Who better to acknowledge the Rock Hall's current class of inductees than a group of musicians? This year, Jeff Beck will be inducted by Jimmy Page (the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin)l Little Anthony & the Imperials will be inducted by Smokey Robinson; Metallica will be inducted by Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers); Run-D.M.C. will be inducted by Eminem; and Bobby Womack will be inducted by Ron Wood (Rolling Stones). In the sidemen category, Bill Black will be inducted by Gary Talent (Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band); DJ Fontana will be inducted by Max Weinberg (E Street Band); and Spooner Oldham will be inducted by Paul Shaffer.
With that in mind, we enlisted local musicians to write about the artists who'll be enshrined at Public Hall on April 4. Local guitar whiz Byron Nemeth writes eloquently about the power of Jeff Beck's shredding abilities; the O'Jays' Eddie Levert weighs in on the significance of Little Anthony and the Imperials, an act that's influenced his own music; guitarist Shaun Vanek of Cellbound, Eternal Legacy and Wretch talks about Metallica's raw power; Brooklyn-via-Cleveland DJ Mick Boogie writes about the far-reaching influence of Run D.M.C.; and local musician and DJ Lawrence Daniel Caswell acknowledges the spiritual side of Bobby Womack. In addition, Greg Miller of the Whiskey Daredevils discusses the significance of D.J. Fontana and Bill Black, and Hayshaker Jones' front man Clint Holley revisits Spooner Oldham's magic groove. And for the early influence category, Horror of '59 bassist Sugar writes about inductee Wanda Jackson, someone whose songs she's covered countless times.
The first time I heard Blow by Blow and Wired, I was mesmerized by the guitar playing and the caliber of the compositions. These pieces opened my musical mind to new heights, and they still continue to inspire my music. These songs exemplify the albums that Jeff Beck has recorded with George Martin, albums that have set standards for all guitar players. Beck's influence on guitarists and the music world at large cannot be understated, and frankly it's about time he's being honored by being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's one of the most influential lead guitarists in rock: His work helped to shape blues-rock, psychedelia, hard rock, heavy metal and other guitar-rock-related genres.
His career started in London working as a session guitarist in the early 1960s, which led to the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck Group, Beck, Bogert & Appice, and then a string of solo albums and compilation appearances. Beck's distinct style produced screaming leads, bent sustained notes, distortion, feedback, volume swells and crisply articulated fast passage work that change and intertwine with all the wizardry that we have come to know from "The Guv'ner." Some of Beck's most prolific guitar playing is on his Grammy-nominated version of the Beatles classic "A Day in the Life," his contribution to George Martin's album In My Life. The explosion of multiple colliding screams during the orchestral crescendo sections, along with the grounded middle strolling bridge, are classic Beck that moves the soul in the same way "Cause We've Ended as Lovers" and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" did in the '70s.
Seventeen years after being honored as a member of the Yardbirds, Beck will finally be inducted as a solo artist to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The 64-year-old guitar virtuoso is one of the greatest guitarists in the history of music. His playing can serve as an educational beacon of light that can shed "Truth" and musical value on an over-saturated music environment filled with unseasoned players. Some guitar players can shred and amaze with fast licks, and there are others who can say everything with one powerful note. What makes Beck great is that he does both. It is for this reason that Beck's playing has stood the test of time and endeared him to thousands of fans that view him as English Rock Royalty. — Byron Nemeth
Little Anthony and the Imperials
The Hall has just taken so long to bring out the people who qualify and should be in there. I think everybody going in is worthy of being in. You finally feel like you've found your place in history. You feel like your peers have finally recognized you and how much you have meant to music scene, not just your fans. I can't say there was ever a moment that I felt sure that we were going to reach that pinnacle of success. But once it happened, it settled in that we had done something worthy of being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Little Anthony and the Imperials were people who influenced my way of performing. I think they should have been there way before I was there — that's the kind of people they are and that's the kind of performance level they have given me. Sammy Strain, who is going in with them, was part of the O'Jays. [Strain left the Imperials in 1977, after more than 15 years, to join the O'Jays]. Sammy is a consummate showman and he should be in there twice.
