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. 

ESO Podcast, Week of March 18: RRHOF presenters, Glastonbury and “Bohemian Rhapsody II?”

The Class of 2019 induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is getting closer and closer: The ceremony itself will take place Friday night, March 29 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. Presenters for this year’s class were announced earlier this week; it’s an excellent lineup that just might also have some hints about what the 2020 ballot will look like. Here’s the class again followed by the presenter: 

Stevie Nicks – Harry Styles 

The Cure – Trent Reznor

Roxy Music – Simon LeBon and John Taylor of Duran Duran

Def Leppard – Brian May 

Janet Jackson – Janelle Monae 

Radiohead – David Byrne 

The Zombies – Susannah Hoffs of the Bangles 

HBO’s edited telecast of the ceremony will air on Saturday, April 27 at 8 p.m., and if you’re in Cleveland anytime soon you can check out the Class of 2020 exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. 

Some of these newly minted Hall of Famers will be taking the stage at Glastonbury later this year, which is back after a hiatus in 2018. Headliners will be the Cure, the Killers and Stormzy; also set to play are Janet Jackson, Janelle Monae, Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, Tame Impala, Mavis Staples, Wu-Tang Clan and tons and tons more. The fest sold out in October but canceled tickets go on sale April 28 at glastonburyfestivals.co.uk.  

In other news, Missy Elliot will be the first female hip-hop artist to receive an honorary doctorate from Berklee School of Music at its May commencement; she joins Justin Timberlake and Alec Lacamoire, who is the music director of “Hamilton.”  

And video director Rudi Dolezal, who directed several videos and film projects for Queen as well as Falco and others, says that a sequel to “Bohemian Rhapsody” is being discussed “within the Queen family.” So far, I haven’t seen a denial on Brian May’s social media feeds, but I sure hope one is forthcoming. As much as I love the guys, there’s just no reason for this to happen other than greed. Guys, you already tweaked the hell out of the timeline to make the story arc for this movie; you can’t play it both ways. Just say no. 

ESO Podcast, March 11: RIP Keith Flint, New Stray Cats, Pete Townshend novel (with more to come)

Starting with a farewell to Keith Flint of the Prodigy, who passed away last week at the age of 49.  A story that sticks with me from this past week is that he owned and ran a pub called The Leather Bottle in Pleshey, Essex in the UK, and as part of his landlord duties he would top off the fire. There was always someone who had to make a Firestarter joke, and when it happened he’d point at the swear box he kept over the fireplace and make them pay a quid. 

The Stray Cats are back: they’re marking their 40thanniversary with their first new record in 26 years, titled “40,” and a world tour. 

The album was recorded last year in Nashville with producer Peter Collins, who’s worked with a Who’s Who of popular music over the past 50 years – everyone from Air Supply to Alice Cooper to Rush to Queensryche to the Indigo Girls. The album was recorded with the band playing together live in one room for a looser, old school feel.

The first single, “Cat Fight (Over a Dog Like Me)” is available with pre-orders of the record. It will also be included on an exclusive 12” picture disc along with  “When Nothing’s Going Right” and “Rock It Off” for RSD on April 13th. An exclusive colored vinyl edition of the song will also be released on May 24th.

The Cats will then head out on tour on June 21 starting in Europe with a way-too-short U.S. leg in August. Hopefully they’ll add some more dates here.

Pete Townshend will publish his debut novel on November 5 entitled “Age of Anxiety.” It’s the first fruits of a “magnum opus” he’s been working on for the past decade; a combination of novel, opera and art installation. Because this is how you work when you’re Pete Townshend. He says the music is almost completely composed and an announcement about the art installation will be made at some point. The novel  is “an extended meditation on manic genius and the dark art of creativity” and “captures the craziness of the music business and deals with mythic and operatic themes including a maze, divine madness and long-lost children. Hallucinations and soundscapes haunt this novel, which on one level is an extended meditation on manic genius and the dark art of creativity.”

Of course, the Who will be releasing a new album and will be on the road this year on the Moving On! Tour. 

