While it’s not likely anyone expected the comedy stylings of Rick Wakeman this year, RRHOF acceptance speeches are the time for inductees to, well, speak their mind. It’s their best chance to talk up those artists they’d like to see next on that stage, as the usually reticent and retiring Daryl Hall did when it was his turn, stumping for Todd Rundgren, the Stylistics, Chubby Checker and a few others. (Hall’s batting south of the Mendoza line here, which is unfortunate as his picks are solid). When Pearl Jam showed up for their honors this past April, bassist Jeff Ament went the understated route, but spoke volumes with a shirt printed with the names of 99 names for consideration (Tom Waits is already in).
What’s intriguing about this to me is that Ament thought to include two names from the ranks of nonperformers: art design collective Hipgnosis and artist Raymond Pettibon. “Iconic” is an overused word, but between 1968 and 1983, Hipgnosis created a significant number of the most iconic album covers in rock history which in turn helped define the image of some likewise iconic artists: “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Houses of the Holy,” T. Rex’ “Electric Warrior,” Peter Gabriel (“Melt”) among others. And you don’t have to know much about the L.A. punk scene to know Pettibon’s logo and artwork for Black Flag and his work for Minutemen and Sonic Youth.
Modern popular music is a product of the marriage of art and commerce, forever partnered with image and promotion, and over time has made household names of some of those who’ve stoked the star making machinery. Just as much masters of their craft and with stories often just as intriguing as the stars of the show, if not more, these individuals deserve recognition of their own beyond a mention in an occasional exhibit. The Ertegun Award isn’t even given out every year; not only do I think more nonperformers should be recognized, I’d pick entire classes of them.
Some of these people have in fact been recognized, among them Alan Freed, Leo Fender, Bill Graham, and Clive Davis. Here’s a by no means exhaustive list of others who could also be considered.
(Again, the process needs to be tweaked and the NomCom given a pick. Early Influences, for reasons already gone into, should be a separate entity. More needs to be done with the Musical Excellence category for musicians like Carol Kaye, Merry Clayton, Kenny Aronoff, Bobby Keys, Russ Kunkel, Jim Keltner, et al).
Without doubt, producing is musical, and could just as easily fall under the Musical Excellence category. Some producers might even be offended to not be in it, but for the purposes of this post I’ll put them here to underscore the importance of the whole range of “below title” names.
Gus Dudgeon: Produced “Space Oddity,” and is recognized as the first producer to utilize sampling. His importance to Elton John’s defining work can’t be overstated.
Roy Thomas Baker: Several artists have been inducted on the strength of work done with him, including Queen, the Cars and Journey, and he’s worked with Ozzy, Hawkwind, Nazareth and others.
Rick Rubin: The guy’s just helped define the damn culture.
Tony Visconti: Producer, musician, arranger, composer for a slew of artists including Bowie, T. Rex, the Moody Blues
Arif Mardin: One of the pillars of Atlantic records and a giant in jazz, rock and pop with a “Who’s Who” client list that includes Chaka, Carly, the Bee Gees, Queen, MJQ, Aretha, Willie Nelson, Diana Ross…et al, et al, et al.
Tom Wilson: He electrified Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel and in the process, nudged folk music into rock territory. He produced Zappa and as an A&R man, signed the Velvet Underground.
Joe Meek: A tortured mad scientist whose home studio was the lab where he created reverb, sampling and overdubbing, as well as the first U.S. No. 1 hit by a British artist (“Telstar”) and used Jimmy Page, Steve Howe and Ritchie Blackmore as session musicians. His bizarre and fascinating career was cut short 50 years ago this year in an even more bizarre murder-suicide. His is one of those stories you couldn’t make up if you tried.
Sylvia Robinson: The producer of rap’s seminal early records: “The Message,” “Rappers Delight,” “White Lines (Don’t Do It).”
Don Was: Of everyone on this list, he and Rubin are possibly the likeliest to get in. Given his credentials as a performer, writer, documentarian and producer (Bonnie Raitt, the Stones, Joe Cocker, Van Morrison, Ziggy Marley, Elton John and Leon Russell, and on and on), it’s hard to imagine the Hall not putting him in.
