommy Facenda, Cliff Gallup, Dickie Harrell, Bobby Jones, Johnny Meeks, Jack Neal, Paul Peek, Willie Williams
With the Blue Caps, rockabilly singer Gene Vincent had one of the hottest bands of the era – and some would say they were the hottest. Vincent’s succession of lead guitarists, including Cliff Gallup and Johnny Meeks – were especially revered. In Britain, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps were stars to a budding generation of musicians who would go on to form such bands as the Beatles and the Yardbirds.
Vincent was one of the first early rock and rollers to form a band with a name and a relatively stable lineup. The original members of the Blue Caps – lead guitarist Cliff Gallup, rhythm guitarist Willie Williams, bassist Jack Neal and drummer Dickie Harrell – played on Vincent’s first Capitol Records recording session in 1956, when the classic “Be-Bop-a-Lula” was cut. This would turn out to be Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps’ biggest hit, reaching Number Seven on the Billboard singles chart. But the group had several more minor hits – “Race with the Devil,” “Lotta Lovin’” and “Dance to the Bop” – and cut three albums before Vincent parted ways with the Blue Caps in late 1958. Those albums – Bluejean Bop!, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps and Gene Vincent Rocks! and the Blue Caps Roll – are among the most highly prized collectables of the Fifties. The lineup changed along the way, and a re-formed Blue Caps saw lead guitarist Johnny Meeks and rhythm guitarist Paul Peek replacing Cliff Gallup and Willie Williams, and bassist Bobby Jones replacing Jack Neal.
Guitarist Jeff Beck held the Blue Caps, and especially Cliff Gallup, in highest esteem, recording the tribute album Crazy Legs in 1993. Its 18 tracks were remakes of songs by Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps. “Gene’s music was just steamrollered by the Beatles and everything that came after them,” said Beck. “But you ask someone like Paul McCartney to name the most dynamic albums of that original rock and roll era, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps would certainly be one of them.”
Inducted members: Warren “Pete” Moore, Claudette Rogers Robinson, Bobby Rogers, Marvin Tarplin, Ronald White
In the beginning, the Miracles were a group with William “Smokey” Robinson as its lead singer and guiding light. The name remained unchanged until 1967, when they became Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – a recognition of Robinson’s role as a frontman who possessed one of the most remarkable voices in popular music. However, the entire group possessed considerable talent, and all of the members contributed greatly to the Miracles’ success. They were one of Motown’s most gifted ensembles and among its most long-lived, too, dating back to their 1955 formation at Detroit’s Northern High School. Three of them went back further than that, as Robinson, Pete Moore and Bobby Rogers had been singing together in their preteen years. In high school, Robinson formed the Five Chimes, who later renamed themselves the Matadors. After some personnel shifts, including the addition of Bobby Rogers and his cousin Claudette – a member of the Matadors’ sister band, the Matadorettes – their lineup as a vocal quintet was set. With arrival of a female member, the name Matadors would no longer do, so they rechristened themselves the Miracles.
At a 1957 audition, the Miracles met Berry Gordy Jr., and this fateful introduction would change all of their lives The Miracles became the cornerstone of Gordy’s new Tamla record label – which was the first step in what would become the Motown empire. But first the Miracles cut singles for labels like End and Chess, including their first national chart entry, “Bad Girl,” which edged inside Billboard’s Top 100 in 1959. That year the Miracles added guitarist Marv Tarplin, who would also become Smokey Robinson’s chief songwriting foil. Claudette and Smokey were married in 1959, as well. (After 1965, Claudette stopped touring, although she did continue to participate in Miracles’ recording sessions.)
The Miracles’ breakthrough was “Shop Around” (Number One R&B, Number Two pop), an across-the-board smash in 1960. A multitude of hit singles followed, including “You Really Got a Hold On Me” (Number One R&B, Number Six pop), “The Tracks of My Tears” (Number Two R&B, Number 16 pop) and “I Second That Emotion” (Number One R&B, Number Four pop). The Miracles’ success culminated in 1970 with their first Number One pop hit, “The Tears of a Clown.”
Throughout their amazing run in the Sixties, the Miracles provided satiny harmonies and sharp choreography. Bobby Rogers was the group’s best dancer, drawing up their routines until the arrival of the great choreographer Cholly Atkins at Motown. Vocally, as music critic Vince Aletti observed, the Miracles were “unsurpassed when it comes to melting harmonies and spun-sugar vocals.”
