The latest crop of inductees was announced yesterday by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Once again, it honored musicians who just aren't rockers.
There are a lot of non-rock Hall-of-Famers in house. So why not change the name to reflect the fact that its directors want the museum to represent more of the spectrum of American music?
Dr. John, New Orleans piano legend, whose body of work really is more jazz than rock, was inducted into the 2011 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tom Waits? More of a blues man.
When you include past inductees like Miles Davis (Jazz), Ray Charles (R&B/Soul), Louis Armstrong (Jazz), Aretha Franklin (R&B), Johnny Cash (Country), B.B. King (Blues), Big Joe Turner (Blues), Otis Redding (Soul), John Lee Hooker (Blues), Bobby "Blue" Bland (R&B/Soul), Booker T. & The MGs (Blues), Sam & Dave (Blues), Etta James (Blues & Jazz), Bob Marley (Reggae), Al Green (R&B), Parliament (Funk/Soul), Buddy Guy (Blues), and Jimmy Cliff (Ska/Reggae), you are trying to capture the essence of American music, not just Rock, which draws its roots from many of those sources.
You also have groups and artists from the Rolling Stones to Stevie Ray Vaughn to Eric Clapton who move back and forth from rock to blues, sometimes on the same album.
All of these artists deserve recognition. So do many many more artists from Jazz, The Blues, Bluegrass, Country, Electronic, Pop, Rap, Reggae, Ska, etc.
Country has its own Hall of Fame, as do a few of the other forms in much smaller venues. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, though, which was founded in 1983, opened in 1995, has become the iconic home of American music which best represents a real-world focus on the amalgam of musical styles under the big "Rock" umbrella that remains the center of the American musical universe, with all of the other musical influences that surround and feed it.
A Jazz section might also recognize legends like John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, and Charlie Parker. The Big Band leaders from Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller to Count Basie, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington.
It would be nice to lift the "Early Influences" label off of some of the Hall's stars and let them be part of the big music universe as well. There would be little of the style and format of solos without Dixieland and without Louis Armstrong.
Blues man Elmore James is not an also-ran to Rock. His was an amazing career in a form of music that has been tapped by Rock, but owes nothing back to it.
The only other egregious sin of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been its slavish devotion to DJ Alan Freed, who has a major section on the birth of rock and roll in the Hall's museum. That whole section needs to be revised to put the Cleveland home boy in his proper place.
Without the TV influences of Ed Sullivan (Not a Member), Dick Clark (1993), "Soul Train"'s Don Cornelius (Not inducted), and The Tonight Show's longest running host, Johnny Carson, you might be saying "Who are The Who?" These arbiters of teenage tastes put many acts on the map, and killed off as many more that didn't make the grade in their books. While Clark is in the hall, try and find much on him, on Soul Train, or the other taste-makers of television there. It is like talking about the Civil War, but omitting Abraham Lincoln because James A. Garfield was a Civil War hero from Cleveland.
The Hall is a 6. I like it, but it's a little off of its beat, and you have trouble dancing to its tune. To be the Smithsonian of modern American music, it needs not just to riff off of Miles Davis and the other non-rockers, but to embrace the bigger picture of American popular music and bring all of it under one distinguished roof.
My shiny two...