I'm a big fan of Anthony Gourdine. I think he had one of the greatest voices in the history of R&R music — in fact, in music, period. His voice on "I'm on the Outside (Looking In)," "Tears on My Pillow" — the urgency in it, the clarity, his vocal ability, how he was able to sell a song — that was really, really phenomenal. "MacArthur's Park" — have you ever heard him do that? It's incredible. It showcases his operatic voice, that Mario Lanza kind of plea, that cry. It pulls at the heartstrings. It makes you want to hear more, and it also makes you feel the pain.
And he hasn't lost a step. He's still as good as all that. I met the Imperials through their first manager, Richard Barrett. They are some of the most talented people I have ever met. We probably all pull from one another. When those creative juices go to flowing, you want to share them. When you're goofing around, you all get to sharing with one another, and consequently you use things on your record, maybe not the same way, but with the same intention. The thing people have got to understand about rock 'n' roll — who do they consider rock 'n' roll? Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Little Walter were all people of color who started it. People were able to take it and call it whatever they want but it's all rhythm and blues. I'm just glad Cleveland is a part of it. And I'm glad I'm part of it. — Eddie Levert
I remember going to a garage sale and seeing a cassette tape of Master of Puppets. I went home that night, and I had this plastic guitar and I played along to the whole record. My door was cranked open and I was playing air guitar to the record and my parents made a video of it. This was in the mid-late '90s; I was 10 or 11.
Metallica is a timeless band. They were the next step in metal in the '80s. They weren't guitar virtuosos or screamers. They were just trying to be heavy and write really good songs. A lot of bands try to make long songs, throw in all these different influences. But Metallica can write a longer song and keep it focused. You can't sit down and say to yourself, 'I'm going to write a long song.' When you write a song, you have to go with it and see where it takes you. With Metallica, I feel like they didn't say, We've got to make sure we play this long or throw this solo here. You can tell they just got in a room and jammed together and came up with good stuff.
It's all about chemistry. Kirk Hammett might not be an Yngwie or a really technical guitar player, but he really complements what James Hetfield plays. They play to each other's abilities, and they made good music that way. You've got to really know your members in the band to do that. They knew what they wanted and they got it. When you see Metallica live, it always makes you that much more energetic about where you're at. Soundwise they changed, but they still write great songs. My personal favorites are the older albums, but I can't take anything away from the Load or ReLoad albums. You get to a point in your life where things change, especially with a band of that status. But the rawness is still there and that's what makes them more timeless than other bands. — Shaun Vanek
"His name is Jay/To see him play/Will make you say/God damn that DJ made my day." That's a line from Run-DMC's "Peter Piper." Well, I never had the privilege of actually seeing Jam Master Jay DJ a show, but those words live on forever in the lyrics of one of hip-hop's best-known songs. And now, even though he looks on from heaven, one of the greatest DJs of all time will be smiling down and watching his bandmates get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To try to describe what Jay, Run and DMC meant to hip-hop and pop culture is quite daunting. But let's give it a try. Run-DMC weren't just rappers; they were bona fide rock stars. They billed themselves as the "Kings of Rock" way before it was cool to sample heavy-metal guitars. They made songs called "Rock Box" way before Linkin Park was rapping and Lil Wayne was singing.
They did songs with groups like Aerosmith nearly 25 years before a DJ like myself ever thought to do a Jay-Z/Coldplay album. Simply put, they defined the term "mashup" decades before it even came into existence. And that was their true genius — always staying ahead of the curve and appealing to multiple audiences, while never losing sight of their true fans. Everyone from black to white, old to young, loved (and loves) Run-DMC. As an artist of this generation, how can you not respect that? Every rapper who has ever picked up a mic, every DJ who has ever touched a record, and every guitarist who has ever played a lick over some hardcore hip-hop drums owes a debt to these three men, the "Kings From Queens."
