By RANDY LEWIS
Los Angeles Times
Whatever other transgressions Rock and Roll Hall of Fame officials may be accused of, they know you can’t follow a Beatle, much less two Beatles, and wisely left Paul McCartney’s induction of his long ago bandmate Ringo Starr as the grand finale of the 2015 ceremony in the wee hours of Sunday morning in Cleveland.
I was doing the press earlier, and somebody asked, ’Why did you wait so long,’ ” Starr, 74, said. “It had nothing to do with me — you have to be invited. Finally I’m invited and I love it.”
In one of the most personal and personable acceptance speeches of the evening, Starr sounded like he might have merely been courting favor with the hometown crowd when he said, “I also got lucky that it’s actually in Cleveland,” which elicited a huge ovation.
Then Starr added, “And I’ll tell you why,” which he followed with a detailed rundown of his discovery of early rock and R&B through a Luxembourg radio station he listened to in Liverpool — a station that carried influential American radio deejay Alan Freed’s broadcasts from Cleveland.
“Every Sunday at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, we’d listen to Alan Freed. He played Little Richard, he played Jerry Lee Lewis, who was here earlier, and that’s where we heard rock and roll music,” Starr, 74, said. “Alan Freed introduced us to so many great records.”
McCartney recounted the first time Starr sat in with the nascent Beatles, when Starr was still a member of another Liverpool group, Rory Storm & the Hurricanes.
“I remember the moment, standing there, looking at John, then looking at George, and we were like . What is this? That was the moment. That was the beginning of the Beatles.”
Following a surreal version of the Shirelles’ hit “Boys,” for which Starr was backed by the members of Green Day, and a version of his solo it “It Don’t Come Easy” featuring his rock star pal and brother-in-law Joe Walsh, the collaboration most of the crowd anticipated arrived as McCartney put on his bass and fronted an all-hands-on-deck rendition of “With a Little Help From My Hands.”
“Thank everyone on stage, what a great gift,” Starr said, and then launched into a revved-up performance of “I Wanna Be Your Man,” which also allowed McCartney to take a solo vocal near the end.
R&B singer-songwriter Bill Withers, at 76, brought an air of understated cool to an evening that had been filled with over-the-top performances by pop-punk band Green Day, an explosive rock-blues salute to Stevie Ray Vaughan and a decibel-slinging set by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.
“Miles Davis has no commonality with Jerry Lee Lewis,” Withers said, directing his gaze for the moment at the table near the front of Cleveland’s Public Auditorium, where inaugural Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Lewis looked on. “But they each have their constituencies. And when you guys get too loud, I gotta go to the bathroom.”
Stevie Wonder gave an uncharacteristically concise induction speech for Withers, citing the civility and elegance of his music in a world that’s often lacking in both.
Withers drolly said, “I’m honored to be this years’s oldest living solo inductee. Don’t hate me because I’m precocious, OK? But who else came here with a Legend and a Wonder?” He was referring to John Legend, who joined Wonder in the performance of Withers’ early-’70s hits “Use Me” and “Lean on Me,” which followed Wonder’s rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Legend led Withers out during “Lean on Me,” eliciting cheers from fans who may or may not have known that Withers has performed live only sporadically since his first round of fame, making Saturday’s show his first major public performance in more than three decades.
“It’s been a wonderful, odd odyssey with ups, downs and sometimes screw-me-arounds – we all know about those,” Withers said with a chuckle. “But I will always remember the good things. So check this out: Stevie Wonder knows my name, and the brother just put me in the Hall of Fame.”
Lou Reed was given not one but two of the most erudite tributes of the evening Saturday in Cleveland as he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by poet-singer-songwriter Patti Smith, and then was saluted by his partner of 21 years, performance artist and writer Laurie Anderson.
Smith had to choke back tears several times talking of Reed both as a friend and a musician she first encountered in person “dancing to the Velvet Underground upstairs at Max’s Kansas City” club in New York.
“Somewhere along the line, Lou and I became friends,” Smith said. “It was a complex friendship – sometimes antagonistic, sometimes sweet. Lou would sometimes emerge from the shadows at CBGB when I was there, and if I did something he liked, he would praise me. If I made a false move, he would break it down.”
Likewise, Anderson said Reed “was hilarious, never cynical. He was my best friend, the person I admire most in the world. There were times I was frustrated; there were times I was mad. But I was never, ever bored.”
She quoted an adage that suggests “a person dies three times: the first time when your heart stops; the second time when you’re buried or cremated; and the third time when your name is spoken for the last time.”
She then exhorted the crowd to join her saying Reed’s name, en masse, and they responded with a long, dark chorus of “Lou!!”
The musical tribute featured Yeah Yeah Yeahs members Karen O and Nick Zimmer singing “Vicious,” followed by Beck doing “Satellite of Love.”
Smith recalled that when she got the news of Reed’s death in 2013, she had been alone at the beach, and then took the 55-minute subway ride back to New York City.
She said she found “the entire city was in mourning. I realized at that moment, that I had forgotten when I was on the subway, that he was not only my friend, he was the friend of New York City.”
Billie Joe Armstrong credited his upbringing in the San Francisco Bay Area on “Gilman Street, which was like ’Romper Room’ for degenerates,” and a fiscal crisis in his school district that resulted in him meeting bassist Mike Dirnt as key facets of the long-term success of pop-punk band Green Day that culminated Saturday in the trio’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“When we were on tour in our yellow Ford Econoline we called ’The Tooth,’ and when we were silk-screening T-shirts on Billy’s guitar, I didn’t think back then that we’d be here now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” drummer Tre Cool said, after the induction speech given by members of Fall Out Boy. “I thought it would take at least another year or two.”
