A warm Rock and Roll Hall of Fame salute to Steve Miller and Paul Stanley

New inductee Steve Miller did us all a big service Friday night at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when he criticized the organization for neglecting female rockers during his acceptance speech, revealed its mistreatment of inductees during his press conference, then lambasted the publicist for trying to cut him off.

As for his first complaint, I always like thinking I was kicked off the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee years ago because I always spoke out in favor of Lesley Gore, Nancy Sinatra, Joan Jett and the Shangri-Las—not to mention males like The Turtles and The Hollies (Jett and The Hollies have since gone in), even though the form letter giving me the boot (along with a number of others) claimed that they wanted people who were more knowledgeable about 1970s rock—no matter that I’d written the first book on The Ramones.

So good on you there, Steve. Then again, as I’m from Madison, Wisconsin, I know how you inspired my homegirl Tracy Nelson’s signature song “Down So Low”–even if you did break her heart.

As for the RockHall’s treatment of inductees, he slagged the entire induction process backstage, in press accounts accusing the organization of disrespecting “the artists they say they’re honoring, which they don’t.” Here he specified licensing agreements between the show and inductees, and how they only gave him tickets for him and his wife while making his band and their wives fork over $10,000 per.

What I loved most, though, was how when the event’s publicist tried to stifle him, he stood his ground-—and then some: “No, we’re not going to wrap this up–I’m going to wrap you up,” he said. “You go sit down over there and learn something.”

What I’ve always hated about these award shows, or for that matter any major media extravaganza, is the way that media is herded and controlled (see Donald Trump media pens) like sheep—even if most of the time we are. Of course he wasn’t so much sticking up for the press and against big-event publicists as he was for himself and fellow RockHall inductees, but even an indirect slap at media manipulation, even among the most manipulatable, is to be applauded.

“This is how close this whole show came to not happening because of the way the artists are being treated,” he said, holding up two fingers very close together. And then he did wrap it up and walk off.

The RockHall tried to act diplomatic afterwards via a statement: “Rock ‘n’ roll can ignite many opinions,” it said. “It’s what makes it so great.”

Now there’s one big crock of shit statement! It’s the music that makes it so great, and it’s the many opinions that makes the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so despised! In fact, it’s those opinions—a good many if not most of them stupid—that makes defining rock ‘n’ roll apparently impossible! Another new inductee, N.W.A.’s Ice Cube, makes my point.

“The question is, ‘Are we rock ‘n’ roll?'” Cube said in an acceptance speech in which he proclaimed that N.W.A. and hip-hop belong there next to the Beatles, Elvis and Chuck Berry, “and I say–you goddamn right we rock ‘n’ roll.” His explanation? “Rock ‘n’ roll is not an instrument. It’s not even a style of music. It’s a spirit that’s been going on since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, heavy metal, punk rock, and yes, hip-hop.”

You may have noted, as I most certainly did, that he left out country. Not many country stars are in the RockHall, with Johnny Cash the only one coming quickly to mind outside of Bill Monroe and Jimmie Rodgers—both inducted as “Early Influences.” Seymour Stein always argued for Conway Twitty, whose career began in the 1950s with the rock ‘n’ roll chart success of hits like “It’s Only Make Believe.” I’ll always remember my late, great friend Dave Nives, who held various marketing and a&r indie label gigs and correctly ascertained, after I brought him a CD by polka legend Eddie Blazonczyk, “This is real rock ‘n’ roll.”

Ice Cube didn’t say “polka,” either. But he—and N.W.A. mate MC Ren—got into a tiff with 2014 inductee Gene Simmons over the very point at hand.

KISS’s Simmons had told Rolling Stone that he was “looking forward to the death of rap,” that rappers didn’t belong in the Hall of Fame because they didn’t play guitar or sing—much as Phil Spector once told me that “rap music” is actually an oxymoron. In The New York Times shortly before his induction, Cube said he respected Simmons, “but I think he’s wrong on this, because rock ’n’ roll is not an instrument and it’s not singing. Rock ’n’ roll is a spirit. N.W.A is probably more rock ’n’ roll than a lot of the people that he thinks belong there over hip-hop. We had the same spirit as punk rock, the same as the blues.”

Here he invoked the “spirit” characterization of rock ‘n’ roll, that once again, takes precedence over the music itself. He added in his induction remarks that “rock ‘n’ roll is not even a style of music,” with Ren answering Simmons directly: “Hip-Hop is here forever. Get used to it.”

Never the type to suffer in silence, Simmons tweeted Saturday: “Respectfully, let me know when Jimi Hendrix gets into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame. Then you’ll have a point.” The next day Cube retorted, also via tweet, “Who stole the soul? Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Chubby Checker help invent rock & roll. We invent it. Y’all reprint it.”

