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Rock Hall strives to right past wrongs with extra inductions

The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame made six last-minute (and, in fans’ opinions, long-overdue) additions to its ranks in 2012 with The Miracles, The Comets, The Famous Flames, The Crickets, Gene Vincent's Blue Caps and The Midnighters.

By Phill Marder

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
— Albert Einstein

Those responsible for creating the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame were trying something new. And certainly, there have been mistakes made since the Hall began naming inductees in 1986.

Two months after the Rock Hall unveiled its Class of 2012 Inductees, officials announced a second set of honorees: The Miracles, Bill Haley’s Comets, The Crickets, The Famous Flames, Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps and The Midnighters. All of these groups had been left out when their lead singers were honored, and the Rock Hall felt it was time to right that wrong.

For this, the HOF deserves a hearty round of applause. But have these efforts to correct mistakes set things right? Or has it created more mistakes?

Smokey Robinson and The Miracles

The Miracles, including Smokey Robinson. Photo courtesy Motown.

The rest of The Miracles catch up to Smokey Robinson
Inductees: Warren “Pete” Moore, Claudette Rogers Robinson, Bobby Rogers, Marvin Tarplin and Ronald White.

There was a lot of head scratching and outright screaming and hollering when Smokey Robinson was inducted as a performer in 1987 without The Miracles.
The head scratching was because the one criteria the Hall of Fame has: It must be 25 years since the artist’s first recorded efforts. Some said that disqualified Robinson. His solo career didn’t begin until the early 1970s, and The Miracles were not known, at least on record labels, as Smokey Robinson And The Miracles until the late ’60s.

But in 1960, The Miracles’ first hit, “Shop Around,” listed the artist as The Miracles (featuring Bill “Smokey” Robinson). So, The Hall of Fame got it right. Technically, 1987 had been 27 years since Robinson’s name first appeared on a recorded effort.

But what caused the screaming and hollering was another story, and a story the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame couldn’t justify under any circumstances. To induct Smokey Robinson without The Miracles demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge concerning The Miracles and pre-Beatles rock and roll in general.
Sure, Robinson was the lead singer, the primary songwriter and a corporate force in the Motown empire. No one would question his induction as a solo artist or in any other category the Hall of Fame should choose. But, under no circumstances could The Miracles be left out. They sang on the records, co-wrote many and danced up a storm onstage.

Why it took the Hall of Fame 25 more years to rectify this mistake is mystifying. Certainly, from the moment Smokey was inducted, the pressure was on from
numerous sources. Now the Hall of Fame has corrected this injustice ... at least in part. Bill Gordon, known as “Topkat,” has been one of the loudest voices protesting the Miracles’ snub on Goldmine’s web site. He’s happy now. But not totally.

In a recent comment on “Great Blogs of Fire,” Gordon asked “...what about Billy Griffin (who replaced Robinson)? He sang lead and co-wrote the biggest single and album the group ever had: The 2 million-plus selling No. 1 smash ‘Love Machine’ ... and the platinum album ‘City of Angels?’ Also the million-selling ‘Do It Baby’ and the R&B Top 10 hit, ‘Don’t-cha Love It.’ ”

Griffin was not an original member, but many current inductees were not original members of the groups with whom they were inducted. Case in point? In April, 32-year-old guitarist Josh Klinghoffer will be inducted with The Red Hot Chili Peppers — after appearing on only the group’s most recent album.

Bill Haley's Comets join the already-inducted bandleader
Inductees: Franny Beecher, Danny Cedrone, Joey D’Ambrosio (aka Joey Ambrose), Johnny Grande, Ralph Jones, Marshall Lytle, Rudy Pompilli, Al Rex, Dick (Boccelli) Richards and Billy Williamson.

Bill Haley and His Comets

When Bill Haley was inducted in 1987, “His Comets” were not included, though, for all intents and purposes, they were rock and roll’s first band. Perhaps the nominating committee couldn’t figure out which members to induct, as it is reported that there have been more than 100 Comets. This year, the Hall of Fame settled on the 10 listed above.

Just who played on “Rock Around The Clock,” the record that propelled Haley’s group into superstardom and brought rock and roll to the forefront of the music business, is still debated. Generally, credit is given to Billy Gussak (drums), Cedrone (lead guitar), Grande (piano), Williamson (steel guitar), Ambrose (sax) and Lytle (bass). Gussak and Cedrone were not Comets, but they were session players Haley had used on previous occasions.

Cedrone died in a fall in June 1954, never knowing the success “Rock Around The Clock” was to achieve the following year. Ambrose, Richards and Lytle quit in 1955, so they didn’t stick around to enjoy the breakthrough. Pompilli took over on sax, as did Jones on drums and Rex on bass. Beecher was added as the first lead guitarist to actually be a member of the group.