The band’s evolution from simple, hard-thrashing punk to the more textured sounds of the Grammy-winning “American Idiot” album has had one thing in common, Armstrong said: “Every song I’ve ever written is about a state of confusion.”
They served up high-octane versions of “American Idiot,” “When I Come Around” and “Basket Case” during their performance, pushing the volume in Cleveland’s Public Auditorium even higher than it had been during the blues guitar summit tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan that preceded it.
The group’s induction gave the ’90s generation of music fans, many of whom discovered Green Day through the 1994 breakthrough album “Dookie,” something they could call their own on a night mostly devoted to the ushering in of musicians in their 60s, 70s and some in their 80s.
Fall Out Boy’s induction speech raised questions of what constitutes punk rock, and what is rock ’n’ roll, but at the end of his own time at the lectern, Armstrong suggested that such definitions don’t matter.
“I love rock ’n’ roll music,” he said, “and as soon as I opened my eyes and took my first breath, I am a fan. That’s what I want to close with: I love rock ’n’ roll.”
Electric guitars came out in force for the induction of Texas blues rocker Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band, Double Trouble, during an emotional tribute to the man who died in a helicopter crash in 1990 at 35.
“Guitar players can appreciate his technique, but it was his enthusiasm that set him apart,” said Vaughan’s older brother, guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, who spoke of the ways his younger brother copied him early in life, then turned the tables after they both developed drug and alcohol addictions.
“Big brother showed little brother how to play the guitar,” Jimmie Vaughan said, “but little brother showed big brother how to get clean and sober. . Every day I wake up clean and sober, I think of my brother.”
Guitarist-singer-songwriter John Mayer gave the induction speech, lauding Vaughan as “the ultimate guitar hero,” a phrase he repeated like the chorus of a song, and which drew a hearty cheer from the crowd of nearly 10,000.
“He gave me hope,” Mayer said, “because heroes give you hope. There’s an intensity to the way Stevie Ray played. It’s a rage without the anger, it’s devotional, it’s religious, it’s as otherworldly as Hendrix, but where Hendrix came down from outer space, Stevie came up from below the ground.”
Mayer also praised Vaughan for the example he set in triumphing over his demons.
“He fought drug and alcohol addiction, and he emerged an even better guitarist for it,” Mayer said. “He had the courage to talk openly about it on stage, talking to his fans about how drugs and alcohol wasn’t where it was at. He was my hero, and I grew up proudly turning down every drug and drink I was offered, so it might bring me closer to the man I never met. Heroes can save your life.”
Mayer joined with Jimmie Vaughan and fellow guitar shredders Doyle Bramhall II and Gary Clarke Jr. in blistering renditions of “Pride and Joy,” “Texas Flood” and “Six Strings Down” that also featured the members of Double Trouble, freshly inducted into the Rock Hall: keyboardist Reese Wynans, bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton.
Southern rocker Zac Brown and L.A. rock guitarist-activist Tom Morello teamed for a scorching run-through of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “Going to Chicago” in tribute to the blues harmonica player and bandleader who helped establish electric Chicago blues as a viable complement to the rural Delta blues.
“We kind of set an example, which was badly needed in those days, that people of different races could work together,” said Butterfield band guitarist Elvin Bishop, who launched a successful solo career after honing his skills in the band in the 1960s.
Butterfield, who died at 45 of a drug overdose in 1987, had been nominated three times previously, and was voted in for 2015 on his fourth time in the running. He was inducted by former J. Geils Band lead singer Peter Wolf, who praised the band’s style for influencing subsequent acts, including the Grateful Dead, Santana and the Steve Miller Band. Butterfield’s two sons accepted the award for him. Butterfield band guitarist Mike Bloomfield, who died in 1981, also was inducted posthumously.
Butterfield’s now 80-year-old drummer Sam Lay apologized for being somewhat frail, saying, “I may not be as strong as I was, but I’m still here . and I intend to stay here.”
He then walked slowly to center stage, took a seat behind a drum kit and sang lead on the song closely associated with Muddy Waters, “Got My Mojo Working,” accompanied by Bishop, keyboardist Mark Naftalin and several others in a powerfully pulsing demonstration of electric blues.
It was a funny phrase with which to open an evening dedicated to enshrining musicians in a hall of fame: “I don’t give a damn ’bout my reputation,” Joan Jett sang at the outset of the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday in Cleveland.
She was the first to perform before the crowd at the Cleveland Public Auditorium, and she started with “Bad Reputation” and was joined by her Blackhearts bandmate, bassist Jerry Ryan, and the rock musician who’s everywhere, Dave Grohl, for the Runaways’ punk standards “Cherry Bomb.” They wrapped up in short order with her version of Tommy James & the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover,” with a little help from Akron, Ohio, native James himself.
Then Miley Cyrus, a newer-generation female musician with a bad reputation, arrived to share her longstanding admiration – and lust – for Jett in a speech, much of which isn’t suitable for a family publication. She did note that through an odd set of circumstances on a tour entertaining troops overseas that “Joan Jett became maybe the only woman to offer a prayer on the men’s side of the Wailing Wall.”
“To me she is superwoman – what superwoman should be,” Cyrus said. “She did a lot of things first, not just as a woman, but as a badass babe on the planet.”
Jett thanked her parents, periodically and uncharacteristically wiping away tears, saying,“I was really going to try not to cry. It’s a little overwhelming.”