At first glance the black-tie fete in the magnificent ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria looked much like any other New York gala: With a covey of meticulous waiters in attendance, a thousand guests who had paid $300 to $1,000 for their meal tickets feasted on smoked Colorado river trout at candlelit tables bedecked with pale pink tulips. But any resemblance to a debutante cotillion was imaginary; this was rock’s night to honor the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and by midnight, the joint was jumping.
After the postprandial ceremony marking the contributions of Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and posthumously those of Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke, an hour-long jam session erupted. Lewis and Billy Joel traded piano licks on Roll Over Beethoven, accompanied by Berry, Keith Richards, John Fogerty and Neil Young. Julian Lennon joined Berry on Reelin’ & Rockin’, and Chubby Checker sang The Twist to the revelers who—true to rock tradition—had begun boogying in the aisles.
“This is a triumph of the native subculture over the establishment,” crowed Atlantic Records chairman Ahmet Ertegun, one of the industry bigs who helped launch the nonprofit Hall of Fame Foundation. Ertegun said that the new foundation will boost America’s scruffiest art form by establishing a permanent museum and archive (in a city yet to be selected) as well as bestowing Hall of Fame awards annually. “Rock is the world’s favorite music, and the people who were inducted were great pioneers,” he declared.
The performers on hand had nothing but praise for the notion. “It’s about time rock had a place of its own,” said Billy Joel. “It’s as much a part of our culture as baseball.” Added Don Everly, 49, “Rock ‘n’ roll deserves this—it changed the world, didn’t it?”
It was Rolling Stone Keith Richards who offered the most oblique tribute to the honorees. Said he, “It’s great seeing the guys you’ve worked with and run into in motels on the road, looking far worse than they look tonight.”
Also elevated to the Hall of Fame were such rock “forefathers” as blues singer Robert Johnson, C & W legend Jimmie Rodgers, pianist Jimmy Yancey, producers Sam Phillips and John Hammond and broadcaster Alan Freed. Lauding the idea of recognizing the country’s greats before they fade away, Hank Williams Jr. said, “Rockers have to have somewhere to go. Not all of them have happy endings. If they can’t have money, at least they can be remembered.”