Cream rises, reunites at Rock Hall of Fame

It’s been close to 25 years since Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker last set foot on stage as members of Cream, the band that gave the name power to power trios.

But Tuesday night at the eighth annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame dinner, the clock was turned back for one all-too-brief instant, as Cream reunited for a three-song set to cap the induction celebration, a ceremony that also saw the enshrinement of Ruth Brown, Credence Clearwater Revival, the Doors, Etta James, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, Van Morrison and Sly & the Family Stone, along with non-performers Dick Clark and record producer Milt Gabler. Singer Dinah Washington was also honored as an “early influence” on rock ‘n’ roll.

Despite efforts to cut the length of this year’s show, the program again stretched well over five hours. However, the traditional closing jam was replaced this year by sets from three of the evening’s inductees.

The most powerful of the performances was the evening’s capper, as Cream jolted a packed house in the ballroom of the Century Plaza Hotel by beginning its set with “Sunshine of Your Love,” a rock classic that still sounded fresh two decades later. Clapton highlighted his stinging solo with a long quote from doo-wop oldie “Blue Moon,” greeted with the usual roar as he began.

The band followed with a tribute to the late bluesman Albert King, “Born Under a Bad Sign,” before ending with “Crossroads.” Ignoring pleas for an encore , Cream’s members–who split acrimoniously in 1968–left the stage via separate exits, not to return.

Despite the reconciliation of the long-estranged Cream, not all was harmonious at the ceremony, held for the first time in Los Angeles. A rift between Credence chief songwriter John Fogerty and surviving bandmates Doug Clifford and Stu Cook (fourth member Tom Fogerty died two years ago) apparently has not healed.

Although Credence accepted its Hall of Fame trophies together, Fogerty stunned the crowd–and Clifford and Cook, who apparently were caught unaware, judging by Clifford’s off-stage comments– by performing a set backed by the house band for the night, augmented by guitarists Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson.

Fogerty apparently was given his choice of performers, according to a spokesman for dinner music producer Robertson, and chose not to include Clifford and Cook.

The reasons for the rift could not be confirmed, but it is believed to relate to Fogerty’s long legal battle against Credence’s home label, Fantasy Records, with whom he has been locked in a long-term dispute. Clifford and Cook both thanked Fantasy in their acceptance speeches.

Fogerty performed “Who’ll Stop the Rain,””Green River” and “Born on a Bayou” during his set.

The other major band performance on the night was by the surviving members of the Doors–Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore–with Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder subbing for the late Jim Morrison.

They performed “Roadhouse Blues,””Break on Through” and “Light My Fire.” Morrison’s sister Anne Churning accepted his award, along with the other members of the band.

Earlier in the evening, the inductees delivered the usual round of thank-yous to the industry-heavy crowd, which spent a good deal of time schmoozing and boozing in the lobby, but the purpose of the evening was best captured by Clapton, one of the last speakers.

“I have to be honest and say that until very recently I just didn’t believe in this institution at all,” Clapton told the audience. “It seemed to me rock ‘n’ roll should never be respectable, and then a friend of mine, Robbie Robertson, pointed out to me that minor and major miracles take place here … I saw that a lot could be gained by coming here tonight and a lot has been gained. I’ve been reunited with two people I love very dearly.”

Clapton’s endorsement of the Hall of Fame’s credibility brought a needed boost to the project and came on the heels of announcements that officials were confidently planning to break ground on a museum in Cleveland this year.

“We are finally going to have a ground-breaking … in Cleveland despite the certain skepticism of many people,” Foundation vice chairman (and Rolling Stone publisher/editor-in-chief) Jann Wenner told a press conference before the banquet.

Wenner, Ohio Gov. George V. Voinovich and Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White all spoke confidently of plans for site preparation by April and a formal ground-breaking ceremony in June.

As usual, the evening was full of nostalgia and touching moments.

Members of Sly and the Family Stone–minus Sly himself — accepted their induction with an a cappella version of “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again).” Sly, beset for years by personal problems, eventually joined his old group, but said little beyond a brief thanks.

Credence was inducted by Springsteen, who declared them a band of “power and simplicity,” and drew laughs from the crowd when he pointed out that all Seattle-based grunge rockers should pay homage to John Fogerty as “father of the flannel shirt.”

Van Morrison cited touring commitments in Europe for why he did not attend. Robertson inducted him anyway, telling a long, often humorous story highlighting Morrison’s mercurial ways.

Brown celebrated her 65th birthday along with her induction. She also performed, with Bonnie Raitt, her hit, “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” Raitt inducted Brown, praising her for her perserverance and ability to fully inhabit her songs.

Country singer k.d. lang inducted James, who was honored for such hits as “The Wallflower” (better known as the raunchy hit “Roll With Me Henry”), “Good Rockin’ Daddy,””Something’s Got a Hold on Me” and “Tell Mama.”

Jimmy Merchant and Herman Santiago, the two surviving members of the 1950s sensation Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, accepted on behalf of their three late colleagues.

Comedian Billy Crystal inducted Gabler, his uncle, who produced the first rock ‘n’ roll hit, Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” among other pop and jazz hits. Natalie Cole inducted Washington while Dion did the honors for Clark.

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