Posts Tagged ‘Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’

It’s That Time Again

Ah yes, fall. Pumpkins. Halloween. Leaf peeping. And what else?

It’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nomination season!

This year, they’re looking at 15 possibilities. They’ve put them up for a vote on their website. Well, your votes don’t actually count, but it’s fun anyway. You can vote here if you like.

Here are my own picks for entry into the class of 2016.

The Cars

2016 Rock Hall Nominee The Cars

The Cars (rockhall.com)

The Cars are the last of the important 80’s acts to be nominated for the Hall.  Unlike other Rock Hall acts that happened to exist in the 80’s (like REM and U2), The Cars embraced and epitomized the style of rock & roll during that decade. That decade was perhaps the most over-the-top decade in music, with advancements in synthesizers and stylized production, loud and obnoxious fashions, and (most especially) the heyday of music videos with the creation of MTV, and The Cars dominated all those facets.

Unlike most of the stereotypical 80’s acts, The Cars were extremely prolific. During that decade, they produced. The last, Door to Door, was pretty weak, but the rest were strong, resulting in hits such as “Bye Bye Love”, “Candy-O”, “Magic”, and, of course, “Good Times Roll.” The Cars were no “one hit wonders”, they took that 80’s sound and made a solid career from it.

They also set a truly high bar for music video production. Like it or not, music videos are as much part of rock-and-roll as Elvis’ swinging hips, and few acts were more important to that facet of rock music than The Cars. Their videos were legendary and led to an awful lot of copycats.

Every decade deserves its representative in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and there’s no better group to represent the 80’s than The Cars.

Cheap Trick

2016 Rock Hall Nominee Cheap Trick Nominee Bio Page

Cheap Trick (rockhall.com)

So this pick is controversial, but fuck it. I’m picking Cheap Trick for one and only one reason: At Budakon. This is one of the most influential rock albums of all time. It’s definitely a Top 20 just the game-changing nature of that one piece of vinyl. Cheap Trick may not have been the most talented band of that era, and they certainly did not create arena rock, but they absolutely perfected it and turned it into a genre all by itself. The story of At Budakon is amazing (check out The History Rat for more), and it set Cheap Trick on the road to success.

Normally, I’d say artists should only go into the Hall if they have a body of work to support it. But At Budakon had such a monstrous impact on rock & roll, Cheap Trick deserves to be in the Hall because of it.

Deep Purple

2016 Rock Hall Nominee Deep Purple Nominee Bio Page

Deep Purple (rockhall.com)

Probably the biggest travesty of Rock Hall nominations to date: Deep Purple has not yet  been inducted. How can you not include Deep Purple in an institution called the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Good lord, bands who came after them, who owe them everything, are in the Hall before they are. Metallica, Van Halen, AC/DC, all owe a lot of their sound to Deep Purple. Personally, I would have put them in before Black Sabbath (they just couldn’t beat Ozzy Osbourne’s personal publicist).

Janet Jackson

2016 Rock Hall Nominee Janet Jackson Nominee Bio Page

Janet Jackson (rockhall.com)

I have to admit something terrible. When I see a female nominee, I find myself thinking “is this deserved, or is it a token nomination?” There is a tremendous, cultural effort out there to make sure women get recognized for their achievements, and that’s all terrific, but sometimes it seems like a woman has been nominated just because they couldn’t find another woman who fit that category.

When it comes to Janet, that idea is absolute bullshit. Janet is beautiful, super talented, a great singer, and constantly knocked it out of the park no matter what genre she attempted. She definitely “rocked it” far more than her “royal” brother ever did.  In terms of sheer talent, she easily dominates over her contemporaries, even 2008 Inductee Madonna. Janet Jackson absolutely deserves to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.


2016 Rock Hall Nominee NWA

N.W.A. (rockhall.com)

For those of you who say “rap ain’t rock”, get over yourselves.

Rock & roll is rock & roll because of one, key element: rebellion. Rock is full of rebellion, from James Brown’s stage antics to Jimmi Hendrix’ guitar style to Bob Marley’s protest songs all the way through to Nirvana and beyond. It’s rebelling against authority, and conservatism, and oppression, and whatever. It’s what rock is! And it’s what rap is! So rap = rock, it’s that simple.

