The 2014 Classic Rock Roll Of Honour

The steps up to the awards podium resemble the foothills of Mount Everest. At the summit, on stage, belying his 67 years of age, awaits the evening’s host, the tousle-haired, effervescent Sammy Hagar. He’s bouncing around like a spinning top pinging off the buffers of a pool table.

Taking the deepest of deep breaths (trust me, we’re taking lanternfish territory here) I mount the podium and ham‑fistedly high-five it with the Red-faced Rocker. It’s time to reveal the winners of the Film Of The Year award (sponsored by AXS.TV): Metallica, for Through The Never, as voted for by the readers of Classic Rock.

Lars and co. can’t be here tonight, so I’ve been asked to accept the gong on their behalf (due to nebulous New Wave Of British Heavy Metal connections). My speech, painstakingly handwritten in bold capital letters on Sunset Marquis hotel notepaper, only amounts to a rough approximation of what I actually say. My tongue isn’t so much tied as in a state of extreme and inextricable bondage.

Still, I manage to mention that Herr Ulrich, as a young, tennis-playing Dane, used to read my NWOBHM scribblings in Sounds music weekly. This, in part, inspired him to take up the drums, pursue a career in rock’n’roll and co-found Metallica with James Hetfield.

Hunting around for reference points, I find myself namechecking the likes of Iron Maiden (cheers from the audience), Saxon (mild cheers), Sweet Savage (isolated murmurs) and Blitzkrieg (deathly silence). I also credit Def Leppard, while adding the proviso: “But Joe Elliott might disagree with his band’s NWOBHM connections.”

“Don’t worry about it, Geoff!” pipes up Joe himself from somewhere beyond the spotlights. The crowd chuckles and the ice is finally broken.

In the blink of an eye it’s over and we’re playing a video clip of Lars saying thanks. “Hmm… we could be here for some time,” mutters Hagar over the soundtrack. “He does have a reputation for going on a bit.”

Remarkably, the loquacious tub-thumper keeps it brief this particular time. I vacate the stage hastily and Hagar quips to the crowd: “I know when British guys come up you can’t understand them. When Ozzy comes up, we’ll have subtitles.”

Oh, what a circus. Oh, what a show. Welcome to the Classic Rock Roll Of Honour 2014, presented by Orange Amplification.

It seems inconceivable that Classic Rock’s first awards ceremony took place 10 years ago in the intimate confines of London’s Café De Paris, when the biggest stars in attendance were Lemmy, Arthur Brown and, er, Peter Stringfellow.

This year we’re living it large in Los Angeles at the legendary Avalon nightclub, on the corner of Hollywood and Vine and in the looming shadow of the iconic Capitol Records tower. We’re in good company. Fifty years ago, in 1964, a little-known group called The Beatles played their first-ever US West Coast show at this selfsame venue.

The evening begins with the traditional red carpet parade. Henry Rollins appears, looking smaller and slighter than you might imagine, reciting_ War And Peace_ to any reporter who’ll listen. Brian May and Anita Dobson sashay into view, closely followed by Queen cohort Adam Lambert, who has a surprisingly understated presence.

Dave Mustaine is here, somehow managing to combine a cheerful demeanour with an air of brooding menace. Duff McKagan and Susan Holmes veer into view, the planet’s coolest couple (although Scott Weiland and Jamie Wachtel – elegantly wasted, both – aren’t far behind). Booming south Yorkshire tones announce the arrival of Joe Elliott…

It goes on. The rock-star mercury keeps on rising. Billy Gibbons. Scott Ian and Pearl Aday. Glenn Hughes. Joe Perry. Zakk Wylde. And – lo and behold – Eric Idle of Monty Python fame, shuffling shambolically along the carpet wearing an extremely loud snakeskin shirt. Hilarity ensues for no other reason than… goddammit, it’s Eric Idle!

The scene is set. This, one trusts and hopes, is going to be one hell of a night. And so it proves.

Personal highlights? Ozzy Osbourne recognising me for the first time ever (I’ve only been interviewing him since 1976). And the ever-delightful Pauley Perrette, the actress from NCIS, appearing onstage in a rather magnificent black-sequinned gown and proceeding to recite – electrifyingly – some quotes from a blurb I’d written about Sharon Osbourne, winner of the VIP award. Example: “She’s bulldozed her way to the top of a largely male-dominated business; she takes neither prisoners nor shit.”

