Axl Rose missed it.
The hedonistic hard rockers, who became the world’s top music act amid endless dysfunction, members of Guns N’ Roses reunited for three songs on Saturday night before 6,000 fans, many of whom were thrilled to see at least most of the band’s original lineup jam on classic hits like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Paradise City.”
Rose, the band’s frontman and ringmaster of the G N’ R traveling sex, drugs and rock and roll circus, declined to attend the induction, saying he didn’t want to be part of the ceremony because it “doesn’t appear to be somewhere I’m actually wanted or respected.”
He was hardly missed.
While his decision disappointed some hardcore fans and ended any possibility of a full-scale reunion of the original lineup, guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steve Adler performed for the first time in nearly 20 years to the delight of the sell-out crowd inside historic Public Hall.
Guns N’ Roses were one of the headliners of this year’s eclectic group of inductees, which included the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys, folk icon Donovan, late singer-songwriter Laura Nyro and British bands the Small Faces and Faces.
The event lasted well into the early morning with an All-Star jam featuring some of rock’s biggest names closing the 5 1-2 hour ceremony with a stirring rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”
Hours earlier, Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis said it was strange to be enshrined while the band was touring.
“We’re going somewhere,” Kiedis said. “How can we stop and take an award when really we’re just halfway there? But it is nice to be together with people that we spent some incredible years along the way writing songs and playing shows in little theaters and sweaty little transvestite clubs and having the time of our lives.”
Cleveland rocked without Rose.
As he inducted Guns N’ Roses, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong recalled the first time he saw the band on MTV.
“I thought, one these guys could end up dead or in jail,” he said.
Guns N’ Roses came out both barrels blaring and their debut album Appetite For Destruction, shook a music world that at the time was consumed with pop ballads and dance music.
“It’s the best debut album in the history of rock and roll,” Armstrong said. “Every song hits hard. It takes you a trip to the seedy world of Los Angeles. The thing that set them apart from everyone else was guts. They never lost their edge for one second.”
Armstrong talked about each of the Guns members, talking about Slash’s mastery and Adler’s pulsive, pounding beats before pausing.
“Let’s see, who am I missing?”
The reference to Rose drew boos and catcalls that Armstrong tried to shout down.
“He’s one of the best frontmen to ever touch a microphone,” Armstrong said.
McKagan and Slash did not mention Rose during their brief remarks but then took the stage with Myles Kennedy, a member of a side project with Slash, singing lead vocals.
Like Guns N’ Roses, the Red Hot Chili Peppers emerged from Los Angeles during the 1980s when Sunset Strip’s rock scene was dominated by “hair” bands more concerned with their tight lycra pants and eyeliner than their sound. Not the Chili Peppers, who found their unique groove by blending punk, funk, rock and rap.
While their lineup has undergone some changes – founding guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in 1988 – Kiedis and bassist Flea have survived personal highs and lows and the band remains one of music’s top live acts.
Kiedis said Slovak would have loved the honor.
“I think that he would have a good laugh,” Kiedis said. “Yeah, it would certainly mean something to him as he cared deeply about music and the love of the brotherhood of being in a band and being a creative force in the universe, which he is and always will be a brother in everything we do.”
Comedian Chris Rock, a longtime fan and friend of the band, inducted the Chili Peppers.
The Chili Peppers took the stage at 1 a.m. and opened a four-song set with “By The Way” with drummer Chad Smith flanked by Jack Irons and Cliff Martinez, two former drummers with the band.
Flea gave a moving speech in which spoke of his passion to play for the musicians before him. He choked back tears as he thanked his mother.
Three white middle-class smart alecks from New York City, the Beastie Boys were initially dismissed as beer-swilling frat boys following their 1986 debut album “License To Ill,” which featured songs like “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” and “Girls.” But their follow-up, “Paul’s Boutique,” was acclaimed by critics and brought the Beasties credibility in the black hip-hop community.
“It broke the mold,” said Public Enemy’s Chuck D, later citing one of the group’s lines. “The Beastie Boys are indeed three bad brothers who made history. They brought a whole new look to rap and hip-hop. They proved that rap could come from any street – not just a few.”
Only two of the three Beasties attended the ceremony. Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz read a speech by Adam “MCA” Yauch, who has been fighting cancer.
Van Zandt credited the underrated bands for having a major influence on generations of rockers. He said both were blessed to have strong lead singers in the late Steve Marriott and Rod Stewart.
“Not many bands get two lives or two of the greatest white soul singers in the history of rock and roll,” he said.
Stewart came down with the flu this week and couldn’t attend. Simply Red’s lead singer Mick Hucknall, a friend of the band, filled on three songs including the classic “Stay With Me,” with Wood, previously inducted with the Rolling Stones, delivering an exquisite slide guitar.
During a speech that was at times comical but heartfelt throughout, John Mellencamp inducted Donovan, a balladeer from the flower-power 1960s once labeled “the new Dylan.” Donovan Leitch had a string of hits in the ‘60s with “Sunshine Superman,” ‘‘Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Mellow Yellow.”
During his remarks, Mellencamp raised the copy of Donovan’s “Fairy Tale” album he bought 47 years ago as a kid in Indiana.
“I wasn’t just listening to Donovan, I was living Donovan,” Mellencamp said. “He was my inspiration. One of the original originals.”
The influential Nyro, who died in 1997, never reached commercial success but wrote hits for other artists. She was inducted by singer Bette Midler.
“I loved her the moment I dropped the needle on the vinyl,” Midler said. “She was the very essence of New York City. Not in the gritty real sense, but in the passionate, romantic, ethereal, eternal sense.”
Smokey Robinson inducted long-deserving backup bands for early rock artists. The groups included Buddy Holly’s The Crickets, James Brown’s The Famous Flames, Bill Hailey’s The Comets and Robinson’s The Miracles.