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Interview:
Detroit sending three to Rock Hall of Fame induction
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

Detroit's presence in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame grows by more than 10 percent this year.

When the shrine's class of 2012 is inducted on Saturday, April 14, at Cleveland's Public Hall, it will include three new members with Motor City ties -- Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and, by virtue of a special committee charged with correction past exclusions, the Miracles and the Midnighters.

They'll join 28 previous inductees with Detroit and Michigan ties and will no doubt have plenty to say when the trophies are presented that night. An edited version of the ceremony will be aired on May 5 by HBO, but here's a look at who will be waving the Olde English D at the Rock Hall this year:

CHAD SMITH, RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS

One thought sticks with Chad Smith from his 1988 audition for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

"I remember thinking, 'These guys are short,' " the Bloomfield Hills-raised drummer recalls with a laugh. "I knew who they were. I looked at their record covers and stuff like that and was thinking, 'These guys are gonna be this big, monster rock band...'

"And I walked in and they're little guys, and I'm towering over them. It was a little weird...but it worked out alright."

Suffice to say that from small things, big things someday come.

Smith, 50, has been on board for the bulk of the Chili Peppers' success, including worldwide album sales of more than 80 million albums, seven Grammy Awards and a run of punk, funk, hip-hop and rock-blending hits that includes "Under the Bridge," "Give It Away," "Scar Tissue," "By the Way," "Dani California" and more. The group -- which also includes co-founders Anthony Kiedis (a Grand Rapids native) and Flea (ne Michael Balzary) and new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer -- is currently on the road promoting hits 10th studio album, "I'm With You," which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart in August.

All of those are great totems of success, but Smith, a graduate of Bloomfield Lahser High School, says the Rock Hall induction, taking place Saturday, April 12, in Cleveland, puts everything in a different perspective.

"Y'know, playing the 24 Karat Club in Detroit, the Side Street Lounge, the Token Lounge, Jaggerz...I was in those clubs for eight years, brother," says Smith, who was most famously part of the Detroit group Toby Redd. "Never in my wildest dreams...If you had come up to me and said, 'Hey, you're gonna move to California and join the Chili Peppers, and then, 25 years later, you're gonna be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...I'd have said, 'You're (expletive) high!'

"So it's beyond me. I can't really comprehend it too much. It's very humbling."

Smith's mother, Joan, who still resides in Bloomfield Hills, says she'll be beaming at the ceremony in Cleveland, recalling all the racket the youngest of her three children made in the family home.

"I just think it's the fulfillment of all his ability and his talent," she says. "He always aspired to be the best, and to me (the Rock Hall) is the best. It's just a dream come true for him. We're so excited..."

Smith -- who also plays in the band Chickenfoot and his own Chad Smith's Bombastic Meatbats and has done sessions for Kid Rock, the Dixie Chicks and others -- says that the Rock Hall honor is "different" than the Grammys and other awards he's been part of with the Chili Peppers. "It's not like the flavor of the month or the flavor of the year," explains the married father of five, who's expecting his third child with wife Nancy Mack later this year. "It's for a long career we've been fortunate enough to have. I like to win Grammys, but this is...different."

Smith says his Chili Peppers predecessors, Cliff Martinez and Jack Irons, will be on hand in Cleveland when comedian Chris Rock inducts the group. The group plans to perform, but one Chili Pepper missing from the proceedings will be John Frusciante, the guitarist on the band's biggest selling albums.

"He didn't feel comfortable coming, which we totally respect," Smith says. "We asked him...He said, 'I'm just not really comfortable with that, but good luck and thanks for inviting me.'

"It was all good. He's the kind of guy, I think, that once he's finished with something he's just on to the next phase of his life. The Chili Peppers are not really on his radar right now."

The Chili Peppers, meanwhile, will be on the world's radar for the rest of 2012 and possibly into 2013. The group recently launched a North American tour that comes to Detroit on June 1 at Joe Louis Arena, but during a recent break while Kiedis underwent surgery Smith, Flea and Klinghoffer began working on new material, which the drummer predicts could lead to a new album by late 2013.

THE MIRACLES

Smokey Robinson says getting the Miracles into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is "something I've been working on for 15, 20 years, man."

The rest of the Detroit-bred group -- which had Motown's first million-selling single with "Shop Around" in 1960 -- wasn't at Robinson's side when he was inducted as part of the Rock Hall's second class, in 1987. But the other Miracles -- Robinson's ex-wife Claudette, Warren "Pete" Moore, Bobby Rogers and the late Ronnie White and Marv Tarplin -- will get their due at this year's ceremony in Cleveland.

