After a tumultuous few weeks that saw both Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin and then Rod Stewart (from strep throat) bail from attending Guns N’ Roses and Faces/Small Faces inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, the band members who showed up to accept the honors did it with style.
The show kicked off with Green Day, who did a version of the ‘American Idiot’ track ‘Letterbomb.’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame co-founder Jann Wenner followed shortly after addressing the crowd, saying: “I believe in the magic of rock and roll. That magic can set you free. Ladies and gentlemen, tonight you’ve entered a place where magic happens.”
Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top inducted the first honoree of the evening, the late blues guitarist Freddie King. King’s daughter, Wanda, spoke warmly and shared stories about her father. “He inspired so many young blues artists,” she said. “I remember going to a show when I was 14 and meeting Stevie Ray Vaughan for the first time. He said to my dad, ‘How can I play the blues like you?’ My dad said, ‘If you don’t feel the blues, you’ll never play the blues.'” Joe Bonamassa, Billy Gibbons and Derek Trucks followed, jamming on the King songs ‘Hideaway’ and ‘Going Down.’John Mellencamp inducted Donovan next, saying, “He was my inspiration. I wouldn’t just listen to Donovan. I would live Donovan, which means I was stealing all my shit from Donovan. Other artists – and you know who you guys are – called that being inspired.” Donovan accepted his induction, reading a short poem, then played “Catch the Wind” and “Sunshine Superman” before duetting with Mellencamp on “Season of the Witch.”
Bette Midler then inducted Laura Nyro, with Sara Bareilles honoring Nyro with ‘Stoney End’ on the piano. In the non-performer catagories Carole King inducted Don Kirshner, who in her early days was her boss and mentor during her days as a Brill Building songwriter in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Darlene Love perfomed ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,’ with Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra, who she had a familiarity with due to her many performances on ‘Late Show With David Letterman.’ Robbie Robertson also presented the Award For Musical Excellence to Cosimo Matassa, Glyn Jones and Tom Dowd later in the evening. Mid-show Smokey Robinson inducted the Blue Caps (who backed Gene Vincent), the Comets (Bill Haley), the Crickets (Buddy Holly), the Famous Flames (James Brown), the Midnighters (Hank Ballard) and the Miracles, who backed Robinson for the first two decades of his career. The surviving members of all six groups took the stage together, giving credit to these deserving legends for their huge role in rock history.
Chuck D of Public Enemy and LL Cool J both inducted the Beastie Boys. “They still are one of the greatest live acts in music. They challenged the conventions in the music business and made up their own rules about what it means to be world class hip-hop cats…They always insisted (on) maturing as musicians and human beings,” said Chuck D. LL Cool J said that he owes his entire career to the Beasties. “I wouldn’t be here today without them. The Beastie Boys actually played my demo for Rick Rubin in his NYU dorm room. A lot of people don’t know that.”
Adam Horowitz read the audience a letter from Yauch. “I’d like to dedicate this to my brothers Adam and Mike,” he wrote. “They walked the globe with me. It’s also for anyone who has ever been touched by our band. This induction is as much ours as it is yours.”
The lengthy introduction of Guns N’ Roses from Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong did include a reference to Rose, and although he didn’t actually say his name, the inference made the crowd boo. “No, shut the f–k up, shut up, shut up!” Armstrong chided the 7,000 people in attendance. “This man’s a bad ass f–king singer. He’s one of the best frontmen to ever touch a microphone … Hey, most singers are crazy — I can vouch for that.” Slash said, “The fans are the ones who made it possible for us to get together tonight with all the adversity and everything that was going on.”
Slash admitted that all the drama almost caused him to stay home as well. He then thanked his wife for talking him into attending, saying, “I was like f-k it, but she said ‘Go and do it with the guys,’ and I said ‘You’re right.’” McKagan declared himself “overwhelmed” at the honor of the induction and added, “I don’t know if it matters who’s here tonight because it’s about the music that band created.” Sorum, who gently teased Adler for somehow managing to get fired from GnR for a drug addiction, said, “I want to thank the other bandmates that aren’t here tonight [and tell them] that I love and respect them and I’m honored to have been on stage playing music with them.” And Adler’s very brief speech quoted a key line from Queen‘s ‘We Are the Champions’: “You brought me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it, and I thank you all.”
Singer Myles Kennedy (Slash/Alter Bridge) took the mic for the three-song Guns N’ Roses set with Slash, Gilby Clarke and drummers Matt Sorum and Steven Adler. They jammed on the Guns classics ‘Mr. Brownstone,’ ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and ‘Paradise City.’
Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall, who has performed with a reunited Faces on tour, joined the band on ‘Ooh La La’ and ‘Stay With Me.’ Ron Wood rocked like he is ready for a Rolling Stones tour right now and was joined by keyboardist Ian McLagan and drummer Kenny Jones.
The Roots, along with Kid Rock and Travie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes performed a medley of Beastie classics, including ‘Sabotage’ and ‘So What’cha Want.’ Rock, Black Thought and McCoy all wore matching green Adidas track suits.
Comedian Chris Rock took the stage at 12:30 a.m. to induct the last act of the night, Red Hot Chili Peppers and he couldn’t resist poking fun at Rose’s notorious habit of tardiness. “A lot of people are upset that Axl didn’t come tonight,” Rock said. “But let’s face it. Even if he was coming tonight, he wouldn’t be here by now.” He went on to explain that he first saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers when he tried to see Grandmaster Flash in Philadelphia, but walked into the wrong club. “My friends and I were like, ‘What the fuck is this shit? There’s a lot of white people in here,'” Rock said. “They came out and I couldn’t understand a fucking word they said, and they had socks on their dicks! I had never been to a white show before, so I thought all white groups put socks on their dicks. Years later, they’re one of the biggest groups in the world and getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They have black ties on their dicks tonight.”
Former drummers Jack Irons and Cliff Martinez were part of the induction, and 1:00 a.m., the group (with three drummers) did a three-song set of ‘By the Way,’ ‘The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie’ and ‘Give It Away.’ “I haven’t played with Cliff in 25 years!” Flea said to the crowd. “He’s a beautiful man.”
At the end of ‘Give It Away,’ Anthony Kiedis invited everyone back to the stage. Slash, Ron Wood, Billie Joe Armstrong, Kenny Jones and even audience member George Clinton packed the stage for Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground.’ The five-and-a-half hour show wrapped up at 1:30 a.m. A condensed two and a half hour broadcast of the show will air on HBO on Saturday, May 5th.