There’s no better symbol for rebellion as N.W.A., quite literally the voice of an entire generation of the disenfranchised. They hit the scene with a bang, and deserve to be put in the Hall because of it.

The Rest

Unlike prior years, where I had trouble limiting my choices to five, this was pretty easy. The other bands just don’t pass muster for induction into the Hall (in my opinion).


Ugh, no more disco. I accepted the Bee Gees because they defined the genre, and you can’t deny Saturday Night Fever was a monster. But think about “rock = rebellion”: how does disco speak to rebellion? Bleagh, it was weak, and trite, and pointless. No more disco in the Hall, please.


I always found Chicago to be more pretentious than interesting. Steely Dan (inducted 2001) was also pretentious, but at least their music was interesting.

The J.B.’s

The J.B.’s — initially James Brown’s backing band — are simply in the wrong category. Great artists, fantastic sound, they just belong in the waaaay underused Sidemen category. I’d love to see the Rock Hall revitalize that category and start putting folks like the J.B.’s in it, with all the honorifics they deserve.

Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan feels like a cynical pick. I’m sure someone sat in the corporate offices and thought “we need another woman in there”. I don’t have anything particular against Chaka Khan, she’s just not a rock artist. Of course, there are plenty of inducted artists who aren’t “rock artists”, but that doesn’t mean we should put more in there.

Los Lobos

Los Lobos is a fine band, but I’m not convinced that they’ve been that influential. They had a couple hits, they did bring in some Latin sounds into contemporary rock, but I don’t see too many modern bands paying tribute to “that Los Lobos sound”.

Nine Inch Nails

I friggin’ love Nine Inch Nails, the founders of Industrial Rock. These were guys who wrote hard, played hard, performed hard, and rocked hard. Nine Inch Nails was creative and unique and made a sound that was truly their own. They may not be as well-remembered as Nirvana or Pearl Jam, but they absolutely belong in the strata of great 90’s bands, and deserve to be in the Hall. But not quite yet. Deep Purple should be in first.

The Smiths

I never knew The Smiths, I never listened to The Smiths, I don’t know anything about The Smiths. It’s odd: I came of age in the 80’s, lived through the decade, and thought I heard it all, but I never heard of them. I’m dead serious. People like to talk about how “influential” they are, but, well, I guess I have to take their word for it. But that doesn’t mean I have to pick them.

The Spinners

This is another act that I have absolutely nothing against. I guess I don’t see that they added anything that any of the other inducted R&B vocal groups (The Temptations, The Miracles, The Impressions, so many more) already added. I think inductees should stand out in the field, and not simply be a member of a field that is great.


First, I am a big Yes fan. I love their music, and listen to it all the time. But … I don’t think they fit in the Hall. They have some very talented musicians, to be sure, but I think there’s a far better representative of “progressive rock” out there. More on that in a bit.

Steve Miller

OK, here it comes. Here comes my #1 bitch about rock & roll in general. You’ve heard me gripe about disco, and about pretentiousness, and about pop. But nothing, and I mean nothing, has been more damaging, more contradictory to the true spirit of Rock & Roll than the two words I’m about to type.

Corporate Rock.

Corporate rock almost killed the genre. When we talk about 90’s grunge, we talk about rebellion. And what was 90’s grunge rebelling against (I mean, besides boy bands)? Corporate rock. The same, bland crap that all “classic rock” stations played, over and over again, ad nauseum. Horrid, wretched, uninteresting. Songwriting by committee, assembled in some stuffy boardroom. That’s what corporate rock is.

Who are these horrid purveyors of corporate rock? A list of the bland and uninteresting: Bad Company. Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Foreigner. Post-Gabriel Genesis. Bob Seger.

And Steve Miller.

I listened to Steve Miller when he was big. Some of his stuff (like “The Joker”), is pretty cool. But overall? Where’s the rebellion? Where’s the edge? Where’s the creativity? I’m sorry, but I just can’t do it, I can’t click that checkmark next to his name. I’d rather pick all the disco in the world …

Who’s Missing?

I think the nominating committee has still missed two Hall-worthy possibilities. I’d love to see these guys nominated in coming years.

