At the 36th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony Saturday night — which marking the return of the event to a live setting in Cleveland, after last year’s strictly virtual edition — there were plenty of surprises among the performance choices, which included Taylor Swift opening the show with Carole King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and Paul McCartney and Foo Fighters closing it with “Get Back.” Among those unexpectedly joining jams were Eminem and Jennifer Lopez for LL Cool J, and Keith Urban filling in for Bryan Adams in a Tina Turner medley. Among speeches, the intrigue included Dave Chappelle in person and Barack Obama on tape helping to induct Jay-Z.
The class of 2021 was being honored at Cleveland’s 12,000-capacity Rocket Mortgage Financial Fieldhouse in Cleveland, ushering Carole King, LL Cool J, the Go-Go’s, Tina Turner, Todd Rundgren, Randy Rhoads, Gil Scott-Heron, Kraftwerk, Billy Preston, Charley Patton and music executive Clarence Avant into the hall.
While the action was plentiful on stage, backstage inductees and inductors fielded questions and posed for photos in the backstage press room.
Carole King, who made history as one of three women inducted twice into the Hall, was still clearly moved by Swift’s performance. “I came in briefly when she was rehearsing,” she said. “The version that she did tonight was amazing. She just owned it and she made it her own in a way that I have never heard done that way, and that is my joy as a songwriter, to see how different people interpret a song.”
King is already in the hall as a songwriter alongside one-time partner Gerry Goffin, and made history as the third woman to be inducted twice, along with Stevie Nicks and fellow 2021 inductee Tina Turner. Backstage, she talked reverently of Goffin, who died in 2014. “Had he been here tonight, he would be here cheering me on just like in the musical ‘Beautiful’: ‘You’re going all the way.’ He really was a supporter of me, long after we weren’t married anymore,” she said.
Being inducted a second time is different, she said, because she was being inducted for something she never thought she would do, “which was to be a performer. … I feel that as a performer, after all the years I have been actually doing it, was just part of the way that I bring music to people,” she said. “I understand what an audience comes to see. I know they don’t expect perfection, so that’s good. They get the song from the heart with great players.”
King was clearly the belle of the ball backstage, posing for photos and getting hugs backstage with Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, Jay-Z, Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, Swift and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, who portrays Aretha Franklin in the film “Respect,” and performed the Goffin-King-written classic, “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman.”
Also making a stop backstage was Angela Bassett, who portrayed Turner in the movie “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” “I couldn’t say anything but yes,” Bassett said about inducting Turner into the hall. Turner, she said, is an inspiration, “turning pain into power and her hurt into triumph.. and (showed) what is possible for a woman at any age at any stage.”
LL Cool J spoke backstage about hip-hop’s place in the hall and why it is essential, saying he was happy the hall “expanded to include other genres.”
“For me as a kid growing up at a time when they took music out of the schools, at a time the world was really changing, the Bronx was a war zone,” he said. “It changed our lives. Me being a kid from Queens, it gave us an opportunity to express ourselves creatively and artistically and to really level up. It gave us a way to really see the world. As a young Black kid in Queens it made me feel empowered. It was the first time I saw kids that looked like me saying something that sounded powerful because, to be honest, most of the time I saw them on the news was… in handcuffs.” Hip-hop, he said, connected kids and stories “all over the world.”
Asked about which rock ‘n’ roll performer inspired him, LL Cool J did not hesitate to name check Jimi Hendrix, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Billy Squier.
“I would listen to ‘Hey Joe’ consistently. You got guys like Billy Squier, that one song ‘The Big Beat,’ was one if the most important records in the whole hood,” he said. “Bob Dylan, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues,’ come on, man! The words and the lyrics and the stuff he does in that.” He continued about DJs scratching the drum beats of classic songs with vinyl records, and of Run DMC’s collaboration with Aerosmith for “Walk This Way.” “We appreciate rock ‘n’ roll. We’re not against rock ‘n’ roll. We are not anti- rock ‘n’ roll at all. On the contrary,” he said. “It’s all love.”
The love was reciprocated by Dave Grohl, who gave LL Cool J’s performance an ovation. “I’ve definitely listened to some Foo,” LL Cool J said, adding that he and Grohl share a birthday, January 14. “We both always laugh about that,” he said.
He then talked about attending country shows and being impressed. “I don’t listen to country music riding in the car, but when you see country music live, these guys are really connected to relationships and telling stories — it’s like hip-hop.”
Asked who he would like to see in the hall next, LL Cool J name-checked Outkast, Eminem, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B and Rakim, KRS 1 and others that did not have mainstream success. “We are all looking for something new and fresh. We all want to hear good music, and I don’t know who it was but they said there was two types of music — good and bad,” he said.
Drew Barrymore wrapped herself in a towel and gave herself a facial to recreate the Go-Gos’ iconic 1981 “Beauty and the Beat” album cover before inducting the band. For Barrymore, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was heaven in a place in earth, as she excitedly inducted a band she discovered when she was 6 years old. “If you’d told tiny me that I’d be up here introducing my heroes into the most notable rock club in human history, I would say, ‘Well, I will do my best to honor these women,’” she said.
“Beauty and the Beat,” she said, “blew the doors off my life… It sounded like pure possibility,” she said as she shared a photo of herself and Carlisle from when she was just 9. “I spent hours staring at that cover and the back side, with all of them in the bathtub — the coolest girls in the world taking a spa day in cool-girl heaven.”
Gary Clark Jr. strapped on a guitar after inducting the late blues legend Charley Patton to perform “High Water Everywhere,” while Brandi Carlile performed “All I Have to Do Is Dream” by the Everly Brothers for the In Memoriam segment, joined by twins Tim and Phil Hanesroth for three-part harmonies that paid homage to the Everlys’ two-part magic.
Later, Lionel Richie, who flew in to Cleveland one day after performing a sold-out show at the Wynn in Las Vegas to personality induct Avant into the hall, joked with reporters that he got his energy from drinking “12 cups of coffee.”
“So many people are grateful to you, Clarence,“ he told an emotional Avant, as the exec known affectionately as “the Black Godfather” received the Ahmet Ertegun Award on stage. “You have done so much for me and so many artists, you are truly the Godfather of us all.”
A planned all-star jam of Rolling Stones songs honoring the late Charlie Watts was apparently scrapped due to time constraints.
Prior to entering the event, all attendees were asked to prove proof of vaccination for Covid-19, with rapid tests being administered to all with access to the backstage area. Last year’s ceremony was moved to late fall due to the pandemic, and John Sykes, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation chairman, confirmed to the press backstage that the ceremony will now take place every November, with the next eligible Class of Fame ready to be unveiled in January.
Throughout the weekend inside the hall, fans participated in a virtual fan vote located outside an exhibit of the current inductees, with Motley Crue leading the vote.