Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation
1290 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10104
13 August 2003
Re:An Induction Nomination
Dear Rock & Roll Music Lovers,
I am writing to all of you as voters for R&RHoF induction. Better yet, I am begging you. I have no pride in this matter. I must do all that I can.
I will withhold the name of my nominee until later in my letter in the fervent hope that you will read it (at least quickly) before drawing any conclusions. Pardon the length. I’ve used 13 font and 1.5 line spacing to ease your read.
I’m 51 years old. And, I acknowledge that we’ve all been around the block with rock/rock and roll. For every story I have, there are thousands of guys/gals who have 10. Please bear with me. This isn’t about bragging. This is about credentials as a fan. Fair-weather pop fans love to say that knowledge and discernment are pomposity. They are wrong. There are reasons why each of you has been chosen to vote in this process. It is because of your experience, taste, and judgment.
I saw Chubby Checker when I was 9. My buddy and I stayed 'til everybody was gone, except a security guard, and we tried to grab the bamboo “limbo bar.” A guard said “No.”
I grew up in Rutherford, NJ in the 60s and 70s. It was home to the first campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University, eight (8) miles from Times Square. There were concerts at FDU. As grade-school kids, we’d climb in basement windows, or janitors would let us in back doors. In the FDU gym, early on, I saw the likes of Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels, The Box Tops, Jay and the Americans, The Four Tops, and Vanilla Fudge.
Picture and hear this, I still do. The curtain opens, it’s completely dark, barely any lighting except amplifiers on stage, the Detroit Wheels, 7 or 8 players in black tuxedos in a row, each standing on his own round black pedestal lined with 2 hoops of neon lights, one row red, one row green at their feet. They launch into the most richly orchestrated, ascendant, brass instrumental rendition of Summertime that I can imagine. I was about 13. Many years later, I saw The Asbury Jukes’ horn section create a similar experience, opening a Southside Johnny show with an instrumental Goldfinger at Stanford University in Palo Alto. It was unforgettable.
In the early 60s, we listened to Bruce Morrow, Dan Ingram (my favorite) and Scott Muni on WABC AM and later Muni, Rosco, J. Schwartz, Alison Steele, and Zach (the best) on WNEW FM.
Let me move it along. I drove to Woodstock. When they closed the NY Thruway, we went west and circled in from the other direction. We stayed to see Jimi on Monday morning. I think that says it all. There is way too much to tell. So, I won’t.
I was 17. By the way, what ever happened to all of the Woodstock footage?
Before and after Woodstock, I went to the Fillmore East regularly, then the Academy of Music (later The Palladium) on 14th St. I saw bands like the Grateful Dead and Yes in theaters when they were warm-up acts. We went to all the other NYC places including: Max’s KC, Country Blue Grass Blues (CBGB), Radio City, The Beacon, Bonds, Tramps, The Bottom Line, The Bitter End, The Other End, Central Park and MSG. I saw some legendary shows at the Garden: 2 of the 3 dates recorded for Zep’s The Song Remains The Same, several Stones shows, Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray, the Ronnie (?) Lane tribute (I apologize, I confuse the several Lanes) featuring his fellow Yardbirds: Clapton, Page and Beck, the Atlantic Records celebration, the Dylan tribute, the Concert for America after 9/11 and, of course, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
I saw a few concerts that maybe only those of us who attended consider legendary, but assuming many of you are Classic Rock fans, how about these 4? : The Stones at the Capitol Theater, Passaic, NJ; The New York Dolls, Queen, and headline Mott the Hoople at the Uris Theater, NYC; Yes, King Crimson, and headline Procol Harum at the Academy of Music (Palladium) NYC, (it is unbelievable how many people I have met over the years who say they were at this one); and CSNY at Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ, the night Nixon quit. They announced his resignation from the stage and then played Ohio 3 times.
Over the years, I have continued to go to concerts to explore bands outside of my age comfort zone, but, as happens to most of us, with age, contemporary music starts to slip off the radar screen.
Since Motown and the early Beatles, pop music has never greatly appealed to me. It doesn’t today. In fact, pop was very much a political/cultural counterpoint to rock in the late 60s, early 70s. Do you remember the term “underground radio?” WABC-AM wasn’t playing Country Joe and the Fish’s Fixing to Die Ragor David Peel and the Lower East Side’s Have a Marijuana.
