Inductee Bob Seger and backup singers Shauna Murphy, left, and Laura Creamer, right, pose backstage at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City in 2004. (Ed Betz / Associated Press)
Seger fans had to wait years before he was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. In this story, fans, critics and Hall of Fame nominating committee members have their say. Fan Eric Verona even launched a web site, rockthehall.com, to press the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to induct Seger.
The sleek, modern building looms over the waters of Lake Erie, a glittering beacon of rock 'n' roll glory. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is supposed to be the pinnacle of achievement in rock music: Work hard and some day your sweat-soaked bell-bottoms will be encased in Plexiglas in Cleveland. Well -- maybe. As the weeks tick away until the March 18 induction ceremony for the 2002 inductees in New York, there is growing anger over some omissions by the Hall of Fame nominating committee.
Specifically, after 15 years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is totally devoid of Detroit rockers, while many performers with lesser resumes from the East and West coasts and England have slipped in. Motown, rhythm and blues, and blues artists from Detroit are fairly well represented, and rightly so.
Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Martha Reeves, the Supremes, the Temptations and John Lee Hooker, among others, have their names carved into the Hall of Fame. But where is Detroit's own Bob Seger, Iggy Pop (or Iggy and the Stooges), Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Mitch Ryder or the MC5? Not to mention Jack Scott, the '50s rocker who blasted on the national scene out of Hazel Park.
Who is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year? The 2002 class includes Isaac Hayes, Brenda Lee, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Gene Pitney, the Ramones and Talking Heads. The induction of the Ramones alone angered rock writer (and former Detroiter) Dave Marsh enough to shoot off an e-mail essay to friends arguing that, of all the artists in the punk canon, Patti Smith should have been inducted before the Ramones. Get him going on the subject of Detroit rockers spurned by the Hall of Fame -- and duck.
"Iggy, Mitch Ryder, MC5, Nuge, Bob (Seger). Beats me why," says Marsh, who is on the nominating committee himself. "Trends, I guess. Or Anglophile stupidity about white music on the part of waaaaay too many nominators and voters. Those five were right off the top of my head, imagine if I put a little work into it.
"Every one of them belongs -- can you imagine a guitar gunfight between Nugent and Aerosmith? A face-off between Iggy and Bowie? A battle of the bands between the MC5 and the Velvet Underground? Rod Stewart trying to out-sing Mitch Ryder? Please. I try not to let this piss me off more than it has to, but it's really become an absurdity."
By Anglophile stupidity, Marsh means the attitude of many rock writers and executives who are apt to spurn the music of their fellow Americans in favor of British groups. They do revere all forms of black American music -- rightfully seeing blues and R&B as a cornerstone of rock 'n' roll. But of straight-ahead rock, it could be argued that music from England and the East and West coasts has prevailed.
Mainstream rockers who have made it into the Hall include Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Lovin' Spoonful, the Eagles, the Bee Gees, the Four Seasons, the Young Rascals, Simon & Garfunkel and Rod Stewart.
To be considered for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an artist's first release must have been 25 years ago. With his first national release, "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," out in 1968, Seger qualified back in '93. If you count his early singles like "East Side Story" (1966) he qualified in '91.
Campaigning for Seger
That Seger is not in the Hall of Fame has mobilized a Connecticut man, Eric Verona, to action and galvanized a raft of Seger fans nationwide.
Verona, 36, of Windsor Locks, Conn., has launched a Web site, http://www.rockthehall.com">www.rockthehall.com, which includes a petition Seger fans can sign, demanding that the Detroit rocker be installed into the Hall of Fame. The petition is set up so that each vote is linked to an e-mail address, and only one vote per e-mail address is allowed.
"I'm not just collecting signatures, you'll be able to see how many fans are from each state and how many are from each country," he says. "It's going to show that Seger's base of appeal is broad." Verona was 12 in 1978 when he first heard "Hollywood Nights" on a local radio station.
"First the drums got my attention, then when Bob started singing I was hooked for life," he says. "In 1980, I used to run my mouth off to all the Pink Floyd fans at my school when 'Against the Wind' knocked 'The Wall' out of No. 1 on the Billboard charts."
Since July, Verona has run http://www.segernet.com">www.segernet.com, a gathering place for Seger fans from all over the world. The Internet has brought them together, and they're spoiling for a brawl with the Hall of Fame.
