The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominating Committee Purge of 2015: Questions and Answers
On Friday, June 19th, Ed Christman from Billboard broke the story that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has let go many long-serving members of its Nominating Committee. So, what do we know so far?
Q: How many people from the Nominating Committee were let go?
A: The Billboard article’s headline says “at least 16 nominating members” were dismissed, but in the article, it is framed more as speculation from sources that “as many as 16 of the 42” members are gone. In the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Chuck Yarborough spoke to an ousted member who says the letter from Jon Landau stated the Rock Hall intended “to reduce the size of the committee by a third” to allow for “more flexibility in terms of discussion.” Reducing the Committee by a third would bring it down to about 28 members.
Q: Who was let go?
A: Billboard lists four names: “veteran A&R executive Joe McEwen, a blues and R&B expert; Greg Geller, a label executive specializing in reissues; Arthur Levy, a senior writer at a number of major record labels; and Bob Merlis, one of the industry's most renowned publicists who is now independent but was at Warner Bros. Records from the early 1970s through the 1990s.” Former L.A. Times critic Bob Hilburn confirmed on Twitter that he was dismissed as well. (Roger Friedman reports that Joe Levy was also let go, but it seems possible he mixed him up with Arthur Levy.)
Q: Who is still on the Committee?
There are a lot of question marks here, but Billboard confirms that Landau, Questlove, Cliff Burnstein and Seymour Stein are still involved. It’s probably safe to assume that Museum president Greg Harris is still in. Robbie Robertson, Rick Krim, Paul Shaffer and Rob Light are all deeply involved in the Induction Ceremonies each year. Beyond that, it’s difficult to say. Hopefully more names will be confirmed soon. Here is a full list of Nominating Committee members over the last 30 years.
Q: Why did the Rock Hall target the experts on the Early Rock and R&B Influencers subcommittee?
A: Billboard frames a lot of their story around the idea that the Rock Hall “wiped out more than half of the Hall's Early Rock and R&B Influencers subcommittee.” It’s true that four of the seven members on that committee were let go, but that leaves at least 10 other members who were potentially on other subcommittees that are now gone too. As of five years ago, there were three subcommittees: one on progressive rock and heavy metal; one on hip-hop; and one on early rock and rollers and rhythm & blues.
Q: So what does this mean for future ballots? Will early rock and R&B influencers be ignored?
A: Anymore than they already are? At this point it’s impossible to say. McEwen, Geller, Levy and Merlis aren’t the only people well versed in those eras. All of them had been serving on the Nominating Committee for over 24 years. If their recommendations hadn’t been fully reflected on the ballot by now, perhaps it’s time for others to have a chance to sway the overall Committee. We have evidence in recent years that new members are more effective in getting artists onto the ballot.
Q: Does this have anything to do with artists inducted as “Early Influences”?
A: Not directly. Those artists are chosen by a separate committee. The Rock Hall hasn’t named a true “Early Influence” inductee since 2000. The three since then (Wanda Jackson, Freddie King and the “5’ Royales) were all artists who had been previously nominated on the Performer ballot.
Q: Why did the Rock Hall let go of those specific people?
A: Billboard: “But some Hall of Fame watchers worry that this latest move by Landau and Jann Wenner -- widely seen as the dominating figures in the Hall -- is meant to reduce the focus on the pioneers so that going forward the Hall can focus on artists who came to the fore in the 1980s and soon the 1990s, who might still have more cache with mainstream music fans and HBO, which broadcasts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's show.”
Yarborough: “Is this really a move to get younger meat in the seats, or rather, younger rockphiles through the turnstiles, so to speak? Well, I believe it is, just by the evidence in our own back yard. . . What scares me is that it seems the history of rock 'n' roll is going to take a huge hit in exchange for pandering – yes, I said pandering – to the younger masses.”
Roger Friedman believes Jann Wenner may move the eligibility date for artists down to 20 years: “Replacing nominators with younger people who have no attachment or feel for rock origins, and moving up the eligibility means Wenner can continue to skip over acts he doesn’t like and move on to more recent stars.” More Friedman: “There’s also a theory that Wenner will now try to force in groups like Journey or Kansas so that the HBO show turns into 80s nostalgia.” (C’mon Roger, Jann Wenner forcing in Journey and Kansas? Are you insane?)
Before removing his tweets, Rob Tannenbaum speculated that the Nominating Committee cuts were potentially in retaliation for members speaking to him for his recent Rock Hall story.
Some less conspiratorial theories: Maybe these Nominating Committee members didn’t participate or couldn’t make it to the meetings. Maybe they pushed the same names year after year. Maybe they aren’t familiar with some of the more recently eligible artists.
Is any of this true? At this point, we just don’t know. Perhaps Jon Landau will speak to Billboard as he promised on Friday.
Q: Billboard, Yarborough and Friedman all paint this move as a negative for the Rock Hall. But is it really a bad thing to shuffle the deck once per decade?
A: We have long been advocates of term limits for Nominating Committee members. Each person brings their own expertise and experience to the table, but after 10 years, it’s probably time to change the dynamic in the room. Hopefully Landau and Wenner invite new people to the meeting and don’t just try to lock it down to existing members. Ideally, this would create a ballot full of previously overlooked artists who had never had a chance to be inducted before.
Q: Sound great, but will this really change anything?
A: After the 2006 inductions, the Nominating Committee went from a bloated 72 members down to 31. So how did this affect the 2007 ballot? The biggest change was the number of nominees, which dropped to nine, down from sixteen.* But of the nine nominees in 2007, six had been nominated the previous year. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
So, when the nominees get announced in October, don’t expect a ballot full of Def Leppards, Weird Als and Grandfunk Railroads. Any changes will be gradual and cautious, just like they have always been.
* - It would be interesting if the ballot contracts to only nine or ten names again to basically force the Voting Committee to induct who the Nominating Committee wants (*cough* Chic *cough*).