The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame welcomed its first members from the new wave and punk eras on Monday night, inducting The Ramones and Talking Heads along with classic rockers Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, soul and R&B icon Isaac Hayes, versatile vocalist Brenda Lee and singer/songwriter Gene Pitney.
Legendary guitar sideman Chet Atkins was also inducted, as was Jim Stewart, founder of and driving force behind revolutionary soul music label Stax Records.
The hall’s 17th annual induction ceremony got off to a rousing start with Hayes performing his Oscar-winning “Theme from ‘Shaft.”‘
Hayes, who saw eight of his albums crack the Top 20 in the early 1970s and is perhaps best known today as the voice of Chef on the television cartoon “South Park,” said he got to the Hall by “never giving up on my dream.”
Brenda Lee, who has sung rock, country and pop standards with equal conviction for 50 years and recorded the holiday classic “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,” was inducted by an admiring fan from a younger generation, songstress Jewel.
Lee, known as “Little Miss Dynamite” because of the title of one of her hits, said she was overwhelmed to be inducted after being nominated but not selected previously.
Asked about the influence of her songs on younger generations of female singers, the Georgia native said proudly, “It is very cool, isn’t it?”
Gene Pitney made his mark on music in the early 1960s by penning several hit records for other artists and then charting on his own.
Pitney’s recording of “Only Love Can Break a Heart” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David was his highest charting U.S. single, reaching No. 2. But in an ironic twist, the song which kept Pitney from hitting the No. 1 spot was his own “He’s a Rebel,” recorded by the Crystals. Pitney also wrote “Hello Mary Lou,” a smash for teen idol Ricky Nelson, and had great success with “Town Without Pity.”
Pitney smiled when asked how it felt to have other artists achieve greater success with his songs than he did. “It’s wonderful, especially every six months when those (royalty) checks come in.”
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers formed in Gainesville, Florida, in 1976. Their third album, “Damn the Torpedoes,” was a breakout record, yielding singles that went on to become rock classics, including “Refugee,” “Even the Losers,” “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Here Comes My Girl.”
Jakob Dylan, son of legendary singer and songwriter Bob Dylan and front man of his own band The Wallflowers, inducted the group.
“Rock ‘n’ roll star is probably the purest, absolute mainstream manifestation of the American dream,” Petty said. “It doesn’t happen to many people and it’s incredible that it should happen to me.”
It was a bittersweet night for The Ramones, the group from Queens who lost founding member and lead singer Joey Ramone to cancer last year at the age of 49. The group was saluted by the neo-punk trio Green Day, who ripped through rapid-fire versions of several Ramone songs.
The rest of The Ramones and the last group to be inducted, Talking Heads, thanked club owner Hilly Kristal for opening the downtown Manhattan dive CBGB in 1973. Originally meant as a showcase for country, bluegrass and blues, the dingy night spot became ground zero for the exploding punk and new wave movements of 1970s.
Several of the inductees and others performed, with the Talking Heads reuniting for the first time in more than a decade.
As is tradition, the night ended with an all-star jam, including Talking Head’s “Take Me to the River,” Pitney’s “He’s a Rebel,” a tribute to the late George Harrison in the form of “Here Comes the Sun,” and the Hayes-penned classic “Hold On, I’m Coming.”