On Friday, April 9, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will be hosting its 30th induction ceremony at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center. This years honorees are Steve Miller, Chicago, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick and N.W.A. Late producer/songwriter Bert Berns is the sole representative in the non-performers (Ahmet Ertegun Award) category. Berns is arguably the only name on the list that didn’t have controversy linked to his getting in. While arguments can be made that Miller, Chicago, Deep Purple and Cheap Trick were overdue in being recognized from the Hall, it is gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A.’s being included as part of this current inductee class. Not unlike current Hall of Famers Donna Summer and Public Enemy, detractors argue that rap and disco are not rock and roll, despite the fact that both evolved from said genre. Rock and roll is a genre that evolves from one year to the next and may involve changes not everyone signs on to. Punk was derided in its infancy, yet The Clash and Ramones are revered decades later. And as for who is considered rock and roll and who is not, by that argument, B.B. King, Charlie Christian and Bob Marley have no business being in the Hall. To that end, these are your 2016 inductees.
Even though Miller’s professional recording career emerged from the fertile Haight-Ashbury music scene of the late 1960s, the accomplished guitarist is a Milwaukee native whose family counted couple Les Paul and Mary Ford as regular house guests. Miller met longtime friend and future bandmate Boz Scaggs when the Millers moved to Texas when he was a teen. A brief post-college stint in Chicago playing the blues scene alongside greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy preceded a move to the Bay Area where he formed the Steve Miller Band. After releasing a string of psychedelicized blues-flavored records that charted respectfully including Sailor and Brave New World, Miller changed gears to a more pop-oriented direction that started with 1973’s The Joker. Miller spent the remainder of the decade and into the 1980s churning out radio staples including “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Take The Money and Run,” “Rock’n Me” and “Abracadabra.”
As part of the Holy Trinity of hard rock (the other two being Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath), Deep Purple should have wound up in the Hall decades ago given the band’s first year of eligibility was back in 1993. Originally starting out with prog-rock roots, founding members Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord and Ian Paice changed gears to a harder-edged sound after jettisoning lead singer Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper for Ian Gillan and Roger Glover for 1970’s Deep Purple in Rock. From here, the band released a string of classic records (Machine Head, Fireball, Burn, Perfect Strangers) with a sound that fused Lord’s classical training and expertise on the organ with Blackmore’s innovative riffing. Lineups changed and other notable musicians passed through the group ranks including David Coverdale, Tommy Bolin, Glenn Hughes and Steve Morse. The band is still recording to this day despite Blackmore walking out in 1993 and Lord amicably retiring in 2002. While Gillan, Glover, Coverdale, Hughes and Paice are expected to attend the ceremony, the group’s current management bewilderingly decided to ban Blackmore, one of the architects of the band’s sound.
If there was a power pop throne, Cheap Trick would be the reigning monarchs. Using The Beatles as divine musical inspiration, the Rockford, IL quartet forged Robin Zander’s powerful vocals and Rick Nielsen’s melodic and fierce guitar playing with the solid rhythmic underpinning provided by bassist Tom Pertsson and drummer Bun E. Carlos. A string of five stellar records starting in 1977 not only yielded manna like “I Want You to Want Me,” “Dream Police,” “Surrender” and “Taxman, Mr. Thief,” but influenced a wide range of artists from Gun ‘N’ Roses and Nirvana to Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer and Hüsker Dü. The band (minus Carlos) is touring and recording four decades on.
Long before Chicago best became known for being an MOR act best known for hit ballads, the original septet started fusing jazz with rock & roll along with peers Blood Sweat & Tears and the Blues Project. Originally known as the Chicago Transit Authority, the group shortened the name to its home city while mixing in sophisticated horn charts and pop harmonies within a sturdy rock and roll framework that resulted in numerous hits including “25 Or 6 to 4,” “Make Me Smile,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” “Saturday in the Park” and “Colour My World.”
Founded by DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren and Arabian Prince (who left before the group’s 1988 debut Straight Outta Compton dropped), the group wrote songs like “Straight Outta Compton, “F*** tha Police” and “Gangsta Gangsta” that reflected the hard realities of inner city life—drugs, unemployment, gangs, violence and police brutality. An unfortunate byproduct was how prevalent misogyny was throughout N.W.A.’s two-album canon and became a reality when member Dr. Dre assaulted hip-hop journalist Dee Barnes at a 1991 music industry event.
Despite being handed a death sentence following a bout with rheumatic fever that had doctors predicting he wouldn’t live past 21, Bert Berns was one of the great record men of the New York rhythm and blues scene of the 1960s. He produced 51 chart records in seven years, most of which he also wrote. His songs have been recorded by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Janis Joplin made her career with her version of his “Piece Of My Heart,” a song he wrote and produced for Erma Franklin, Aretha Franklin’s sister, only weeks before his death on Dec. 30, 1967 at age 38 from a fatal heart attack.