As to pop, if the Hall of Fame dedicates an entire floor to Britney’s training bra, that’s fine. I understand the need for contemporary relevance. There will always be the occasional catchy pop tune, although I could care less(= US usage for 'I couldn't care less') about synchronized dancing. Let me restate, I find it very interesting and entertaining, but it is only a distraction from a musical performance to me. Where are the musicians during the video performance of those songs? There are musicians?
Which brings me again to what is special to me, Classic Rock. Classic Rock was never popular music. We tend to forget that. We think of rock and pop all together, to the great detriment of Classic Rock artists. Rock bands rarely sold records in numbers anywhere near pop artists. Just look at the list of Grammy winners during the heyday of rock in the late 60s and early 70s to see where rock stars fit in. They didn’t. And, if music isn’t popular in its own time, then when can it be? The answer for Classic Rock has been, when it becomes classic, which means when a wider audience has eventually come to accept it.
True, there was the occasional “cross-over” hit like Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, which I think made it as high as #3 on WABC’s top 10. However, even though Classic Rock has been nauseatingly assimilated all around us in boomer nightclubs, on so-called Classic Rock radio, and even in commercials, the vast majority of Classic Rock remains dormant and unexplored.
So, I am asking you not to be solely influenced by the popularity contest when considering non-pop classic rock. If popularity were a legitimate yardstick for greatness, prime beef would be measured by the Big Mac and beer would be measured by Budweiser. So too, the sweetest sounds aren’t played under the brightest spotlight.
Although popularity certainly counts, it is one of the least valid criteria for judging art, such as music. Many artists starve. In fact, we know that historic prospective is much more valid than contemporary acceptance. Intelligence, craft and wit must be appreciated, not scoffed. Mozart really was better than the Sex Pistols. That’s OK for Wolfgang. We can love them both.
Classic Rock is as discrete, distinct and delineated a category as experimental jazz. Even Heavy Metal has its own categories in some polls. Yet, somehow, we all seem to take Classic Rock for granted. It just gets associated with pop music, where no other distinct type of music can compete. That’s why it’s called pop. It’s popular by definition. Should the lively Hey Macarena be the sole Hall of Fame representation of Latin Music? Of course not, Latin Music has its own categories.
So, I come to address The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It should be a haven, a home field for Classic Rock. Past inductees have not been limited to the great 50s Rock & Roll stars such as Elvis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. It’s R&B, Surf, Blues, Jazz, Folk, Country and Classic Rock. There have been many Classic Rock inductees and there will be more.
Yet, there are at least another 50 or 60 forgotten Classic Rock bands that deserve consideration. Of course, they do not all deserve induction.
However, there was and is much more to Classic Rock than The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Steely Dan, The Grateful Dead, The Allman Bros., Fleetwood Mac, Santana, Cream, U-2, ZZ Top, Aerosmith, and The Who.
There is a long list of Classic Rock bands, some still around, some gone, that recorded numerous successful albums, that filled arenas for years, and, in some cases, that continue to fill theater and amphitheater venues today. These bands, mostly British, include The Kinks, The Young Rascals, King Crimson, Traffic, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, Ten Years After, Mountain, Black Sabbath, The Band, Genesis, The Strawbs, Humble Pie, and Yes. Several of these bands have already been, or will be, inducted. I can’t help but think that The Kinks were probably inducted because they had a few hit singles in the 60s, when they created so much more. Have you listened to Celluloid Heroes lately?
All of the above considered, only one of all these great bands also recorded the most recognizable song of all time before going on to Classic Rock immortality, and that’s PROCOL HARUM. The song is A Whiter Shade of Pale. But, that was only the beginning. They recorded at least ten (10) albums, plus lives, and released several “best ofs.”
My friend’s wife found a letter I sent to him when we were freshmen in college in Spring 1971. It said that I had just seen Ten Years After at The Spectrum. You may remember how hot Ten Years After was following their incredible Woodstock set.
I wrote that TYA was great, but that PROCOL HARUM blew me away. I’m very proud of that.
