Article 1991-01-16 New York City, NY


NEW YORK, JAN. 16 — David Crosby turned out to be the actual bearer of the news at tonight's sixth Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Ballroom here.

"Well, ABC has just announced an air strike against Baghdad," Crosby told an up-to-then rowdy media gathering just before the ceremony. The reaction was stunned silence, quickly followed by a few clumsy questions about 12-string guitar directed to fellow Byrds Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman.

Ultimately, the ceremony to induct the Impressions, the Byrds, Wilson Pickett, LaVern Baker, John Lee Hooker, and Ike and Tina Turner into the Hall of Fame was held up for only an hour in deference to President Bush's address to the nation. Elektra President Bob Krassnow told the crowd, "This acknowledgment is by no means an affirmation of his policy," adding that "Edwin Starr stated it so eloquently: 'War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.' "

For a few minutes before the president's address, the black-tie audience of 1,200, which included Bruce Springsteen and his wife, Patty Scialfa, Bonnie Raitt, New Kids on the Block, Sting, Tracy Chapman, Quincy Jones, ZZ Top, Bobby Brown, Don Henley, actor Richard Gere and dozens of other stars and music business bigwigs, sat under dimmed lights listening somberly to Peter Jennings on an audio feed from ABC News. A large screen was lowered center stage at 9 p.m. and came to life just as the president started to speak. Mostly there was silence, with mild applause only when Bush listed the air strike targets and again when he promised the U.S. troops "will not be asked to fight with one hand tied behind their back."

There had been some backstage debate as to whether the $1,250-a-plate dinner and induction should be postponed or canceled, but Sire Records President Seymour Stein, another Hall of Fame board member, suggested somewhat halfheartedly, "This is rock-and-roll and the show must go on."

Still, the energy level didn't rise to a full boil until the traditional show-ending jam, which included a number of sterling combinations. LaVern Baker, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Khan and John Fogerty ripping through Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," Ike and Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" and a literally show-stopping pair of Wilson Pickett songs, "Mustang Sally" and "Midnight Hour." For those few moments at least, the full house was thinking rock-and-roll, not real life.

Even before last night's strike on Iraq, it was going to be a bittersweet evening: Ike Turner remains in prison following a 1989 conviction for narcotics possession, and Tina Turner didn't show up; David Crosby was there in a wheelchair following a motorcycle accident; Wilson Pickett was fogged in at an airport somewhere and couldn't make the ceremony.

And Curtis Mayfield of the Impressions remains in an Atlanta hospital, paralyzed from the neck down after an onstage accident last fall. Still, Mayfield appeared through a special satellite hookup. "If it weren't for the Impressions, I would never have seen my dreams nor counted my blessings," Mayfield said quietly before evoking several of his most inspirational songs. "I love you all, everything's going to be all right and I'd like to say that I'm improving and we're still a winner … keep on pushing."

There was a brief pre-ceremony contretemps when original Impressions Richard and Arthur Brooks, who appeared on only a few early singles, were challenged as inductees by 30-year Impressions Sam Gooden and Fred Cash. Luckily, original lead singer Jerry Butler, who went on to a successful solo career and who has just begun a second term as Cook County commissioner in Illinois, managed to smooth assorted ruffled feathers. "I think everybody should be in the Hall of Fame," Butler said. Of the nominating committee, he added, "They just got caught trying to kill a bunch of birds with one stone."

Birds of another feather reunited for the first time in many years when the Byrds — Crosby, McGuinn, Hillman, Gene Clark and Michael Clarke — were inducted. "I was just a bongo player on the beach once and now I'm a rock-and-roll Hall of Famer," said an exuberant Clarke. The Byrds then performed three classic songs, including a moving rendition of the biblical "Turn! Turn! Turn!" with its line of timely purposes ending with "a time for peace/I swear it's not too late."

Also inducted as non-performing record industry professionals were veteran King/Federal producer Ralph Bass and New Orleans R&B cornerstone Dave Bartholomew. And inducted posthumously were blues singers Jimmy Reed and Howlin' Wolf, and pioneering record executive Nesuhi Ertegun.

New jack swing superstar Bobby Brown, who inducted the absent Pickett, said "I'm glad Wilson Pickett was out when he was out — he would be too much {competition} for me and I don't think I could deal with it." Like Brown, Pickett was known for his frenetic dancing as well as his soulful singing.

As for the Hall of Fame, it is still planned for Cleveland, but the exact location and the price have changed and the opening date (1993) is still only penciled in. Buddy Holly's entire career was shorter than the planning of this I.M. Pei-designed museum, which will move from the site chosen in 1987 to a new, larger site on the Lake Erie waterfront, with the cost estimates jumping from $48 million to $70 million (some $44 million has already been raised, most of it from public funds). One industry veteran, requesting anonymity, suggested the Hall be moved to Tokyo now that Japanese companies own two of the five major music conglomerates, CBS Records (recently renamed Sony Music) and MCA.

"Just as long as they keep the dinner here in New York."

At the press conference earlier, Atlantic Records CEO Ahmet Ertegun, son of a Turkish diplomat and a founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, came on to talk about the still unbuilt Hall of Fame, unaware the bombing had started.

"They're bombing now?" Ertegun asked incredulously after someone shouted out the news. "I hope that not too many people die. It's not exactly what we're here to talk about but I wish all of you who have friends and relatives overseas, I hope everybody comes home safe."

"I'm in shock," said Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, like Ertegun a founder of the Hall of Fame. "This was taking place against the background of potential war …" Wenner couldn't continue just then. Later, he would read the entire lyrics to Jackson Browne's anti-war song, "Lives in the Balance." Among the lines: "I've been waiting for something to happen, for a week or a month or a year …"

By Richard Harrington via The Washington Post.
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