Reading the Tea Leaves: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ballot Predictions 2019

Well now that the NomCom is actually meeting, time to stop pondering and get going!

This year’s list is an actual prediction (guess) list, although it never gets any easier. It’s easy to get paralyzed by the possibilities, so I find it’s easier to just go on feel rather than try to analyze the proclivities of who we know to be on the Committee. Looking at the lists published so far, there are some clear trends that have been bubbling under since last year, and more than one shows up here.

Critics like to jab at the number of inductees, but when you try to make any kind of list and keep it under 20 names, you realize how constricting it is. I think most of us still operate under the idea that there are limits for women, artists of color and genres outside the boundaries of classic rock, which just shouldn’t be. I went without an R&B, singer-songwriter, or alternative entry this time around, regretfully.

A few random thoughts: cynical as it may be, I don’t think the Hall is going to make significant concessions to the calls for more women on the ballot. I think that unless it affects attendance at the Museum, they’ll stay on the present course. I had four but cut Kate Bush at the 11th hour and am down to three. I’ve been an advocate for Pat Benatar the past two years but I have to admit I think she’ll wait another year – maybe my dream of a duet with Kate Bush on at least a few bars of “Wuthering Heights” can stay alive.

That brings me to the subject of Cher. Which brings me to the topic of the kiosks. Gosh knows, I adore her. Have since I was 9 years old, which makes it…a really long time. She’s a goddess. If she’s nominated, I’ll send some votes her way. And I’d love to be there to witness her speech before the HBO standards and practices crew gets to. She’ll sell tickets, would likely show up and perform, and draw a big-name inductor. But on musical merit, so many artists deserve it more. This could be the litmus test for the role the kiosk vote will play in ballots going forward. Either way, there’ll be a discussion that deserves its own post.

Without further ado:

  1. Todd Rundgren: He has a vociferous fan base (if you’ve seen him live, you know just how much) that buoyed him up in the fan vote last year, although it’s not clear how he did with his peers after an often-fractious career. He IS the individualist. But his recent tour underscored the breadth and depth of his body of work as well as his performing ability at age 71. His run-ins with his peers are more of an impediment than any grumpiness about the Hall, but hopefully that fan base can persuade him to play if inducted.
  2. Nine Inch Nails: Trent Reznor hit all the right notes with his induction speech for the Cure this year, he’s an Ohioan, and the NomCom clearly wants him.  
  3. Doobie Brothers: Can the Azoff lightning strike over two consecutive years? The Doobies are still active and sound good, and they’re clear favorites of the still-powerful Boomer demo.
  4. Duran Duran: Yes, they were inductors just last year, but the Hall’s been on a Brit-centric tear, the band has a huge and enthusiastic fan base, and the band they inducted – Roxy – opened the door for them.
  5. The Go-Go’s: They were my last-minute cut last year, but the buzz about them hasn’t diminished.
  6. Chaka Khan: Janet’s in now. Questlove will beat the metaphorical drum; just hard to say if they’ll try again with Rufus or go with her as a solo. Either way, it’s time.
  7. Motley Crue: I’ve been expecting them to show up on a ballot for a few years now, and now that Bon Jovi and Def Leppard are in, they’re a logical choice. They had the hits, and their crude behavior towards then-Elektra Records head Sylvia Rhone won’t hurt them, although it should. In this instance, the kiosk vote is gravy.
  8. Kraftwerk: One of the Hall’s most egregious snubs, and the NomCom’s been trying to rectify it. They’ve had an every-other-year pattern, but they may just try to push it through this year.
  9. Devo: Like NIN, native Ohioans, which could bode well for them.
  10. T. Rex: Again, the Hall’s been on a run of British artists, and many of those who’ve gone in — as well as their American counterparts — have been upfront about their debt to this band. In their short career, they left a lasting mark and are one of the Hall’s top five –maybe top three – snubs. If they’re on, they’re in.
  11. Cyndi Lauper: Her body of work more than stands up, and Seymour Stein was the executive producer for her 2016 country album, Detour. If the committee really does opt to focus on women, he could throw his influence behind her. I’ve been pushing for Pat Benatar for the past two years, but I think she’ll be a bridesmaid this year with a good shot at next year. Just as an aside, she featured prominently in the “Stay Tuned: Rock on TV” exhibit that just wrapped at the Museum and was on the cover of the visitor guide last year for the period covering Member Appreciation Day.
  12. Rage Against the Machine: Third time will be the charm. Maybe as an inductee/NomCom member, Morello can advocate for Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Motorhead.
  13. Depeche Mode: Chart hits, sales, longevity, and undeniable influence. It’s time. I’m probably overstressing the Hall’s recent Anglophile streak, but if it’s still in effect, it certainly can’t hurt. They may just have five additional votes on the committee in the members of Def Leppard, fans who’ve covered “Personal Jesus” andused the song as pre-show warmup. Is it realistic to think that Kraftwerk, NIN, and Depeche could all be on the same ballot, let alone class? Think of the all-star jam. That’s still a thing, right?
  14. Notorious B.I.G.: An FYE, as they say on “Who Cares About the Rock Hall? You have to wonder though if LL Cool J’s moment is over. And when will it be ATCQ’s turn? Or Queen Latifah, Salt n’ Pepa, and MC Lyte?We shouldn’t have to feel that only one hip hop artist will make the ballot in a year, but it still feels like it’s a truism.
  15. J. Geils Band: Let’s just get it over with already. They’ve got friends in high places and it just seems like this could be the year. They’re NOT without merit, and they’ll kick the ceremony into another gear, but it just seems like there are so many other artists that deserve to go in ahead of them.