Simmons’ final reply: “Cube, I stand by my words. [I] respect N.W.A, but when Led Zep gets into Rap Hall of Fame, I will agree with your point.”

Rolling Stone, covering the exchange Monday, quoted from a 2014 Simmons interview with Radio.com: “A few people decide what’s in and what’s not. And the masses just scratch their heads. You’ve got Grandmaster Flash in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Run-D.M.C. in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? You’re killing me. That doesn’t mean those aren’t good artists. But they don’t play guitar. They sample and they talk. Not even sing.”

But KISS and N.W.A. did have one thing in common, in addition to the capital letters. Neither band performed at their induction. As Cube told the Times (and echoed Miller), “we really didn’t feel like we were supported [by the RockHall] enough to do the best show we could put on.” In fact, the members of N.W.A. actually cut out early without taking questions.

KISS had long been shunned by the RockHal nomcomm, and by the time they finally were inducted, also chose not to perform, due to dissension among band members. This was hardly unusual: Paul McCartney didn’t even show when the Beatles were inducted in 1988, proclaiming that “after 20 years, the Beatles still have some business differences, which I had hoped would have been settled by now. Unfortunately, they haven’t been, so I would feel like a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion.” And none of the Sex Pistols were present in 2006 when they were inducted, Johny Rotten, contending in a handwritten letter that the RockHall was “a piss stain” and noting that the band would have to pay $25,000 to sit at a main table. And even at last week’s ceremony, inductee Chicago’s Peter Cetera didn’t show, and Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos, who did attend and perform, complained on Facebook after how the other three originals had forced him out of the band.

“The spirit of rock ‘n’ roll means you follow your own path regardless of the critics and your peers,” Paul Stanley had said in his KISS acceptance speech, ironically presaging Cube’s speech Friday night: “Rock ’n’ roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life. That is rock ’n’ roll, and that is us.”

Stanley also observed that KISS had stuck to its path for 40 years.

“Here we are tonight basically being inducted for the same things that we were kept out for,” he noted, and nodded to the fans. “Let’s not forget that these people make it all possible. We just benefit from it.”

I was reminded how, many years ago, I interviewed Paul for a Billboard KISS special, and told him that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was irrelevant without KISS.

“You know, we have our own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he said. “It’s in the record store bins.”

And really, what’s in the bins is what makes rock ‘n’ roll so great.

Tales of Bessman: The first times I saw The Dead (and Siegel-Schwall)

Admittedly, it would have been more fitting to listen to Workingman’s Dead on Labor Day Weekend, but since I just acquired a copy of the recently released three-CD Grateful Dead: Dick’s Picks Vol. 18–Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI 2/3/78 Uni-Dome, University of N. Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA 2/5/78, and it’s a long weekend, I figured I’d give the whole thing a spin and see if it was as good as I remembered.

Yes, I was at the Madcity show. We at The Madcity Music Sheet—my first music writing gig—were big Deadheads.

Not sure how many times I’d seen them before—or after, for that matter, though I did see them many more times, most memorably with Dylan at Giants Stadium and at least once with Bruce Hornsby.

The first time was April 26, 1970, some 25 miles north of Madison at York Farm in Poynette, Wis., the last day of the three-day, post-Woodstock/Altamont Sound Storm rock festival. I remember the show being great, but that’s about it. What I can tell you about it now comes from various attendees’ online recollections and an excellent Lost Live Dead blog account I just discovered (along with great photos from the Wisconsin Historical Society website): They topped a bill of regional acts including Tongue, Crow, Illinois Speed Press, Rotary Connection and Baby Huey & the Babysitters, and played three sets (nearly six hours), including a 20-30 minute “Dancing in the Street,” with Jerry having shaved his beard, perhaps, an attendee surmised, because of the drug bust earlier that year in New Orleans later immortalized in “Truckin’.”

After the second Dead song (it’s one of those relatively few Dead shows where the set list doesn’t exist) the band sought an I Ching, “the grey book,” Bob Weir said after a different one was passed forward (according to one Jerry Klein in The SetList Program website). The band then knelt down together in the center of the stage, tossed coins, read results, and then arose “laughing and hollering” and launched into “Other One,” with Wavy Gravy sitting ecstatically on top of a bank of speakers on the far left.

I digress. The second Wisconsin rock festival came exactly two months later, in Iola Township, some 140 miles North of Madison and 80 miles West of Green Bay, on June 26-28. I was there for the whole thing—whatever that means—and now must rely on an excellent two-part blog account The People’s Fair—which the festival was called–and The Battle of Iola, which is what it became.