And though Jam Master Jay is no longer with us, they have stayed new and relevant, making themselves household names to the younger generation as well. Rev Run has continued on with the hugely successful Run's House on MTV, and DMC has branched off into a solo career recording songs with people like Sarah McLachlan. They have continued to evolve and progress in a creative, unique and most importantly, morally responsible way. They sound as good today as they did in the early 1980s, but you get the feeling they always knew they would. Let's end with a classic quote from one of my favorite Run-DMC songs of all time, "King of Rock": "Now we're the baddest of the bad, the coolest of the cool ... It's all brand new, never ever old school." — Mick Boogie
"People that talk, usually, I think that you should have something to say, or you shouldn't talk just to be talking. I feel that anytime I have something to say I'm gonna say it, 'cause maybe it might help you on your merry way." That's a quote from Bobby Womack's "Medley: Fact Of Life/He'll Be There When the Sun Goes Down." Born March 4, 1944, right here in Cleveland, Bobby Womack is trying to tell you something. A cursory review of Bobby's song titles suggests it's something about love. No surprise there. There have been one or two songs about love in the history of popular music. Bobby's been "Looking for a Love" since that first Valentinos single released in July of 1962. By June of 1964, he was claiming, "It's All Over Now." "I Found a True Love" is what he told us in 1965. But in 1973, he was "Looking for a Love Again." "Love Has Finally Come at Last" in 1984 (with a little help from Patti LaBelle). But, just a year later, Bobby was saying "I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much." Safe to say it was all over again (likely due to the "Games" that people play, and more than a few "Secrets").
Such a varied romantic history would be ample soil for any soul balladeer to pull his tales of love and woe. But Bobby Womack is not just any soul balladeer. Bobby Womack is from Cleveland, and he is trying to tell you something. A closer textual examination of the Womack discography reveals not merely a chronicle of loves lost and found again, but something more akin to a to-do list or an algorithm. It's a love instruction manual (some assembly required), a dummies guide to handling Bobby's love, and dealing with your own. The "quick start" version goes something like this: I'm in love. Love, the time is now. If you want my love (put something down on it). If you don't want my love (give it back). Love ain't something you can get for free. Now, don't forget: The woman's gotta have it. If you can't give her love, give her up. Do it right. You're messing up a good thing, and that's the way I feel about 'cha. Baby, I can't stand it. I don't want to be hurt by your love again. I can't take it like a man. It's more than I can stand. I'm through trying to prove my love to you. I'm at the point of no return. I'm gonna forget about you. And, if you think you're lonely now, just wait until tonight.
I hear the unabridged version of this is available as a PowerPoint presentation. That might help break it down. However, for maximum understanding, I recommend sitting down with a flow chart and a bottle of wine. For care, maintenance and general trouble-shooting, just remember that, "Everybody wants love, but everybody's afraid of love." And like Bobby says, "If you get anything out of life, you got to put up with the toils and strife." Can you understand it? All you have to do is check it out. As the host of No Ways Tired, home of the "Bobby Womack Block," on Monday mornings from 9-11 on WCSB 89.3 FM, I regularly work through Bobby's back catalogue. Now that Barack Obama is in the White House and Bobby Womack is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I don't know what to do with myself. But I highly recommend Womack's autobiography, Midnight Mover: The True Story of the Greatest Soul Singer in the World. The title says it all. — Lawrence Daniel Caswell
From my honky-tonk band to my gospel band to my hillbilly punk-rock band, every band I've ever been in has done at least one Wanda Jackson tune. Trying to sing her version of "Let's Have a Party" was one of the first songs that challenged me to stretch my vocal limits as a female, adding growls, swoops and simply cutting loose with effects that make the singing really fun, exciting and exotic. It's one thing when you hear male vocals with those variations. But when you hear those effects as a female from another female, it's inspiring. You realize that you can do those too, or at least try!
The first time I saw Wanda Jackson live was at Viva Las Vegas eight years ago. Of course, it was thrilling to see her breaking out again, and especially in that crowd of people that still live and breathe '50s rock 'n' roll. The next time I saw Wanda Jackson was at our hometown Beachland, where we simply live and breathe rock 'n' roll, regardless of the era. She's always a big hit with any crowd. And no matter where she plays, I love the fact that she wasn't/isn't afraid to bust out the special outfits. That might be one of her biggest inspirations to me — to dress the part! It's a big piece of the fun. In fact, I just wore fringe at my gig last Saturday!
