New Rock Hall Foundation Head Promises Changes

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Jann Wenner in the early days of Rolling Stone

Jann Wenner, the legendary founder of Rolling Stone, is retiring as Chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. The news, announced September 25, notes that the founding member of the Rock Hall will be replaced in that role by music industry veteran and longtime Board member John Sykes. The changeover will be effective on January 1, 2020. Wenner will remain on the Board. There will be more changes.

Wenner had been Chairman since fellow Rock Hall founder Ahmet Ertegun died in 2006. (Ertegun was the influential founder of Atlantic Records.)

In a statement, Wenner said, “I was a lucky man to be given this once in a lifetime mission to honor the history of the music I love. I am delighted to have John Sykes to take over.”

John Sykes (photo via iHeartMedia)

Sykes, 64, is President of Entertainment Enterprises for iHeartMedia. The longtime music and entertainment industry veteran was one of the co-founders of MTV and served in senior roles at MTV Networks for decades.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, published Sept. 26, the well-respected Sykes addressed changes for the Hall, noting that the Class of 2020 induction ceremony will be broadcast live on HBO, for the first time in years.

Sykes also tackled the subject of choosing artists for induction, which is always debated among rock fans. “The most important mandate is to rebuild our board; we have to modernize the way we think and create a more diverse board to reflect the artists who are becoming eligible,” he said. “It’s no longer the artists of the ’50s and ’60s, and we have to have a board with knowledge that speaks to that.”

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland

When asked by the paper specifically about eligible artists, Sykes said: “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is no longer about a single genre of music. It’s about all the music that aspires to connect with young people… It’s about the music that changed our culture. This year Notorious B.I.G. is eligible and I think he has a good shot at getting in.

“We are constantly looking at evolving the committee,” he continued. “Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine came in one time and stood up and said ‘Heavy metal is a category of music of the people. Why aren’t bands like Kiss and Rush in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?’ He was very persuasive. You have to credit Jon Landau [head of the nominating committee], because he said ‘I get it.’ We have to reflect what fans truly love.

Wenner started Rolling Stone in 1967 and its influence grew enormously from a counter-culture paper to what was long considered the most important music journalism publication. He expanded Wenner Media over the years to include such publications as Us Weekly and Men’s Journal.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Foundation are not one and the same. The former includes the museum itself, which opened its doors in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1995, and includes thousands of items in its impressive collection of rock ‘n’ roll and artifacts. The Foundation is run by music industry insiders, a list of whom has not been published. The small, tight-knit committee annually selects the recording artists who will be on that year’s ballot.

The list of nominees is then presented to a much broader voting body to determine who will be in the next class of inductees. Other institutions are far more transparent, such as the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which sets 75% as the required percentage of the vote for admission on its annual ballot for the baseball writers to choose from, and then reveals the detailed results. The Rock Hall doesn’t reveal its voting totals.

When the nomination list is publicly revealed, generally in October, it’s become a parlor game, of sorts, for music fans to pore over the list, debating the artists’ merits and lamenting the worthy candidates who are again missing from the list.

[Best Classic Bands has compiled two vast lists of artists we’ve deemed worthy. Our first list covers acts from the ’50s-’70s such as Bad Company, Jethro Tull and Peter Frampton, who are still on the outside looking in.

Our second list continues with many more deserving acts, from Pat Benatar to Meat Loaf to Motörhead. All of these artists require an admission ticket to the Rock Hall.]

The debates continue roughly two months later, when the selections for the new class are revealed, generally in December, for their induction the following spring.

In recent times, thanks to a multi-year commitment from HBO to broadcast highlights from the induction ceremony, the Rock Hall has been choosing many artists it had previously ignored.

Artists are deemed eligible 25 years after the release of their first recording. Yet, it was only in recent years that such classic rock legends as Chicago, Steve Miller, Cheap Trick and Deep Purple (all Class of 2016), ELO, Journey and Yes (all Class of 2017), Bon Jovi, Moody Blues, the Cars and Dire Straits (all Class of 2018) and Def Leppard and Roxy Music (both Class of 2019), were inducted… decades after they were eligible.

