GASP! The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Gets It (Somewhat) Right!

 

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Normally this time of year has everyone in some state of aggravation. Mostly it comes from the holiday preparations (every year I’ve said I plan to start things earlier and instead it seems to be later), but it also comes from the yearly announcement of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees (OK, maybe not everyone). For a change, however, the Class of 2017 isn’t that bad, meaning that the voters, writers, and fans (yes, the fans get a vote)…GASP!…got it (somewhat) right this year.

After years of inducting some clearly questionable candidates (in 2016, the induction of N.W.A. drew the ire of rock fans; in 2015, it was Bill Withers; in 2014, Cat Stevens…you can go back each year and pick at least one), the bands and individuals that were voted in were either a solid lock for entry or a great argument to get in. For example, Pearl Jam was as close to a lock as you could get from the list of nominees as one of the originators of the “grunge” sound of the late 80s/early 90s rock scene. They were on the ballot for the first time and, yes, were worthy of that induction.

The 80s rock generation (and part of the 70s) was represented first by Journey. I wouldn’t have called this one – I believe it is the Rock & Roll Hall of FAME, not the Hall of PRETTY GOOD – but I also am not bent out of shape about their induction. If they are to be inducted, they must be inducted with singer Steve Perry; any other incarnation of the group would be an insult to the legend of the band.

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Joining Journey is straddling that 70s/80s line is another inductee for the 2017 class, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). Why they hadn’t been inducted previously is anyone’s guess, so it is far overdue for the Rock Hall to recognize the greatness of the band. It is also arguable that Jeff Lynne, the mastermind behind the ELO sound (and producer of some other great artists like Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Brian Wilson), deserves an induction as a solo artist or contributor.

The band Yes…yes, they weren’t in the Hall yet…is a correction of one of the grossest errors of the Hall of Fame. Stretching from their early work in the late 60s to their powerful work in the 80s, Yes deserves the induction arguably more than even ELO did. The question is what lineup do you go with? If you go with the early 80s lineup, you’re leaving out Rick Wakeman, arguably one of the finest keyboardists of the rock era. If you go with the original lineup, then you leave out Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes (AND Wakeman), who were key to helping in the creation of the 80s sound of the group that led to their resurrection. I don’t envy the job of the Rock Hall staff in determining which people will be honored with induction as a member of Yes.

The singer/songwriters weren’t ignored this year either. Joan Baez, who was a part of the Vietnam protest era of the 1960s and continued to have an outstanding career in the early to mid-70s, wasn’t probably some people’s choice for that genre, but you cannot ignore her impact on rock music having a social impact. Baez inspired such women as Judy Collins, Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell to their activism and entrance into the rock arena.

Even one of the longest “problem” spots for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame got covered this year. Nile Rodgers, the legendary producer and leader of the funk/disco group Chic, will enter the Hall for “Musical Excellence.” This should, in the future, remove the attempts to put Chic into the Hall as a performer because, in all honesty, it was Rodgers and the late drummer Tony Thompson who were basically Chic (they had a rotating roster of female vocalists, never a defined female lead). Thompson, in his own right, should be looked at for this award in the future.

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The ONLY question mark about this year’s inductees would be the inclusion of rapper Tupac Shakur on the roster. Shakur was a tremendously influential part of the “West Coast” sound of gangsta rap, even taking it to the point where the “East Coast/West Coast” rap wars began. Because of this standoff, Shakur was brutally shot to death on the streets of Las Vegas 20 years ago and probably brought about the death of ChristopherThe Notorious B.I.G.” (“Biggie Smalls”) Wallace six months later, possibly adding to the legend.

Tupac is a question mark because he didn’t have a wealth of material before his premature death. He’s released more albums since his passing than when he was alive and, to be honest, nobody is claiming that the posthumous work is the reason he’s being inducted. It also leaves the question open that, if you’re inducting Tupac, you’ve got to put Biggie in also (and Biggie’s repertoire is even less than Shakur’s). If you’re going strictly as an influence, I might be swayed on Tupac; if it is on his body of work, then I’m not as solidly behind his induction.