They say everyone in Hollywood wants to work in TV or the movies. Holy shit. What a buzz. Now I can see why…

Personal highlights? Ozzy Osbourne recognising me for the first time ever (I’ve only been interviewing him since 1976). And the ever-delightful Pauley Perrette, the actress from NCIS, appearing onstage in a rather magnificent black-sequinned gown and proceeding to recite – electrifyingly – some quotes from a blurb I’d written about Sharon Osbourne, winner of the VIP award. Example: “She’s bulldozed her way to the top of a largely male-dominated business; she takes neither prisoners nor shit.”

They say everyone in Hollywood wants to work in TV or the movies. Holy shit. What a buzz. Now I can see why…

Here’s how the evening unravelled. Following a storming set from Scott Weiland & The Wildabouts, and then a sumptuous three-course meal for music-industry movers’n’shakers (‘roasted garlic and pepper crusted New York strip in a port wine glaze, garlic whipped potatoes, steamed asparagus with garlic and lemon zest,’ anyone?) the main event kicks off when Classic Rock Editor Siân Llewellyn takes to the stage and delivers a rabble-rousing call to arms. Who can follow that? Rival Sons, it turns out, who perform the shortest – but possibly greatest – set of their entire sartorial-rockin’ career. Even our MC is gobsmacked.

Recovering his composure and fluffing up his hair, Hagar promises to keep things quick because everyone here is “old” and wants to “go home and go to bed early”.

So to the awards proper. First up, Best New Band goes to the Cadillac Three, straight outta Nashville, Tennessee. They respond: “You’re probably wondering: who the fuck are Cadillac Three? Well now you know, motherfuckers!”

The Three later admit: “We’re just playing everything that we grew up listening to. We grew up on Hank Junior and Skynyrd and Nirvana and Metallica and everything, you know, Zeppelin… It’s all in a big chicken pot pie now and it’s coming out nice!”

We’ve already mentioned Metallica winning Film Of The Year for_ Through The Never, so let’s fast-forward to award number three. There’s a standing ovation and a big hug from Hagar as Eric Burdon goes onstage to receive The Bluesman award, sponsored by our very own Blues Magazine_. Sammy tells a story about meeting Burdon, having him come by his house and cooking him seafood risotto. (Trust us, it made perfect sense at the time.)

Next up, it’s a biggie: Band Of The Year (sponsored by Universal Music Group). And it’s Brian May and Adam Lambert onstage, which means their Royal Majesties Queen have triumphed, and are claiming their dinky statuette. (By the way, for the US publicity banners, we had to preserve our lady’s modesty by forcing her to wear a less-than-flattering apron. Thankfully, for the statuette, she was allowed to retain her naked appeal.)

Lambert, says May, “came along out of the blue. We weren’t looking for a singer, I have to say, and I thought we’d probably done it enough to be honest [laughter]. I thought we were fine, you know. And I have a life, I have so many passions back home that I pursue. But suddenly you have a guy who gets it completely. Without having to try to be Freddie, he’s very similar in the way that he approaches it. We just thought: ‘My God, this guy can do it.’ So it’s a gift from God in a sense that you can just go out there and do it again.”

The Album Of The Year Award (sponsored by MixRadio) goes to Roger Daltrey and Wilko Johnson for the excellent Going Back Home. They’ve taped their acceptance speech.

Then, in an evening of multiple high points, Joe Elliott presents the Classic Album award (sponsored by Eagle Rock) to Ozzy Osbourne, for Blizzard Of Ozz. And here’s Ozzy himself. Another standing ovation.

Elliott recalls: “We [Def Leppard] were recording our second album, High’N’Dry, which wasn’t working, and a guy came into the Stanley Theater where we were playing, and asked us if we were OK and then had a piss out of the window. Little did he know that he was pissing on his own audience. His name was Ozzy Osbourne. He had the most amazing, fantastic, beautiful guitarist with him: Randy Rhoads. Offstage he was a fantastic human being and so much a beautiful person. And Ozzy, we will never forget how you looked after us.”

Accepting his award, Ozzy responds: “What can I say, I’m blown away. I’ve had a great life, and some disasters. The biggest was when Randy died. I owe my career to him. God bless you all.”

Sheesh – that’s pretty emotional. A feeling that’s exacerbated by the fact that Randy’s family are in the audience tonight.

As Ozzy leaves the stage, Hagar quips: “Hats off to Sharon because we wouldn’t have Ozzy if it wasn’t for Sharon, and hats off to Jack with that documentary for letting us know that Ozzy is driving now.” So let’s be careful out there.

Following another musical break – Glenn Hughes and Andrew Watt of California Breed serenading all and sundry from a strategically placed balcony – we’re back to the awards. Scott Ian presents the Metal Guru gong to Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, stating with unerring accuracy: “Generations have learned at the hands of this riff master.”

In an erudite acceptance speech, Mustaine defends his abrasive reputation by saying: “It’s the irritant that gets inside of the oyster that makes the pearl.”