ESO Podcast, February 26: RIP Peter Tork, Mark Hollis

Once again, a farewell: Goodbye to Peter Tork. He’ll always be remembered as the sweet and simple bass player for the Monkees, but in real life he was a musician in the Greenwich Village folk scene long before the Monkees were ever conceived of, who played with and lived in Laurel Canyon with Stephen Stills and played on recordings by George Harrison was an articulate analyst of the Monkees, their history and their place in the larger scheme of things. He passed due to complications of adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of head and neck cancer, which he had been fighting for more than 10 years. Tork was 77 years old. 

Also: Mark Hollis, founder and former front man of Talk Talk, passed away Monday at the age of 64 from a short illness. In their first few years, the band had a string of synth-pop hits, including “Talk Talk” from their first album, “The Party’s Over,” and the title track from “It’s My Life,” which was a also a hit for No Doubt in 2003. They then switched stylistic gears for 1985’s “The Colour of Spring,” adopting an art-rock style influenced by Roxy Music. The followup, “Spirit of Eden,” was a commercial disaster that prompted their label, EMI, to sue and ultimately drop them, but it stands today as a cornerstone of post-rock, of which Radiohead’s Philip Selway said, “it redefines how you listen to music.” Hollis retired from music in 1998 to devote his time to his family, but he leaves his philosophy of music as something worth thinking about: “You have to give it all your attention. You should never listen to music as background music. Ever.”

Another classic rock icon is saying farewell to performing: Peter Frampton has been diagnosed with the inflammatory muscle disease Inclusion-Body Myositis and will be on the road for his farewell tour of the U.S. this summer. He’s also recording as much as possible right now, before the disease progresses. If he’s able, he hopes to tour Europe on a more limited basis next spring. He says, “Right now, it’s progressing but I’m still at the top of my game. We decided to do a farewell tour now since I don’t want to go out and not be able to play well. If I’m going to do a farewell tour, I want to play good. I want to rock it. I know that this tour, I will be able to do everything I did last year and the year before. That’s the most important thing to me. I want to go out screaming as opposed to, “He can’t play anymore.” 

Kate Bush will release a four-disc rarities collection on March 8; it includes 25 rare tracks and nine covers. Among the latter is Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” and two Elton John songs (“Rocket Man” and “Candle in the Wind,” and Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” She shared her video for the former Elton track, which she also directed. And as you might expect from Kate, it’s a little bit off the beaten path. 

On Friday, March 29, Stevie Nicks will become the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, and on that day she will release a career-spanning retrospective titled “Stand Back 1981-2017,” which will include hits, rarities and live tracks from her solo career along with a few Fleetwood Mac songs. It will be available as an 18-track CD or digital edition and a 50-track, 3-CD set. A six-LP vinyl collection will follow on June 28. A 10-inch vinyl disc of rare tracks from the “Bella Donna” and “Wild Heart” albums will be part of this year’s Record Store Day.

Annie Lennox will unveil an exhibition of her personal memorabilia, including belongings and items from her career on May 25 entitled “Now I Let You Go…” at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams, MA. It will include hundreds of personal items in a site-specific installation consisting of an earthen berm stretching across two gallery spaces.

Lennox gives some background to the exhibit’s premise on the museum’s website: “The artefacts contained within the earthen mound — partially buried – partially excavated – have all played a part in my life.I have had a special connection to each item presented – a connection that has been hard to relinquish. In time, we will all disappear from this earth.This is our destiny.What will we leave behind? Who will remember us – and for how long?The mound is a glorious metaphor for the ultimate conclusion of all material manifestations.”

The exhibit will kick off with a special benefit event, ““An Afternoon of Conversation and Song with Annie Lennox,” with a reception and a special charity event to benefit The Annie Lennox Foundation’s philanthropic work, and MASS MoCA’s Fund for New Music, in support of emerging and mid-career musicians. Tickets for the special benefit, are on sale at www.massmoca.org/annie-lennox.