Mutt Lange: You could argue that producing AC/DC’s “Back in Black” would be enough, but he went from there to mammoth hits by Def Leppard, Foreigner, the Cars, Lady Gaga and Bryan Adams among others. His high water mark was the 80s, which may work against him but if you’ve heard pop music in the 80s you’ve heard the results of Lange’s notorious perfectionism.
Maxanne Sartori: A woman who had respect and influence in a male-dominated industry, she helped launch the careers of Aerosmith and the Cars.
Bob Harris: If you were anyone in the past 40 years, you talked to Whispering Bob, OBE.
Rodney Bingenheimer: The “Mayor of the Sunset Strip,” he helped break bands like Blondie, the Sex Pistols, GNR, No Doubt and a host of others as a DJ at KROQ and is still putting together playlists for them that are no doubt more sophisticated anything else you’ll find on the airwaves anywhere . His English Disco was THE place to be on the West Coast in the 70s; he knows all the beautiful people and all the stories.
Mick Rock: You know the image of Queen in diamond formation on a black background? Of course you do. Everyone does. (Only one of hundreds of his images capturing the 70s and 80s pantheon, captured in turn in the 2016 documentary “Shot!”)
Bob Gruen: Best known for the images of John Lennon in New York and the one of Led Zeppelin outside their Boeing 727, and subject of the 2011 documentary “Rock and Roll Exposed.”
Most of the big guys–the Alpert and Mosses, David Geffens and Clive Davises—are in. But cases could be made for a few others.
Joe Smith: Over the course of a 40-year career at three major labels, he was involved with signing the Grateful Dead, the Cars, Television, Alice Cooper, the Doobie Brothers, Black Sabbath, Van Morrison, launched the career of Garth Brooks and rejuvenated that of Bonnie Raitt. The Joe Smith Collection, over 200 hours’ worth of interviews with many of the most influential music figures of our time, resides in the Library of Congress and was published in the book Off the Record.
Jimmy Iovine: For his work as producer and head of Interscope, although he’s on the NomCom. Somebody in this country must know what “recuse” means.
George Beauchamp: Holder of the patent for the solid-body electric guitar and co-founder of Rickenbacker, the maker of guitars favored by the Beatles and the Byrds and the company where Fender got his professional start.
Ted McCarty: President of Gibson during its own golden era and developer of rock’s other most iconic guitar model, the Les Paul, in addition to the world’s bestselling electric guitar, the SG, as well as the ES-335, the humbucking pickup, and a lot more.
Robert Moog: (If only Keith Emerson were here to induct him, even though it would be itself posthumous on Moog’s part).
Journalists and Personalities
Criticism and journalism, together, help create and justify a cultural form’s identification as “art.” Rightly or wrongly, they record the history and tell the story. Some of them might be bemused or even horrified at a nomination. But among them: Lester Bangs, Ellen Willis, Robert Christgau, Nelson George, Greil Marcus.
Again, this is just a list that came immediately to mind, up for debate and definitely expandable, especially in the interest of making it less white and male. And yeah, I know this has a snowball’s chance in hell of happening. No, you can’t put everyone and their brother in the Hall. Most think it’s esoteric and not sexy. It would make for an eight-hour award show. (So award them at the halfway mark, say October. Or at a dinner the night before, like the tech awards at the Oscars. It doesn’t have to be on an equally large scale. Even just making a list would be better than nothing).
But take some of these people out of the picture, and the past 50-60 years changes dramatically—something that should be a consideration for everyone considered and can’t be said for a few artists already there. These people, and others like them, took an art form, created a commercial product and in the process, reshaped the culture in a way that will likely never be repeated. Who knows; maybe that shirt will spark the Ament Effect.
(Thanks to Philip from Rock Hall Monitors for corrections).
Incidentally, I’m (still) doing a segment on the Earth Station One podcast (esopodcast.com). If you want to hear me rattle through some music news like a junior Rona Barrett ( I date myself), check it out at esopodcast.com.