Prior to “Rock Around The Clock,” The Comets had recorded milestones, including “Rock The Joint,” considered by many the first rockabilly recording, and “Crazy, Man, Crazy,” arguably the first rock and roll record to hit the national charts. They also laid down “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” which climbed to No. 7.
The post-“Rock Around The Clock” group became even more popular, appearing in several movies and scoring chart records until 1960, including “Burn That Candle” and “See You Later, Alligator,” both of which hit the Top 10. In Britain, Haley’s crew fared even better, notching nine Top 10 hits between 1954 and 1957, including two separate appearances by “Rock Around The Clock.”

Why The Comets were excluded when Haley was inducted in 1987 is something only the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame can explain. Anyone who ever witnessed the group in person or on film is well aware of the dynamics that made The Comets a unique concert experience. Even the group’s 1956 album, “Rock ’n’ Roll Stage Show,” emphasized this was a group effort, with Haley having lead vocals on just four of the selections.

Now for the question. Cedrone was not an actual member of The Comets, but a session player. He played a major role in the group’s early recordings, for sure, and probably deserves induction along with the actual group members. But then why is drummer Gussak ignored? Yes, he was a session player, but he appeared on several of the Comets most important recordings, including “Crazy, Man, Crazy,” and probably “Shake, Rattle & Roll” and “Rock Around The Clock.” If Cedrone is inducted, why not Gussak?

Buddy Holly and the Crickets

The Crickets when they were just a trio, including (left) Buddy Holly.

The Crickets arrive in the Rock Hall 26 years after Buddy Holly
Inductees: Jerry Allison, Sonny Curtis, Joe B. Mauldin and Niki Sullivan.

The Crickets should have been a slam dunk as far as both induction and members are concerned. But that wasn’t the case on either count.

Buddy Holly was in the HOF’s first class in 1986. The Crickets were ignored. There is little doubt Holly was the focal point of this group. But there also is little doubt The Crickets were a group — not a backing band for a solo artist. And, this group appeared on releases on Brunswick as The Crickets and sometimes on Coral as Buddy Holly.

Allison, in particular, was a vital cog. At the dawn of rock and roll, there were few drummers who could have carried his sticks. Still today, he should be ranked among the greatest drummers of rock. As such, Allison helped to mold the sound of Holly and The Crickets. Allison’s accents kicked “That’ll Be The Day” into another gear. And would “Peggy Sue” sound the same without his unique tom-tom work?

Allison was so good, he and Holly played as a duo before The Crickets — predating The White Stripes, The Black Keys, The Kills and other current twosomes. But Holly and Allison did it without the aid of today’s modern equipment, which allows one player to sound like an orchestra.

Mauldin was top-notch on stand-up bass. Sullivan chipped in on rhythm guitar, and, like Allison, has several writing credits on Crickets’ material.
While there is no questioning Holly’s importance — some call him the most important figure in rock’s foundation — technically he released just two LPs in his lifetime. The first, “The ‘Chirping’ Crickets,” shows Holly on the cover with Allison, Mauldin and Sullivan. Holly’s name is not mentioned. Including the classics “That’ll Be The Day,” “Oh Boy,” “Maybe Baby” and “Not Fade Away,” this LP established the most popular template for future rock bands: two guitars, bass and drums.

By the time the second album, simply titled “Buddy Holly,” was released five months later, Sullivan had left the group; he appeared on just one cut. The trio of Holly, Allison and Mauldin was augmented by others on some cuts, but it was responsible for most of the disc that featured “I’m Gonna Love You Too,” “Peggy Sue,” “Listen To Me,” “Everyday,” “Words Of Love” and “Rave On!”

Now for the question. Why is Sonny Curtis inducted with the Crickets? Curtis was with Holly before the Crickets and replaced him after his death, but he really had nothing to do with the two albums recorded by Holly and The Crickets. A case could be made for Curtis to be inducted as a songwriter — he did pen “I Fought The Law,” “More Than I Can Say,” “Walk Right Back” and others — but his only real connection with The Crickets’ Hall of Fame credentials is his writing of Holly’s classic “Rock Around With Ollie Vee.”

James Brown and His Famous Flames

James Brown with some of the many members who can lay claim to having been in his backing group, The Famous Flames. Photo courtesy Arcadia Publishing.

Four Famous Flames will get Rock Hall listings with James Brown
Inductees: Bobby Bennett, Bobby Byrd, Lloyd Stallworth and Johnny Terry.

There were many Famous Flames and some maybe not so famous). Maybe there were not as many Flames as Comets, but whatever configuration was present, the Famous Flames played a major role in the stage presentation by James Brown, and, for those fortunate enough to have seen Brown live in his early years or in performances such as the “T.A.M.I. Show,” they put on an unforgettable show.

James Brown without his cape? Forget it. Not if the Famous Flames were around. And they usually were from 1953 until 1968, with Bennett, Byrd and Stallworth serving as The Famous Flames from 1958 until 1968, with occasional augmentation from Terry, an original member.

Actually, Brown had been an original member, too. And Byrd, who discovered Brown and served as his right-hand man through most of Brown’s career, recalled the group was not too pleased when Federal Records released “Please, Please, Please” with Brown’s name listed atop.