Watch HBO’s Class of 2017 teaser clip

Those acts, and countless others, had been overlooked while many other influential, though decidedly non-rock artists, were selected. These included such performers as Abba, Donna Summer, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Janet Jackson, Madonna, N.W.A, and Public Enemy, among them.

In 2017, Wenner Media sold its controlling share in Rolling Stone to Penske Media, where it’s now part of a larger portfolio. That same year, a biography, Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, was published, based on author Joe Hagan’s extensive interviews with Wenner and on original source reporting.

Hagan, the book announcement stated, “lays out the full breadth of Wenner’s life, from his ambitious youth in San Francisco and the uncertain first days of Rolling Stone, to his seismic rise as a 1970s kingmaker of rock and roll and a vainglorious and irascible media mogul of Manhattan.”

Wenner himself was inducted in 2004 via the Ahmet Ertegun Award.

With new leaders come new ways of doing business. Rock fans will be watching.

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22 Comments so far

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  1. Billy K.
    #1 Billy K. 25 September, 2019, 22:00

    There will be a number of people that will say “good riddance”…….in recent years, there has been a perception that it has become “Jann Wenner’s Personal Taste Hall of Fame”, more so than a real legitimate institution.

    Three sub-genres of rock, in particular, have been a bit slighted more than the rest
    —which are Progressive, so-called “Power Pop”, and Metal. You will ask just about anyone who is a fan of any these sub-genres, and you will likely get a negative opinion of Wenner.

    Especially with rappers getting inducted, at the same time (which is obvious). Not to mention that it took way too long for Chicago to get inducted. Or the fact that the Doobies aren’t in there at all.

    Lots of resentment in the various(and unrelated) rock camps….and it’s all directed at Wenner.

    Prog, Power Pop and Metal fans may not share the same musical tastes…..but they all seem to agree on one thing, when it comes to how the Hall has handled things.

    We certainly hope that Wenner’s successor makes decisions rationally, in an informed manner, and uses common sense.

    Reply this comment
    • TOWMAN 36
      TOWMAN 36 26 September, 2019, 05:44

      Do the right thing and put GFR in the HALL.

      Reply this comment
    • Tohm
      Tohm 26 September, 2019, 22:27

      Also the slap in the face DeepPurple got for waiting 23 years to get in when the other two parts of the “Holy Trinity ” of Heavy Metal got in years before. What a F’n dipstick JW is.

      Reply this comment
    • wizzard57
      wizzard57 2 October, 2019, 11:35

      i totally agree with you.. if that rap crap wants a hof they should open their own.. i am also upset with ted nugent not in and he has been around for decades

      Reply this comment
  2. GOOD RIDDANCE, WENNER...
    #2 GOOD RIDDANCE, WENNER... 26 September, 2019, 01:06

    Agreed Billy,
    This POS has overlooked many groups that should have been in the RRHOF years ago. What this sellout did was make the RRHOF a corporate institution, run & funded by corporate America…..everything RNR isn’t. He also politicized Rolling Stone magazine which was all about music & turned it into a political rag. IMO, this guy is in the same league as Mike Lang. Fuck Wenner & the next move would be to remove him from the magazine…..

    Reply this comment
    • Jeff Tamarkin
      Jeff Tamarkin 26 September, 2019, 08:00

      Wenner sold his shares in RS a few years ago. He no longer owns it and is no longer the editor.

      Reply this comment
    • Birt
      Birt 26 September, 2019, 10:27

      “He also politicized Rolling Stone . . .” Well, duh, yeah, right from the very first issue. That was kinda the point. If anything, one of Wenner’s greatest missteps was not maintaining that level of politicization but moving into much less substantial commentary, that is, celebrity worship.

      Reply this comment
  3. Rebar
    #3 Rebar 26 September, 2019, 08:19

    As twilight and nightfall descends on 60s – 70s artists Ya think RnR hall of fame would assess the 100 or so bands that millions of us recognize on the first note or first guitar chord.
    Three Dog Night.. Grand Funk.. TJ & The Shondells.. the Guess Who.. etc.. etc.. personally today’s artists are indistinguishable…. Forgive me it’s not a slight..

    Reply this comment
  4. Steve
    #4 Steve 26 September, 2019, 08:31

    Hey Jann…. Before you leave, why not do what you should have been smart enough to do when he was still alive and induct Hubert Sumlin. What a travesty it is that he isn’t in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. It’s a dark blemish on YOUR career that he is not inducted. How can you call yourself a historian of Rock & Roll?!?!? Without him in there, you are just another rockstar wannabe who would rather kiss up to people who copied Hubert than to be smart enough to give him the recognition he deserves. Half the people in the Hall played covers of his work!!!! Wolf didn’t write all those solos and riffs that were copied by Stevie, Jimi, Zeppelin, The Stones, The Doors, The Dead, Jeff Beck and countless others. Without Hubert, Rock would never have been the same. Isn’t that the purpose of inducting someone??? You should know better. Shame on you.

    Reply this comment
    • WILD
      WILD 1 October, 2019, 10:18

      You’re right, without the influencers, many of artists that are in the Rock Hall would not have even gotten started and in turn to influence other artists that came after them.

      Reply this comment
  5. steve bd
    #5 steve bd 26 September, 2019, 12:27

    rolling stone has sucked since the new millenium. wenner’s biased ass knows nothing about music genres. Good riddance chump

    Reply this comment
  6. Digger1970
    #6 Digger1970 26 September, 2019, 13:23

    I’m extremely glad he’s going. Since he had the final “yes or no” on who gets in the HOF, he missed so many groups that should (and still should be admitted). So have a nice life and I’m sure the RNR commmunity will be glad to see you go. Too much politics involved in who gets in.

    Reply this comment
  7. Chi-Ky
    #7 Chi-Ky 26 September, 2019, 18:05

    Johnny Rivers, Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald, The Grass Roots, George Michael need to be in the R&R HOF

    Reply this comment
  8. WENNERS LIST OF SNUBS.....
    #8 WENNERS LIST OF SNUBS..... 28 September, 2019, 02:34

    Todd Rundgren, Soundgarden, NIN, Jethro Tull, ,Motorhead, Tina Turner, Slayer, Judas Priest, Living Colour, Kings X, Alice In Chains, Motley Crue, Scorpions, Smashing Pumpkins, Janes Addiction, Thomas Dolby, Anthrax, Gary Moore, Steve Vai, and many, many more. Be my guest to add the ones I’ve missed…

    Reply this comment
  9. Jd
    #9 Jd 1 October, 2019, 07:31

    To ignore California harmony style bands that continue to tour today like AMERICA is ridiculous.

    Reply this comment
  10. Bluzrider
    #10 Bluzrider 1 October, 2019, 07:54

    If they are going to put other genres of music in there, why not change the name to somewhat reflect what it has become, that it is not just the rock and roll hall of fame, to something like, oh, I don’t know, maybe the Jann Werner personal favorites Hall of Fame” Now they can even change that to be called, the John Sykes personal favorites hall of fame.

    But stop calling it the Rock and Roll hall of fame. Let these other genres, like Hip Hop have their own hall of fame. Because that is not Rock and Roll.

    They think that just because you started a magazine that catered to the rock and roll artists and fans that they know what;s best, they don’t have a clue.

    Reply this comment
  11. GP
    #11 GP 1 October, 2019, 11:32

    The RnR HOF is the laughing stock of rock fans. Basically its political correctness BS

    Reply this comment
  12. Andy
    #12 Andy 1 October, 2019, 14:10

    Link Wray

    Reply this comment
  13. Dan
    #13 Dan 3 October, 2019, 16:48

    Can we maybe get one more 60’s artist his long overdue induction?
    Chubby Checker

    Reply this comment

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