Even with these inductions, there’s still a wealth of artists out there that are more than deserving of entry. Out of the 2017 nominees, I’m slowly coming around to The Cars being inducted. As a purveyor of the synth sound of the 1980s (and their early work in the late 70s), I’ve always been a bit on the fence with the band. Now, I believe there is a place in the Hall for the group, just as there should be for another synthesizer-based band and 2017 nominee, Kraftwerk.

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I’ve also discussed ad nauseam about who deserves to get into the Hall. I’ve seen others believe in my choices of Pat Benatar, The Runaways and Judas Priest, and some have even given credence to Thin Lizzy, an outstanding choice if there is one. I’ve also been a longtime proponent of inducting Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett, but will now add Motörhead onto that list alongside a host of others.

Whatever the list of inductees is for this year, the concert that honors those inductees promises to be a bit calmer than the 2016 induction ceremonies. Bringing back the original Cheap Trick – with their estranged original drummer Bun E. Carlos – was tricky, but they pulled it off. 2016 inductee Steve Miller was perhaps the most vocal about his displeasure about the ceremonies AND the induction, points that he made long and loud both pre- and post-induction. If they can figure out the Yes conundrum, then they should be able to get through the awards ceremony without problems.

As to when that show will be, we’ll just have to wait and see. But for one magical year, it appears things are right with the world and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made the appropriate selections.

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Wondering Whatever Happened to…For January 14

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Sitting around wondering whatever happened to Suzi Quatro while pondering…

So I Guess ANYONE Can Be a Hero Now – When someone is injured in the course of defending the country in a time of warfare, they are granted the right to wear the Purple Heart due to their injuries (if you’re my silly little brother, you refuse the reward after nearly losing an eye in the First Gulf War, but that’s another story for another time). If you perform feats of heroism above and beyond what are expected of mere mortals (or perhaps because you’re scared shitless), you earn more prestigious medals such as the Bronze or Silver Star or the ultimate expression of heroism, the Medal of Valor. Whenever you normally see these awards, you can be assured that the person wearing the award has performed a very special feat…or can you?

A federal court in California ruled earlier this week that a former Marine can wear certain service medals he did not earn, somehow determining that this was a “form of free speech.” Apparently Elven Joe Swisher, who served in the USMC after the Korean War and was discharged honorably in 1957, has taken to wearing the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. The problem? He was never awarded either military honor.

In 2001, Swisher filed paperwork for disability payments for post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the military, in particular “secret combat missions in North Korea.” He was granted the payments and, in 2004, wore the Purple Heart when testifying at the trial of a man being tried for solicitation of murder in an attempt to make him look more reliable as a witness. When this came out – after the passage of the Stolen Valor Act – Swisher was charged under the Act and his payments stopped.

In 2012, however, the Stolen Valor Act was challenged in the Supreme Court, where the Justices ruled that it was “free speech” to just WEAR the medals, as long as you didn’t CLAIM you earned them. In 2013, the Congress changed the Stolen Valor Act to remove the illegality of wearing a medal from its verbiage. The decision by the federal court on Monday set aside Swisher’s 2007 conviction for violating the Stolen Valor Act but did not overturn his conviction.

We constantly hear about “respecting the military” from those who have never served. Add this to the list of the continued disrespect that the military receives.

It Was a Tragedy, But You’re Pushing It Here – Once again out of California – who seems to want to challenge Florida for the title of “stupidest state in the U. S.” – the widow of one of the victims of December’s mass shooting in San Bernardino has decided to file a lawsuit against the county. In her claim, Renee Wetzel, the widow of Michael Wetzel, says that the county and 25 unidentified individuals and the respondents to the shooting were “negligent and careless” in their actions and that her husband’s death was preventable. If this weren’t outrageous enough – no other family member of a victim from the shooting, which was an act of terrorism by two radicalized Muslims (one an American citizen), has filed any court actions – the price tag on the lawsuit will make you choke.