J. Geils Band

J Geils (AllMusic.com)

The J. Geils Band (AllMusic.com)

I love the J. Geils Band. J. Geils returned rock to it’s garage-band roots. A great live act, honest and raw, they were brilliant. Their intense live shows didn’t necessarily translate to the studio, but they still had solid songs like “Give It To Me”, “Detroit Breakdown”, and “Whammer Jammer”,  I’d love to see them in the Hall. They would blow the roof off the Waldorf-Astoria during the induction ceremony.

King Crimson

King Crimson

King Crimson (AllMusic.com)

Earlier, I gave Yes a hard time. This is why: King Crimson is, by far, the better band. In terms of sheer musical talent, there has never been a better group of individuals assembled. They are the best of progressive rock, and their “tendrils” (members of the band throughout the years) impacted musical acts all across music. Pink Floyd, Yes, Alice Cooper, REM, Nine Inch Nails, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, David Bowie: all these acts were influenced by past members of King Crimson. King Crimson is the Kevin Bacon of rock & roll: you’d be hard-pressed to find any act that’s more than a few links away from King Crimson. I’d love to see them get their due in the Hall.

And Finally …

If the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction committee doesn’t put Rick Rubin into the Hall as a non-performer this year, it’ll be a travesty. This guy saved music, and I don’t mean that lightly. He created Def Jam and brought hip-hop to the mainstream. He put Public Enemy on the charts. He launched the Beastie Boys’ career. He introduced Run-DMC to Aerosmith.He produced The Cult’s Electric. He produced the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s monstrous Blood Sugar Sex Magik. He worked with inductees Tom Petty, Donovan, Mick Jagger, and more. He produced Jay Z’s “99 Problems”.

He produced Johnny Cash’s American Recordings, one of the greatest albums ever, for chrissakes!

Here’s an article Forbes Magazine did on Rick a couple of years ago. If anyone deserves to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it’s Rick Rubin. That’s the online poll I’d love to see: how many rock artists would agree with putting Rick Rubin into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer? He’s the Ahmet Ertegun of our age.


What do you think? Do you like my picks, or am I full of crap? Who would you like to see in the Hall?

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Last week, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame posted the nominees for induction into its 2014 class.

I’ve posted before about the Rock Hall. I love the place, and I think it’s actually important (many people don’t). I look at rock & roll as a uniquely American art form, something we should celebrate and protect. In the beginning, the Rock Hall was an affectation, but as rock’s founding fathers (and mothers) start to die off, and radio formats change, you can see the legacy and influence of rock & roll falling by the wayside.

When it comes to choosing who goes into the Hall, the RRHoF committee has their own criteria. I, being your average, over-opinionated human being, have my own. Here’s some thoughts about this year’s nominees. Note that the official rules say you can only pick five artists, so I had to make some hard choices.

The Bridge

www.rockhall.com It’s been said Jazz cheated on Big Band and had an illegitimate child with Blues, and named it Rock & Roll. Without the blues, there would be no rock. I’m a huge fan of good, quality blues acts, so I’m definitely partial on their entry into the Rock Hall.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band filled a pretty big niche in rock history. Back in the 50’s, African-American blues artists like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Howlin’ Wolf were out doing their thing. Folks like Elvis Presley would take that music and put it into fast-paced, feel-good music for dance halls. But no one could ever claim Elvis was “the blues”. He basically stole blues music away from them, and turned it into Rock & Roll.

Paul Butterfield and his ilk did something different. They took that blues music and let it evolve into modern blues. They gave blues music a path into white-bread culture, where it would grow and foster great talents like Clapton, the Band, Neil Young, and others. Like the Missing Link in evolution, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band are an important part in the chain of modern blues music.

The Last Great Bluesman

StevieRayVaughan-2015-NomineeUnfortunately, modern blues really wouldn’t last. By the late 1980’s, blues was “corporatized” and full of bland, cookie-cutter blues artists. You couldn’t tell one young blues musician from another. Folks realized the blues was great music, but the heart was leached out of it. Perhaps the record companies did it, perhaps MTV did it, perhaps we just didn’t have anything to be “bluesy” about anymore. Life simply became to easy in this country (but not for everyone, more on that later).

