Rock’s National Register: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Landmarks Series, Part Two (U.S.)

Now that we’ve traveled around the Cleveland metro and taken in its five officially designated RRHOF landmarks, it’s time to hit the road and check out the rest of the list.

  1. Austin City Limits, 310 W. Willie Nelson Blvd, Austin, TX

(Designated 2009 at Studio 6A, Jesse H. Jones Communications Building B, University of Texas at Austin)

This designation for the longest-running televised music program in the world is an anomaly as the only cultural landmark as opposed to a physical location. Since a separate recognition for non-physical entities would likely be rarely awarded, and the Hall is inconsistent about the nonperformer categories anyway, it seems that this is the best solution, but it’s still kind of awkward. It does make you think that the definition of “landmark” hadn’t really been thought through, or that the program was taken over by other parties and the definition changed. Or something.

From 1974-2010, Studio 6A at UT Austin was the home of ACL. It’s still in use by KLRU-TV, who has maintained the original stage and the iconic skyline backdrop that for years made overseas viewers wonder why it never rained in Austin. If you want to have an ACL-themed party with up to 299 of your closest friends and check out the first HOF plaque presented to the show, it’s available for special event rentals. A second plaque was created in 2011 when the show moved downtown to the 2750-seat Austin City Limits Live at Moody Theater in the W Hotel complex—a straight two-mile shot down Guadalupe St. but light years removed from the show’s low-key origins.

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  1. Devil’s Crossroads, 599 N. State St. (Highway 61 at 49), Clarksdale, MS (Designation year unknown)

According to legend, this is the spot where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming a master of the blues. Of course, your theology may hold that there is no Devil who would bargain for a man’s soul in Clarksdale, MS, and so recognizes Highway 1 and 8 in Rosedale, MS instead. At any rate, the crossroads aren’t all that foreboding nowadays. There’s a weathered-looking plaque there but I haven’t found any close up views of it so I’m not sure if it’s from the Hall or something else.


Rosedale’s a little more low-key about its demonic apparitions:


  1. J&M Studios, 840 N. Rampart St., New Orleans, LA (designated 2010; National Register: 1999)

Way down in New Orleans
Down on Rampart and Dumaine
Yes down in New Orleans
On Rampart and Dumaine

Gonna make it my standin’ place
Until I see the Zulu Queen

-Professor Longhair, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” 1949

Now a laundry, this building was once the home of John Matassa’s J&M Appliance Store and Record Shop. From 1945-1956, it also housed J&M Studios, a 15×16 space that his son Cosimo used to carve out space to make records. (Cosimo’s moved to larger digs over on Governor Nicholles St. from 1956-1966). At least three of the those records have been dubbed “the first rock and roll record”: Fats Domino’s “Fat Man,” Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” and Roy Brown’s “Good Rocking Tonight.” That’s in addition to records like “Lawdy Miss Clawdy, “Tipitina,” “I Hear You Knocking” and “Long Tall Sally.” Dave Bartholomew’s original—and bawdier—version of “My Ding a Ling” was recorded here in 1952; Chuck Berry’s version wouldn’t appear until 20 years later. Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Dr. John, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lloyd Price, Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas, and Allan Toussaint were just some of the artists who recorded sides for $15 per hour in the tiny space on the corner of Rampart and Dumaine.


  1. King Records, 1540 Brewster Ave., Cincinnati, OH (designated 2008)

King Records doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as Sun, Chess, Stax or Motown, but its legacy is real: at one time it was one of the top ten labels in the country with literally hundreds of hits and home to James Brown and Bootsy Collins, among others. It’s also a touchstone in civil rights history; King was a color-blind operation, from its talent roster to the workforce that physically produced every aspect of the product in a renovated ice production facility on a dead end street in Cincy’s Evanston neighborhood.

The building now sits bricked up and empty, and it’s likely been a few moons since anyone drove by to look at the RRHOF plaque. The city very much wants to preserve the property; it’s currently involved in an ongoing legal battle with the owners and is taking steps towards the use of imminent domain. It’s getting down to the wire, and the building is deteriorating: something needs to happen, and soon.

At the RRHOF Landmark dedication ceremony in 2008, then-president Terry Stewart said, “There’s not a more important piece of real estate in musical history than the building over there on Brewster. If you folks don’t remember and preserve it, shame on you” (Kind of an odd thing to say as a guest). There’s no indication I can find of the Hall being involved in the effort to save this building. It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback, but you’d think it could get some money together and/or raise its voice to save this landmark, for its state and for rock and roll history.