Wetzel is asking for a grand total of $58 MILLION in damages in the case:  $3 million for lost wages from her husband’s death, $25 million in general damages and $10 million in general damages for each of the couple’s three children. The county attorneys haven’t responded as of yet out of respect to those who were victims of what was a horrific crime; even one of the woman’s attorney, Andrew J. Nissen, wouldn’t indicate where the alleged negligence came from that the county supposedly committed.

Look, it is tragic what occurred in San Bernardino, but this doesn’t give you the right to make a mint off the situation. It just goes to demonstrate that there is serious need for tort reform – and a method to punish frivolous lawsuits – in the United States.

And On the Other End of the Spectrum – The family of a 12-year old girl in Pennsylvania who was shot to death by an elected constable isn’t blaming the man for the death of their family member but rather her father, who escalated the situation.

According to reports, Constable Clark Steele (in Pennsylvania, a constable is an elected position that can serve warrants, transport prisoners and perform what would be administrative law enforcement powers) went to a home in Duncannon, PA, on Monday to serve eviction papers on the residents, Donald and Sherry Meyer. When he knocked on the door of the address, Steele was met by the business end of a shotgun being aimed at him by Donald Meyer and Steele fired one shot in self-defense. That shot traversed the length of Meyer’s arm, shattering the bone, and exited at the elbow. It then hit Meyer’s daughter, Ciara, in the chest as she stood behind him, killing her on the scene.

Family members, in a refreshing change of pace, didn’t immediately castigate the officer, however. “None of us in our family have any hard feelings toward him,” one family member commented. The family knew about the history of the male Meyer and asked a reporter, “Did anyone let him (the constable) know that he was going to be walking into a rat’s hole?” Meyer, who was due in court later this month for a case on a DUI and resisting arrest (the eviction was a separate case) now is in jail for aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and other counts.

The family may very well receive some settlement from the police over the unfortunate death of their family member, but at least they realize there wasn’t any malicious intent in the constable’s actions.

Sometimes, There Are No Other Words That Can Be Said – In Virginia, Delegate Mark Cole decided that 2016 was the year that the state government had to make sure that restrooms in public schools were being used properly. On Tuesday, the representative for the 88th District in the Virginia House of Delegates filed a bill that would require students that use the restroom at school to use the “designated restroom for a specific gender” or be fined.

The law defines gender as “anatomical sex, mean[ing] the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person’s anatomy.” To most, that would mean that a physical examination of the person – in this case, a child – would be necessary to determine if the person was going to the right potty house instead of trying to “sneak a peek.” For his part, Cole has said that it is simply a bill that will only be used if there is a “complaint.” He also says that it wouldn’t require a “genital check,” but a simple look at someone’s student registration or birth certificate.

You would think there were other things in Virginia to be concerned with…

Now the answer to the question…whatever happened to Suzi Quatro?

Many might remember Quatro for her quick – and I do mean quick, as in fleeting – appearances on the television series Happy Days in the late 1970s as Leather Tuscadero, the little sister to Fonzie’s girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero (herself a fleeting memory), who fronted a powerful rock and roll band that “broke the norms” in the 1950s. As it turns out, to those who thought that Quatro was “just an actress,” there was a whole lot more in the package than they expected!

Happy Days wasn’t Quatro’s debut in show business. In fact, Quatro had actually been around much longer than that, especially making a huge impact in the music business. In the 1960s at the tender age of 14, she joined with her sister Patti in a band called The Pleasure Seekers, finding some success in the Detroit music community. After turning 18, Quatro then would move to England and became successful in West Germany as a hard rock act. From 1973 to 1980, Quatro would win some form of the West German magazine Bravo’s Bravo Award (73-74 the Gold, 1975, 1978 and 1979 the Bronze and 1980 the Silver) for Best Female Singer. The U. S., however, preferred their Suzi to be a little softer, with her only success in the States a tune called “Stumblin’ In” that peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979.

Quatro has served as the inspiration for many of the women who have gone on to have success in the world of hard rock/metal in the music business. It is arguable that, without Suzi Quatro, there wouldn’t have been The Runaways and, as a result of that, no Joan Jett, who is now enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Others who have given Quatro credit for inspiring them to get into music include the Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth (who was encouraged by her then boyfriend and now husband, fellow Heads’ member Chris Frantz, to listen to Quatro albums to learn how to play the bass) and singer/songwriter KT Tunstall.

