Genre still evolving as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame marks 25th anniversary
Lady GaGa could one day be recognized with the Rolling Stones as one of the greatest rock performers of all time.
There may be people who are fine with that. There likely are others who think that statement is one of the most ridiculous things they have ever read.
Don’t be so quick to judge. After all, one person’s musical preference can be another person’s musical trash.
Perhaps nowhere is the opinion of who is truly great in rock ‘n’ roll displayed more prominently than in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Twenty-five years ago, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation inducted its inaugural class. Iconic rockers Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley were among those recognized in January 1986.
Also in that class were Ray Charles, a soul musician, blending rhythm and blues with other styles, and Robert Johnson, a blues musician/songwriter in the 1930s, two musicians who don’t exactly fit the rock star image.
Even within that first Hall of Fame class, a debate could begin over the definition of rock ‘n’ roll and who belongs in the Hall of Fame.
A statement in the Hall of Fame’s “history and overview” at http://www.rockhall.com does shed some light on why Charles and Presley would be in the same class: One of the Hall of Fame Foundation’s “many functions is to recognize the contributions of those who have had a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuations of rock and roll” by including them in the Hall.
“Rock is one of those terms, like so many terms, that is used loosely,” said Trevor Adams of the local band the Jones/Adams Duo.
Adams, 36, classified the music he plays as rock, but he prefers people to listen to his group and make up their own minds instead of loving it or hating it just because it is rock.
“All it comes down to is, labels are silly, really,” he said.
Sean Flanigan, a 49-year-old musician and associate music professor at Mesa State College, went beyond labels and compared defining rock ‘n’ roll to a wild raspberry bush.
Imagine rock ‘n’ roll as the stump of the bush, and the branches are jazz, blues, soul, gospel and maybe even country, which are all genres thought to have inspired rock, Flanigan said.
As the bush gets older, all those branches grow and become intertwined, changing the shape of the bush.
Likewise, as rock ‘n’ roll grew as a genre, its musicians intertwined characteristics of the genres to create a unique sound.
Eventually, the raspberry bush has dozens of branches all dependent on each other but indistinguishable from the base, Flanigan said.
So it’s understandable that the Hall of Fame includes rockers such as Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, who used guitars, drums or bass to create a rhythm, and “rockers” such as Howlin’ Wolf or Run-DMC, who perpetuated the popularity of rock ‘n’ roll in their own way.
Run-DMC, a true hip-hop group inducted in 2009, rapped over rock beats and even collaborated with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way” to bring a whole different group of listeners to rock ‘n’ roll, Flanigan said.
“The lines have blurred,” Flanigan said.
But then, considering the first Hall of Fame class, the genre lines have been blurry for a long time.
At Triple Play Records, 530 Main St., owner Rock Cesario, 53, and his son Matt, 20, have grouped vinyl albums and CDs by genre. The largest classification is rock ‘n’ roll.
Even Cesario struggles to define rock. He thinks the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Tom Petty belong in a Hall of Fame, but he also can see the influence musicians such as B.B. King and Nat “King” Cole had on rock ‘n’ roll and understands their inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
“All this is entertainment,” Cesario said. “There is no reason to take this so seriously.”
So maybe — just maybe — when 2033 rolls around and Lady GaGa is eligible for Hall of Fame consideration — musicians aren’t eligible until 25 years after the release of their first album — her over-the-top showmanship and music video appeal may have influenced rock music enough to perpetuate the genre ... kind of like Alice Cooper Band, which earned enshrinement in 2011’s class and will be inducted in March. (The other inductees are Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Darlene Love and Tom Waits.)
“Maybe,” Flanigan said. “I’m not being judgmental.”