Robinson increasingly acquired an ever-greater array of duties at Motown during the Sixties, assuming the role of staff producer and title of vice-president. He moved to Los Angeles in 1972, following Gordy’s lead, while the Miracles remained in Detroit. That year he amicably parted ways with the Miracles, appearing with them for the last time in July 1972, and a year later he inaugurated a successful solo career. The Miracles continued with a new lead singer, Billy Griffin, who apprenticed with the group before Robinson’s departure.
In their post-Smokey incarnation, the Miracles cut five albums for Motown and two for Columbia before disbanding at the end of the Seventies. There was one final performance, however: the Miracles reunited with Smokey Robinson for Motown’s 25th anniversary special, which aired on May 16, 1983.
Guitarists ranging from Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield, to Peter Green, Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana have all acknowledged their debt to Freddie King (1934-1976), the “Texas Cannonball.” His ’60s classics, “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” “Hide Away,” “You’ve Got To Love Her With A Feeling” and “The Stumble” are part of the DNA of modern electric blues. Born in Texas, a young King arrived in Chicago with his family in 1950, a perfect moment to start learning from Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Jimmie Rogers and all of the legendary post-war bluesmen. Over the next 10 years, as the First Great blues revival took shape, King developed a style all his own. In 1961, he miraculously charted six R&B Top 30 hits on the King/Federal label that were heard from coast-to-coast and were profoundly influential on both sides of the Atlantic. Three covers are indelibly etched: “Hideaway” featuring Clapton (on John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the ‘Beano’ LP of 1966), “The Stumble” and “Someday, After Awhile (You’ll Be Sorry)” (both featuring Green, on Mayall’s A Hard Road, ’67) and “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” (a staple for Clapton ever since the first Derek & the Dominos album). King thrived on rock, jazz and blues scenes and at festivals starting in the late ’60s and ’70s, even getting name-checked by Grand Funk Railroad on “We’re An American Band” (“Up all night with Freddie King/ I got to tell you, poker’s his thing”). Right up through his death, all too soon at age 42, Freddie influenced Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, and the next generation of disciples who would take electric blues into the ’80s, ’90s and beyond.
Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement:
Don Kirshner’s career spanned the heyday of New York's Brill Building, which was the ground zero of pop songwriting in the 1950s and 1960s, included a pivotal role in creating the Monkees and the Archies, and later found him hosting the long-running live-music television show Don Kirshner's Rock Concert.
Kirshner began his music career when he met fellow Bronx native Robert Cassotto, They began writing songs together. Cassotto changed his name to Bobby Darin and went on to a successful recording career. In 1958, Kirshner embarked upon a new partnership, founding Aldon Music with musician Al Nevin. Aldon was a songwriting factory, where teams of writers churned out songs to be sold to the stars of the day. Neil Diamond was one of the first songwriters signed up to Aldon, and the company roster soon grew to include such future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, Gerry Goffin and Carole King and Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. In 1963, Kirshner and Nevins sold the Aldon songs catalog to Screen Gems. Kirshner embarked upon the second act of his career, masterminding the made for-television group the Monkees and the made-for-cartoon group the Archies. By 1972, Kirshner was concentrating on his television career. That year he became executive producer on ABC's live-music show, In Concert. In 1973, he debuted Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. The show hosted performances by a who’s who of rock luminaries, including the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Blondie, the Ramones and the Allman Brothers Band, among many others. Don Kirshner's Rock Concert was broadcast until 1982, and Kirshner retired, first to New Jersey, then Boca Raton, Florida, where he died of heart failure on January 17, 2011.