"I'm so happy it's finally happening, because they really deserve it," says Robinson, who's inducting the Miracles as part of a package of groups that includes Detroit native Hank Ballard's Midnighters, Highland Park native Bill Haley's Comets, Buddy Holly's Crickets, Gene Vincent Blue Caps and James Brown's Famous Flames.

"I don't even understand why it's taken work to make this happen for them. We were one of the hottest and most prolific groups in the world, so I don't understand the hesitancy."

Claudette Robinson, in fact, says she'd practically given up hope the Miracles would ever be inducted. "I didn't think it would happen in my lifetime," she notes. "For the longest time so many people have put in their comments and tried so hard for us to be inducted, and there was always a reason we weren't. So I was a little shocked when they called and said it would happen."

The Miracles -- initially called the Five Chimes and then the Matadors -- formed during 1955 at Detroit's Northwestern High School and were part of Berry Gordy's initial roster at Motown, where Smokey Robinson became a vice-president. The group scored more than 50 hit singles between 1959-78, including enduring Motown favorites such as "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," "Mickey's Monkey," "Ooo Baby Baby," "The Tracks of My Tears" and "The Tears of a Clown." It became Smokey Robinson & the Miracles in 1965, and the group continued after Robinson left in 1972, even scoring a subsequent No. 1 hit with the disco anthem "Love Machine" in 1975.

The Miracles, as a group, received a Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award and a star on the Hollywood WAlk of Fame, and it's been inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame. Several of it's hits are also in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Claudette Robinson acknowledges that while "Smokey always loomed large over the Miracles," the other members "have never been envious, never tried to take away any of his acclaim and fame. I think they've always been very happy for him."

But she is happy that the Miracles induction will tell what she feels is the rest of the story.

"When the Miracles began, it was five people who were out there," she says, "not one working any harder than the other. One may have had more lyrics that the were singing, but then somebody else had more dance steps. There was just such a cohesiveness of five people coming together and doing something they loved -- and never dreaming it would go as far as it did.

"There have been a lot of people really pulling for us over the years, so we're thankful and grateful for that. I wish that it had come at an earlier time so everyone was alive and able to participate, but it will still be sweet, and I'll carry the torch for whoever can't get there."

THE MIDNIGHTERS

Hank Ballard's name may have been out front,

but there was a Midnighters before him and a legacy of hits that made the late Ballard's solo 1990 induction into the Rock Hall curious.

"We were the Jackson 5 of the 50s," notes Norman Thrasher, one of two surviving members of the group who continues to make his home in Detroit. "Hank was just the kind of individual that loved to take credit for everything himself -- like having a wedding and nobody gets the credit but the bride's family, and the groom's family is just standing by the side, waiting to be introduced.

"But we were a major group."

That's for sure. The Midnighters were formed as The Royals by guitarist Alonzo Tucker during 1952 in Detroit. The group was briefly known as the Four Falcons, and its various lineups included future stars such as Jackie Wilson, Johnny Otis, Little Willie John and the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs. It reeled off 19 Top 20 hits between 1953-61, with some -- such as "Get It," "Work With Me Annie" and "Sexy Ways" -- banned from radio plays because of their (then) explicitly sexual lyrics.

But Thrasher, 75, says that didn't keep fans from finding the Midnighters' recordings. "They were in jukeboxes all over the country, five plays for a quarter," recalls Thrasher, who will be joined in Cleveland by fellow Midnighter Lawson Smith. "So all of the music became jukebox hits, and people just went out and bought (the records) for themselves."

The Midnighters made some pop chart impact, too, with the Grammy Award-nominated "Finger Poppin' Time" and "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go." Ballard also wrote "The Twist," which the Midnighters released in 1959, before Chubby Checker took the song to No. 1 a year later.

The Midnighters disbanded in 1965, with Ballard -- cousin of the Supremes' late Florence Ballard -- going solo and scoring a few more hits, including "How You Gonna Get Respect (When You Haven't Cut Your Process Yet(" and "From the Love Side." He died from throat cancer on March 2, 2003 in Los Angeles.

Besides Thrasher and Smith, the Midnighters' Rock Hall induction -- which is considered "retroactive" to Ballard's in 1990 -- will include members Henry Booth, Cal Green, Arthur Porter, Charles Sutton and Sonny Woods. The group also received a PIoneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation during 1992 and was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.





Web Site: www.rockhall.org

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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