Of the four members of Electric Light Orchestra inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Friday night (April 7), Roy Wood spent the least amount of time in the band, just over two years. He was there at the formation in 1970 and although he enjoyed some measure of success after his exit, the fame of the band far eclipsed his.
Still, it was the reunion of Wood and ELO co-founder Jeff Lynne—mastermind since the inception—that fans most eagerly anticipated last night, and they got their wish, sort of. Wood was present to accept his award alongside Lynne but did not participate in ELO’s performance segments.
But then neither did Bev Bevan, the group’s original drummer, or Richard Tandy, who joined ELO around the same time that Wood was leaving and still performs with Lynne in the current iteration of the band. Although they were both honored as inductees, their absences largely unexplained, to no one’s surprise the ELO segment of the event was dominated by Lynne, whose name is so synonymous with this entity that he finally just officially renamed it Jeff Lynne’s ELO when he reactivated the band in recent years. The Hall induction reinforced Lynne’s identity as the guiding force—as the composer, arranger, singer and multi-instrumentalist behind virtually everything stamped with that brand name, he’s gone a long way to ensure that that’s how it’s going to be remembered.
Jeff Lynne’s ELO—the current one, that is, with keyboardist Bernie Smith subbing for Tandy—opened the induction ceremony proceedings at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center with a tribute to Chuck Berry, who died March 18 at age 90. “Roll Over Beethoven” was on the band’s second album in 1973 and it was a foregone conclusion that they would perform it on this night.
Watch ELO perform “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Evil Woman”
There was some beautiful symbiosis in the fact that ELO was then inducted into the Hall by Dhani Harrison, son of George, who had sung the Beatles’ cover of the same Berry classic a decade earlier.
Harrison began his speech by acknowledging the contributions of the non-Lynne ELO members, then quickly moved on to “my dear, dear pal.” Lynne, he said, is “a great songwriter, producer, musical [genius] of our time, a rare genius, a real live legend, ELO’s mastermind for nearly 50 years. Jeff is one of my father’s dearest friends.” He told of seeing ELO in concert at age seven, and being dazzled by the group’s stage set, “a 21st century, extraterrestrial space man with bizarre instruments. Their songs,” Harrison continued, “sound like a symphony…I thought, why do I need to see anyone in our house playing such strange-looking instruments. I mean, we all had guitars in our house but that guy had a tiny blue guitar jammed under his chin and that other guy has a massive big guitar on his side playing it. Very strange.”
He remembered being left alone in his seat with a “kindly man” and then seeing his father materialize onstage. “This was the first time, ever, I had seen my dad play an instrument, ever, on stage. What is going on? My father is being abducted by an intergalactic space orchestra. Bastards! ELO has taken my father and left me behind. The kindly man assured that he would eventually be returned to us. So we made it back home together eventually and, to my joy and surprise, with ELO’s extraterrestrial wizard captain, the man with it all, Jeff Lynne.”
Wood’s acceptance speech followed, and it was over in a flash: “Well, first of all, I would really like to thank Jeff for his dedication to writing the songs, otherwise we wouldn’t have been invited here tonight. And also to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for this wonderful award. It really means a lot. Thank you very much.”
Lynne came next, remembering how his father taught him about harmony and chords by bellowing into a sewer pipe. “I went, ‘God! Is that all you have to do?’ And that’s a chord. And that was a chord, and I said, ‘I can do a chord. It’s brilliant.’” Lynne also acknowledged his fellow inductees.
ELO’s set was rounded out with “Evil Woman” and “Mr. Blue Sky,” two of the band’s most memorable ’70s hits, before they relinquished the stage to the evening’s other inductees. Some fans hold out hope to also see The Move, the band in which Lynne, Wood and Bevan incubated their sound prior to the birth of ELO, inducted into the Hall. That may or may not ever happen, but at least those fans can finally be thankful that Lynne and the other three core early members have gotten their due.
Watch ELO perform “Mr. Blue Sky” at the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony
The event will broadcast on HBO on April 29, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.