CLEVELAND — The New Jersey kids were back together for one more time Saturday night.
It was an emotional night as Alec John Such, Richie Sambora, Tico Torres, David Bryan, and Jon Bon Jovi were reunited for the first time since 1994 in a four-song set after they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Public Hall.
Also inducted were the Cars, Dire Straits, the Moody Blues, and Nina Simone. Sister Rosetta Tharpe received a lifetime achievement award.
But it was clear, from the time that Jon Bon Jovi arrived on the red carpet to squeals of delight from hundreds of women clad in rain coats or huddled under umbrellas, that the New Jersey super group was the main star of the night.
Sambora left the group unexpectedly in 2012, and prior to the ceremony, Desmond Child, who wrote many of Bon Jovi’s biggest hits with Bon Jovi and Sambora, including “Livin’ on a Prayer,” got emotional before the show, saying that “I’d love to see them back together.”
Richie Sambora shows off the induction trophy for @bonjovi for being a new member to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “This thing’s about 20 pounds!” #RockHall2018 @rockhall @SIRIUSXM @hbo #bonjovi pic.twitter.com/eGxrDe9h3U— Brian Dugger (@DuggerBlade) April 15, 2018
But Sambora was back being Bon Jovi’s right-hand man Saturday night, breaking into an extended guitar riff on “You Give Love a Bad Name” and using his voice synthesizer to introduce “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
It was somewhat surprising that Bon Jovi was the first group to be inducted, but Howard Stern had joked on his radio program that he cut a deal with the Rock Hall to ensure that he was able to give his induction speech first so that he could get to bed at a decent hour.
After an opening tribute to Tom Petty by the Killers, including “American Girl” and a chorus of “Free Fallin,” Stern delivered an at times emotional but mostly humorous speech.
“These guys sold 130 million albums. That’s such a big number,” Stern said. “The Bubonic Plague killed 50 million people. About 625,00 died in the Civil War. That is all peanuts compared to 130 million albums.”
After belting out a vocally challenged “Wanted Dead or Alive” and leading the crowd in a singalong, Stern thanked all of rock ‘n’ roll, then turned toward his longtime friends.
“These guys are a band of brothers joining their fellow musicians in the hall,” Stern said. “It is my honor to induct you.”
Each member of the band then delivered a speech, and Bon Jovi’s stretched about 20 minutes. He closed by thanking his wife, Dorothea, saying “I just want to make you tea and tell you that I love you.”
Backstage, Bon Jovi turned to his band: “These guys, they gave me their lives. We all set out to do something, and we accomplished it. It is a very special night.”
After Bon Jovi’s set, Dire Straits was inducted in a strange moment by its own, bass guitarist John Illsley, who acknowledged the uniqueness of the decision.
But Dire Straits has been embroiled in controversy since their nomination.
Last month, lead singer Mark Knopfler expressed frustration with the Rock Hall to a Cleveland reporter in an online forum, saying that he was refusing to come because the Hall would not pay his travel expenses.
Illsley told the crowd that Knopfler’s decision not to come was a “personal decision.”
The ceremony, which will be aired on May 5 on HBO at 8 p.m., was the 33rd induction ceremony, but only the fifth in Cleveland, and the city rolled out the red carpet with a series of events leading up to the ceremony. A heavy rain dampened a major concert and celebration in downtown during the day, but the red carpet event drew hundreds who were willing to brave the rain.
Saturday morning, awaiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions ceremony, Joe Milliken reflected on the time when Ben Orr and Ric Ocasek lived in Ann Arbor in the late 1960s.
“They were really struggling. They both worked at this hip clothing store — Jeanswest, I was told. Ric had gotten hired as a manager, and he hired Ben so they could go in the back room and practice their music,” said Milliken, who will be releasing a Cars biography, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, in November. “But, they were really struggling because they wanted to play their original material, but the bars wouldn’t let them play it. They wanted the hit covers. Sometimes they’d play their own stuff, and the bars would boot them out.”
Saturday night, Ocasek’s belief in his music was vindicated as the Cars entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Orr died in 2000 of pancreatic cancer, but his son, Ben, was on hand to celebrate his father’s achievement.
The Cars appear backstage. Rik Ocacek: “First time I played in front of crowd was at a place by Case Western Reserve University. Played up about a block away and here I am now all these years later. #rockhall2018 #thecars @SIRIUSXM @HBO @rockhall @thecarsband pic.twitter.com/WS6c4BCNAm— Brian Dugger (@DuggerBlade) April 15, 2018
“Ocasek found his silver and gold in Benjamin Orr right here in Ohio back in 1964,” Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the Killers, said in his induction speech of a band that had already charted several hits before he was born in 1981.
But he said the Cars provided him entertainment while growing up in a small Utah town in a Mormon household.
Before beginning their set, several members of the Cars paid homage to Orr.
“How fitting that we are in Cleveland, Ben’s hometown. Without Ben’s innate talent and rock star good looks, we wouldn’t be up here tonight,” keyboardist and saxophonist Greg Hawkes said.
One of the most powerful moments of the night was the induction and tribute to Nina Simone, who died in 2003. Mary J. Blige spoke, before ceding the microphone to Simone’s brother, Nyack Sam Waymon, who told stories about their upbringing and his sister’s refusal to conform to what others expected her music to be.
Andra Day, backed by The Roots, performed several Simone numbers, including “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” Day was then joined by surprise guest Lauryn Hill, who was simply wonderful on “Ne Me Quitte Pas.”
Throughout the weekend, Moody Blues fans were evident throughout the city, so it should not have been surprising that the Rock Hall saved the longtime group to close the ceremony.
Graeme Edge was entertaining in his acceptance speech: “I’m not going to give a long speech. I’m 77 years old. I don’t have the time,” he said.
The sellout crowd of more than 6,000 buzzed with excitement as the group readied to perform a strong set, highlighted by “Nights in White Satin” and the closer, “Ride My See-Saw.” After 54 years, the Moodies are still consummate entertainers.
One day earlier, Bernie Karr, a board member for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation and a former Toledo attorney, looked over a crowd that was crammed into the Rock Hall, hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the inductees.
After sharing induction years with New York and Los Angeles, Cleveland will now get the program every other year.
“This is like Cleveland’s Super Bowl,” Karr said. “Even if you hate rock ‘n’ roll, you should love the Rock Hall because it’s such a great asset for the community.”
It was hard to disagree after a magical night and a weekend when Cleveland was the center of the rock universe.
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