If we do get a couple more names:

  1. Bad Company: They score on the longevity, sales and chart hits fronts. But in truth, it would be a nod for Paul Rodgers’ career in toto, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And again, Boomers.
  2. Lionel Richie: I’ve had him on my long list for the past three years now, and really think he’ll show up at some point. While the Commodores scored their first Grammy without him, he has four of his own, is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and is a Kennedy Center honoree. Not sure who’d go to bat for him on the Committee but he’d be well received at the ceremony.

There it is. On the core 15, eight returnees and seven newbies (eight and nine counting the extras). Who might make it from this list? Crue, Biggie, Duran2, Chaka, and the Doobies, with Cyndi and NIN in there if we get a bumper class.

Here’s to a a great ballot!

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Rocking the Distaff: More Female Artists Worthy of a Rock Hall Nomination

Ever heard of the female side of a family tree referred to as “the distaff?”

“The distaff and the spindle were used to spin flax or wool fibers before the invention of the spinning wheel in 1533. The flax was wound around a short staff known as the distaff, which was fastened at the woman’s waist by her girdle or tucked under her arm. The flax would be fed from the distaff through the woman’s fingers to the spindle, which twisted it into yarn or thread. When women visited each other, they often carried their distaff and spindle with them to occupy them as they chatted. Sometimes the distaff was called the “rock” from the German rocken,which described the spinning apparatus. When women gathered together to spin, it was often referred to as ‘rocking.’” 

– The Free Dictionary

All of this is a long way of saying: “Women. Rocking since the 16th century.”

Carly Simon 

Photo: Heidi Wild, courtesy Flatiron Books

Carly Simon’s name doesn’t come up much in discussions of the Rock Hall. I actually predicted her a couple of years ago as a wild card, and although it’s likely a long shot, there are compelling reasons that she could be a surprise candidate, and the more I researched her, the more I became an advocate. 

If the Hall genuinely does set itself the goal of including more women, her name will doubtless resonate with the Boomer contingent on the NomCom and the voting body. Intelligent, independent and yes, sexy, she was an archetype of 70s feminism, and her keen self-awareness and unapologetic outlook predated Madonna by a good 10 years plus.  

The Hall likes to put in singer/songwriters, the bulk of which have been men, but Simon matches them with her mature, intelligent songs (it’s hard to believe “That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be” was written by someone in their mid-20s), delivered in a rich, unmistakable alto capable of delivering delicate ballads, rock and show tunes. 

Her compositions go well beyond “You’re So Vain”; besides the aforementioned “That’s the Way…” there was “Anticipation,” “Coming Around Again,” “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” and “Attitude Dancing.” And of course, “Let the River Run,” for which she became the first artist to receive an Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe for a single composition, an honor shared only by Springsteen. She’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Grammy Hall of Fame, with 15 nominations and two wins. 

And yes, she had hits: Five platinum albums, including a multi-platinum greatest hits collection, and three gold albums, all but three making Billboard’s Top 200, 12 in the top 40 and five in the top 10. In addition, she put 24 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 with 13 Top 40 hits and 28 in the A/C Top 40. 

She’s been covered by artists ranging from Fred Astaire to Mandy Moore to Foo Fighters to Radiohead to Morrissey to Anita Baker and Bobby Brown with Whitney. She’s also been sampled by Trey Songz, QOTSA and Janet Jackson for “Son of a Gun (Bet You Think this Song is About You”). 

She’s been cited as an influence by Taylor Swift (with whom she’s performed), Tori Amos, Carly Ray Jepsen and Natalie Maines, and you have to think by artists like Brandi Carlile and Sara Bereilles. Given her well-known reluctance to perform, a tribute by even a few of these women would make for a retweet-worthy induction ceremony highlight. 

Her career in popular music now in its sixth decade, Simon is an opera composer, a published author about to publish the second volume of her memoirs, and a member and advocate of the LGBTQ community. She’s also the only person I know of to put the word “gavotte” into a hit song. 

Cyndi Lauper 

She slid sideways into our lives in 1983 with that zingy synth glissando and what Rolling Stone called a “wild, wonderful skyrocket of a voice.” Almost 36 years later, Cyndi Lauper is a cultural icon: a singer, musician, songwriter, actor, and LGBTQ and women’s advocate. 

