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Originally Published: March 15, 1999
Author: John Soeder
Many cite the influence of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Alice Cooper on today's music, but they remain outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Black Sabbath will not be attending the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's induction ceremony tonight in New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The band was not invited-again.
For the second time in three years, the British quartet was nominated for induction and passed over. The snub strikes some as an outrageous slight against a group whose monolithic riffs and dark lyrics paved the way for heavy metal.
Then again, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum hasn't exactly embraced musicians of this ilk. The museum mounted a temporary heavy-metal exhibit in 1996, but hard rockers and metalheads are hard to come by in the Hall of Fame itself. Led Zeppelin is the token hard-rock/metal band among the 108 artsits in the hall. Inductees Jimi Hendrix and the Yardbirds could be counted as hard-rock progenitors.
Does Black Sabbath belong in the rock hall with them?
"Absolutely," says Sharon Osbourne, wife and manager of Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne. They've been married 18 years.
"Black Sabbath's albums have sold continuously for the last 30 years, over 70 million copies," she says. "A whole new generation of musicians cite Sabbath as their main influence."
Among them are the members of Pantera, who recently opened for Black Sabbath on a series of sold-out arena dates. "What level of [butt]-kicking do you have to reach to get into the Hall of Fame?" wonders Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell. "Ninety-percent of the hard rock you hear today originated with Black Sabbath."
Ozzy Osbourne isn't getting his hopes up. "He never expected to be inducted, ever, because Sabbath has always been the man on the street's band," says Sharon Osbourne. "It's so unfair. You've got a committee of very snobbish people who make these decisions based on their personal tastes. And their personal tastes don't represent millions of people."
The New York-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation oversees the induction process. Artists are eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first recording. Nominees are selected by a 70-member committee of record company executives, music historians and journalists.
Every year, the committee compiles a list of eligible artists. Last year, there were more than 500 names on the list. Each member of the nominating committee votes for three artists. The top 60 vote-getters advance and a second vote is taken (and, if necessary, a third) to determine which 15 artists will appear on the nomination ballot. Ballots are sent to 1,000 artists, producers, roadcasters, writers and music industry executives. Nominees who receive the most votes and more than 50 percent of the vote are inducted.
Sooner or later
"My guess is that Black Sabbath will eventually make the cut. Whether you like their music or not, you have to admit they've been influential," says Jim Henke, vice president of the rock hall's curatorial division and a member of the nominating committee.
Other prominent hard-rock/metal acts like Alice Cooper and Deep Purple seem to be long shots for induction, at least in the near future. Neither has been nominated, although both have been eligible at least five years. Rhino Records is paying tribute to both acts with new box sets. "The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper," a four-CD set, will be released April 20. The four-CD Deep Purple retrospective, "Shades (1968-1998)," is in stores now.
Cooper was the original shock-rocker. He combined provocative lyrics with a stage show that included simulated executions. He also pioneered the use of a live boa constrictor as a fashion accessory.
"Alice was the first real American countercultural '70s hero," says Bob Ezrin, who produced such classic Cooper albums as "Love It to Death" and "School's Out."
"He employed a brand of theatricality onstage and dealt with questions of sexuality and alienation in a way that nobody before him did," Ezrin says. "I hear from people as diverse as Aerosmith and the Orb who say they were inspired by Alice."
One of Cooper's biggest fans is Rob Zombie, the current overlord of macabre metal. "When I saw Alice Cooper, I was like, "Cool!' It was like I had found the perfect link between King Kong and Vincent Price," says Zombie.
Cooper's hard-rocking, gender-bending shtick clearly rubbed off on Marilyn Manson, too. "The similarities are fairly obvious," says Ezrin. "But I don't think Marilyn Manson's philosophy is anywhere near what Alice's was. Alice was particularly good at social satire. He was as good as Noel Coward in his own sort of glam-rock way."
Deep Purple might be pegged as a shoo-in for induction, if only because its signature song, "Smoke on the Water," contains one of the all-time great rock guitar riffs. The British band continues to tour and record.
"I don't think we were the fathers or grandfathers of metal," says keyboardist Jon Lord. "I think we were co-founders of it. We provided a steelier way of looking at improvisatory music than perhaps anyone else. I think the three of us- Zeppelin, Sabbath and Purple-plus Hendrix's style of playing created an atmosphere in which so-called metal reared its head."
Deep Purple had a formidable guitarist in Ritchie Blackmore. "He was and possibly still is the best rock guitarist of all time," says Andy Secher, editor of Hit Parader magazine.
"We've sold 100 million albums," says Lord. "We have to our credit one of the most famous rock songs of all time. It's not so much that I think it's vital to be recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's just that when I see who has been recognized, I feel somewhat slighted. It does hurt a bit."
The lack of respect shown by the rock hall toward the likes of Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and Deep Purple is nothing new. Hard-rock and heavy-metal acts have always been the runts of the rock 'n' roll litter.
"These guys are used to being snubbed," says Sharon Osbourne. "But their music has stood the test of time, as much as jazz, as much as R&B."
Some headbanging hard-liners contend that as music essentially by and for outsiders, hard rock and heavy metal have no place in an insider-driven institution like the rock hall.
"I think of Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper the same way I think of Hell's Angels," says Zombie. "I don't think of them like [expletive- Fleetwood Mac."
"In a way, when you start being embraced, it's time to start worrying about where you stand," says Hit Parader's Secher.
Purple isn't in the rock hall.
"I know what we've done, so I sleep pretty good," he says. "If I had 10 bucks for everyone who has come up to me and told us how influential we are, I'd buy the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."