But later, the fanboy in Mustaine comes out: “At my table tonight was Brian May, who I really, really respect tremendously. I was a huge Queen fan from when they first came out. I saw Jerry Cantrell, who’s one of my pals, and of course Ozzy, who I love. Scotty, who presented me the award, and right across from me was Gregg Allman. I went and said hello to Scott Weiland, who was in Stone Temple Pilots, which was a band Megadeth gave their break to. We took them out on tour and they exploded, which was great. I love that band.”

Reissue Of The Year (sponsored by The Great Frog)? There can only be one. Or three. It’s the deluxe editions of Led Zeppelin’s first trio of albums, remastered by Jimmy Page. He’s taped his acceptance speech, he looks thrilled and he promises: “I’ll see you next year.” We’ll keep you to that, James.

Now it’s the Inspiration Award (sponsored by Global Merchandise), presented by Henry Rollins to The Doors. Rollins recalls the time when he first heard the music of Jim Morrison and friends: “A guy yelling on a record – I’ll hold on to that. I might be able to use it later.” Doors drummer John Densmore, frail but straight-backed and oh-so proud, steps up to wild applause.

Suddenly, Eric Idle is here to present the Outstanding Contribution award (sponsored by CitiBank). And the winner is Mr Blue Sky himself, Electric Light Orchestra mainman Jeff Lynne. “If you think you’re here to see Billy Idol, you can fuck off!” Idle barks endearingly. He then describes his close friendship with Lynne, with whom he reveals he has formed a duo called The Fuck You Two.

The soft-spoken Lynne responds: “I just thought, who would I like to present [the award]? My pal Eric, of course. Who else? You know, because he’s so clever and so witty and a great guy.”

Later, Idle elaborates: “Jeff is a very close friend of mine, otherwise I wouldn’t be out this late! I think that Jeff is inspiring because he’s very creative, very modest and very shy. He plays every instrument, he works six days a week… he’d work seven but the engineer needs a day off. He’s just happy making music and he doesn’t really like all the rest of it. So it’s nice that he’s coming out tonight.”

Lynne, for his part, promises that there will be renewed ELO activity next year.

Onward to the VIP award (sponsored by Sunset Marquis Hotel), presented by Pauley Perrette to Sharon Osbourne. Up on stage Perrette says: “When I close my eyes, I imagine what it’s like to be an Osbourne. Greatest mom. Greatest dad…”

Then Kelly Osbourne shouts from the audience: “It’s a nightmare, trust me!”

Sharon is humbled. “We are all part of an unbelievable club,” she says. “I’m fucking 62 and I’m still working. To have brilliant careers and still be relevant… I have to tell you, I fucking hate rap music. God bless Classic Rock. Love you all, God bless!”

Sharon also makes special mention of Dave Mustaine, defending his volatile reputation and saying we all love you really, Dave, honest we do. But Mr Megadeth himself has mysteriously left the building…

We’re heading into the final straight now. Dr Brian May is here to present the Maestro award to Joe Perry, about whom he says: “He is everything a rock artist could be.”

No arguments from this quarter. The evergreen Perry comments: “I want to thank Classic Rock for bringing this here [to LA]. Another British Invasion. I’m a player and I like letting the music do the talking. Honoured to get it.”

So to the final award of the night, the Living Legend honour (sponsored by Orange Amplification), which goes to Gregg Allman. He might not be heavy but he’s very humble, confessing he’s not much of a public speaker: “I wish I could sing this to you.”

Later, reflecting on the evening’s events, Allman adds: “This was very unlike other award shows, like the Grammys. This one was more, I don’t know… it felt warmer. It’s a great time for musicians to get together. I mean, Sammy Hagar, he’s crazy! I love him so, and I think Van Halen opened for the Allman Brothers a long time ago, and he said something about it when he was up there. I am in good company, I tell you that.”

Our 2014 fandango climaxes with a performance by Kings Of Chaos, the band with Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum, Gilby Clarke and Nuno Bettencourt at its core. Two songs with Hagar – Montrose’s Rock The Nation and_ Rock Candy_ – are followed by a Purple patch featuring Glenn Hughes on vocals, then Joe Elliott belts out Queen’s Tie Your Mother Down with Brian May on guitar. Finally, Billy Gibbons grabs the mic and, with Joe Perry as a guest guitarist, performs ZZ Top’s _La Grange _and Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady, while Brian May, Glenn Hughes and Joe Elliott watch giddily from the wings, grinning like schoolkids.

Rumour has it that air guitars were played. It was that kind of night. Does life get any better than this? Be here next year for Roll Of Honour Part 11, when we’ll find out…

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.