Her debut solo album, “She’s so Unusual,” was on the Billboard Top 200 for 77 weeks (peaking at No. 4), and was in the Top 40 for 65 of them. It went six times platinum in the United States alone, and has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide. It’s the first album by a female artist to produce four straight top 5 hits. 

The album garnered six Grammy nominations, winning Best Album Package with Lauper winning Best New Artist (one of the few times the Grammys got it right). It received 10 MTV Award nominations, winning in 1984 for the first Best Female Video for “Girls.” The following year, the clip for “She Bop” was nominated –you have to admit that it is pretty unusual to feature your mom in a video about female masturbation that references a gay porn magazine. It’s currently No. 487 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, No. 75 on its list for the 80s and No. 41 on its “Women Who Rock” list. 

An album like that’s a tough act to follow.  Her 10 subsequent studio albums haven’t always sold in huge numbers or won critical acclaim, although her second, “True Colors” produced two more Top 5 hits and a classic song in the title track. But Lauper’s never worked to a formula, always treading new ground stylistically and in the concerns addressed in her lyrics: spousal abuse, LGBTQ rights, racism, consumerism. 

Her 2003 “At Last” album wedded her amazing voice to American pop standards and her version of the title track comes tantalizingly close to Etta James’ and is superior to Christina Aguilera’s more lionized one. “Memphis Blues” was the most successful blues album of 2010, hitting the top spot on Billboard’s blues album chart, where it stayed for some time, and breaking into the pop Top 30. Her most recent, 2016’s “Detour,” produced by Tony Brown and executive produced by Seymour Stein, takes in iconic songs by country legends and features duets with Vince Gill and Willie Nelson.  

She’s appeared on Broadway in “The Threepenny Opera, “ and in Berlin as part of Roger Waters’ 1990 production of “The Wall.” She’s worked with artists including Hugh Masekela, Tony Bennett, Mary Chapin Carpenter and more. Artists appearing on her albums include Charlie Musselwhite, Eric Clapton, and Bootsy Collins. Along the way, numerous artists have covered her songs—“Time After Time” by more than 100 artists alone, and she was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2015. Last year, she received Billboard’s Icon Award at its Women in Music ceremony. In 2011 she was included in the Rock Hall’s “Women Who Rock” exhibit.  The year before, in one of the universe’s perfect moments, she was honored with a Barbie doll in her likeness. 

She’s made a mark as an actor, earning an Emmy for a recurring role on Mad About You” and a nomination for voiceover work on Henry & Me. Her score for the 2012 musical adaptation of Kinky Boots made her the first woman to win a Tony for the category on her own and also earned her an Olivier nomination. The Tony made her three-fourths of an EGOT, with a Grammy, Emmy and Tony—one of only four women with this combination. 

From the beginning, Lauper has had an uncompromising vision for every aspect of her work, from the music and lyrics to the themes of her albums to representation of women in her videos. Artists like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Gwen Stefani owe Lauper a debt. It’s hard to think of someone more deserving of inclusion in the Rock Hall. 

Fanny

“One of the finest fucking rock bands of their time.” –David Bowie 

They made four albums, with a cover of Cream’s “Badge” on their first one and hit the top 40 with two singles. They toured with the likes of Deep Purple, the Kinks, Jethro Tull and Humble Pie and recorded with Richard Perry and Todd Rundgren as producers. They were the session band for Streisand’s “Stoney End” album. They won praise from Rolling Stone as well as David Bowie, who went on to say of them, “They were extraordinary. The wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful…”

But they could never get to that elusive top rung of the ladder, and 40 years on from their heyday, as Bowie noted sadly, “Nobody’s ever mentioned them.”  They were Fanny, the first all-female band to release an album on a major label. (Goldie and the Gingerbreads were signed to Atlantic by Ahmet Urtegun in 1965 but their release was a single). 

Formed in Sacramento in the late 60s as the Svelts with June Millington and Addie Lee on guitar, June’s sister Jean on bass, Nickey Barclay on keys and Brie Berry on drums. The daughters of a Filapina mother and a U.S. navy commander father, the Millingtons came to California in the early 60s. Music became their way of fitting into an often-hostile culture in the States. 

Sexism was always a fact of life; Berry left the band after her new husband demanded she quit, a turn of events that labels had long used as an excuse for not female acts before and after them. When her replacement, Alice de Buhr, and Lee formed a new band called Wild Honey, the Millingtons came along and the group moved to L.A. But “yeah, pretty good for chicks” got old, and the band was on fumes when they played an open mic night at the Troubadour that initially gave them all of a five-minute slot until their reception by the crowd changed minds. In that crowd was the secretary of producer Richard Perry (Nilsson, Streisand, Carly Simon), who was looking for a female band to produce. Upon hearing them, he convinced Warner Bros. to sign them. 

