Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum
by Lisa McDonald
Live Music Head
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. is a nonprofit organization
that exists to educate visitors, fans and scholars from around the world
about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music.
It carries out this mission through its operation of a world-class museum
that collects, preserves, exhibits and interprets this art form
through its library and archives as well as its educational programs.
Museum admissions, memberships and store purchases
support the efforts to educate the world
on the social significance of rock and roll.
~ mission statement, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
In the city that gave birth to rock and roll, it was raining on Good Friday 2011. It was also Peter Frampton’s birthday when we visited the state of Ohio, my friend and I, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum in downtown Cleveland.
12 years in the making, the House that Rock Built officially opened in Sept of 1995 and covering 150,000 square feet off the shore of Lake Erie, the Hall is seven floors high, comes equipped with five theatres, interactive listening stations, and eighteen permanent exhibits. Knowing this, I was concerned the four hours left in the day would be enough time for us to see it all. So, at the first display of early musical influences and the roots of rock and roll, I tried not to linger too long.
In the late 1940s, while working at WAKR in Akron, Ohio, disc jockey Alan Freed met Leo Mintz, the owner of the Record Rendezvous, one of Cleveland's largest record stores. Mintz encouraged Freed to play his records on the radio. Alan Freed is the same disc jockey commonly referred to as the "father of rock and roll"; a disc jockey that belonged to that special group of early radio personalities who were as important to the community as the artists they spun. Alan Freed is also credited as the one who coined the phrase "rock and roll”. The history of Freed, Mintz, radio, and the evolution of the record player can all be learned about in-depth at the Rock Hall. You will also see a Columbia Harmony Portable Junior Hand Crank phonograph, circa 1920, and Sun Studio’s Wurlitzer Spinet Piano Model 2100 used on recordings such as Jerry Lee Lewis’ Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and Great Balls of Fire, as well as Matchbox by Carl Perkins.
On a television monitor hanging above, I saw that other DJ too, the KWK DJ who was celebrating record breaking week. The clip was originally aired on television around the time John Lennon claimed the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. And today just happens to be the day Christ died for our sins. “Rock and roll has got to go!” says the KWK guy, as I stroll past glass cases that house and display Clarence Gatemouth Brown’s 1951 Fender Esquire, Howlin’ Wolf’s 1952 Kay K-161 electric guitar along with his 1968 Porkpie hat and battered old money case, Muddy Water’s 1958 Fender Telecaster electric guitar, John Lee Hooker’s 1965 Gibson ES335, and Hank Williams’ 1950 wool coat hanging alongside his Nudie Rodeo suit. No, it seems rock and roll is here to stay because I suddenly heard the voice of the King, and it stopped me dead in my tracks.
Below a very large screen showing the 1972 concert film Elvis on Tour, sat Mr Presley’s 1975 Lincoln Mark IV 2-Door Coupe, purchased by the King from Schilling Motors in Memphis the same year. Elvis was on the screen singing the Willie Nelson-penned tune Funny How Time Slips Away as I got a good look at the pinstripe detailing of the car and the letters TCB (Taking Care of Business) embroidered in the fabric of the front seats. The licence plate read ELVIS0. And when I heard the marching drum of American Trilogy, it didn’t matter that I’ve seen that concert film, and heard the song a million times before. I got very emotional. Suddenly it was gospel hour on Easter weekend compliments of the King, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Before picking up the pace again, I spent time looking through the glass display at the King of Spades jumpsuit and Elvis’ 1974 Grammy Award for Best Inspirational Performance (How Great Thou Art). Although I’m not a believer in organized religion, I was raised to be a Catholic and perhaps this is why I was so moved at this display more than any other, on the Easter long weekend. It’s also worth noting that in additon to the Elvis car, the Hall also has Janis Joplin’s 1965 Porsche 356c, and the red ZZ Top Eliminator car.
In the neighbouring city of Akron, did you know that Chrissie Hynde has her own vegetarian restaurant? We didn’t have time to make the drive, but the Girls on Film: 40 Years of Women in Rock display was playing Brass in Pocket overhead, as I thought about the frontwoman of the Pretenders and viewed all the images of the female icons on the wall. Further along, I smiled looking up at Little Richard’s jumpsuit, circa 1970. How can anyone not smile thinking about the great “architect of rock and roll” otherwise known as Richard Penniman? But I also found myself thinking about two tragedies in music, as I looked up at Tammi Terrell’s 1967 sparkling silver dress with purple and white feather boa hanging beside Marvin Gaye’s 1972 white suit jacket.
Johnny Cash’s 1955 black suit designed by After Six Formals hung under glass with the 1969 boots he wore on his television show. And then I saw Jim McCarty’s autographed 1967 drum head, and the suede jacket he wore the same year. I had the pleasure of meeting the drummer of the Yardbirds a couple of years ago in Toronto, and I have to say, he is a lovely man.
I read the 1966 Notice of Application Permit granted to rock promoter Bill Graham allowing him to be a Dance Hall Keeper, tacked to the wall of San Francisco memorabilia. And I couldn’t believe the Rock Hall actually has a sheet of undipped blotter acid with an R Crumb design that was once in the possession of Janis Joplin. And just when I was thinking no San Francisco rock display would be complete without something by the Grateful Dead, there it was, Ron “Pig Pen” McKernan’s 1964 mando-banjo.
The Los Angeles display had a custom guitar once played by Gram Parsons, and a pink dress that Mama Cass Elliott wore in 1967, donated by Mama Michelle. And you know that black dress that Stevie Nicks wears on the cover of the 1977 Rumours album? Well, that was on display too. As was a t-shirt from 1970 that said, “Patti Smith Group Salute” and a pair of Sid Vicious boots, designed by SEX. The word SEX is also seen stitched across the waistline of James Brown’s 1970 black jumpsuit. And I thought about having sex as I stared at Al Green’s leather pants, the same pair of pants he wears on the cover of the 1975 album, Greatest Hits Vol 1.