Quatro calls England home nowadays and it appears that she’s beginning to slow down a bit. She last appeared in the United States in 2013, when she was given the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Detroit Music Awards (her birthplace) and, in 2014, Quatro performed what has been called her “final” Australian tour. At 65, Quatro has a handful of shows scheduled in Europe for 2016, where she will continue to rock the fans who come to see her. But don’t expect her to just quit; on her website, Quatro states, “I will retire when I go onstage, shake my ass and there is silence.”

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So Who SHOULD Be In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

Last week, the nominations came out for the 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, at the very end of my thoughts, I posited the question, “Who should have been nominated?” Mind you, the list of nominees was outstanding overall: longtime overlooked acts such as Chicago, Deep Purple and Yes getting nominated again (and three bands that I believe are long overdue the honor), newcomers like Janet Jackson, The Cars and Cheap Trick (all no votes) and outside shots such as The J.B.’s (another vote in from me), Chic (no) and N.W.A. (yes). However, there were several other artists that should have been on this year’s ballot if not already inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is personal to me because of my long love affair with music. Despite the factor that I could never play an instrument with any high level of competence, I admire those that can create art out of music, words, melodies and thoughts. While it could be said that writing is something like that, the songwriter and/or musician is an artist that encompasses different aspects, pulling them into one cohesive idea. Thus, I’ve always been a huge fan of music overall and rock music in particular.

My first introduction to rock music dates back to someone who, unfortunately, I don’t know if they’re still alive. The year was 1971 and, riding around in a car with my half-brother Monty (his real name could have been Montague, don’t really remember) on a hot summer day, saw him pop a cassette into the tape deck. Suddenly the mystifying tones of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” came pounding out of the speakers and, as I listened to the words and music, I was transported (you have to remember, these were the heady days of NASA’s Apollo space program) to being “Major Tom” and traveling through space myself.

From there, it was a quick indoctrination into the world of music. My mother had the classics – Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon and Willie and others – from the country music side, but she also had such gems as The Temptations, The Supremes and other R&B acts from the 60s in the record cabinet. My investigations in the rock music genre touched on Santana, The Who, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and James Taylor, then began to branch out into the harder edged rock of ZZ Top, KISS and Led Zeppelin, among others (on a personal note, was always more of a Rolling Stones guy than the Beatles).

As the mid-70s passed, punk rock became the next touchstone. The Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, The Ramones – these were the gates to pass through on the way to adulthood. As I reached high school, not only was it the disco era but it was almost time for the double shotgun-blast of the New Wave from England and MTV, opening the world even further (and we cannot go on without also recognizing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal). As I had to be a part of the music scene, I did the only logical thing a person with little to no musical talent could do – I became a DJ.

Through the 1980s and well into the 1990s, I plugged along as a DJ at pretty much every radio format that you could think of doing. Album-Oriented Rock (AOR), Top 40, easy listening, R&B, adult contemporary, news/talk – about the only thing I didn’t do was country (much like “country” music today, there’s a thin line between what was country music then and pop music). Along the way, there were some great times had in the conduct of my job and…well, let’s just save those stories for another time.

Hopefully you see that who gets in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is important, at least to me. It isn’t “live or die” important, mind you, but it is something that I want to show my son one day and say, “Yeah, I saw them, they were great.” Maybe we will sit down and listen to a CD or, pray tell, if we still have vinyl by then, an album, and talk about music and its history. He’s got a great musical ear, however, so he may be entertaining me with his music rather than our just listening to it.

OK, getting sappy here…

My criteria for putting someone in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would be somewhat along the lines of what poker uses for its Hall of Fame. These are the criteria that I would use in putting someone in the Rock Hall:

1. Length of career with sustained critical or commercial excellence
2. Influence on a genre of music or on several artists
3. Respect from fellow musicians

Pretty simple, wouldn’t you say? Alas, there are some glaring errors in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. How about some of these artists, bands and contributors?