There was one problem to resolve before releasing their first album: the name, as another “Wild Honey” already existed. Stories that “Fanny” was suggested by George Harrison are false; according to June Millington, it was pulled from a list of 60 options and chosen because a woman’s name and the double entendre appealed to them. 

In their initial run, Fanny released four albums. The second, “Charity Ball,” yielded their first top 40 hit with the title track, and the third, “Fanny Hill,” with covers of “Hey Bulldog” and “Ain’t That Peculiar,” got a favorable review from Rolling Stone. But by the fourth album, “Mother’s Pride,” the constant sexism and pressure from the label to conform to an image got to June. She left the band, which recorded a last album without her, “Rock and Roll Survivors,” which produced their second Top 40 single in “Butter Boy,” before splitting in 1975. 

All of the band members stayed in music after the breakup, and in 2002 Rhino released the retrospective “First Time in a Long Time.” Individual reissues followed, and the Millingtons and Brie Berry (now Brie Howard-Darling) record and occasionally perform as Fanny Walked the Earth. Bands like the Go-Go’s and the Runaways have acknowledged Fanny as pioneers, and while a Rock Hall nom seems unlikely, they definitely deserve some recognition.

The King of Skiffle: Lonnie Donegan and the History of British Rock

“He was the first person we had heard of from Britain to get to the coveted No. 1 in the charts, and we studied his records avidly. We all bought guitars to be in a skiffle group. He was the man.” – Paul McCartney

“He really was at the very cornerstone of English blues and rock.” – Brian May

“I wanted to be Elvis Presley when I grew up, I knew that. But the man who really made me feel like I could actually go out and do it was a chap by the name of Lonnie Donegan.” – Roger Daltrey

“Remember, Lonnie Donegan started it for you.” – Jack White

“Rock Island Line” has long been called a “traditional” tune or folk song. But in reality, the singer who made it famous – or whom it made famous — was only two years younger. Anthony James Donegan was born April 29, 1931 in Glasgow and moved to London with his family at the age of two. He grew up listening to blues, folk, jazz and American country music, and picked up his first guitar at 14. By 18 he was playing guitar around London and was a regular at the city’s jazz clubs. 

He joined his first band despite a bit of a blunder: One night while on the train, he was approached by man who said he’d heard that Donegan was a good banjo player, and asked him to audition for his band. That man was Chris Barber, who’d been making a name for himself as an aspiring jazz trombonist and was putting his first group together (Still active, Barber has had a successful career in the UK. He also arranged the first UK tours of such artists as Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters, catching the imaginations of young British musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones).

Donegan had never played banjo in his life, but he bought one, taught himself what he could in a hurry and tried to bluff his way through. His playing didn’t get him into the band, but he hit it off with the band and found himself in. Eventually, the Chris Barber band joined forces with Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen and developed a name for themselves as they gigged around London. In between their Dixieland sets, Donegan would stage mini-sets with two other players to play his versions of blues, country and folk standards on acoustic guitar or banjo, backed by upright bass and drums. The band took to calling these “skiffle” sets on their posters, and they caught on. 

In 1949, he was drafted into the British army and spent a year in Vienna, where he discovered the broadcasts of American Forces Radio Network and its broadcasts of American music. He also got to meet met U.S. servicemen, from whom he got records. When he got back to London in 1951, he found another source for blues and jazz records at the American Embassy library. 

In 1952 he formed his own band, the Tony Donegan Jazz Band, and scored a spot opening at Festival Hall for pianist Ralph Sutton and Lonnie Johnson. The announcer mixed his first name up with Johnson’s that night, and the new moniker stuck. 

After Colyer quite the band and Barber reassumed leadership in 1954, they recorded an album for Decca based on songs from their live set, including the skiffle numbers. Among these five tunes was “Rock Island Line.” 

The album was a bigger hit than anyone expected, selling 60,000 copies, so Decca decided to release some singles. “Line” had a 22-week UK chart run, peaking at Number 8, and surprisingly, cracked the Top 20 in the U.S, where it sold 3 million copies. 

British teens loved it: it was catchy, had American appeal and was a style they could easily play themselves with just a guitar or banjo, tea-chest bass and a washboard and thimble. Skiffle became the rage. 

Donegan hadn’t been paid more than a few pounds for the sessions, and didn’t get royalties, but he was rapidly becoming a star. That his next single, “Diggin’ My Potatoes,” (written by blues legend Memphis Minnie) was banned by the BBC for suggestive lyrics only added to his allure with the younger crowd. He left Baker’s band and went to EMI/Columbia Records, achieving enough success to win appearances on the Perry Como and Paul Winchell TV shoes. He played on bills with Chuck Berry as well, but his missed his family and soon headed home.

He continued to create hits: “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor?” went Top 5 in the U.S. and skiffle solidified its place as a national craze, inspiring the likes of Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele, and in Liverpool, a fledgling group known as the Quarrymen. 

