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By Bill Hoagland
Last year, Dolly Parton was nominated for membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) as a performing artist. She initially declined the nomination, but was eventually inducted anyway despite her ongoing acknowledgement that she is not really a “rock and roller.” This induction set off another round of angry discussions about who should and shouldn’t be in the RRHOF. After all, Dolly is a very popular country music star, but we would all agree that she is not a rock and roller. So the question arises that if Dolly has been voted into the RRHOF, why have some true rock and rollers, such as Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Bad Company, the Guess Who, and Blue Oyster Cult (of “more cowbell” fame) still been excluded from membership? This is even more perplexing when you consider they have been excluded so that musicians such as Madonna and Jay-Z could be included. Madonna and Jay-Z are a far cry from the music of the original class of inductees, which included Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard and James Brown. The choices for “real” rock and rollers don’t get much more authentic than those inductees—unless, of course, you add a few later inductees: Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, and Ike and Tina Turner.
The RRHOF was officially created in 1986 and after having no official home for several years, finally selected Cleveland as its permanent home in 1995. The founder, Ahmet Ertegun, along with three other non-musicians, Jann Weiner, Suzan Evans and Dave Marsh, for years after the creation of the RRHOF kept tight control on who was nominated and inducted each year. To say the process of nominating musicians was non-transparent would be an understatement; even today, exactly who gets to vote is still murky. We are told the voting body consists of 600 artists, historians, and members of the music industry “from around the world” who remain anonymous so that the voters will not be influenced by outside pressures. Really? Money has nothing to do with the selections? The RRHOF now does allow some public voter participation, but the ultimate impact of the voting public on the selections is minimal. So the criticisms continue. Bruce Dickinson, of the band “Iron Maiden”, described the secret voters as “sanctimonious bloody Americans who wouldn’t know rock and roll if it hit them in the face.” Did I mention that Iron Maiden has not yet been voted into the RRHOF?
Not everyone who is inducted into the RRHOF is a performing musician. Some are included for their contributions to the music world in other respects and for the most part, those inductions are non-controversial. When I was 19 years old, I lived for a brief period of time in the French Quarter of New Orleans. My next door neighbor was Cosimo Matassa, who operated a small recording studio directly across from my apartment on Governor Nicholls Street. He was responsible for giving the opportunity to many Black musicians to record what was then known as “rhythm and blues,” the immediate predecessor to what we came to know as authentic rock and roll. His clientele included Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard, all of whom eventually were on their way to fame thanks in large part to Cosimo. By the way, Cosimo was inducted into the RRHOF in 2012 (along with Guns n Roses) for his “musical excellence” as a recording engineer. His studio was eventually purchased by Brad Pitt so as to preserve the musical history made there.
Maybe you are wondering what difference does any of this make in today’s world. After all, “it’s only rock and roll,” right? Truth is, for many of us who grew up in the classic rock music era, rock and roll played a huge part of our daily lives and that music, those melodies, those famous rifts and those lyrics constitute our link back to our past—to be cherished forever. It is our history. And that is why there will always be much controversy over the annual sections by the RRHOF. Turns out, some of us are pretty passionate about our music despite the passage of time and despite the predictions in the 1950s that rock and roll would soon disappear.
• Bill Hoagland has practiced law in Alton for more than 50 years, but he has spent more than 70 years hunting, fishing and generally being in the great outdoors. His wife, Annie, shares his love of the outdoor life. Much of their spare time is spent on their farm in Calhoun County. Bill can be reached at email@example.com.