2009 / Music / Previews

Preview: 2009 Rock Hall Inductees Honor Pop’s Subgenres

Metallica, Jeff Beck Among This Year’s Inductees

CLEVELAND — The masterminds behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame set for themselves a nearly impossible task when the idea was first conceived in the early ’80s.

Photo: Debbie R

Photo: Debbie R

Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner, Atlantic Records guru Ahmet Ertegun and other organizers sought to honor the music’s legacy and transformational cultural impact by pasting accolades on rock’s leading lights. However, the invisible hands guiding the process of who made it into sacred hall quickly found that by enshrining rock music, they threatened to codify it and essentially lay down laws on a music whose reputation is built completely on bending and breaking all the rules.

Tied to this idea was how these music industry potentates felt the need to make “rock ‘n’ roll” as broad a category as possible. When the concept for the Rock Hall was born, popular music tastes were still enraptured with the after wash of the ’60s and ’70s. Little Richard and Chuck Berry begat Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan and that was it. As tastes changed and musical landscape altered, new voices, styles and genres eclipsed those stars of rock’s Golden and Silver ages. This evolution posed tough questions: Is metal rock ‘n’ roll? What about hip-hop? Reggae? And then what do you do with country music? The answer Wenner and Ertegun and company came up with is that the music would be everything to everyone. It’s a strategy that has some odd results.

To cover their flanks from critical nitpickers, Rock Hall organizers included blues legend Robert Johnson, jazz great Miles Davis and hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash among those who have been inducted. In all likelihood, all of them would like flitch at the thought that they were playing rock ‘n’ roll. (Hey, even early-’90s inductee Van Morrison doesn’t want his music labeled as rock ‘n’ roll.)

And so, the two most noteworthy members of the 2009 class of inductees — metal titans Metallica and hip-hop hitmakers Run D.M.C. — are a direct attempt to honor those subgenres of pop music that were once thrust to the music’s margins, but who now represent the fastest growing sectors of the music world.

While Metallica is the only still-active and stadium-shaking act of this year’s cadre and will likely command a lion’s share of the attention during this weekend’s ceremony in Cleveland, the museum’s founders and its nebulous nomination committee who vote each year still found space to sneak some long-overlooked artists into the proceedings to round out the bill.

But, perhaps, in a weird way including dubious rock artists into the Rock Hall is quintessentially rock ‘n’ roll. Rules, as any good rocker will tell you, are meant to be broken.

The ceremony will be held Saturday night and will air in its entirety on the Fuse network.

This year’s inductees are:

Metallica

The wrinkled attendees to this year’s induction ceremony would be wise to turn down their hearing aids and pop in some ear plugs. This show will likely be a loud one.

Of course, largely Metallica doesn’t care. They’ve always played too loud, too fast and too long than most of their contemporaries would ever dream. But it’s Metallica’s brazen disregard for courtesy or stylistic boundaries, as well as the archive of monstrous riffs that frontman James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich have stockpiled, that have made the group one of the few giants of pop music and absolute masters of heavy metal orthodoxy.

With the exception of Black Sabbath, no other metal group has come to clearly define this style of music and proven capable of making such sweeping alterations to its course. The band’s discography is a roster of classic albums — “Master Of Puppets,” “Ride The Lightning,” “The Black Album” etc. — that each set a bar for those following in their wake.

The group has also proven strangely resilient to changing music fashions. They’ve adapted their sound and look to fit changing times and yet somehow, were always able to cultivate more fans to replace any put off by their new turn. In an odd twist, the band’s brand-new album, “Death Magnetic,” is the first record that consciously tries to recapture the lightspeed guitar marathons and sonic street fights of their early years.

Surely, the biggest buzz about this year’s ceremony will be Metallica reuniting with estranged bassist Jason Newsted for a few songs onstage. Newsted, who manned the group’s low end during their creative and commercial pinnacle, quit the group several years ago amid mutual recriminations.

Metallica might still be one of the biggest bands in the world, but they’ve never arguably recovered from Newsted’s departure. The well-heeled audience at the show will likely see at least one track from the seminal “The Black Album” amid the onslaught of metal classics the group will likely run through. (Metallica’s current bassist Robert Trujlio has graciously bowed out to make room for Newsted.) In one final slight, the group’s embittered ex-guitar player Dave Mustaine (now of Megadeth) won’t be included in the proceedings.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea will be inducting the band.

Run D.M.C.

It seems fate has always had something against Run D.M.C.

The trio spent most of the early ’80s busting their heads against a wall of indifference erected by racist record labels, radio disc jockeys and the music industry because they wanted to take hip-hop to the suburbs. In the ’90s when MTV and radio programmers began to catch on, they were effectively shut out of the game because they were perceived as out of step with the current rap scene. But, undoubtedly, the cruelest blow of all was the killing of DJ Jam Master Jay several years ago — a slaying that still remains unsolved.

Regardless of the adverse circumstances plaguing the group had to endure, their place as rap’s greatest ambassadors can’t be overstated. Run D.M.C., which also consists of MCs Run and D.M.C, might not have been hip-hop’s inventors, but no artists did more to take the music farther than they did. Their willingness to make some key stylistic concessions to nervous industry types (including Rick Rubin) opened rap to a wider audience than ever before and eventually broke down those barriers that kept audiences away from this music.

The trio’s collaboration with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way” is now christened as a landmark achievement. However, it was one born out of compromise and necessity. It was a far more loyally done cover than perhaps the guys wanted to record, but in embracing a more rock-oriented sound opened the door for them. It allowed Run D.M.C. to serve as a model for every young rapper and DJ since then.