But skiffle’s shelf life was short. By 1958 it was on the wane, although Donegan would continue to chart until 1962. But the early 60s saw the young rockers he inspired take over the charts, knocking skiffle aside, and Donegan with it. He continued to play, record and tour, but aside from a nostalgic craze in Germany in the 70s, his days as a top draw were done. He worked as a producer and songwriter, crafting a hit for Tom Jones entitled “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” which was also recorded by Elvis. As head of his company, Tyler Music, he had production and publishing rights to the songs of a young musician named Justin Heyward, including one called “Nights in White Satin.”  

It’s a natural rhythm in popular music, but Donegan was embittered by it, and remained so for the rest of his life. He resented the “long-haired, pot-smoking pop musicians,” saying “The Beatles’ first records were archaic rock and roll, and I was resentful at the way they stopped my cash flow.” He complained constantly about his lack of remuneration for the “Line” sessions, conveniently forgetting to mention that he’d profited tidily from arranger credits for quite a few folk songs, as well as the royalty deals he’d aggressively pursued. Even his daughter described him as a whiner. By all accounts, he wasn’t a pleasant person, despite his cheery, folksy stage image. Perhaps this contributed to his poor health: He suffered from several heart attacks beginning in the 1970s. 

With thanks to Charles Crossley (@cvcjr13) for the link, an example of Donegan’s pettiness, again with regard to Justin Heyward: http://www.justinhayward.com/justin-great-yarmouth/

But his temperament didn’t detract from the affection of the many performers he’d inspired. In 1978 Rory Gallagher, Brian May, Ringo Starr, Ron Wood, Elton John and Peter Banks joined him for the album “Puttin’ On the Style,” featuring new versions of his classic hits. Macca wrote the liner notes for his last album, “Muleskinner Blues,” and Mark Knopfler paid tribute to him upon his passing with the song “Donegan’s Gone.” Peter Humphries’ 2012 biography, “Lonnie Donegan and the Birth of British Rock and Roll,” featured contributions from Van Morrison, Knopfler, Macca, Bill Wyman, Brian May and Richard Thompson. Daltrey, Townshend and Page have given credit to Donegan and skiffle for their beginnings. 

More recently, “Downton Abbey” actor Jim Carter made a documentary about his hero that included footage of a 16-year-old John Lennon playing Donegan tunes with the Quarrymen. 

In the late 90s, a few compilation albums were released, and Donegan still toured on the nostalgia circuit. It was on one such tour that he suffered his final heart attack and died on November 3, 2002 near Cambridge, England. 

Over the course of his career, Donegan notched up 31 Top 30 UK hits, 24 of them successive, including three Number 1s. He was the first British performer to have two songs in the U.S. Top 10 simultaneously. He received the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement award and was made an MBE in 2000. In his own estimation, his greatest achievement was making folk music popular again. The year of his death, he told the Newcastle Journal “In England, we were separated from our folk music tradition centuries ago and were imbued with the idea that music was for the upper classes. You had to be very clever to play music. When I came along with the old three chords, people began to think that if I could do it, so could they. It was the reintroduction of the folk music bridge which did that.”

(An interesting side note: Donegan’s son Peter is himself a musician who appeared in early 2019 on the UK version of “The Voice.” One judge turned around for him: an excited Tom Jones, who performed “I’ll Never Fall in Love” with him). 

George Harrison said of him, “If there were no Lead Belly there would have been no Lonnie Donegan; no Lonnie Donegan, no Beatles. Therefore, no Lead Belly, no Beatles.’” In inspiring untold numbers of British musicians who themselves remade rock and pop music history, Donegan changed the face of popular music.

At one time, his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame might’ve drawn a Who’s Who of British classic rock and made for a show to remember. Who knows—maybe if Mark Knopfler took part or was even given the opportunity, he’d have fonder feelings about the Hall and the debacle of 2018 would’ve never happened. Jack White would have made for a compelling link to newer music. Now, an all-star jam like that isn’t in the Hall’s desired demographics. But all that doesn’t matter: any way you look at it, the King of Skiffle should be enshrined.

Kingmakers: The Rock Hall-Worthy Careers of Women Behind the Scenes

Recently, the minds behind the “Induct Dennis Wilson” and “E-Rockracy” Twitter accounts joined forces to present a new podcast called “Hall Watchers” – a fresh, well-reasoned take on the Rock Hall that goes outside the box and says what needs to be said. If you haven’t checked it out yet — do it now!

The second episode spotlighted women who should be included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Pat Benatar, The Go-Go’s, Sade, MC Lyte, Salt ‘n Pepa, Grace Jones, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Sinead O’Connor, Carol Kaye, Mary Wells, Annie Lennox (Eurythmics), Cher, Tina Turner, and, to join Stevie Nicks in the Clyde McPhatter Club as a performer, Carole King.