According to a Saturday report in Madison’s Capital Times referenced in the blog, the festival, at the beginning, resembled “one of those medieval fairs that preceded the urbanization of Europe and its subsequent Renaissance [with] bubbles [that] were very much in style and they floated through the frisbee-laced air.” Despite the lack of toilets and telephones and “an abundance of mosquitoes,” thousands had gathered together “to reaffirm their own culture far from the boarded-up windows of State Street”—this an allusion to the era’s antiwar protests-turned-riots that frequently left many shops on Madison’s main campus street with shattered glass.

But the “carnival atmosphere,” one correspondent noted, substituted LSD for cotton candy. I distinctly remember gobbling down acid, psilocybin, mescaline and speed and wandering around complaining that I couldn’t get off.

Friday’s schedule, it says, included Melanie, Paul Butterfield, Taj Mahal, and Buddy Rich. Of these I vividly remember seeing Butterfield, though I can’t remember if they were right before or after Siegel-Schwall. I think it was before, and I’m pretty sure both acts were on sometime between 1 and 5 a.m. Saturday morning. Butterfield was great, but Siegel-Schwall was lifechanging: To this day, I’ve never seen a better band. Corky Siegel remains one of my biggest influences and closest friends. I was with Jim Schwall two months ago back in Madison. Everything else about Iola may be a purple haze, but I remember Siegel-Schwall, whom I would see countless times after, like it was last night.

Looking at the blog, I see the Amboy Dukes—Ted Nugent’s early band—played Saturday along with Brownsville Sation, Crow and Buffy Sainte-Marie, and no, I wasn’t one of the group of guys near the stage who affectionately yelled in unison, “Buffy. We want to fuck you!”—nor did I remind her of it years later at a press dinner in New York. Local bands who played included The Tayles, Oz, Tongue, Fuse (featuring future Cheap Tricksters Rick Nielsen and Tom Peterson), Soup (Appleton rock trio led by late guitar legend Doug Yankus) and Short Stuff—the wonderful Milwauke blues-rock band starring the great harp player Jim Liban and keyboardist Junior Brantley that I also became close to.

I’d forgotten about Iggy and the Stooges, who played just before sunrise Sunday morning. I remember them now, but I can’t remember if I heard the gunfire.

The blog recounts rumors of “shakedowns, beatings and rapes by bikers in attendance.” Just before 7 a.m., people began throwing bottles at the bikers at their campsite at the bottom of a hill to the left of the stage. A few bikers mounted up and charged, guns blazing. Three people were wounded, none seriously. People in the crowd estimated between 40,000 and 60,000 started leaveing, though I stayed to see Chuck Berry and Ravi Shankar. But after Iola, “the brief era of mass, multi-day festivals in Wisconsin was over.”

But back to Dick’s Picks Vol. 18, specifically February 3, 1978. Pigpen had died in 1973, and now the band had Keith Godchaux on keyboards and wife Donna Jean Godchaux on vocals. Before I even took out CD1, I studied the box to see if they did any of my faves, and sure enough, from the first Dead album came “Cold Rain and Snow,” though it was slowed down from the LP version, with a pretty guitar solo, but not as intense. Also from The Grateful Dead was a good job on “New Minglewood Blues,” from the Cedar Falls show.

The Madison gig also yielded a great “Good Lovin’,” and “Looks Like Rain,” which flowed from the first disc’s opening “Bertha.” This disc also had a couple tracks from the band’s in-between show Feb. 4 at the Milwaukee Auditorium, including an excellent take of “Dupree’s Diamond Blues.”

The second disc was all Madison, with a fabulous “Estimated Prophet” blending into “Eyes of the World” (the extended groove clearly showing the band’s avowed Coltrane influence), then merging into “Playing In the Band,” “The Wheel,” and back to “Playing In the Band.”

From the Iowa show came another favorite, “Deal,” also a terrific “Scarlet Begonias,” which fused into “Fire On the Mountain.”

So was it as good as I remembered? I can’t remember. But it’s really good. And when I finally looked at the booklet, I saw it had pictures from Keith Wessel, whom I worked with at The Madcity Music Sheet, and a review by the late Michael St. John, whom I also worked with at The Sheet as well as The Emerald City Chronicle.

So Dick’s Picks Vol. 18 essentially took me back to my beginnings as a writer. Onwards, now, to Siegel-Schwall ’70, which, by the way, is available thanks to my talking pal Tom Vickers into reissuing it and the entire Siegel-Schwall Vanguard catalog in a 2001 box set.

Here’s a fave track from Siegel-Schwall ’70: