CLEVELAND — Michael Jackson might have been the first to moonwalk that way, but it was the members of Aerosmith who walked into history as the big stars of the 16th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions.
Tom Hamilton, whose tenure as the Boston band's bass player has exceeded 30 years, thanked his parents, saying, "I promise when I finally get this out of my system, I'll go to college!"
Aerosmith and Jackson — who did no moonwalking, thanks to a cast on his broken foot — were among 11 inductees honored at Monday's ceremonies, held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. The others were Steely Dan, Queen, Paul Simon, Latino-rock pioneer Ritchie Valens, doo-wop greats the Flamingos, and R&B legend Solomon Burke. In the second round of sidemen inductees, Chuck Berry keyboardist Johnnie Johnson and "chicken-pickin'" Elvis Presley and Rick Nelson guitarist James Burton gained entry, and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell was inducted in the non-performing category. Both Jackson and Simon, who already entered as members of the Jackson 5 and Simon and Garfunkel, respectively, were honored for their solo work.
Induction duties were handled by a varied array of stars. Perpetual toastmaster Bono praised Blackwell, who brought Bob Marley and reggae music to the mainstream; 'N Sync recognized Jackson, and Kid Rock hilariously rapped about Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Hamilton, Brad Whitford and Joey Kramer. Foo Fighters Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins both lauded and performed with Queen's Brian May and Roger Taylor (an ailing John Deacon was unable to attend), with Grohl making for a credible Freddie Mercury stand-in. Marc Anthony sang Simon's graces; Four Seasons falsetto Frankie Valli recalled the Flamingos' heyday; and Moby made sure the world knew the source of erudite jazz rockers Water Becker and Donald Fagen's band name — a dildo in William Burroughs' seminal beat novel Naked Lunch.
R&B songstress Mary J. Blige inducted Burke, while Latino sensation Ricky Martin honored the late crossover pioneer Valens. Keith Richards, who spearheaded a campaign for the creation of the sidemen category, affectionately recognized Johnson and "Suzie Q" riffman Burton. Wearing a glittery black jacket, Richards said his opportunity to induct Burton and Johnson was "the reason I am here — and sporting this jacket — that's how important it is to me."
Simon thanked a long list of inspirations and influences, including "Art Garfunkel, for sharing the early days of our success."
"The sound of his voice with mine was how I imagined the songs I wrote," said the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" author. "I regret the ending of our friendship and I hope one day before we die, we will make peace with each other."
He added, "No rush."
Jackson also delivered a long list of thank-yous, mentioning his current guru, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and "Berry Gordy, Berry Gordy, Berry Gordy, Berry Gordy." Jackson, the youngest inductee into the rock hall, hobbled backstage with 'N Sync to pose for photos but refused to answer questions.
Steely Dan, in contrast, posed questions to the audience, asking, "Who was the original drummer in the Mothers of Invention?" Someone shouted out the right answer (Jimmy Carl Black) and got a "very good" from Becker.
While inducting Queen, Taylor Hawkins recalled, "Queen were my first concert, and every concert since has been a bit of a letdown." Dave Grohl added that he once told an interviewer after playing in front of 250,000 people "that if you want to learn how to connect to an audience that size, you either watched the pope or Freddie Mercury."
Inducting Chris Blackwell, Bono said, "For some, music is an excuse to make money. For others, money is an excuse to make music." Among his thank-yous, Blackwell singled out former Spencer Davis Group and Traffic member Steve Winwood, "the cornerstone of Island Records," as well as Blackwell's home country, Jamaica.
Saving the best for last, Steven Tyler zinged possibly the greatest line of the night. Just before delivering his own rhyming speech, in which he thanked everyone from The Beatles, Stones, and Kinks to Nat King Cole, the Pretty Things, God, Louis Armstrong, and Clive Davis, he said, "I wonder if this'll put an end to 'Hey, aren't you Mick Jagger?'"
As they joined the show-ending inductee jam (which included self-proclaimed sideman Richards, Robbie Robertson, Bono, Melissa Etheridge, Blige, Jann Wenner, Dion, and assorted others), Aerosmith seemed thrilled that its career as America's Stones was validated at last.
For a commentary on the Rock Hall by ABC Radio's Al Mancini, click here.