Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Edition: Part #3
In today’s edition of News and Notes we are going to take a look at the five remaining people who gained induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame this past weekend. Today’s group is an eclectic mix of front of the stage performers, session players extraordinaire, behind the scenes partners as well as one of music’s great promoters. All of these folks have more than earned their place in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame because of their skill, their passion for music and the legacy of excellence all have attained. So, without further delay, here is the final group of inductees from the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2023. Enjoy.
1- Name: Yvette Marie Stevens aka Chaka Khan.
Criteria for Induction: Like many lead singers, Chaka Khan enjoyed two distinct phases to her career. First of all, she gained fame as the Queen of Funk while acting as lead singer for the band Rufus. Khan sang with Rufus into the 1970s and enjoyed several #1 songs with them including “Ain’t Nobody”, “Do You Love What You Feel?” and “Tell Me Something Good, Sweet Thing”. As a solo artist, she had a monster hit as the original singer of the song “I’m Every Woman” which is why, when Whitney Houston covered it and had a big hit with it herself, she name-dropped Chaka Khan several times with sass and pride as a way of acknowledging the true trailblazer that she was for many who followed in her wake (such as Houston). She also scored Top Ten hits with “I Feel For You” (which was written by Prince), as well as singing alongside Steve Winwood for the hit song “Higher Love”. All in all, Chaka Khan is one of the most respected Soul/Funk singers of all time. She has won ten Grammy Awards and has released multiple gold and platinum albums over the course of a career that has brought her into the Rock Hall this year.
Did She Attend: Yes.
Who Inducted Her: Jazmine Sullivan.
Notes: Jazmine Sullivan is a young two-time Grammy award winning Soul and R&B singer who spoke from the heart about the debt of gratitude that all young women of colour owe to Chaka Khan for opening doors for them via her own stellar career. Sullivan also spoke of the quality of Khan’s character by telling the story of Khan agreeing to call Sulivan’s mother with words of encouragement while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. In Sullivan’s words, “Chaka Khan is in my personal Hall of Fame”. Common, H.E.R. and Sia performed a medley of her hits.
Induction Video Profile: The folks in today’s post all won induction via special categories that recognize lifetime achievement. There is no profile from The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame available for Chaka Khan or any of the other inductees in this post. However, the link to the video for Chaka Khan’s acceptance speech can be found here.
2- Name: Bernie Taupin.
Criteria for Induction: Over the years there have been many songwriting teams in which one partner wrote the lyrics and the other partner created the musical structure of the song. One of the most famous musical partnerships ever (and one that continues to exist to this day) is the one between Bernie Taupin and Sir Elton John. Bernie Taupin and Reginald Dwight met as young men in England. They were originally hired by a song publishing company to create songs for other performers but soon enough, the chemistry between the two became evident and Taupin and Dwight directed their energy toward creating songs for themselves. While it was Reginald Dwight, now known by the stage name Elton John, who stood in the spotlight and became famous, the fact of the matter was that the lyrics to every single hit song that Elton John ever had was written by his friend and musical partner, Bernie Taupin. “Tiny Dancer”…written by Bernie Taupin. “Yellow Brick Road”…written by Bernie Taupin. “Levon”…written by Bernie Taupin. I could go on and on with a list of songs that would read as being among the very best songs in modern music history and they would have all come from the pen of one, Mr. Bernie Taupin.
Did He Attend: Yes.
Who Inducted Him: Who else? Sir Elton John.
Notes: Needless to say, when it came time to the musical medley of songs associated with Taupin, the singing duties went to his friend Sir Elton John. What a treat for the audience to have an Elton John concert spring up during the induction ceremonies!
Induction Video Profile: The video presented here is one that someone recorded while watching the livestream on TV so, hopefully it stays up and you can watch it all, too. The video includes Sir Elton John’s induction speech, Bernie Taupin’s acceptance speech and the complete Sir Elton John musical performance!!! The link to that video can be found here.
3- Name: Link Wray.
Criteria for Induction: Nothing happens without a reason. For a movement to start and take hold, there have to be important foundational steps along the way. Without these milestone moments, a movement like the birth of Rock n’ Roll would not have become possible. Therefore it behooves us to honour those folks who played a part in those important moments, even if they may not have turned out to be household names like Elvis or Chuck Berry. Way back in the 1950s, electric guitars were just being introduced to audiences. At that point in time, we hadn’t had a Jimi Hendrix to popularize the role of axeman yet. In the early days of Rock n’ Roll, the experience was more elemental. The sound of Rock music was starting to take shape thanks in part to guitar makers like Les Paul, speaker manufacturers like Jim Marshall (who created the legendary Marshall Amps that you see stacked high on rock stages) and guitar virtuosos such as Dick Dale and today’s inductee, Link Wray. Together, these men helped create a musical environment that allowed the likes of Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page and Keith Richards and so many others to thrive in later years and create one of the most successful music genres the world has ever seen. For his part, Link Wray was a poor boy of Indigenous origin born in North Carolina who somehow managed to stay one step ahead of the KKK during his childhood. He coped with life by learning to play the guitar. Initially he emulated the Blues masters such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Eventually, he began developing his own style which came to be more closely associated with what has come to be known as rockabilly. Wray is credited with being one of the very first guitarists to modify an electric guitar by adding a tremolo bar. This innovation caused the pitch of guitar strings to vary simultaneously in ways that broadened the range of sounds that were possible for a guitar to make. Link Wray is best known for an instrumental guitar track called “Rumble”. The deep rumbling sound showcased in this song was an evolutionary step in the history of rock guitar playing. It profoundly influenced an entire generation of up and coming young guitarists such as Pete Townsend and Jeff Beck. It is said that within the DNA of Rock music can be found the chords to “Rumble” by Link Wray.
