Rock Hall Welcomes Grandmaster Flash
Tuesday, March 13, 2007; 7:48 AM
NEW YORK -- Instead of guitars, there were turntables. Scratches replaced soaring riffs. An induction speech was read off a Blackberry. The hip-hop era arrived Monday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were the first hip-hop act to be inducted into the Rock Hall, joining other acts that represented a wide swath of artists: college rock favorites R.E.M., punk rock poet Patti Smith, rockers Van Halen and '60s girl group The Ronettes.
Jay-Z, the recently unretired rapper and Def Jam Records president, noted how far rap has come since the days when Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five exposed the world to gritty stories about the streets of New York on songs like "The Message."
"Thirty years later rappers have become rock stars, movie stars, leaders, educators, philanthropists, even CEOs," he said, reading his induction speech from his Blackberry. "None of this would have been possible without the work of these men."
Backstage, Grandmaster Flash talked about how hard-fought hip-hop's now universal acceptance had been.
"There were some that called it a fad. They called it a flash of brilliance, excuse my pun. I think the significance of going into this organization is it's the final place for corporate respect," he said. "They all finally accepted and embraced this wonderful culture we call hip-hop."
But while it was most certainly accepted, the embrace was not as warm as it could have been; the rappers got perhaps the most reserved ovation of the night, with an almost lukewarm response to their somewhat haphazard medley performance.
The night's biggest ovation may have been for the woman who swore she'd never make it in: Patti Smith. The bohemian poet straddled the hippie and punk eras, with her album "Horses" setting a standard for literate rock. At the induction ceremony, she performed her biggest hit, "Because the Night," co-written with Bruce Springsteen, and the Rolling Stones' classic, "Gimme Shelter."
Passed over in previous years, an emotional Smith remembered friends and family who didn't live to see the day _ and jokingly recalled an argument with her husband, MC5's Fred "Sonic" Smith, shortly before he died.
He told her she would get into the hall and that she would feel guilty because he would not make it _ even though he was more deserving. He asked her when she did make the hall to "please accept it like a lady and not to say any curse words." (She obliged).
She also remembered her mother asking her on her deathbed if she had made it into the hall yet. When Smith told her she hadn't, her mother said: "When you do, sing your mother's favorite song, the one I like to vacuum to."
So Smith did, dedicating to her mother one of her most fiery songs, 1977's "Rock 'n' Roll N-----."
If the absence of her late loved ones made Smith's induction bittersweet, the absence of most of Van Halen's founding members was downright sour. Eddie Van Halen, who went to rehab last week, was a no-show, as was his brother Alex. Former lead singer David Lee Roth, who sung such hits as "Jump" and "Panama," with the band, boycotted in a dispute over what song he would sing.
The only two who were present were Sammy Hagar and bassist Michael Anthony. Velvet Revolver performed two of the band's hits before Hagar and Anthony performed with the night's house band, led by Paul Shaffer.
Hagar said he wished his bandmates could be there, but "it's out of our control."
"It's hard for Mike and I to be up here to do this, but you couldn't have kept me away from this with a shotgun," Hagar said.
There was a happy reunion, though, for R.E.M., as they welcomed back drummer Bill Berry, who left the band in 1997 after suffering an aneurysm onstage two years earlier.
Out of Athens, Ga., R.E.M. largely invented the college radio scene in the 1980s with songs like "Radio Free Europe." They became mainstream stars with hits like "Losing My Religion" and "Everybody Hurts."
Singer Michael Stipe said his late grandmother once grabbed him by the arm and said what R.E.M. means to her is "'remember every moment.' And this is a moment I shall never forget."
With jewelry dangling from his hair, a mustachioed Keith Richards inducted the Ronettes, the New York City girl group who sang pop symphonies like "Be My Baby" and "Baby I Love You." He recalled hearing them the first time on a tour together in England.
"They could sing all their way right through a wall of sound," Richards said. "They didn't need anything. They touched my heart right there and then and they touch it still."
Lead singer Ronnie Spector thanked a list of people from Cher to Springsteen to her publicist _ but made no mention of ex-husband Phil Spector, the producer whose gigantic "wall of sound" is synonymous with the act. The snub was underscored when she gave a special thank you "to our FIRST producer," then cleared her throat.
Ronnie Spector had an acrimonious split with the legendary music man decades ago. His trial for the murder of an actress at his suburban Los Angeles mansion is due to start next week.
After the Ronettes sang a trio of their hits, Shaffer came to the microphone to read a note from Phil Spector, who said, "I wish them all the happiness and good fortune the world has to offer."
Two of rock's most influential figures _ and members of its hall _ received tributes: Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton honored James Brown, while hall officials remembered one of the institution's founders, record executive Ahmet Ertegun. Both died in December.
One of the evening's highlights came as Aretha Franklin, one of Ertgun's greatest artists at Atlantic, sang the first million-seller she made with Ertegun, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)."
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