There was one exception in this “post-modern blues” era, and that man was Stevie Ray Vaughn. Vaughn was different. He wasn’t fronting a blues cover band, he was an actual bluesman, and a damned good one at that. He had that hardship in his music, hardship that was felt through his tremendous guitar playing. Nowadays, blues music has been relegated to small-town clubs and nostalgic filler pieces between sets by major artists to show “they respect the past”. Stevie Ray Vaughn was the last memorable member in a long line of bluesmen, and for that, he deserves a place in the Rock Hall.

Hip-Hop Rocks the World

NWA WEBI’m not a big hip-hop enthusiast. I can take it in small doses, but it’s not really my kind of music. Which is fine: it’s not meant for me. It’s meant for the same folks the blues was meant for back in the 30’s, 40’s & 50’s: the downtrodden and the disposessed. It’s their outlet, their release, and it’s just as valid as anything else that’s come before it. It’s pure rebellion, just like Elvis was pure rebellion against stuffy concert halls, James Brown was rebellion against stuffy gospel, the Grateful Dead was rebellion against stuffy conservatism, and the Ramones were rebellion against easy listening. Most “white folk” don’t like hip-hop because it’s rebelling against them, but judging by the shit-mess we’ve put this world into, we deserve to be rebelled against. Hip-hop is rock, if not in form then definitely in pure spirit of open rebellion, and deserves to be honored in the Hall.

NWA is the founding daddy of that harsh, rebellious, in-your-face hip-hop. I don’t even know what more to say. Me sitting here proclaiming NWA was vital to hip-hop’s maturity as an art form would be like me sitting here explaining how the Rolling Stones were important to rock. It’s obvious to everyone. If you think hip-hop should be in the hall, NWA should be at the top of it.

Funk Soul Brothers

WARI love old-time funk, soul, and R&B. My iPod is chock-full of P-Funk, the Isley Brothers, Tower of Power, Sly and the Family Stone and, of course, James Brown. If that stuff doesn’t make you feel good, you probably should get professional help.

So how in God’s name is War not in the Rock Hall yet? This is one of the biggest travesties in the history of the Hall, even bigger than Lynyrd Skynyrd’s long years of snubbing. I never found Lynyrd Skynyrd particulary interesting. They were a good band, a powerful band, and much-loved. But War, they had a tremendous sound, a unique sound, a sound that blended the happy peppiness of funk with a dead-stern serious message. They mixed African and Latin rhythms, put in a horn section, and tore it up in different ways on many, many songs. Man they were brilliant.

The Masters of Industrial Rock

Nine-Inch-Nails-2015-NomineeNow it’s time for some real heavy shit, the stuff that should truly be called “rock”. I’m talking Nine Inch Nails. The Nineties was an awesome decade for rock music, and we’ve already seen the best of the decade — Nirvana — in the Hall. Like the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s before it, the Rock Hall deserves to be absolutely stuffed full with representatives of the “grunge era”, and there’s no better addition than Nine Inch Nails.

It’s not just the work of the band itself, but frontman Trent Reznor has a great body of work outside that project as well. He almost deserves to be in as a “nonperformer” for his producing and writing credits, plus his movie soundtrack work. But being inducted as Nine Inch Nails is reward enough. They’re a great addition to the Hall, an early entrant for a ton of great Nineties inductees.

The Rest of the Nominees

So those are my five picks. Here’s a quick take on the rest of this year’s nominees:

