The 33rd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony treated the audience at Cleveland’s Public Auditorium to a reunited Bon Jovi, a hilarious induction speech by presenter Howard Stern, and touching tributes to Tom Petty and Chris Cornell.
The April 14 event kicked off with The Killers, who honored Petty with a cover of “American Girl.” Singer Brandon Flowers also nodded to a bit of “Free Falling” during the performance. It was followed by Stern’s introduction of Bon Jovi. The SiriusXM radio host, and self-anointed “King of All Media,” commented: “It took years of pondering to decide that this glorious band that sold 130 million albums [should be let] in.
Jon Bon Jovi’s twenty minute long speech was a gracious nod to the history of the band, with generous mentions of people along the way who paved the way to the Rock Hall honors.
“I’ve been writing a speech like this since I first strummed a broom and sang from the top of the stairs of my childhood home,” said Bon Jovi from the stage. “I’ve written it many ways and many times. Some days, I write the ‘Thank you’ speech. Other days, I write the ‘F–k you’ speech. Writing it has been therapeutic in a lot of ways. I certainly see things differently tonight than I would have 10, 20, 30 years ago. In the end, it’s really all about time.”
Each member of Bon Jovi took a moment at the microphone, with Alec John Such thanking Bon Jovi for his “vision,” and former guitarist Richie Sambora saying, “If I wrote a book, it would be [called] ‘The Best Time I Ever Had.’”
Drummer Tico Torres thanked his mother, who supported his pursuit of music with words of advice: “Do what you want to do and play for your heart — just promise me you won’t get a tattoo.”
Keyboardist David Bryan, whose time in the band also led to work on Broadway, said that being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame made him “proud as hell. … We grew up as nobody but became somebody.”
The band then took the stage for a lively four-song set that included, “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “It’s My Life,” “When We Were Us” from last year’s “This House Is Not for Sale” album, and “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
Dire Straits bassist and co-founder John Illsley — who made a decision to induct the band itself — addressed singer Mark Knopfler’s absence, saying, “I can assure you, it’s for personal reasons, let’s just leave it at that. You’ve got to realize this is really more about a group of people more than one person. It’s a collective, a brotherhood, and that’s something that needs acknowledging tonight. … the many musicians who have worked with Dire Straits over the years and made the band’s success possible and led us all the way to Cleveland tonight.” Keyboardist Guy Fletcher made a few short remarks, noting that he never thought of Dire Straits as a “cool band.”
Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard brought down the house inducting and honoring Sister Rosetta Tharpe, singing from the gut on “That’s All.” Backstage, Sambora embraced Howard, giving her a big hug and telling her that nobody else could have been a better pick.
Speaking to Variety, Howard said she wishes more people knew about Tharpe, and suggested that her story is ripe for a movie.
The Cars finished their road to the Rock and Roll Hall in epic fashion, with singer Ric Ocasek decked out in a glittery silver jacket and Flowers paying homage to the band (“You’ll never forget your first”) and referencing Phoebe Cates and her iconic pool scene in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” to “Movin in Stereo.”
Ironically, that afternoon was when the band decided to play that song, Greg Hawkes revealed to Variety in the press room. It got the hugest reaction of the set from the crowd, who were treated to “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “You Might Think,” and “Just What I Needed,” with Ocasek singing lead on the song, originally sung by Benjamin Orr. Weezer’s Scott Shriner filled in on bass.
“When the band first started, Ben was supposed to be the lead singer and I was supposed to be the good-looking guy in the band — but after a couple of gigs, I kinda got demoted to the songwriter,” Ocasek said. “But obviously it’s hard not to notice that Benjamin Orr is not here. He would’ve been elated to be here on this stage. It still feels strange to be up here without him.”
During the set, Bon Jovi drummer Torres was spotted peeking behind an amplifier to get a glimpse of David Robinson.
Nina Simone’s younger brother Dr. Samuel Waymon and inductor Mary J. Blige gave beautiful speeches, with Blige saying Simone could “sing anything” and Waymon throwing down a gauntlet to other artists that if they are considering sampling his sister, “You better pay for it.”
Simone’s tribute was perfection, with Andra Day taking the stage and the performance capped off by an absolutely gorgeous version of “Feeling Good,” delivered by Lauryn Hill.
The tributes continued with Heart singer Ann Wilson and Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell paying tribute to the late Chris Cornell with a moving cover of “Black Hole Sun.”
The audience was then schooled in rock history when E Street Band guitarist and resident musicologist Steve Van Zandt took to the stage for a special presentation inducting “The Hall of Fame Singles,” a new category introduced this year. The inaugural inductees for 2018 are: “Rocket 88” by Jackie Breston and his Delta Cats (1951), Link Wray and his Ray Men’s “Rumble” (1958), “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen (1963), Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (1967) and Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” (1968).
The evening concluded with the induction of The Moody Blues. Wilson returned to the stage to tell of her personal relationship to the music of The Moodies, noting that they were not “cool or ironic.” Said Wilson: “The Moody Blues took me from childhood to adulthood as a disciple; their philosophical, spiritual, romantic and everyday messages were liberating and challenging to my then-forming mind. … The very few boys who took me on dates in those days were instantaneously upstaged if ‘Nights in White Satin’ or ‘Dawn Is a Feeling’ came on the car radio. And when ‘Legend of a Mind’ was played, the date was usually over because the awkward gropings of earthly boys didn’t seem to resonate like that astral plane.”
She praised Justin Hayward, saying, “When I dreamed and began writing songs of my own, Justin Hayward’s work was my standard of beauty and purity. … The Moody Blues are as mind-blowing in concert as on record. They have sold 70 million albums and counting worldwide, and they have continued to do so without selling their creative soul for 54 years and counting. Tonight, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally honors what 70-plus million listeners and counting have known for over half a century.”
The Moodies then took the stage to perform, “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Nights in White Satin,” and “Ride My See Saw.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony will air on HBO on May 5.
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