It’s an excellent list that in a few places goes off the beaten path. I know I was educated – I had no idea about MC Lyte’s accomplishments. I felt so inspired after listening that I thought I’d venture to add some names of my own, a bit at a time. I’ll alway stan for the non-performer, so I’ll start with three women who made it in a male-dominated world in the DJ booth, behind the camera lens, and in the boardroom, as well as one who went from performing to producing and brought a sound to the mainstream that would come to dominate the culture. I’m under no illusions about the likelihood of nominations, but they’re all worthy starting points for a conversation about the contributions of women behind the scenes in the music industry.

Maxanne Sartori

Female DJ’s were a rarity in 1970 when Sam Kopper hired Maxanne Sartori, known on-air as just Maxanne, from her slot at KLOL Seattle, for the afternoon slot at Boston powerhouse WBCN. Max liked to rock, and she championed some of Boston’s local talent that went on to become icons and for some, Hall of Famers. She was an early fan of the J. Geils Band and Billy Squier, and the story of her breaking the Cars from their demo tape is near legendary. Arguably the biggest band she helped get to that next level was Aerosmith, a band she had to fight station brass to include.

Max didn’t just support bands with the power of airplay; she contributed to their material and turned her shrewd eye towards their image and presentation as well. She wrote songs (and shared a romantic involvement) with Billy Squier. When another band she liked met with label resistance for lack of a defined image, she knew just what needed to be done. Among other things, she advised them that their charismatic co-lead singer was just standing there and needed an instrument in his hands. Benjamin Orr picked up the bass, and the change went a long way towards transforming Cap ‘n Swing from a jazz-pop fusion outfit into the spare, forward-looking Cars.

After leaving BCN in the late 70s, she went into promotion for a couple of major labels before going independent. While the station, sadly, is no more, she was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame earlier this year, and you can grab a pair of headphones and listen to a snippet of one of her air checks at the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame’s “Cities and Sounds” exhibit.

Lynn Goldsmith

You’ve seen her work. She’s shot more than 100 album covers as well as covers for Rolling Stone, Nat Geo, Newsweek and Life. Her work is in the collections of the Smithsonian, MOMA and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  She’s won numerous awards for both her rock and art photography and published 13 books showcasing her work, one of which, “New Kids,” made the New York Times Best Seller List.

In 1969 she won a Clio for a radio spot she produced, and in 1971 she became a director for Joshua White’s Joshua TV, one of the first companies to do big-screen projection for large concert venues. In 1972, she directed ABC’s “In Concert,” network TV’s first rock show. She co-managed Grand Funk Railroad after directing a documentary for them.  In the mid 70s she founded LGI, the first entertainment photo agency, which she sold in 1997 to Corbis.

In the 80s, she expanded into performance, recording “Dancing for Mental Health” under the name Will Powers with artists including Todd Rundgren, Sting and Nile Rodgers. The single “Kissing with Confidence” went to No. 3 in the UK, and the videos she produced were later used by the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Marriage Council in the UK, Harvard, and schools across the U.S. as social marketing and teaching aids.

Sylvia Rhone

An icon in the industry, she started as a secretary for Buddha Records in 1974, and over the next six years, steadily climbed though the corporate ranks, learning the ropes at ABC and Ariola. In 1981 she was named Director of Black music promotion, and VP/GM of black music operations. In 1994, she became the first African-American woman to head a major label as chairman and CEO of the legendary Elektra Records.

The Elektra appointment, surprisingly, was where she says she first encountered “issues of racial and gender bias.” She says that many questioned her ability, expecting that she’d reshape it into an urban label.

The most public and obnoxious example came from Motley Crue, who blamed her for the failure of their seventh album, “Generation Swine” and expressed it by calling her sexist and racist expletives from the stage. Given the consensus on the quality of the band at that time, it’s clear that Rhone’s response – to drop them from the label — was the right one. Under Rhone, Elektras’s roster and staff were among the most diverse in the business. 

In 2004, she was named president of Motown and in 2014, president of Epic.  She’s served on the RRHOF Nom Com, was a keynote speaker at the MIDEM conference, has won numerous awards, honors and citations and has been named to Entertainment Weekly’s Most Influential People list six times.

Sylvia Robinson

She started her career as a singer at age 16, recording as “Little Sylvia.” As half of the duo Mickey & Sylvia, she scored a #1 R&B / #11 pop single with “Love is Strange” in 1957, featuring her keening, seductive refrain (“Baby, my sweet baby”) that featured in Dirty Dancing 30 years later. Mickey Baker taught her to play guitar, which in turn opened the world of songwriting.

She later married Joe Robinson, and with him, founded All Platinum records. Joe handled the books while Sylvia recruited talent, wrote the songs, and produced the records. Hits included the Moments’ “Love on a Two-Way Street,” (1970, co-written by Robinson) and Shirley and Company’s “Shame, Shame, Shame.” The mother of three also had her own hit with the sexy “Pillow Talk,” a tune Al Green rejected for being too risqué.