  • Chic — disco was an evolutionary dead end, the Piltdown Man of rock music. It was pointless, shallow, musically uninteresting, and had none of the rebellion that’s coursed through rock & roll’s veins since Lead Belly.  I begrudgingly accept the Bee Gees as members, simply because one cannot deny the cultural powerhouse of “Saturday Night Fever”, but the other disco artists (ABBA? Donna Summer?) have no business there, and neither does Chic.
  • Joan Jett & the Blackhearts — I loved Joan Jett when I was young. They were a true rock band, a welcome respite from the strangeness of the Eighties. I have absolutely nothing against them, I just don’t think they really added much to the genre as a whole. Plus I am limited to five picks, I think the others are more deserving.
  • Green Day — simply too early. I definitely want them in the Hall. NIN is enough of a Nineties era band for this year’s induction ceremony.
  • Kraftwerk — I’m certain, some day, Kraftwerk will be in the Hall as “the founders of electronica”. I guess I’m still wrestling with hip hop & rap being in the Hall, I’m not ready for techno.
  • The Marvelettes and The Spinners — Fine groups, but I think the music of their style & era is so well represented in the Hall already, I don’t really see the point of them joining it as well.
  • The Smiths — I lived through The Eighties, and listened to all the music stereotypical to that era (Flock of Seagulls, Soft Cell, Thompson Twins, etc.), and I have to tell you: it’s  crap. Not quite “disco crap”, but only marginally better. It can be fun,  I guess. I find it annoying. What’s weird about The Smiths is they’re not even the most influential of the stereotypical Eighties bands! I don’t even remember them — at all!
  • Sting and Lou Reed — I don’t have a problem with band frontmen going solo and getting into the Hall twice. Clapton did it, so did Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon. The difference between those three and Sting & Lou Reed is they took their careers, their music, and their influence in new directions different than their band, making their own mark. Clapton’s solo work is so different from the Yardbirds and Cream; Peter Gabriel definitely turned left when Genesis turned right; and Paul Simon took music in awesome directions with Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints. My issue with Lou Reed is his solo work is nearly indistinguishable from the Velvet Underground’s. My issue with Sting is he did take his music in a different direction from The Police — into Easy Listening. Neither should be in the Rock Hall as solo artists in my opinion.
  • Bill Withers — this one was a hard one for me. He’s written some very good songs, and has been covered by dozens of great rock artists. I guess I find his work just a little too mellow for true Rock Hall status. I guess he’s on-par with James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, so he’s not completely unfitting for Inductee status. I’m really on the fence, and my ambivalence kept him out of my five picks.


Rock Hall Misses

Here’s a few nominees I’d like to see on lists in the future.

  • Prog Rock is lightly represented. Pink Floyd is in, Genesis is in, Rush (if you consider them “prog”) is in. You know who’s missing? Probably the most talented group of musicians to ever record a rock album. I’m talking about King Crimson. Yeah, they never had a big album and never became the commercial powerhouse of Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer. But that band had some of the best musicians to ever gather together and record an album. I saw them live in the 90’s as a “double trio”, with founder Robert Fripp and vocalist Adrian Belew on guitars, Trey Gunn and Tony Levin on bass, and Pat Mastelotto and Bill Buford on drums, and they absolutely blew my socks off. This wasn’t any “trippy progressive” stuff, this was simply … amazing. And you’ll hear lots of current artists extol their praises and cite them as influences. King Crimson definitely should be in the hall, just on their sheer talent.
  • I lamented the shittiness of Eighties music earlier. The best representative of that much-maligned musical era? The Cars. They epitomized the genre, ruled the airwaves, ruled MTV, and were pretty damned talented. Ric Ocasek is still producing stellar albums. I’d like to see them as the official Ambassador of the Eighties in the RRH0F.
  • Rick Rubin must be inducted as a nonperformer. Just look at this list of albums he produced:
    • Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill
    • Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker
    • Johnny Cash American Recordings series
    • Danzig’s sdebut
    • Audioslave’s debut album
    • Neil Friggin’ Diamond’s Twelve Songs & Home Before Dark
    • Adele’s massive-selling 21

This is just the tip of the iceberg, only a sampling across so many genres and so many generations of artists. It’s just ridiculous what this guy has been involved in, and he’s not just a sit-back-and-write-checks producer. He’s involved in all of these projects, working with the artists. This guy should absolutely be in the Rock Hall, full stop.

What do you think? Like my picks? Hate them? Think I’m massively full of shit? Let me know! Oh, and let the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame know as well.

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History of an Art Form

The greatest joy I have in studying history is coming across those amazing “nexus” moments, those moments where you realize “holy crap, if X didn’t figure this out, and Y didn’t make that choice, then not only would Z have turned out differently but A, B, and C might not even exist”. It’s those “EUREKA!” moments that makes this little hobby of mine worth while.

Lately I’ve been trying to flesh out my understanding of the history of music. Not Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven, but Chuck Berry, Jimmy Yancey, and Muddy Waters. Not only am I a big fan of rock & blues, but I find the whole history of it to be utterly fascinating. As an art form, well, there are definitely richer, more textural forms of music out there, but as an evolving cultural movement, it’s inspired, and fascinating, and controversial, and revolutionary, and damn sexy.