Warren Zevon – The singer-songwriter born in Chicago has been overlooked for far too long when it comes to the Rock Hall. Responsible for writing such songs as “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” (covered by far too many artists to list but most notably by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Linda Ronstadt), Zevon was a part of the California scene in the mid-70s, working with such people as Jackson Browne, Neil Young, members of the Eagles and counting Bruce Springsteen amongst his admirers.

When it came to his own efforts, Zevon was beyond compare. Along with his iconic “Werewolves of London,” Zevon penned and performed such classics as “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” “Accidently Like a Martyr,” and “Keep Me in Your Heart,” which was nominated for a Grammy after Zevon’s death in 2003. With a career that spanned more than 30 years, commercial and critical success and the respect of your fellow musicians, there’s no one more deserving than Zevon for induction into the Hall.

Jimmy Buffett – Another product of the singer-songwriter era of the early 70s, Buffett is notable for forging his own path in the music industry. When I say his own path, I mean he created a whole GENRE of music that didn’t exist before – let’s call it “tropical rock,” music with a Caribbean/calypso/reggae/country feel that didn’t fit neatly into any of the “categories” of music in the 1970s (and still doesn’t today, to be honest). Buffett himself has said about that period, “I wasn’t country enough to be played on those stations and I wasn’t rock enough to be played on AOR.”

The way to beat that? Write a song like “Margaritaville” that transcended any charts, genres or radio stations. Today that song has led Buffett into the world of literature, casino and hotel ownership and a “40-year summer job” that the man still enjoys to this day as he approaches 70. He’s influenced a host of country musicians (the Zac Brown Band is a prime example) and, as owner of a recording studio and a record company (Mailboat Records) is ensuring that the “tropical rock” he created will have outlets for the future.

The Runaways – While Joan Jett went in with The Blackhearts last year, she really should have gone in with The Runaways because, without them, there is no Joan Jett.

The Runaways were “created” by producer Kim Fowley who, having drummer Sandy West and guitarist Jett in the fold, was looking to create a “jailbait” band of teenaged girls who could rock out just as well as any group of guys. First found by the group was Micki Steele, who didn’t last long but went on to join The Bangles, before gold was struck with guitar virtuoso Lita Ford, vocalist Cherie Currie and bassist Jackie Fox to fill out the roster. With the group lineup set, The Runaways broke ground as one of the first female hard rock/metal acts to ever have any success in the recording industry.

From the seminal track “Cherry Bomb” to other tunes such as “Queens of Noise” and “I Love Playin’ with Fire” (covered by Jett during her Blackheart days), the band earned a great deal of attention and respect in the industry. The members of the group went on to arguably better success as solo artists or in other creative endeavors, but they were the ones who helped to get such groups as The Bangles, The Go-Gos, Vixen and rock “chicks” like Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde and Deborah Harry (among many others) in the door. It is arguable that, without The Runaways, some if not all of these women wouldn’t have gotten into the industry.

Judas Priest – This is one of those omissions by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that is inexcusable. A band that has sold 45 million albums, generated rock anthems such as “Breaking the Law,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” “Heading Out To The Highway,” “Living After Midnight”…I could go on, but you get the point. So what has kept them out?

Over the years, the band has been targeted in various arenas outside of music. They were accused of using subliminal messages in their album British Steel that allegedly caused two men to try to kill themselves. They’ve been targeted by conservative Christian groups for their musical content and singer Rob Halford has taken some sabbaticals from the band over the decades. But when you have a list of bands that were influenced by you such as Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera (among others), you’ve done your job well.

There are a slew of other artists that could be held up for consideration – The Carpenters, Kate Bush, Slayer, Bon Jovi, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead – and maybe they are just waiting for their time. There are also those “pop” artists that I am overlooking, but this is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, after all. If you’re waiting for a time that “works,” however, take it from someone who watches how these Halls of Fame work – if you don’t get in within your first couple of years of eligibility, your chances of getting in get worse as time goes by. All the artists listed here deserve to have their place in the pantheon of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…now will anyone listen and induct them?