There’s a school boy outfit that was worn by AC/DC guitarist Angus Young, circa 1985. And directly below Levon Helm’s Gibson model F-4 mandolin, cira 1921, were the handwritten lyrics of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, which reminded me that I had the pleasure of meeting the songwriter, Robbie Robertson, only a few weeks ago in Toronto. Aside from the man’s great music, I really like The Band member’s storytelling in general.
The beaded and feathered leather vest worn by Sly Stone, circa 1970, and the handwritten lyrics of Into The Great Wide Open by T Petty and J Lynne were also there to behold. A display of Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull showed his Artley 18-0 flute from 1975 and close by were the see-through shirts worn by the Bee Gees in 1978, oh my! And then suddenly my nose was less than an inch away from the outfit that Led Zeppelin’s bassist John Paul Jones wore in the 1973 film, The Song Remains the Same. I was an enormous Led Zeppelin fan for a time, completely obsessed with Robert Plant, and went to see said concert film at Toronto’s Music Hall every weekend as a teen/twenty-something for I don’t know how long. The film was the first thing I ever purchased on VHS, and I still have it along with an updated DVD copy. Needless to say, this concert film is ingrained in my mind and it was definitely way cool to see that Jonesy outfit.
There’s a quote written on the wall at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that says...“People deserve the truth. They deserve honesty. The best music is essentially there to provide you with something to face the world with”. And the words are credited to Bruce Springsteen. Now the Rolling Stones may have claimed the title of Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World, but to me that title belongs to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band because those New Jersey boys truly capture all that is great about rock and roll, particularly the romance. The Boss made a personal visit to the Hall a few months ago. He dropped by to check out the special exhibit the Hall presented of him earlier in the year. Gosh, I wish I’d come here that day!
Ian Hunter has a 1973 Kawai KG26 black piano on display and Gregg Allman’s Hammond B3, circa 1976, is also among the items of this great collection of music history. A groovy display of costumes worn by Bootsy Collins and George Clinton is directly across the way from The Who display which includes the white shirt that Roger Daltrey wore when he visited the doctor in the rock opera film, Tommy. And a few suits worn by David Bowie during the 1972-73 Ziggy Stardust period are also cool to see. But as you can imagine, Michael Jackson’s torn and frayed red and black jacket worn in the hugely popular video Thriller, got a lot of attention. As did the sparkly white glove he wore during the 1992 Dangerous tour, propped up on its own stand.
I checked out the handwritten lyrics of Walk This Way by Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler and Joe Perry, but I slowed the pace considerably when I arrived at the Jim Morrison display. Seeing his artwork up close was one thing, but it was his 1944 baptismal certificate, his 1950 boy scout uniform, and his 1961 high school diploma that I found interesting. And notable especially, once again considering it was Christ’s weekend, an Easter love note that Morrison wrote to his mother in 1954, along with his death certificate indicating cause of death as “unknown”. Morrison’s Last Will and Testament was also on display, clearly indicating he left everything to Pamela Courson.
Jimi Hendrix was a painter? I don’t ever recall seeing the works of art by the guitar god that the Hall had on display. But rock guitarists who visit the Museum must love seeing the Jim Hendrix 1970 double neck Mosrite that he used on the Axis Bold as Love recording. At the Beatles display, I found Paul McCartney's grey suit from 1963, but only the jacket of John Lennon from the same period. John Lennon’s 1960 black leather jacket however, the one he wore during the Beatles’ Hamburg period and on the cover of the Rock and Roll album, was there. As was Lennon’s 1967 Sgt Pepper uniform, his British passport, green card, and the wire-rimmed glasses he wore in the 1966 film, How I Won the War. And the Hall even has George Harrison’s 1962 Rickenbacker 425 electric guitar.
Gigantic characters from Pink Floyd's The Wall were hanging above the escalator on the way to the third floor, and it was then I became completely overwhelmed. One would have to spend a week in the Hall to absorb even half of it. But I got excited to see the platform boots Alice Cooper wore on the 1973 tour, and the noose he used to hang himself on stage. Cooper has four albums that I rate in my top 5. I also think he has one of the greatest voices in rock. So it was cool to see Alice Cooper finally get inducted to the Hall just last March. The other recent, and very important inductee, was Tom Waits who also had a few items on display: a black hat designed by Dobbs, black jeans designed by Johan Lindenberg and a pair of beat up black boots, alongside a 2008 25-watt megaphone and tenor banjo, circa 1920. And the handwritten lyrics of Get Behind the Mule. I would really liked to have been at the induction ceremony of these two, along with the other 2011 inductees, Neil Diamond and Leon Russell, when it happened in NYC last March at the Waldorf Astoria.
We noticed a few films playing in different theatres throughout the Hall, but we didn't have time to sit and watch any of them. For instance, U2 in 3D was 90 minutes long. Approaching the top floor of the Hall, we learned it was closed as the staff of the Museum were preparing for another special exhibit, so we decided to take in a refreshment or two at the Rock and Roll Cafe. After that, we went shopping at the Rock and Roll Store, where I bought Bruce Springsteen on a t-shirt, along with a really cool mouse pad, coasters, and a fridge magnet in the shape of a guitar.
I’ve only touched on a smidgeon of what we saw at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I highly recommend every music fan make the trip to Cleveland. And another reason to visit the birthplace of rock and roll would be for the people. We met some of the friendliest folks in that city. Cleveland really does rock!