This is American classical music, not born out of an age of royalty and patronage, but cooked in the cauldron of Jim Crowe oppression, Depression-era poverty, Dust Bowl hardship, and Edison electricity. It comes from the fertile loins of the uniquely American amalgam of races and cultures. There is no other place on Earth where this unique confluence of happenstance existed, and there is no other place on Earth where the music we now know as Rock & Roll could have possibly been invented.

As much as I love it, I’m also terribly ashamed my knowledge of it is not incredibly deep. I’ve only just recently listened to Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” end-to-end! I’ve really missed out on an awful lot of classic recordings, and therefore am clearly missing out on a lot of great stuff and a lot of great context. It’s embarrassing, really. So, in order to correct this gross oversight, I decided to go back and not only acquire, but really listen to, all the classic recordings throughout rock history.

The other day I was perusing my favorite used music store (http://www.turnitup.com/) and came across the 4 CD box set Leadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-1949. Leadbelly (aka Huddie Leadbetter) is one of the preeminent, influential figures, having been inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influence in 1988. He’s definitely known as a forefather of the Blues, but only when I gave this box set a solid listen did I appreciate just how much of an influence he truly was, and just how reflective of an entire chunk of neglected history his music truly is.

Let’s just start with the recordings themselves. These are gritty. Full of scratches and stutters and variations. No dreaded autotuning here.This man is the real deal, with all his pockmarks, rough edges and foibles there for all to see. In today’s overproduced age, where anyone can be a star thanks to audio waveform manipulation, this realism is incredibly refreshing.


Modern-day marvels:


Assuming you lived through that, try this:

Goodnight Irene


Important Recordings causes a time machine effect as well. A trip through this collection is a trip back to Precambrian rock, soul, and R&B. I love finding older versions of modern songs.  It’s like finding a dinosaur skeleton and realizing it’s the great-grandpappy of the blue jay. On this box set, you’ll hear 60+ year-old versions of such great songs like “C. C. Rider” (later covered by John Lee Hooker, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley & the Grateful Dead); “The Gallis Pole” (retitled “Gallows Pole” & recorded by Led Zeppelin); “Midnight Special” (famously covered by Credence Clearwater Revival); “Rock Island Line” (a Johnny Cash staple and a famous John Lennon bootleg); “How Long” (covered by Eric Clapton on his excellent From the Cradle CD); an amazingly uptempto “In New Orleans” (aka “House of the Rising Sun”, inarguably the biggest hit of the Animals); and “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”, which was eventually covered by, of all people, Nirvana on their outstanding Unplugged album. Hearing these songs in their near-original state is akin to going to the Smithsonian to see the Model T or the first light bulb.

As great as these old finds are, the real heart and soul of Important Recordings is reflected in the other tracks, the tracks that haven’t made it into the vernacular of modern music. These are tracks like the repentent “I’m Sorry Mama”, the work-weary “Boll Weevil”, the sorrowful “Po’ Howard”, the fairly creepy “Black Snake Moan”, and the lamenting “My Friend Blind Lemon”. These are songs from the forgotten era of the sharecropper, a hardscrabble life of poverty where your only support is from faith, friends & family. You’ll also hear more than a handful of Negro work songs like “Pick a Bale of Cotton”, and chain gang songs like “Take This Hammer”, complete with the percussive “huh” grunting by unnamed background vocalists. Give these a good listen, try to put yourself in the shoes of these men in their time, and tell me it doesn’t give you the chills.

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I just came back from my spring National Parks trip. With all the economic uncertainty, plus my need to pay off credit card debt (like the rest of America), I kept it small. Drove through upstate New York, then Ohio, across West Virginia, then home via Maryland. Hit eight more, albeit small, sites on the list, bringing the total to 185.  Still not quite halfway there.

During this trip, I also visited my two all-time favorite museums: the amazing National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio (about which I’ll post at a later time) ; and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

Rock Hall

The poor Rock Hall doesn’t get a lot of respect. Some think it’s self-serving to a lot of rich, arrogant, rock egos. Others think it’s unfathomable that you could put the energy and rebelliousness of rock music into something as stuffy as a museum. Still others can’t get over the fact that non-rockers like the Bee Gees or Madonna have been inducted, while their favorite act (KISS or Journey or Emerson, Lake and Palmer or whoever) still aren’t in there.