I saw PROCOL HARUM perform A Whiter Shade of Pale and other great songs, together with most of their 2003 CD, The Well’s On Fire, at a sold-out Bottom Line in NYC on May 9, 2003. The band’s performance was as fresh and moving as one 30 years ago. Except for Bruce and E-Street, I am hard-pressed to say that about any other early Classic Rock “band” performing today, including The Stones, with all due respect. There were several prolonged standing ovations during the performance.
It’s very difficult for me to put my appreciation of PROCOL HARUM’s body of work into words. Thankfully, the recordings are still available. The band doesn’t feature soloists. Rather each member subordinates to the group, weaving keyboards and guitar with unique percussion, tunes and lyrics to tell wondrous tales, punctuated by great riff-based rockers.
PROCOL HARUM is my favorite Classic Rock band (The Band too), and I’ve damn near heard and seen them all, several times. I know I said that they don’t cultivate superstars, but greatness shines through. The late BJ Wilson has been rated rock’s best drummer in some polls. He remains my favorite. Long-time lead guitarist, Robin Trower, is one of a handful of legendary rock guitarists, Gary Brooker, piano/vocals, gets drafted by every first-rate Classic Rock All-Star group that tours, and Keith Reid’s rock lyrics are only rivaled by Taupin and Lennon/McCartney.
The only reason that I can figure why the electors have overlooked PROCOL HARUM to date would be a lack of familiarity with the band’s substantial catalogue of material. Because, to know them is to love them.
It almost seems as though they have been treated like “one-hit wonders,” when, in fact, I would be writing this same letter if they had never recorded A Whiter Shade of Pale.
And, I don’t know how to address that staleness issue. Is it possible for any of you, who have experienced the 30–40 year evolution of rock, to now explore recordings from the 60s and 70s with the same youthful anticipation and excitement you had as a teenager? The answer is that I’m counting on your maturity, experience and judgment to prevail. That’s my whole proposition.
Please listen to what PROCOL HARUM has recorded during 35 years. However, if you absolutely must take a shortcut, I’m going to go out on a long, thin limb to suggest just a few songs that I believe mark the vast range, but certainly not the depth, of great ballads and 3-minute rockers this group has produced. This is not my place at all and is clearly no way for me to suggest that you judge a lifetime of musical composition and performance. But, there must be an introduction or a reintroduction.
First, please listen to A Salty Dog from the album of the same name. Play it several times over a week or so. As with any slower tune, it must be savored. Feel the storyteller’s sadness tempered with pride. Listen to Whisky Trainfrom Home, Simple Sister from Broken Barricades, and/orBringing Home the Bacon from Grand Hotel. They are among the best three-minute rockers ever.
If you enjoy not-too-dry wit, you must try A Souvenir of London from Grand Hotel. Conclude with Sly Stone’s favorite song, another title track, Shine on Brightly.
Also, please visit www.procolharum.com
Luckily, in addition to recordings, the band’s current lineup has been performing together for a decade and is currently on an extensive world tour. As I said, they have a new CD too.
YOU’VE GOT TO GO SEE AND HEAR THEM! And, bring the person you love the most. It’s that good. They will be performing many dates throughout the remainder of this year.
It actually amazes me that we all still have the wonderful opportunity to see PROCOL HARUM performing at the top of their game. Who else? The memory of the May show is still with me.
In addition, I understand that bands receive invitations to play at certain Rock and Roll Hall of Fame festivities. If you love Classic Rock, do yourself a favor. This is the real thing. Sometimes, you just have to accept somebody’s word for it.
There are very few things in life about which I am so passionate. But, obviously, you must appreciate PROCOL HARUM’s music for yourselves. If you don’t, then I understand that you may rightfully disagree with my opinion.
There is nothing I can say except that familiarity with PROCOL HARUM’s numerous standards is a start, and one live performance is the key. It’s a sound and emotional equivalent of standing directly in front of a Rembrandt. It’s not just a painting of somebody’s head and shoulders. But, what it is, I can’t describe with words any more than I could describe Miles Davis, the man or his music. Give PROCOL HARUM some piece of your undivided attention. The reward will be all yours.
Thank you and kindly confirm that I sent this letter to the right address and that the voters saw it, etc. E-mail is good.
LPeterBaumann@aol.com (who adds, 'I called the foundation and spoke with a very nice lady, who said that she would copy and distribute it to the voting membership. I never did verify what happened.')
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