Sadly, there are no Pittsburgh artists in the actual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so it wasn't a bad idea for someone to create a Pittsburgh Rock ’N Roll Hall of Fame, even if it is just a plaque at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Last year, the founding organization, created as charity event for the Cancer Caring Center (so we can't be too critical), got off on a weird note, inducting promoter/drummer Rich Engler, a great guy and great contributor to the Pittsburgh music scene, but one who did not start making an impact until around 1970 -- a decade and a half after the birth of rock 'n' roll.
In April, the event returns as the Pittsburgh Rock ’N Roll Legends Awards, having had to change its name to avoid legal action from the folks in Cleveland.
This time, the ceremony will have three inductees, one each from the following categories:
• Non-performer/music professional (individuals with 20+ years in the business)
• Legacy Legends (groups or solo artists with 40+ years in the business)
• Modern Era Legends (groups or solo artists with 20+ years in the business)
An academy of hundreds will choose the nominees and then a bigger panel and the general public will get the final vote. (The party will be April 23 at the Hard Rock Cafe.)
So, how does this shake out?
Non-Performer: This category is straight-forward and so is the inductee: The music scene here all starts with Porky Chedwick, who died last March at 96. I don't think we have to review the impact of this WAMO/WHOD DJ who went against the tide and played records by black artists, flipped b-sides and revolutionized teen culture in Pittsburgh. If Porky doesn't get it, we can all have a good laugh.
Legacy Legends: Clear mission here: Start at the beginning. The first artists to break out of Pittsburgh in the rock 'n' roll era were the Del-Vikings, with "Come Go With Me," in 1956. Even better, they were the rare racially integrated group in that era. But they were Air Force guys from other places, all stationed at the airport, and they didn't last long, so perhaps they aren't the best representation of Pittsburgh. What then? Jump to the Skyliners, who hit the charts in 1959 with "Since I Don't Have You." Not exactly rock 'n' roll as we imagine it, but certainly in the ballpark. Golden-voiced Jimmy Beaumont, a quiet, unassuming guy, is still active with the group and would likely be happy to show up to accept the award.
Modern Era Legends: Uh-oh. What a fine mess we have here. What the Legends people are saying is, "Screw it, we don't want to go in order. And we need some young people at this party." (Even though the tickets are $150 to $200). It would mean potentially that The Clarks and Rusted Root, for example, get a plaque before that whole generation of The Jaggerz (with Donnie Iris, "The Rapper," 1970), Iron City Houserockers, Frank Czuri (Silencers), Norman Nardini, Billy Price, etc., who quality as Legacy Legends -- but, chronologically, should have to wait for Lou Christie, The Marcels, The Vogues. What's the incentive of inducting the Jaggers/Houserockers as Modern Era Legends when they fit the other category? Basically, I can't wrap my brain around the logic of this Modern Era Legends award, but my guess is that it gets The Clarks in the room (nothing against The Clarks). Maybe Donnie Iris and Joe Grushecky can present them with the award.