Howlin WolfI love the place, absolutely love it, loved it from the beginning. I was there during the opening, 8-hour concert on Labor Day weekend in 1995, where I saw everyone from Chuck Berry to Johnny Cash to Dr. John to Aretha Franklin to Iggy Pop. That was a fantastic experience. The next day I saw James Brown sauntering through the crowd, surrounded by some of the biggest, scariest bodyguards imaginable, on his way into the Rock Hall. I’ve been back several times since, and love it more and more every time I go. For me, it goes beyond being a fan of rock music. My love of rock & roll dovetails nicely into my love of American history.

Most countries or cultures are defined by their art. For the Greeks, it’s architecture and epic tales. The Italians have religious iconography and works by Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. The French have Impressionism, the Germans and Slavs people have composers such as Beethoven, Tchaikovzky and Mozart. Africa, China, Japan, Polynesia, even the Native American tribes have unique art tied directly to their culture and their history. America has its own unique art form, developed straight from our culture and history: Rock & Roll.

Fats DominoRock & roll is uniquely American because of it’s “origin story”. Rock’s primary grandfather was The Blues. Political correctness aside, The Blues was the black man’s music. It’s basically a lament about hard times and suffering set to a quick-paced but rough tempo. The Blues was fostered in a segregated South and derives directly from music sung by plantation slaves. This is Part I of why Rock is uniquely American, it’s the only positive thing to ever come out of our slaveholding past. Without the caustic cauldron of atrocity known as antebellum slavery, and the emotional agony of Jim Crow, the genetic material of The Blues would not have been created. No Blues, no Rock.

Another grandparent of Rock & Roll was Folk music (and its close cousins called Country and Bluegrass). All three of these forms sprouted out of the barrenness of the Depression. Yes, the Depression affected lots of countries, not just the USA, but there was something special about America’s experience that led to the birth of these three forms of music. Maybe it was the rural nature of Depression-era America, maybe it was the unique experience of the Dust Bowl, maybe it was the influence of our unique take on the religious revival. Whatever it was, folk, country & bluegrass evolved as uniquely American styles.

Allman Brothers BandThen there’s Jazz. Jazz, in my view, represents the independent American mentality applied to music. People wanted to play what they wanted to play, and wanted to hear what they wanted to hear. It’s improv, blending, mixing things up, and doing what you want. It’s throwing away musical convention, just like we threw away monarchial convention. We tossed out the King and made our own government, then we tossed out musical conformity and made our own Jazz. It’s the Declaration of Indepence set to music.

All of rock’s “early influences” were masters of these forms of music: Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Louis Jordan, Elmore James. But it took something else, something more. It took the lightning strike known as Capitalism to give Rock & Roll life. It took people like Alan Freed and Ahmet Erteghun and Jerry Wexler to realize that money could be made, people who had the savvy to prop up firebrands like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis and make all this roughshod music palatable to the young masses and their disposable income. Only in America could art be turned into something so immensely popular, and therefore immensely profitable.

George ClintonRock has then been changed and modified and altered by so much more since then: the injustice of the Vietnam War draft, the poverty of inner cities, the rebellion of angsty white suburbanite teens, plus America’s penchant to abuse mind-altering substances …. All of these things are, again, uniquely attributable to the U.S. and the unique mix (or train wreck, if you prefer) of our culture.

Now I know some (er, most?) will shout back “but what about the Beatles or the Stones or Led Zepplin, asswipe? These are Brits who revolutionized rock!”. Well, yes, that’s true. But all of these bands will tell you themselves that they got into rock because of Muddy Waters, or Bo Diddly, or Buddy Holly. Besides, just as the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, so too is rock a music of immigrants. Artists from all over the world have morphed and shaped rock to suit their needs, and have influenced other artists in return. It’s a great melting pot of music styles and cultures.

I highly recommend going to the Rock Hall. It does a great job showing the continuing evolution of a great, rebellious art form, a form of music whose greatest contribution is giving convention the big middle finger.

[Only the picture of the Rock Hall is mine. The others are from allmusic.com, a great web site for music research. Copyrights apply in some cases, this is a not-for-profit blog so I think it’s OK here. I’m sure lawyers will call if it ain’t :-P.]



Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum


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