Numbers matter more than usual this year at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, whose annual ceremony on April 18 marks 30 years of the Cleveland institution’s induction tradition. The clichéd rock ’n’ roll attitude of diminishing trust for anything over 30 doesn’t apply here, where the overall effort — for both the museum and the celebrated live and ultimately televised ceremony — is all about taking stock of rock history and cementing legacies.
And then there is the magic No. 25 — that’s the number of years required after an artist’s first album before they are eligible for induction. This year, inductee Green Day, the much-imitated pop-punk band, has crossed the quarter-century mark.
The Hall of Fame museum itself is 25 years old, and it has been 25 years since the death of guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of several 2015 inductees in the posthumous category.
Vaughan joins a sizable group that includes another influential blues-based band that left an indelible mark on the larger pop culture, Paul Butterfield Blues Band (featuring the late, riff-ready guitarist Mike Bloomfield). Lou Reed, who died in 2013, and early R&B group the “5” Royales, being given the Early Influence Award, will also be missing.
Other inductees, of the living kind, include Ringo Starr (whose old bandmate Paul McCartney will present the award), Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and spotlight-dodging pop-soul legend Bill Withers, lured into a bright spotlight in Cleveland.
“We have a very eclectic make-up of people who have certain strengths in certain areas and certain deeper knowledge in certain areas,” says Joel Peresman, Hall of Fame Foundation president. “You’re always going to have people putting up artists from different genres and different times.”
Of the larger showing of posthumous inductees this year, Peresman says: “With Lou Reed’s passing, it put that in the top of people’s minds. Whether they’re alive or dead really is irrelevant. The goal and the charge of the nominating committee is really to put people up that they feel have the legacy and the influence and the musical excellence to be inducted.”
While Vaughan won’t be showing up for the ceremony, his band Double Trouble will play two songs — “Pride and Joy” and “Texas Flood” — with Vaughan’s brother Jimmy and Doyle Bramhall Jr. joining the core band of bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton.
Shannon says he thinks Vaughan “would be honored” by the induction, “and I know he would want the band inducted, too. We were like a family.”
With Beck and Karen O. set to musically honor Reed and the Butterfield band to be represented by Zac Brown and Tom Morello, the Hall of Fame has drawn on past experience offering spotlights to the deceased. Last year, Nirvana, minus the late Kurt Cobain, kicked up dust with guest female vocalists at the microphone, including this year’s inductee Jett, Kim Gordon, Lorde, and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark. In 2013, Jennifer Hudson was the big-voiced surrogate for the late Donna Summer, singing “Bad Girls” and “Last Dance” in a silver sequined dress.
Adapting comes with the territory here. In the wake of last year’s Kiss flap — with internecine squabbling among the original members leading up to their induction — Peresman admits that “there are always surprises at the last minute. This isn’t a hedge fund. That’s what makes the music business fun.”
On a more serious note, Peresman sees the museum and induction process as part of a loftier, legacy-keeping goal. “Rock and roll is the art form of our generation. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for this art form, is as important to a generation as any art museum is in the country or the world.”