In 1979, All Platinum was struggling, and Sylvia was looking for a sound to save her label when she caught a club DJ talking over a backing track. She found the Sugar Hill Gang, played them off of Chic’s “Good Times,” and on Sugar Hill Records label released the record that brought hip hop to the mainstream. “Rapper’s Delight” is on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, VH1’s 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs, NPR’s list of the 100 important American musical works of the 20th century, and is enshrined in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.

Of the 10 hip hop tracks in the Registry, two are on Sugar Hill. The first one is “The Message,” a track she produced for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, the first hip hop track of social commentary.

Robinson passed away in 2011, and unfortunately isn’t remembered fondly by all. Multiple ugly lawsuits over unpaid royalties mar her legacy (there’s not a lot online about them, but I couldn’t find an instance in which one stuck). But as Henry “Hen Dogg” Williams, a later member of Sugar Hill Gang, said of her: “She had a great ear. She knew a hit record when she heard it. If she didn’t have that idea, who knows where hip hop would be today.”

ESO Podcast, Week of July 1

Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour recently auctioned his entire guitar collection at Christie’s New York for a cause about which he’s passionate, global warming. Benefits from the sale benefitted ClientEarth, an environmental legal advocacy group.

And ClientEarth is happy today, because most of the axes went for prices far beyond the pre-sale estimates. Of the 125 instruments, 58 of them sold for $100K or more and 20 of them are among the most expensive ever sold at auction. One man shelled out almost 24% of the auction’s take: Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts and a well-known Floyd fanatic.

Irsay’s prizes include the legendary Black Strat set the Guinness record for the most expensive guitar ever sold by any means, fetching $3.975 million–the estimated sale was $100,000-$150,000. This was Gilmour’s primary performance and recording guitar on every Pink Floyd album from 1970 to 1983 plus all four of his solo albums. (It’s the one you hear on “Comfortably Numb”). The Martin D35 heard on “Wish You Were Here” is one that Gilmour bought that on the street back in ’71 and made his go-to acoustic, it sold for $1.5 million. 

While there has to be an element of the bittersweet for Gilmour, he’s looking ahead and not back; insisting that the sale isn’t an indicator that he’s headed for retirement. “I’m not at that moment,” he says, and indicates that Fender’s replica model might be his next axe of choice. He allows that the guitars are important, but they’re the “tools that I use“ and and the Black Strat’s presence in the auction helped to bring attention to the sale and to “…the greatest challenge that humanity will ever face….We need a civilized world that goes on for all our grandchildren and beyond in which these guitars can be played and songs can be sung.”

Virtual tour of the pre-sale exhibit

Guitar images and bios

Crisis? What Crisis? Random Thoughts on the Rock Hall Induction Season 2019

As the credits rolled on this year’s ceremony, the 2019 RRHOF induction season came to a close. As we wait for the first week of October to roll around, a few random thoughts: 

Yes, the system is broken.  http://www.futurerocklegends.com/blog_files/The_System_Is_Broken.html

When Future Rock Legends published this, everyone was caught up in the excitement of the newly announced class, and I don’t think it got the play it deserved. This class definitely deserved the buzz: with the long-snubbed names that mostly bucked the classic rock trend, it could finally open the doors to some exciting artists in the near future. But every point is still true, and not one of them is being addressed. 

The Hall has just put out an excellent ballot and inducted what’s considered to be one of the best classes in some time. But all that’s been overshadowed by the fact that it refuses to meaningfully address the gender imbalance among the inductees (actually, among the NomCom and voting rolls as well). It’s rightly drawn ire, and while there have been complaints over the past couple of years, this time it may stick. The Hall may be consistently inconsistent, but it’s also consistently complacent, and it’s hard to say how or if it will respond. 

To be honest, I’m not clamoring for an all-female ballot. It’s a statement, but there are so many things wrong that every year could be some kind of statement, and in what order? It won’t happen anyway. What I would like to see is something that pays off on an ongoing basis: more women to choose from on the ballot, which will translate to more on the induction stage, and among them some overdue recognition of women in hip hop. And that will come from more women making decisions on the NomCom and voting rolls. Let’s be honest and give up on the “election by their peers” presented as the governing principle of the vote; it’s long been, shall we say, a nebulous concept, and it’s been watered down anyway as they try to jockey the committee into a younger, more forward-looking outfit. 

Big Mama Thornton and Lesley Gore absolutely should be recognized, and hopefully that will happen soon. But as crass as it is to state it like this,  for the next two to three years at least, we need women who are, first of all, alive and ready to vote. The Go-Go’s would put several on the rolls in one swoop. Beyond them, there’s Cyndi Lauper, Pat Benatar, Bjork, Kate Bush, Diana Ross, Melissa Etheridge, Chaka Khan, Annie Lennox, Tina Turner, Carole King, Queen Latifah, Salt n Pepa, Carol Kaye (although she probably won’t care to vote). And sigh, yes, Sheryl Crow. Sooner rather than later, judging by the face time she got on HBO the other night, seated at the figurative right hand of Stevie Nicks. 