  1. Surf Ballroom, 460 N. Shore Drive, Clear Lake, IA (designated 2009; National Register 2011)

The Surf Ballroom has the unfortunate distinction of claiming its place in history through association with tragedy: it was here that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson played their final show before climbing into that ill-fated Beechcraft.

Still an active music venue, the Surf was recognized as a landmark by the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 (in a separate ballroom category) and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot tour plays there this June; it’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to see it.


  1. Whisky A Go Go, 8901 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA (designated 2006)

Rock’s L.A. address; the launching pad for Johnny Rivers, Frank Zappa, Janis, Neil Young, the Doors, Jimi, the Four Tops, Vanilla Fudge, Blondie, Soundgarden, Fleetwood Mac, Motley Crue, The Tempations, Van Morrison and Them, X, Zeppelin, Cream, the Motels, Guns N’ Roses, Martha and the Vandellas. And more.


That’s the list; now for the “Why this and not that?” game. In Cleveland alone there’s the Agora and Cleveland Arena. As Charles Crossley suggested, there’s the Yasgur farm and Big Pink, and then Graceland, CBGC’s, the Ed Sullivan Theater, the American Bandstand studio at WFIL, Sun Records, Hitsville USA, Chess Records…. And going abroad, the Marquee Club, the Cavern Club, the BBC studios for “Top of the Pops” and “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for starters.

You get the feeling this may have been a pet project for someone at the Hall and that person or the interest isn’t there anymore. The last designation was in 2010, so it’s uncertain but likely doubtful that they plan to keep up with it. When I thanked the social media team for their response to my query about the Corner Tavern, I said it was an interesting topic and suggested they expand on the Landmarks page on their site. The page has been deleted.

Rock’s National Register: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Landmark Series, Part One-Cleveland Metro

Now that we’re in the slow part of the RRHOF year, it’s a good time to take on some of those esoteric related topics that can be so much fun. While everyone else’s eyes have been on the Barclays Center, I’ve been dithering away on Google Street View looking at a bunch of old buildings.

(And incidentally, I’m still on the Earth Station One Podcast–this week’s topic is Record Store Day

When you think of any Hall of Fame you naturally think in terms of the roster of names enshrined (or not). A lot of people probably don’t know that songs are recognized by the Rock Hall in the form of the list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll,” and likely even fewer know that the Hall has its own version of the National Register of Historic Places, known as the Landmark Series.

Like pretty much everything about the Hall, the Landmarks program is a fascinating but sometimes baffling and inconsistent undertaking that combines sense and vision with some odd choices and strange omissions.

Continue reading “Rock’s National Register: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Landmark Series, Part One-Cleveland Metro”

Golden Years: Honoring the Early Influences

If you follow the online rants that pop up like mushrooms after rain on any article about or by the RRHOF, it’s fun to see how the name of the place is such a lightning rod for the rock police. “It’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, not the Pop/Rap Crap/Any Music Hall of Fame!!!” Usually some intellectual soul will mention the idea that the actual “rock and roll” era is long over, supplanted—sometime between 1965 and 1967, and to some as early as 1959—by the more artistically mature and self-aware genre of “rock,” so no act breaking after that development fits the term anyway.

This is a roundabout way of saying that rock’s formative years were a finite and relatively short period, prompting the question of how well the HOF has covered them, especially now that 90s acts are knocking on the door.  The answer?   Since 2000, there have only been three Early Influence inductees. As of right now, Big Mama Thornton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray, Dick Dale, Lonnie Donegan and the Marvelettes are just some of the names not yet inducted.

Continue reading “Golden Years: Honoring the Early Influences”

Musings on a Year as a Rock Hall Watcher

What is it about the absurd exercise of gradually enshrining the purveyors of our most rebellious art form in a sterile glass pyramid that works everyone into such a lather of outrage? –Andy Hermann, LA Weekly

The title of this post is only half right. My first go-around with watching a RRHOF nomination/induction cycle began at three in the morning on October 8, 2015, with a Facebook message from a friend: “We did it!” “It” was the realization of a letter writing campaign I’d helped spearhead the year before, aimed at achieving a nomination for the Cars. That project was actually my first look at the strange animal that is the Hall—perfect for an opinionated process geek. I was in.

Continue reading “Musings on a Year as a Rock Hall Watcher”