STORY BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
On Friday evening rock and roll royalty gathered at Brooklyn, New York’s Barclays Center for the 32nd Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
Members of this year’s inductees, YES, ELO, Journey, Pearl Jam, Joan Baez, and Tupac Shakur (posthumously), as well as Nile Rodgers in the Award for Musical Excellence category were on hand to take their prominent place among their legendary peers.
Rolling Stone Magazine’s Jann Wenner, co-founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened the evening addressing the sold out crowd of 20,000 fans who had paid as much as $1,100 to attend the event, record industry dignitaries and stars of music and film.
ELO co-founding member and front man Jeff Lynne, backed by his touring band opened the performance portion of the show. Paying tribute to the late Chuck Berry, who recently passed away, they launched into an electrifying version of Berry’s classic “Roll Over Beethoven” followed by their classics “Evil Woman” and “Mr. Blue Sky.” ELO co-founding member Roy Wood was also on hand to accept induction along with Lynne.
Dhani Harrison, the son of the late George Harrison, who was a close friend of Lynne’s and co-formed The Travelling Wilbury’s together, followed with a lengthy speech before introducing Jackson Browne.
Preempting folk legend Joan Baez’s induction, Browne reminisced that the first album he bought at age 14 was a Baez record. Baez, who has aged better than many of her contemporaries exhibited the energy and passion that has always made her one of the most outspoken artists of her time.
The highlight of the evening’s inductees was the long overdue and highly anticipated induction of progressive rock giants YES. Band alum Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Alan White and Trevor Rabin were greeted by a thunderous applause before making their acceptance speech. Anderson, who was visibly elated by the honor and Wakeman, who chose this forum to display his comedic side, were particularly animated. Missing was YES bassist Chris Squire who died in 2015. Following their induction, YES took fans down memory lane with rousing renditions of “Roundabout,” joined by Geddy Lee on bass and “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Lee and fellow Rush bandmate, guitarist Alex Lifeson, inducted YES.
Lee was later quoted as saying, “Yes is a very precise band. Chris Squire was one of the most inventive and original sounding bass players ever, so to play his parts, it’s one thing – to mimic his parts, and you can mimic anything if you practice enough, but to write those parts, it was sheer brilliance. It was a great honor for me.”
The lingering question of the night was whether Journey’s Steve Perry would show up and perhaps sing with his former band mates. Perry did attend, giving his fellow musicians, Steve Smith, Ross Valory, Aynsley Dunbar, Gregg Rolie, Neal Schon, and Jonathan Cain, who were all on hand, glowing accolades for their years of success together. Perry said “Speaking of fans – you’re the one who put us here. You are the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We would not be here if not for you and your tireless love and consistent devotion. You never have stopped. And from my heart I must tell you, I’ve been gone a long time, I understand that, but I want you to know, you’ve never not been in my heart. I love each and every one of you. Thank you so very much.”
Much to the disappointment to his fans Perry did not end up singing and, instead, current Journey front man Arnel Pineda handled the lead vocal duties. Journey performed “Separate Ways,” “Lights” (that Neal Schon dedicated to Perry), and “Don’t Stop Believin.’” Journey received the most fan votes for their induction. Perry opted to skip the post show press conference.
Standing in for the ailing Neil Young, former late night talk show icon David Letterman made a rare appearance inducting Pearl Jam into the Rock Hall. Greeted by an extended standing ovation, Letterman, who is now sporting a white beard, opened his speech with a comical reference to Neil Young’s absence. “The truth is, the poor guy can’t stay up this late. I’ve known Neil Young for many, many years. We met a long time ago on Farmers Only dot com,” prompting rousing laughter and applause from everyone in attendance.
Pearl Jam received the most enthusiastic inductee response of the night. Following speeches by individual band members including the controversial Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam broke into a set that included “Alive,” “Given to Fly,” and “Better Man.”
Pearl Jam then anchored the evenings all-star finale featuring Neil Young’s “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World,” and included Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Trevor Rabin and Neal Schon.
Legendary record producer Nile Rodgers with 300 million albums sold and 75 million singles to his credit received the Award for Musical Excellence. In addition to his guitar work with his and Bernard Edwards’ band Chic, Rogers endless producing credits include Philly’s own Sister Sledge. Mick Jagger and David Bowie.
Snoop Dogg inducted the late Tupac Shakur. Celebrity guests included Pharrell Williams, T.I., Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lenny Kravitz, (who performed a tribute to the late Prince), Alicia Keys, Pat Monihan, (Singer in Train who inducted Journey) and Indigo Girls.
Philly music luminaries Jerry “The Geator” Blavat, concert promoter Larry Magid and rock historian and veteran DJ Denny Somach were also in attendance.
HBO taped the evening for airing on April 29th at 8 p.m.