I also think the statement right now—not always but for the next couple of years—should be about relatively contemporary women specifically and clearly in rock and R&B, as opposed to “influence” artists like Joan Baez, for whom you have to draw a more convoluted line. When you keep stressing the role of something as an influence, it traps it in amber and takes it out of the continuing discussion, with precious little chance of clawing its way back in. Sort of like this:  

It may be – may be — that SVZ’s influence is on the wane: HBO cut the entire Singles category from this year’s broadcast. For anyone not familiar with this mess, the artists being “honored” aren’t invited or apparently given any notice, there’s no acknowledgement in the Museum itself and this year ‘s inclusion of the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout” gives the lie to the “not yet inducted” criterion Van Zandt gave last year. In addition, it’s a tune by none other than Bert Berns, whose 2016 induction isn’t undeserved but was championed by Van Zandt, who was a backer for the Broadway musical about…Bert Berns. I agree with Nick Bambach: all the time and effort could go into inducting a non-performer or early influence. Put it out of our misery. 

Mrs. Van Zandt, Maureen, is frequently put out about the Hall, and it’s adorable, but this took it up a notch; they seem to think this is an important honor to which only they can do justice. She suggested on Twitter that the ceremony implement a better run of show and set strict time limits—points worthy of discussion–but went on to suggest that maybe they should induct one less act. Sure, there’s no giant and growing backlog of meaningful snubs or anything. This vanity project will likely go quietly into that good night like the “Hall of Fame Locations” project of a few years ago, no matter what Joel Peresman says. One change I wholeheartedly support is for the Hall to rotate one-third of the NomCom every year, and here I rest my case. 

Populism…as Alexander Pope said, “The public is a fool.”  (Thank you, Alex Voltaire). Right now, its pull is even being felt at the Oscars: word is that CBS was keen on  a Best Pic nom for “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the strength of its box office performance. We’ve all known that the broadcast has an outsize influence on the makeup of the classes, and there’s been plenty of confirmation lately: Maureen Van Zandt essentially confirmed the Hall’s whole MO when she said that Zevon wasn’t a likely nominee because of the requirements of the HBO show. Add to this Greg Geller’s admission on the “Who Cares About the Rock Hall” podcast that HBO is looking for a “streamlined” broadcast. 

I don’t know if the solution is to divide the slate into the respective choices of the online vote, the kiosks, the voting bloc and the NomCom, but public opinion can’t drive the narrative. The classes shouldn’t be built on names that museum goers type in at the kiosks on a lark. The Hall’s caught between Scylla and Charybdis here, and they haven’t shown us they can sail very well. The Country Hall throws an invisibility cloak over everything, the RRHOF tries to be all things to all people…and no one’s happy. Eventually, you have to stand up for something. 

But there’s something that overshadows everything else, and unless something’s done, nothing else will matter. The sheer lack of professionalism continues to make a mockery of the honor of induction. Leak the results to an unknown non-music journalist in Georgia (the country, not the state, although the latter wouldn’t be any more appropriate). Add band members after the ballot’s published so they find out from their wives. Leave a band high and dry to induct itself. 

Just in the past few weeks, we’ve seen the Hall: 

  1. Delete John Gustafson of Roxy Music from the list of inducted members between last October and March; 
  2. Add Kenny Laguna to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ plaque three years after their induction;  
  3. Remove Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys from the website and omit them from the new plaque–essentially uninduct them. Within three days, Museum CEO Greg Harris announced that this “oversight” would be rectified. But there’s been no apology or explanation of how eight names could just get lost.

Even if all this isn’t a case of rewriting history after the fact, it’s a level of sloppiness that blows the mind. It’s clear that the Hall just doesn’t give a shit. About transparency, accuracy, and certainly not the history it’s put itself out as a custodian of. This isn’t what’s going to start a tweet storm or make headlines. But quietly, stealthily, it’s eating at the whole foundation. Worse, it makes you wonder if it’s worth caring anymore. And what happens then? 

ESO Podcast, Week of April 29: New music from the Boss, originals from Prince

June 7 would’ve been Prince’s 61stbirthday and on that date his estate will release “Originals,” a 15-track album with 14 previously unreleased versions of songs he wrote for other artists, chosen by Troy Carter and Jay-Z. The tracks will stream exclusively on Jay-Z’s streaming service, Tidal, for 14 days. On June 21, Warner Bros. will release the tracks all download and streaming partners and physically on CD.180-gram 2LP and limited edition Deluxe CD+2LP formats will follow on July 19th. Among those 15 tracks: “Manic Monday,” “Sex Shooter,” “Jungle Love,” and a solo version of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Prince’s memoirs, titled “The Beautiful Ones,” are scheduled to be published on October 29. 

Bruce Springsteen’s first album of original material is due on June 14. Titled “Western Stars,” it’s inspired by “Southern California pop records of the late ’60s and early ’70s” and explores a “sweeping range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community and the permanence of home and hope.” The first single, “Hello Sunshine,” with accompanying video, is out now.