By Hans Morgenstern
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By Julie Seabaugh
These names also feature heavily on the RARHOF board of directors -- which immediately tells you something about the (and the folks who can afford the $1,500-$2,500 tickets to the ceremony, held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel). In other words, Shawn Fanning won't be nominated anytime soon. When Gail Zappa was told she could have two free tickets to the event the year her late husband was inducted, she replied that there were five people in the immediate family. "[They] said, 'Well, we can sell you additional tickets at $1,500 apiece ... but you can't sit together,'" she recalled later. "I just laughed. He said something about nonprofit organizations, but they can kiss my ass about nonprofit organizations, especially when they were going to exploit it as a TV show."
Zappa requested that Johnny "Guitar" Watson induct her husband, but her request was denied. "I asked them who chooses these things, and I was told 'the board,'" she said. "I asked if there were any musicians on the board, and, more importantly, are there any black musicians? They had to call me back, and they replied, 'Yes. One. Berry Gordy.'"
To be fair, Quincy Jones and Antonio "L.A." Reid are included on the very long list of directors. They join mostly record execs, plus a promoter or two, VH-1 head John Sykes, lawyer to the stars Alan Grubman and damn near every living industry-based "nonperformer" inductee (including last year's Clive Davis and this year's Chris Blackwell). Lots of these people are more responsible for the era of Mariah Carey and the Backstreet Boys than they are for the things rock & roll celebrates -- which helps explain why the late Paul Ackerman (editor in chief of Billboard magazine from 1943-73 -- yeah, I actually hadda look it up) was a "nonperformer" inductee five years before Beatles producer George Martin.
The weird thing, though, is that once the nominations are made -- by a 15-member committee named by the board -- close to 1,000 international voters are sent ballots. Unless the decks are being stacked, these voters have scarily mainstream tastes. This year, the nominees who didn't get inducted include Black Sabbath, the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Lou Reed (solo) and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Black Sabbath was first nominated back in 1997, and although it's true that Ozzy Osbourne's wife/manager, Sharon, asked that the band be removed from consideration because "it's not voted on by the fans," thereby pissing off a few people, it's also true that few bands have been as influential as Sabbath. The editor of No Depression magazine once said that even more than Gram Parsons, today's alt-country bands love Lynyrd Skynyrd. And c'mon -- there's no way that pretentious little pipsqueak who was inducted once before as half of Simon and Garfunkel (as well he should have been, even if he did talk with a Liverpudlian accent throughout their set at the Monterey Pop Festival) and who's been a less-than-stellar collaborator with everyone from Artie to Los Lobos (and who remains so pretentious that he actually had a sign-language interpreter onstage during his set opening for Bob Dylan at the Hollywood Bowl two summers ago, leading to bets as to whether the interpreter would remain onstage and throw her hands up in dismay two songs into Dylan's set) has been more important in his rapidly declining solo career than Iggy and the Stooges were and continue to be.
"Well, it's interesting, because those bands are nominated," says Suzan Evans, a pleasant person who's been the executive director of the RARHOF Foundation since its 1983 inception. "It just takes a while for those bands to get enough votes to get inducted. And I don't know -- maybe it's just [because] the voting bloc is international and much broader than the nominating committee. That could be the reason. But, overall, we're optimistic that everyone who deserves to be inducted will eventually be inducted. Even depending on your particular taste in music, I don't think anybody can really find fault with the artists who have been inducted so far. And we do keep updating the voting list. We put new blood in every year. We try to grow it, and at the same time, we do delete some people for whatever reason. But it's kept very new.
"People try to lobby all the time, and, of course, we're always interested in hearing people's opinions. But ultimately it doesn't have an effect on the nominating process, because the members of the nominating committee have extremely strong ideas and they're so knowledgeable that they already know all the information that could possibly be given to them."
One person who lobbied heavily for Ritchie Valens' induction was Del-Fi Records head Bob Keane, who discovered and recorded the Pacoima, Calif., native during his eight-month career. For the past several years, every Del-Fi album and reissue has included a postcard to return to the label to be included on a petition for Valens' induction. When Valens perished in the plane crash that also claimed Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, he actually had the biggest hit, "La Bamba" (which noninductee Lester Bangs once credited as containing the three chords that launched punk rock). Beyond the fact that you can draw a straight, direct line connecting Valens with ? and the Mysterians, Santana and Los Lobos, if rock & roll truly was for teenagers (especially in the '50s), then Valens, 17 when he died, was the real deal.