Eminem will be inducting the group.

Jeff Beck

For a music form that truly worships the guitar, Jeff Beck is the axe-slinging ace who refuses to play along with expected traditions and align along contemporary tastes.

When the seminal British band the Yardbirds sought to evolved from a bunch of blues wannabes to a pop act and fill the shoes of someone as irreplaceable Eric Clapton, they though the nimble-fingered Beck could fit the bill. Unfortunately, they got more than they bargained for. Instead of a soloist intent on wowing listeners with his mastery of the mixolydian scales, Beck’s sonic attack was consistently angular and asymmetrical. Playing pop was the furthest thing from his mind.

While Jimi Hendrix received renown for his unorthodox playing style and use of feedback, Beck was just as groundbreaking and trailblazing. Unfortunately for Beck, his headstrong approach to how to deploy and unleash his substantial guitar firepower has left him to walk a lonely road. He’s wandered in and out of several stillborn projects, dabbled with jazz fusion for years and recorded several groundbreaking albums that largely failed in the marketplace. The apathetic response to his recorded output has made Beck’s studio offerings arrived infrequently and in most cases, decidedly out of step of what’s hip.

Beck’s major contributions can be traced back to his influence on now several generations of more accommodating guitar players like Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and others.

Former Yardbirds bandmate and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page will be inducting Beck.

Bobby Womack

Among ’60s and ’70s soul music stars, Bobby Womack was often outshone by giants like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and his onetime employer, Sam Cooke. In the realm of R&B and funk, Womack was bested by Sly & the Family Stone and even the campy Rick James. And although Womack was never achieved top-tier stardom his rivals did, his contributions to those genres shouldn’t be undervalued.

Womack’s music career took off in the mid-’60s thanks to the sponsorship of Cooke, but he mostly remained a sideman and songwriter to other acts including Cooke, Sly Stone and Aretha Franklin. By the late ’60s and early ’70s, Womack switched his emphasis on his own solo albums and slowly began to gain traction with a series of charting singles. Songs like “What Is This,” “It’s Gonna Rain,” “That’s The Way I Feel About Cha” and “Looking For A Love” gave Womack entre into urban audiences. However, his focus on singles in the album era meant that when the hits dried up, so did the number of his fans.

Of course, the arrival of hip-hop in the ’80s and ’90s meant many of Womack’s songs achieved a second life thanks to copious sampling. But, here too, Womack came in second fiddle to artists like Parliament-Funkadelic or James Brown who were often rappers and DJs’ first choice for hooks and licks. Despite this, Womack’s skills as a songwriter and musician make him a notable inclusion into the Hall of Fame.

Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood will repay the debt his band owes to Womack by inducting him. Womack wrote one of the Stones’ early hits, “It’s All Over Now,” although Wood wasn’t in the group back then.

Little Anthony & The Imperials

Long after most “rock” influences have been inducted, the Hall of Fame is finally getting around to including Little Anthony & The Imperials. While the group’s pop-music presence is a fading memory for most, their influence as the preeminent doo-wop outfit can still be heard in countless R&B and hip-hop artists today (sorry Platters).

The group’s frontman, Jerome Anthony “Little Anthony” Gourdine, still tours occasionally with some of the original members although his piercing falsetto voice which became a trademark isn’t quite what it was when he was a teen idol in the ’50s.

The group scored a series of hits in the ’50s and ’60s, but they eventually lost ground to the broad appeal and tight arrangements that were hallmarks of the Motown acts and the grittier soul sound coming from the Stax/Volt stable of performers. Most of them would likely admit that they owe a large to the Imperials for their own success.

Motown legend Smokey Robinson will induct the group.

Spooner Oldham

Few might have heard of Spooner Oldham but many more have heard him.

The keyboard player achieved renown in late ’60s and early ’70s as a session musician and songwriter tied closely with the string of soul classics that emanated from Muscle Shoals, Ala. It’s no understatement to say that Oldham’s soulful organ playing was always an intrinsic feature of these smashes. Oldham’s work graced innumerable hits such as “When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge, “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett and “I Never Loved A Man” by Aretha Franklin.

In subsequent years, he’s recorded and toured with rock royalty including Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne and others. Recently, he’s hit the road with Neil Young.

Another underrated keyboardist, Dave Letterman’s sidekick Paul Shaffer, will induct Oldham.

Bill Black and D.J. Fontana

While Elvis Presley had the essential tools to become an icon of the 20th Century, it’s unlikely he would have got there alone or as quickly if it weren’t for the unique, locomotive rhythm generated by his backing band.

Bassist Bill Black and drummer D.J. Fontana were rock ‘n’roll’s original sidemen. They were rockabilly greasers whose sole purposes was to give Presley’s country yodel and yelp a “jungle beat” that was as infectious as it was foreign to sheltered, Northern audiences. The result would make Presley the “king” of rock ‘n’ roll while it left Fontana and Black in the shadows, mere tagalongs to history.

In fact, these Southern boys shared similar roots and musical influences as Presley and their punchy instrumental attack served to emphasize many of best attributes of the music that rock hybridized.

That both of these men weren’t in the Hall of Fame earlier speaks to the ongoing incongruity that emerges because of the Hall’s complicated set of priorities. It seems that once again, Black and Fontana have been left in the shadows while others receive all the attention. (The honor comes particularly late for Black, who died in 1965 of a brain tumor.)

The other musician in Elvis’ most famous combo — guitarist Scotty Moore — was inducted in 2000.

The E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent and drummer Max Weinberg will induct Black and Fontana.

Previous Stories:

Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2009 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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