Did He Attend: No. Link Wray passed away in 2005.
Who Inducted Him: Jimmy Page.
Notes: Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin makes few public appearances these days so having him induct Link Wray was a feather in the cap of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s organizing committee. But when Page strapped on his guitar and played “Rumble” live in front of the assembled crowd, the ceremony became something at another level entirely.
Induction Video Profile: That video can be found here. This video also includes Jimmy Page’s performance of “Rumble”.
4- Name: Al Kooper.
Criteria for Induction: If you were lucky enough to watch The Beatles documentary Get Back you would have borne witness to the pivotal role played by a prominent session player who went by the name of Billy Preston. Preston was a performer in his own right but really made his mark as a hired gun for bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Such session players perform crucial roles on the success of hit songs for star performers. Billy Preston is far from being the only session player of great renown. There are people like Randy Meisner who backed Linda Ronstadt on her greatest hits before becoming one of the main members of The Eagles. Someone equally as skilled and respected would be the inductee being honoured by the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and that would be Al Kooper. All session players extraordinaire like Preston, Meisner and Kooper have a bank of their own tunes that they play when performing as themselves. However, Al Kooper is best known for being a session player for the likes of The Rolling Stones (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) and Bob Dylan (“Like a Rolling Stone”) and also as a producer for bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd where he performed and produced their biggest singles “Freebird” and “Sweet Home Alabama”. Throughout the entire history of Rock n’ Roll as a musical genre, there have been people who were respected in the industry for being able to make a song a hit. Al Kooper is one of those guys. He did perform as himself and in partnership with another great session player named MIke Bloomfield and as the founder of the great band Blood, Sweat and Tears but, overall, Al Kooper was recognized by The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame because of his contributions as a “glue guy” that came into recording sessions and helped make hits happen. Not everyone needs to be a star to be regarded as an integral and important member of the team. Al Kooper was one of the best at what he did. His induction as part of the Class of 2023 is an acknowledgement of the value of his role and of those many other session players and other in the room people who help make it all of the magic happen.
Did He Attend: No (for health reasons).
Who Inducted Him: Terry Gross from NPR radio via a video overview of his career.
Notes: Al Kooper appeared via a video message.
Induction Video Profile: I have not been able to find the Inductee video profile yet. If I do, I will post a link. But, having said that, the entire ceremony can be found on the Disney + website. They streamed it live and are showing it on their website. The Al Kooper induction segment was done entirely on video in the form of a video overview as mentioned above and a video acceptance by Al Kooper. You can watch both parts if you have Disney + at home. Unfortunately, I cannot pull the segment out and it does not appear to be on YouTube.
5- Name: Don Cornelius.
Criteria for Induction: Don Cornelius was a news reporter in Chicago in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It was a time of great change for people of colour in America. The Civil Rights Movement had made great legal strides. Musicians of colour were having great success via organizations such as Motown in Detroit. Yet, as Don Cornelius scanned the broadcasting landscape on television he saw very little that reflected these changes. There were no shows of significance on network television run by people of colour for people of colour. As we all know, public representation is very important. Young children strive to create a better world because they feel self worth that comes from seeing people who look like them being respected and successful in life. Instead of complaining about the inequities he saw in the world of broadcasting, Don Cornelius decided to do something about it. He created his own television show that was aimed at providing musicians of colour a platform to showcase their talents. That television show was called Soul Train. As much as anything else that happened in America, Soul Train served as a way of introducing countless musicians of colour to mainstream white American audiences. Initially Soul Train was available only in syndication. But because it featured such a stellar cast of star performers such as Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Supremes, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, Public Enemy, Run-DMC, Alicia Keys, Whitney Houston and so very many more, that the show became syndicated across America. Not only did Soul Train break new ground musically, it also did the same thing for dancing and for fashion. Soul Train was a positive force for cultural change. The man behind it was Don Cornelius. The role he played in helping to raise up the culture and heritage of people of colour in America cannot be underestimated.
Did He Attend: Yes.
Who Inducted Him: Like Al Kooper, Don Cornelius was the focus of a video tribute that chronicled his life. Everyone from Lionel Richie to Patti Labelle to Questlove to Snoop Dog spoke about the impact that Soul Train had on their lives and their careers.
Notes: When New Edition did their Spinners medley, the on stage set transformed into a Soul Train dance studio for the final song “Rubberband Man”.
Induction Video Profile: Again, as was the case for Al Kooper, I cannot find a stand-alone video profile for Don Cornelius. The one included on Disney + is actually quite good if you can get to watch it. If it ever becomes available on YouTube I will update this post.
Well, there you go. This concludes my look at this year’s inductees to The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I hope that you enjoyed it. I will be back tomorrow with my regularly scheduled programming which, if memory serves correct, will be a song from the Reader’s Choice/Tom’s Top Tunes category. Thanks for reading along. I will see you all tomorrow. Bye for now.
The link to the official website for The Rock n’ Roll Hall of fame can be found here.
The link to Disney + streaming service can be found here.
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