Now the above-named four will be listed with Brown in the Rock HOF.

While the Famous Flames were a great show and part of Brown’s success, were they more important than members of Brown’s band, possibly rock’s greatest? Shouldn’t some of the band members be recognized, too?

Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps

Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps. Publicity photo.

Blues Caps finally get their due alongside pioneering rocker Gene Vincent
Inductees: Tommy Facenda, Cliff Gallup, Dickie Harrell, Bobby Jones, Johnny Meeks, Jack Neal, Paul Peek and Willie Williams.

Gene Vincent, considered by some to be one of rock’s first pioneers, was not inducted until 1998, and even then, it was without his Blue Caps. But Vincent’s legend is much the result of revisionist history. He had a hot band, but most of his releases were not that successful. Vincent hardly wrote anything himself after penning his one classic, “Be-Bop-A-Lula” and had just two other major hits, “Lotta Lovin’” and “Dance To The Bop.”

While all three were great records, Vincent was unable to follow them up and virtually disappeared from the recording scene. In Britain, where he nearly was killed in the same car accident that took Eddie Cochran’s life, his legend grew, but he never had a Top 10 record in the U.K., and only one of his albums even charted.

Gallup is considered one of rock’s best early guitarists. Harrell, a top-notch drummer, stayed with Vincent from the beginning until 1958, but that was just a couple of years. Gallup’s stay was even shorter, as he and Williams left after the first album, although Gallup did return for studio work on the second album. Facenda and Peek basically provided hand claps on the 1957 sessions that produced Vincent’s second and third hits, and Facenda quickly left for a solo career that yielded just one hit, “High School U.S.A.”

By the time 1958 was over, most of Vincent’s Blue Caps — including Buck Owens (yes, that Buck Owens) — had been and gone.

How does Vincent qualify as a Hall of Fame inductee when an artist such as Jack Scott can’t even get a nomination? Scott also had a cracking band that was much more stable than Vincent’s, a great backup vocal group and more hit records on both sides of the Atlantic, most self-penned.

Hank Ballard and The Midnighters

Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. Photo courtesy Todd Baptista.

The Midnighters reunite in the Rock Hall with their lead singer, Hank Ballard
Inductees: Henry Booth, Cal Green, Arthur Porter, Lawson Smith, Charles Sutton, Norman Thrasher and Sonny Woods.

From the release of 1954’s “Work With Me, Annie,” a No. 1 R&B hit, The Midnighters churned out a steady stream of rhythm and blues hits.
Beginning in 1959, lead singer Hank Ballard drew top billing, as the record labels now read Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. The group’s biggest hits followed, including the original version of “The Twist,” written by Ballard, though its source has been debated.

Until 1962, when The Midnighters disbanded, Ballard never had a hit without The Midnighters’ name attached, and Ballard insisted he was part of the group. But when the Rock Hall called in 1990, Ballard was the only one inducted. Now, that mistake is corrected with the induction of the above-named group members. First known as The Four Falcons, then the Royals, the first recording lineup was Ballard; founder and guitarist Alonzo Tucker; Booth (singing lead); Woods and Sutton. Smith, an original member who had been drafted, returned to replace Sutton. Thrasher replaced Woods, and Green replaced Porter, who had replaced Tucker.

Why was Tucker left out, though he is credited with forming the original Four Falcons and was the group’s arranger and guitarist? Tucker did leave very early, eventually writing hits for Jackie Wilson, Gladys Knight and The Pips and others. But Porter, who replaced Tucker, was gone in less than a year, and he’s being inducted.

The Rock Hall still has other wrongs to right
E-Street Band, Silver Bullet Band, Wailers, Belmonts all deserve recognition

By adding the above members to the HOF, Rock Hall officials obviously re making an effort to fix earlier errors. At first glance, it appeared the HOF was concentrating on early period errors first, and, perhaps, would get around to consider later omissions — Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, Bob Marley’s Wailers — later on. But one glaring remaining omission from this era of artists throws that theory out of whack: What happened to Dion’s group, The Belmonts?

For a two-year period in the early 1960s, Dion And The Belmonts were unstoppable, and The Belmonts played a major vocal role in almost all of the hits, beginning with the classic “I Wonder Why.” Monster recordings of “A Teenager In Love” and the two-sided smash “Where Or When” and “That’s My Desire” are just the tip of The Belmonts’ accomplishments. While Dion went on to have a Hall of Fame career as a solo artist, the Belmonts also did OK, scoring hits with “Tell Me Why” and “Come On Little Angel” as well as charting with several other singles.

Many variations of The Belmonts continue to this day, with occasional reunions with Dion, but the original group, which consisted of Fred Milano, Angelo D’Aleo and Carlo Mastrangelo with Dion, should be inducted.

Phill Marder writes regular columns about the Rock Hall — particularly its oversights — for Goldmine. Click here to check out Phill's Great Blogs of Fire.