By Brian Ives
This year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction class may have seemed, on paper, to be a a pretty drama free group of artists. With Classic Rock and Classic Hits radio staples Chicago, Steve Miller, Cheap Trick and Deep Purple on the list, some fans may have thought that the event would be rather straight ahead, as opposed to past years when KISS fought loudly with the Rock Hall, or Blondie fought loudly with each other.
Surprisingly, this year there are a number of story lines and decades-long rifts that played out on stage and in the pressroom.
In fact, the only inductee with very little drama happened to be one of the most controversial groups of all time: N.W.A. And even they started a new beef (albeit a minor one) from the stage of the event itself.
So, if you’re tuning in to the broadcast of this year’s induction ceremony on HBO this Saturday night at 8 pm ET/PT, here’s the backstories for each inductee.
Chicago: Often regarded as a “soft-rock” band, no one expected much controversy from them. But, in the weeks after their induction was announced, it seemed like there were new developments every day, many of which kicked off with Radio.com‘s interview with founding keyboardist/singer Robert Lamm. Lamm told us that founding bass player/singer Peter Cetera, who quit the band in 1985, would perform with the group at the ceremony. However, the very next day, Lamm said that Cetera “emphatically declined” the invitation to perform. Cetera soon changed his mind, saying that he said he “might” perform with them… if and only if they played “25 or 6 to 4” in the key of E. Alas, after that, he changed his mind again and backed out of the performance.
However, the band did reunite with original drummer Danny Seraphine, who sat behind the kit for them that night for the first time since he left the band in 1990, and who colorfully introduced himself from the stage by saying, “I’m Danny f—in’ Seraphine!” Cetera did not attend the ceremony.
Steve Miller: Steve Miller has gotten a reputation for being something of a curmudgeon over the decades, but his acceptance speech was surprisingly tame, other than a pointed mention that the Hall of Fame should be more inclusive of women and that there should be more transparency in the nominating process. However, when he spoke to the press backstage, things got considerably uglier, with Miller complaining that he only received two tickets for the event (and didn’t receive any for the members of the Steve Miller Band). Afterwards, he ranted a bit more in a brief interview with Rolling Stone, saying that “This whole industry is f—in’ gangsters and crooks!”
After that, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who presented Miller, said “For [Black Keys drummer] Pat [Carney] and I, honestly, the most unpleasant part was being around him,” and said that they regretted being a part of the event.
Cheap Trick: The power-pop legends had some pretty obvious conflict going into the big night: a few years ago, they pushed founding drummer Bun E. Carlos out of the band, replacing him with guitarist Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx. Carlos and his ex-bandmates have fought in court, and now Carlos is legally a member of the band, although he neither records nor tours with them. But Carlos was to be inducted with the group, and performed with them, perhaps for the last time. In a Rolling Stone interview, the drummer said, “Any friendship we had went away when I had to file a federal lawsuit. That cost a bucket of f—ing money. Going after these guys wasn’t pleasant. The friendship sort of frittered away there.”
The speeches were mostly nice, although frontman Robin Zander talked about “backstabbing and corruption in the business – and that’s just the road crew,” adding cryptically, “I think you know what I’m talking about.” From there, handed the podium to Carlos, who made no reference to the band’s issues.
Deep Purple: With members from three different lineups included in the induction, there was bound to be drama here, and there was. Original guitarist Ritchie Blackmore left the band in 1993, but played on all of the band’s most celebrated songs. The band, however, were sore that Steve Morse, who replaced Blackmore, wasn’t being included in the induction; they said that they’d only perform with Morse. Longtime singer Ian Gillan likened the situation to being invited to a wedding under the conditions that he couldn’t bring his family, and had to sit with his ex-wife. Blackmore ultimately decided not to show up. The current version of the band – founding drummer Ian Paice, Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, all from the celebrated “Mark II” lineup, along with Morse and keyboardist Don Airey (who joined in 2001) performed. They also shared a table with “Mark III” singer David Coverdale and bassist/singer Glenn Hughes, who didn’t perform with the band (but they did join Cheap Trick for an all-star jam on “Ain’t That a Shame” later in the night). Original singer Rod Evans, who was fired from the band in 1969, was a no-show as well. For more on Purple’s drama, read our article, “Deep Purple Rock Hall Drama: Explained.”
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N.W.A.: As mentioned above, the vibes between the former N.W.A. members – Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella – were all good. They even had Eazy-E’s mother on stage with them. And that’s a testament to the healing powers of time: Cube, who left N.W.A. in 1989, wrote what was possibly the harshest diss track ever about his ex-bandmates with 1991’s “No Vaseline.” Sadly, the group did not perform at the event (Ren and Yella joined Cube at his Coachella performance the following weekend; the weekend after that, Ren, Yella and Dre were all there, marking the first performance by the four surviving members of the group).
But during his induction speech, MC Ren called out Gene Simmons of KISS, who has complained about hip-hop artists being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (notably in this interview with Radio.com). Ren said, “I want to say to Mr. Gene Simmons, hip-hop is here forever. we’re supposed to be here!” After that, Cube added, “The question is, are we rock and roll? I say, you’re goddamn right we’re rock and roll! Rock and roll is not an instrument, it’s not even a style of music, it’s a spirit. It’s been going since the blues, jazz, be-bop, rock and roll, punk rock, heavy metal and yes, hip hop! What connects us all is that spirit. Rock and roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life. That is rock and roll and that is us! So: rock and roll is not conforming, rock and roll is outside the box , rock and roll is N.W.A.! ” That led to a brief twitter back and forth between Cube and Simmons, which seemed to blow over pretty quickly.
Tune in to HBO on Saturday night to see the highlights of the speeches and performances. And check out our take on who should get in next year: we have six metal icons, five hip-hop artists, and fourteen alternative rock acts (including, mainly, Jane’s Addiction).