For Linda Baker, 54, of Bellaire, Mich., Seger's music has been her solace since high school.
"He appeals to the common people, because he tells life stories. He's got me through so many of my life's up and downs," she says. " 'Jody Girl' got me through turning 30, then he got me through moving up north and leaving all my friends. I played his songs during childbirth. And he's still getting me through."
"Springsteen gets all the recognition, Seger gets all the sales," says another fan, Paul Dunn, 32, of Windsor. "It's a crime that Seger's not in, but Tom Petty will be," Dunn adds. "Part of this is his own fault for not doing Letterman or Leno, but his music speaks for itself. What if Seger was born in New York or New Jersey, would he be the megastar? His songwriting is second to none. The lyrics he writes, the guy is a poet."
It's all about who you know
Dunn is one of many fans who suspect favoritism might play a role in some nominations, like that of the Ramones.
"Isn't it kind of odd that their former record company president (Seymour Stein) is the head of the nominating committee?" Dunn scoffs.
Brenda Lee's induction particularly irks Verona.
"She was a tremendously talented artist, but her forte was as a country singer," says Verona. "According to the Rock Hall, induction criteria includes 'the influence and significance of the artist's contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock 'n' roll.' Those are 'ands,' not 'ors' -- Brenda Lee did not develop and perpetuate rock 'n' roll!"
Pressed for a comment, Seger's manager Punch Andrews says "Great!" when told about the petition drive to get Seger into the Hall of Fame.
But rocker Jack Scott expressed the feeling of most of the musicians snubbed -- he's not going to make a big deal about it.
"I think the Hall of Fame is an important thing," Scott says, "but when people tell me I should be in it, I always respond by saying I don't want to be pushed into a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If I'm ever inducted, I should go there because I'm worthy of it and people think I should be there."
Danny Fields is a former editor of 16 and worked with Iggy and the Stooges when he was at Elektra Records. Thus this member of the nominating committee feels intensely that Ypsilanti's Iggy Pop deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
"Iggy was nominated, but the voting body has rejected him. I don't know why. That's a failure."
Does the nominating committee care what the general public thinks? Suzan Evans, executive director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, says she sends petitions on to the nominating committee.
"I do advise the committee about letters we're getting. We have research that they're presented with about all the eligible artists, and I tell them about any petitions that we get or well-written letters outlining somebody's credentials. Quite honestly, it's information they know, but I feel if somebody goes to the trouble of putting this together, it deserves to be passed on."
Playing the game
Others are skeptical that petitions have any impact at all.
"It's likely to work against them," claims Fields. "The nominating committee don't consider themselves swayable by mass mailings."
"I would love to see Seger in the Hall of Fame," says Jim Johnson of WCSX's JJ and Lynne morning show. "But it's very political, it depends on who plays the politics. Seger and (manager) Punch (Andrews) don't play that game."
Johnson and WCSX had launched a campaign in 2000 to get Seger into the Hall, to no avail.
"I was disillusioned," Johnson admits. He invited Marsh on his show to talk about how political the process is. "It's who you approach, and how you approach them. But I don't want to be cynical -- who knows, maybe we can create a tidal wave of support?"
Johnson doesn't think there's an intentional bias against Midwestern rockers. Neither does Fields. "When you see who gets in, you throw your hands up in the air as far as taking it seriously," says Fields. "I don't know why Aerosmith is in and Kiss is not. If there was a pro New York bias, Kiss would be in."
But others believe flannel-clad rockers from the flyover zone are being snubbed.
Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, is one.
"While it would appear to be democratic, the people who run the Hall of Fame exert a subtle but very strong influence in many ways," says the Chicagoan. "Sweaty garage rockers from Detroit, among many other deserving artists, are excluded while certain big-name celebs get in not only for their band accomplishments, but for later solo success, regardless of their perhaps marginal merits."
Among the people who oversee the Hall of Fame are Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone and the driving force behind getting the museum built back in the 1980s. But ultimately, does the Hall of Fame even matter? DeRogatis votes no.
"I agree with Groucho: Any real rock 'n' roller would not want to belong to a club that would have him as a member," says DeRogatis.
"Iggy, Seger and the MC5 et al, should just ... know that their place in rock history is assured regardless of whether or not they're ever enshrined in that ludicrous glass pyramid."