Moody Blues, Cars, Bon Jovi light up 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions

Moody Blues, Cars, Bon Jovi light up 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions

CLEVELAND, Ohio – “It’s My Life.’'

Well, technically Saturday night at Cleveland Public Auditorium was the celebration of Jon Bon Jovi’s life, and that of his bandmates as the biggest name in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 33rd annual induction ceremony.

But the fact is that when the Rock Hall brought in Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Nina Simone, the Cars, Dire Straits, the Moody Blues and – of course, Bon Jovi – it was bringing in all of us.

No less than Howard Stern realized that in his speech inducting his friends in Bon Jovi.

“It sure looks like hell has frozen over,’' the historically reclusive Stern said. “The man who never leaves home, me, Howard Stern, is in Cleveland.’'

But his best line – and maybe the most apropos – was reserved for a shot at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame co-founder and Rolling Stone publisher, Jann Wenner, whose opposition to the band that’s sold 130 million albums worldwide is almost legendary:

“Another sign of the zombie apocalypse,’' Stern quipped. “Jann Wenner finally let Bon Jovi into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.’'

Ironically – or maybe not so ironically – Wenner was not present for this year’s inductions. In years past, he has delivered the opening statement. This year, that fell to Rock & Roll Hall of Fame President and CEO Greg Harris.

But it couldn’t take away from the event – and may actually have added to it, since the “love’’ for Wenner at previous ceremonies has been pretty much non-existent.

That gave an added oomph to the inclusion of Bon Jovi.

In heartfelt speeches, the members of the band recalled their early days of struggle – including Bon Jovi’s start pushing a broom at his uncle’s recording studio – and being almost dead broke, sharing an apartment during the start of the recording for their second studio “7800 Degrees Fahrenheit.’' That record solidified the band as a marketable commodity. Had it not been for that one, the follow-up, “Slippery When Wet,’' with songs like “Livin’ on a Prayer,’' “You Give Love a Bad Name’’ and “Wanted Dead or Alive’’ might not have been there.

Of course, the early highlight was a pair of songs honoring the most deserving inductee in the Class of 2018, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes and Felicia Collins, probably best known as a member of David Letterman’s band, absolutely killed on “The Natural Facts’’ and “Strange Things Happening Every Day.’'

Howard’s sassy vocals have earned her Grammy nominations and awards, and made her the true star of the guest musicians . . . until Collins picked up her guitar. Both women have a special connection with audiences, and pairing them was, to be honest, probably the smartest move the induction organizers made.

Of course, the induction of the Cars – which featured Lakewood-born Ben Orr on bass and vocals and Maple Heights High School graduate Ric Ocasek – got a well-deserved ovation.

Ocasek, in paying homage to his friend Orr, who died of cancer in 2000, noted how odd it was the be on the stage and inducted into the Rock Hall without Orr.

But it wouldn’t have been a Cars performance without some trademark dry Ocasek wit.

“Ben was supposed to be the lead singer and I was supposed to be the good lookin’ guy in the band,’' the lanky, angular Ocasek quipped. “But after the first couple of gigs, I kind of got demoted to songwriter.’'

But what great songs! And they shared them with an appreciative home audience. “My Best Friend’s Girl’’ had all the pizzazz of its MTV years. But even better was hearing “Moving In Stereo’’ and realizing – and remembering – how complex and dark the song was.

The Cars, Dire Straits – who did not perform, as brothers Mark and David Knopfler chose to skip the ceremonies – Bon Jovi and others clearly made it in music, despite the hardships inherent in a musical career (probably more peewee football players make the NFL than wannabe musicians who get into the Rock Hall). But none had a tougher road than Nina Simone.

Andra Day, perhaps one of the best up-and-coming R&B singers, was aided and abetted by Questlove and the Roots as they perfectly captured Simone’s defiant nature, a nature that saw her struggle in the era when the civil rights struggle led to marches by Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young and even her younger brother, Samuel Waymon. Waymon, in a rambling homage to Simone, who died in 2003, said she had asked him to “pick up the torch’’ for rights and for music, but it was Day’s soaring and powerful “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free’’ that gripped the heart and soul of anyone fortunate enough to hear it.

Lauryn Hill also teamed up to pay respects to Simone, with a solid version of her French song, “Ne Me Quitte Pas,’' which means “Don’t Leave Me’’ as well the piano-driven “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.’' But she missed the boat with “I’ve Got Life,’' which heavily borrows from Simone’s “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life,’' but got right back on board with Simone’s “Feeling Good.’'

“The Moody Blues are not cool or ironic,’' said Hall of Famer Ann Wilson of Heart. “They’re not a construct. There’s a beautiful honesty in the poetry.’'

“Days of Future Passed,’' Wilson said, took rock ‘n’ roll into the realm of art.

“Tonight, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame finally honors what 70 million listeners have known,’' she said.

Ironically, the oldest band was last to go in, and that wasn’t lost on Moody Blues drummer Graeme Edge.

“I’m not going to make a long speech,’' he said. “I’m 77 years old!

“But I do want to thank Justin (Heyward) and John (Lodge) for putting up with me for 50 years and counting . . . and I’d like to thank me for putting up with Justin and John for 50 years and counting.’'

The key phrase there?

And counting.