George Harrison, Prince, Traffic, ZZ Top, Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, the Dells and Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner were welcomed into the ranks of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Monday night (March 15) during a gala ceremony at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Highlights from the event will be broadcast Sunday by VH1.
Decked out in a debonair white suit and black shirt, Prince kicked off the evening’s proceedings by leading an ace eight-piece band through “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Sign ‘O’ the Times” and “Kiss,” The latter track was teased with the horn-driven introduction to the Sam and Dave-popularized “Soul Man.”
Just ahead of a new studio album and a major tour, which he claims will feature some of the final performances of his classic hits, the artist was celebrated as “one of our greatest inspirations” by OutKast during their induction speech. “Prince Rogers Nelson,” group member Andre 3000 said. “The name … it’s just powerful!” Added Alicia Keys, “There are many kings, but there is only one Prince … only one man who has defied restriction, defied the obvious and all the rules of the game.”
“When I first started out in this music industry, I was most concerned with freedom: freedom to produce, freedom play all the instruments on my records, freedom to say anything I wanted to,” Prince said during his acceptance speech, referencing his frequent creative battles with the labels that have released his music. “After much negotiation, Warner Bros. Records granted me my freedom, and I thank them for that.”
Cautioning the scores of acts that have looked to him as a musical example, Prince noted, “Without real spiritual mentoring, too much freedom can lead to the soul’s decay. And a word to the young artists: a real friend and mentor is not on your payroll. I wish all of you the best on this fascinating journey. It ain’t over.”
And Prince’s night didn’t end there. After the ceremony, he performed an exclusive show for members of his NPG Music Club at New York’s Club Black.
George Harrison, was inducted by his Traveling Wilburys bandmates Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. “He often said he wasn’t pursuing a solo career at all. He just loved playing music with his friends,” Petty said of Harrison’s post-Beatles years. “He was never preachy — he led by example. He was a truly great man.”
Lynne and Petty were joined by Steve Winwood on organ and Harrison’s son Dhani on guitar for the Wilburys’ smash hit “Handle With Care,” followed by Harrison’s “White Album” staple “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Prince emerged from the side of the stage to join in on the latter about halfway through, unleashing an extended solo.
Earlier in the evening, Winwood took the stage with U.K. rock combo Traffic and showcased his lead guitar skills on a jam-laden version of “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” accented by soulful organ accompaniment from Randall Bramblett. Although principal member Dave Mason joined Winwood and drummer Jim Capaldi to accept their awards, he did not perform until the closing jam.
Noting the potent psychedelic content of Traffic’s catalog, inductor Dave Matthews said, “As a little kid, I thought they wrote really great music about cartoon characters. When I was in my early 20s, I realized they were seeing cartoon characters, probably!”
In his induction speech, Bruce Springsteen saluted not only Browne’s “great songwriting,” but also his ability to draw arenas full of good-looking women to his concerts. “While the E Street Band and I were sweating our asses off for hours just to put some fannies in the seats,” Springsteen said with a chuckle, “Jackson is drawing more women than an Indigo Girls show!”
“Music is a very empowering thing and I’m happy to have had a lifetime to do it,” Browne reflected. “Thank you for this job and thank you for this honor.” The artist went on to perform “The Pretender” and his 1976 No. 11 Hot 100 hit “Running on Empty.”
Seminal Illinois R and B vocal group the Dells dedicated their honor to the O’Jays, the Manhattans, the Whispers “and our homeboys the Chi-Lites,” before performing their 1956 classic “Oh, What a Night” backed by the Paul Shaffer-led house band.
On the heels of an induction speech as off-beat as one would expect from the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, Texas rock trio ZZ Top rocked through the familiar head-nodding grooves of “La Grange” and “Tush.”
Kid Rock saluted Seger as “the most overlooked musician of our time. Being from Michigan, raised north of Detroit and still living there today, Bob Seger’s music not only influenced me, it taught me to be proud of where I come from Bob Seger is the voice of the working man and living proof of the American dream.”
After a short speech in which he thanked his Silver Bullet backing band and staffers at his longtime label, Capitol Records, Seger rattled off the slow-burning “Turn the Page” and “Old Time Rock’n'Roll,” one of the most enduring rock hits of the past 25 years.
Rolling Stone’s Wenner, who is also the vice chairman of the Rock Hall’s executive board, was feted by Mick Jagger as “one of the first music critics who understood what we as artists felt. Jann almost single-handedly pioneered the idea of rock’n'roll as a vibrant art form. It was Jann and his staff that elevated our music to a place where it enjoys the status of other musical forms.”
The evening wrapped with the traditional all-star jam, this time on Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Rock and Roller” and Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright.” While the Dells crowded around the mic, Kid Rock harmonized with Browne as Richards traded licks with ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons.