By Brian Ives
A big part of the excitement around the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony is the presenters. A well-chosen presenter can lead to great moments: we’ve seen this over the years in speeches made by Alicia Keys (for Prince), Kendrick Lamar (N.W.A.), Lars Ulrich of Metallica (Deep Purple), Michael Stipe of R.E.M. (Nirvana), Questlove of the Roots (Hall and Oates), Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters (Rush), and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine (KISS), among many others.
Sometimes it can lead to a great on-stage jams as well: think Eddie Vedder fronting the surviving Doors, or Bruce Springsteen playing rhythm guitar behind John Fogerty after he presented Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Other times, though, things get awkward: last year’s induction ceremony led to a Steve Miller/Black Keys beef that no one saw coming.
Here, we take a look at who we think may get the call from the Hall of Fame to speak at the ceremony this year (it takes place at April 7, 2017, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York).
Pearl Jam: They’re a band who have always taken what they do seriously, and always have done it on a huge level. Just like Bruce Springsteen, who has given great speeches at the event over the years (he’s presented Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Roy Orbison, Jackson Browne and his own E Street Band). Although the thought of a singer who uses a backing band may not sit well any Pearl Jam members not named Eddie Vedder. Perhaps having Bono and the Edge from U2 (who Pearl Jam opened for in the ‘90s) would be a better choice. But the best choice of all would be Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic. In the ‘90s, there was a slight rivalry between Pearl Jam and Nirvana; Kurt Cobain famously blasted Pearl Jam in a Rolling Stone interview. His opinion on the band later thawed out a bit, but Nirvana’s surviving members presenting Pearl Jam would be a great moment.
Tupac Shakur: It’s a short ride from Queens to Brooklyn (traffic permitting) and Nas would be a great choice. He paid tribute to ‘Pac at VH1’s Hip-Hop Honors in 2004, performing “Keep Ya Head Up,” and later did a posthumous collaboration with him (“Thugz Mansion”). But another great choice could be Greg Jacobs, aka “Shock G” aka “Humpty Hump” of Digital Underground, the group where Tupac got his start in the rap game. Janet Jackson would be a great choice: she co-starred with Pac in 1993’s Poetic Justice; although she might be bummed that she wasn’t voted in this year (she was on the Rock Hall’s ballot as well). But if we were booking, we’d try to get Tupac’s friend/collaborator/Death Row labelmate Snoop Dogg, and maybe even invite Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, the head of Death Row’s one-time rival label Bad Boy (and more significantly, friends with Pac’s one-time friend-turned-arch-enemy the Notorious B.I.G.).
Related: Chris Squire, Remembered
Yes: The band’s late bass player and leader Chris Squire once told this writer that if Yes was to be inducted, he’d love to be presented by the members of Rush, who have been outspoken fans of Yes for decades (and Rush is already in the Hall of Fame). Surely Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson (if not the notoriously press-shy Neil Peart) would love to pay tribute to their heroes. And hey, Geddy could fill in on bass as well.
Journey: Last year, matchbox twenty’s Rob Thomas gave an amazing speech about Chicago. He’s often cited Journey as one of his favorite bands, so surely he could make it to Brooklyn for the chance to hang with, and maybe sing with, his idols. Another good choice? Sopranos director David Chase, who used “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the last scene of the HBO series, despite hard protests by his musical director (who happens to be Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee member Steven Van Zandt).
Electric Light Orchestra: Sadly, the guys you would have wanted to book, no longer walk this earth. George Harrison was a friend and collaborator to ELO leader Jeff Lynne; Lynne produced his comeback album, Cloud Nine, his swan song, Brainwashed, and they were bandmates in the Traveling Wilburys. The late Sir George Martin produced the Beatles, who were quite obviously an influence on ELO, and he would have been a great choice as well. But perhaps the Rock Hall could get Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to present ELO. Not only because they inspired them, but because they shared time on radio playlists throughout the ‘70s; Lynne has also produced solo records for McCartney and Starr, and also produced the Beatles “reunion” recordings in 1995 and 1996.
Joan Baez: Of course, you’d want it to be Bob Dylan. But if he doesn’t have time to accept a Nobel these days, would he make time to present an award to another artist? Other good choices would be Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, or Steve Earle, who produced Baez’s last album, 2008’s Day After Tomorrow.
Nile Rodgers: His production resume is pretty incredible: Duran Duran, Madonna, David Bowie, and perhaps Beck (if he ever gets around to releasing his next album). Someone who appreciates all of those artists, and who would be sure to make a great speech, would be Lady Gaga. Alteranately, Diana Ross, who redefined herself as a solo artist with Rodgers’ help in the ‘70s, would be a great choice too.