Recently, I've started sitting in with Cleveland's own Lost State of Franklin for some gigs. I haven't learned all of their songs yet, but I'm betting there's gotta be a few Wanda Jackson tunes in their repertoire. Just like Wanda, their style runs the gamut of country, rockabilly, honky-tonk, bluegrass — all the good stuff! My main gig these days is with local band Horror of '59, a horror-pop-punk-rock band. It's going to be fun figuring out which Wanda Jackson song we can play in that band! — Rebecca Wildman (a.k.a. Sugar)
If Spooner Oldham had just played organ on the song "Mustang Sally" by Wilson Pickett, his legacy would have been sealed in music history. Loved by bar-goers and hated by bar bands that have to play it every time they play a gig, the song stands as a testament to the never-ending appeal of deep soul music: the ability to reach inside the average person and make them want to shake their thing. Whether the song is happy or sad, fast or slow, there's always a story and that groove. Fat and muddy like the Mississippi river, the songs are propelled by musicians that worked as a team and ignored the cultural boundaries that surrounded them in reality of the Deep South. But once again there is that one thing — the groove, a singular sound that has no equal. Motown took black music to the top of the charts, but you could argue that Motown's music was pop music, made for mass consumption with the dream of cross-over success. Southern soul is different. Made at the crossroads of cultural differences, it defines a specific time and place, and captures the magic of what was good about it all while ignoring the things we still strive to put behind us as a nation.
Spooner, however, should not be pigeonholed into a specific time or place. Not only did he play keys on some of the great songs of a generation, he also co-wrote bona fide classics with Dan Penn (Note to Rock Hall — induct him next, please), including one of my all-time faves, "I'm Your Puppet." He has toured with everybody from Bob Dylan to Neil Young, while being able to stay current with artists like the Drive-By Truckers and Frank Black. Facts are one thing and they are great — don't get me wrong. People should know everything that Spooner has done in his long and productive career. But there is one thing that makes people feel it more than anything else: the groove. Whether you are dancing in the kitchen with your sweet thing at four in the morning to the strains of "When a Man Loves a Women" or watching people who don't normally dance get drunk and scream for "Mustang Sally" at the corner bar, they are all searching for the groove. Thanks, Spooner. — Clint Holley
and Bill Black
The problem with playing with Elvis is that you tend to get overlooked in favor of the Cultural Icon. That's not fair to D.J. Fontana and Bill Black, who knew how to play with Elvis. The basic game plan was give him a great groove and get the hell out of the way. It sounds easy, but it's really tempting to overplay. Example? Every time I walk into a Guitar Center, there's some guy noodling on a six-string bass. You think that guy cares about the primal beat of a song? No way. I remember when we were cutting our teeth in the Cowslingers, and we learned our way down the Elvis songbook. It sure isn't easy to make those songs sound as good as those Elvis Presley records. One hurdle is that I'm not as good of a singer as most Elvis impersonators, much less Elvis. The other problem is trying to recreate that perfect combination of swagger and hillbilly swing. Elvis was great, but the Black/Fontana rhythm section is the engine that made that thing run.
When you take a look at the truly greatest musical achievements of Elvis Presley, drummer D.J. Fontana and bass player Bill Black are giving him the rhythm. They knew how to give Elvis space, but still drive the beat. The Sun sessions provide the textbook for rock 'n' roll. It can't be improved upon. And those are the two guys (with guitarist Scotty Moore) who made it happen for Elvis. When the original band broke apart, it was never quite the same. (Black and Moore left in 1958 when their deal went from 25 percent of the take to $200 a week. I'm not an accountant, but I would guess that Elvis might have been making more than $800 a week.) The 68 Comeback Special gave a brief glimpse of how great it could have continued to be, but without Black, it just wasn't perfect. Many of the artists in the Rock Hall have debatable credentials that gained them entrance. DJ Fontana and Bill Black gave the backbeat to some of the most important rock records of all time. "Mystery Train," "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "That's All Right, Mama," "Jailhouse Rock." Welcome in, boys. It's been too long in coming. — Greg Miller