An Unforgettable Night of Deserving Honorees
By John Alexander
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On Friday, Brooklyn’s Barclays Center welcomed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2017 inductees with a star-studded night of unforgettable performances.
As is the case with past ceremonies, the presenters were just as impressive as the honorees. This year, the honorees were Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Baez, Yes, Tupac Shakur, Journey, Nile Rodgers and Pearl Jam.
Jann Wenner, editor of Rolling Stone magazine, delivered the opening remarks, recognizing all the inductees and paying special tribute to the late Chuck Berry, the first person ever inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The evening got off to an electric start when Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) took the stage for a crowd-pleasing rendition of Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.” It was the perfect way to begin the night, honoring the founding father and architect of rock ‘n’ roll.
Dhani Harrison, the son of late Beatle George Harrison, inducted ELO. He said that ELO’s Jeff Lynne was one of his father’s dearest friends, and that Lynne would often stay at their house when he was growing up. He recalled how ELO was the first real rock ‘n’ roll show he attended at age 7. He listed Lynne’s impressive credits, from working with Roy Orbison, to producing his father’s “Cloud Nine” album and Tom Petty’s “Full Moon Fever,” to ultimately joining his father in the Traveling Wilburys. ELO took the stage to perform their hits “Evil Woman” and “Mr. Blue Sky.”
In his opening remarks about Joan Baez, Wenner said, “I first saw Joan Baez performing in Berkley at a student protest in 1964, whose presence as a folk artist with her stunning voice influenced the course of rock and roll as she devoted her life to the cause of social justice.”
Singer-songwriter Jackson Browne inducted Baez, recounting her vast accomplishments as a purveyor of folk music and a voice for social equality. Browne explained how Baez introduced her audience to the songs of Bob Dylan, saying, “Joan Baez gave Bob Dylan a national audience when she began singing his songs.”
Baez thanked the Hall of Fame for “this somewhat unlikely induction.” She admitted that she was speaking to a lot of people, who without the induction would have no clue who she was. She said that even her granddaughter had no idea who she was until Baez took her backstage at a Taylor Swift concert, “where she got a selfie, a T-shirt and an autograph and newfound respect for her grandmother.”
Baez acknowledged her debt to folk pioneers Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger, who inspired her to pursue a career in folk music and political activism. She performed a haunting solo version of the folk-spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Indigo Girls joined Baez for the Woody Guthrie classic “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” before concluding with her hit “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
Rush’s lead vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson inducted the progressive rock group Yes. Former Yes lead vocalist Jon Anderson spoke and paid tribute to the band’s late bass player Chris Squire. Lee joined the band on bass, along with Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman and Anderson on vocals for a dynamic set including their classic hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
Wenner referred to inductee Tupac Shakur as a “a pop legend and soulful rebel who expanded the emotional and political range and boundaries of hip hop for generations after his death.” Snoop Dogg was there to induct the late West Cosat rapper, who died 21 years ago at the age of 25. Snoop Dogg called Shakur his “label mate, homie and his brother,” and wanted everyone to remember Shakur as an actual human being rather than “a thugged-out superhero.”
Singer Alicia Keys saluted Shakur with a medley of his hits including “I Ain’t Mad at Cha” and “Ambitionz As a Ridah.” She sang “Changes” as the audience joined in. Rapper YG performed “Gangsta Party,” and T.I., dressed like Shakur with his signature bandana, performed “Keep Ya Head Up.”
Pat Monahan of the group Train was there to induct the power ballad giants Journey, who he referred to as “the heart of San Francisco music.” He said that this was the first time Journey was put on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot, “and that’s all it took for them to be recognized.”
Aside from the hope that Bob Dylan might show up to salute Baez, the biggest question of the night was whether vocalist Steve Perry would appear and perform with his former group Journey. The answer would be both yes and no. Perry was in the audience for the induction and even went up on stage for the induction, but did not perform with the group.
Band members, including Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain spoke, as did Perry, who gave a warm speech saluting his former band members and generously acknowledging newer members including Arnel Pineda, who replaced him on lead vocals. And with Pineda on lead vocals, Journey performed “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and “Lights.”
Wenner called inductee Nile Rodgers “a songwriter, producer, guitarist, arranger and funkster extraordinaire [who] has left his imprint on every genre of rock we know of.” Pharrell Williams inducted Rodgers, and talked about his four decades of accomplishments, including his guitar work as a band member with Chic, and producer for Madonna, Duran Duran and David Bowie, explaining how Rodgers always placed the artist first and let them shine.
One of the highlights of the night was a tribute to Prince performed by Lenny Kravitz. The audience went wild as Kravitz moved through stellar renditions of Prince’s “When Dove’s Cry” and “The Cross.”
The biggest applause of the night was reserved for the evening’s final inductees, Pearl Jam, as frontman Eddie Vedder approached the stage, the crowd chanted “Eddie” in unison. David Letterman was there to induct the band after Neil Young bowed out due to illness. With his long bushy beard, Letterman spoke about his genuine fondness for the group and especially his friend Vedder. Young was not there that night, he quipped, because he simply “couldn’t stay up so late.”
On a serious note, Letterman warmly recalled how during one of his final shows Vedder gave him a guitar and letter for his son Harry and how that gesture moved him to tears. He also said that he hoped he could come back when the hall finally honors his friend, the late singer-songwriter Warren Zevon.
Pearl Jam performed renditions of fan favorites including “Alive” and “Better Man,” before joining in an all-star finale with members of Journey, Yes and Rush for a version of Neil Young’s 1989 political anthem “Rockin’ in the Free World,” a politically timely and dramatic finale to a historic induction ceremony.