The Award for Musical Excellence:
New Orleans R&B historian Jeff Hannusch has written that “Virtually every R&B record made in New Orleans between the late 40s and early 70s was engineered by Cosimo Matassa, and recorded in one of his four studios.” As the owner of J&M Recording Studios in the city’s French Quarter, Matassa recorded the music that helped give birth to rock and roll. Fats Domino, Dave Bartholomew, Little Richard, Lloyd Price, Smiley Lewis, Professor Longhair, Roy Brown and countless others created magic at J&M. Matassa opened the J&M Record Shop in 1945, and installed recording equipment in the back of the store. There were no recording studios in the city at the time, and J&M became a gathering place for musicians. Matassa sought to capture rather than shape the city’s thriving R&B scene: “I always tried to capture the dynamics of a live performance. These guys were doing these songs on their gigs and that was the sound that I was trying to get. We didn’t have any gimmicks – no overdubbing, no reverb – nothing. Those guys played with a lot of excitement; and I felt if I couldn’t put it in the groove, people weren’t going to move.” Record labels like DeLuxe, Atlantic, Chess, Imperial, King and Specialty lined up to record at J&M. He moved the studio around New Orleans in later years and kept on recording New Orleans greats like Aaron Neville, Lee Dorsey and Robert Parker. Matassa also discovered Jimmy Clanton, who had such hits as "Just A Dream," "Venus In Blue Jeans" and "Go Jimmy Go."
The Award for Musical Excellence:
Tom Dowd (1925-2002) was a scientist who deeply loved soulful, funky music. His attention to sonic detail, embrace of new technology, and love of music gained him the trust of rock and roll’s biggest stars who asked him to record their greatest albums. After completing high school he worked at Columbia University in the physics department, where he conducted research on nuclear power and became a technician in the now infamous Manhattan Project. His dreams of becoming a nuclear physicist research specialist were sidetracked when he began using his engineering knowledge to work as a freelancer for various New York record labels. In 1954, he was brought in as a staff engineer and producer at Atlantic Records. “Tom’s contributions to the development and evolution of Atlantic Records was inestimable,” said Jerry Wexler. “You couldn’t quantify it, it was just enormous.” Dowd was responsible for embracing a number of technological innovations at Atlantic including the use of stereo and eight-track recording machines. But for Dowd, it wasn’t simply about turning the EQ knobs on a mixing board. He tried to find ways to capture the spirit and visceral energy of musical performance and reproduce it on record. At Atlantic, he recorded, and occasionally produced, artists such as Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Eric Clapton and Derek and the Dominos – to name just a few. Dowd never allowed himself to be boxed into a single musical sound. His ears were always open, and in later years he helped to create the signature sound of the Allman Brothers Band, Cream, Dusty Springfield, Rod Stewart, Bette Midler, Chicago and the James Gang.
The Award for Musical Excellence:
Glyn Johns, born in Epsom, Surrey, England, February 15, 1942, has been producer or engineer of a number of rock’s classic albums--including those by the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, the Eagles, the Who, the Beatles, the Clash and such singular artists as Joan Armatrading and Ryan Adams.
Having been trained as a chorister, and performing in a semi-pro band in his teens, Johns left school to begin an apprenticeship in 1959 at London’s IBC Studios as an engineer, and a number of artists Johns worked with would spearhead the British Invasion of the Sixties. These included the Rolling Stones, Procol Harum, Traffic and much of the early work by the Who—including “My Generation”—and the Kinks, including “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night”. He would work with the Rolling Stones across a span of fifteen years, beginning with their earliest recording and continuing through virtually every session during that period, including 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request and 1968’s Beggar’s Banquet.
He was at the board for almost all of the Small Faces’ output, including Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, and he also worked with the band’s later incarnation as The Faces. Johns worked on the first two Joe Cocker albums, and later the two-record live set, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, his first gold record, for Jerry Moss at A&M Records. John’s first major production credit was on the Steve Miller Band’s debut, 1968’s Children of the Future.
He worked with the Beatles on Let It Be and Abbey Road, and 1969 saw the release of the landmark Led Zeppelin album debut, on which Glyn engineered and shared production duties with Jimmy Page. Johns renewed ties with the Who to produce Who’s Next.
On the Eagles’ first album in 1972, Johns was a key to creating what would become known as a Southern California sound with such hits as “Take It Easy” and “Witchy Woman,” and later “Desperado” and “Best of My Love”. Johns made three albums with Joan Armatrading, with such hits as “Love and Affection” and “Down To Zero." In between those two albums came Johns' collaboration with Eric Clapton on Slowhand.
Johns’ work in the next decade and beyond would include mixing Combat Rock for the Clash and producing Bob Dylan’s Real Live, as well as return engagements with the Who, Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane, Eric Clapton, plus work with John Hiatt, Crosby Stills & Nash, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt and many others.
Most recently, Johns produced Ashes & Fire for Ryan Adams, and is now preparing to record Adams’ follow-up album.