Alison Krauss

Alison Krauss

Due to the nature of the annual Songwriters Hall of Fame [SHOF] Induction Gala, the VIP cocktail party always brings out a motley bunch of old-guard music business luminaries, celebrated songwriters and the major recording artists who made them celebrated.

Previous inductee (2009, with Eddie Brigati) Felix Cavaliere got there early Thursday evening. Of course he was asked how The Rascals: Once Upon A Dream tour is going, following the show’s three-night December debut at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., and its boffo April-May run at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre.

He said that the so-called “Bio-Concert,” which was written by co-producer/director Steven Van Zandt and combines a Rascals rock concert with a Broadway show (including narration, filmed scenes of actors depicting the Rascals’ history, news and band archival footage), has been a “healing” for both the band, which was riven in the early 1970s by personal and professional issues, and the fans.

John McEnroe & Patty Smyth

John McEnroe & Patty Smyth

Patty Smyth came in with husband John McEnroe. She was there to sing “The Warrior” for its songwriter/inductee Holly Knight, and I was most excited to learn that she has a new Christmas album forthcoming with some original songs. In separate interviews following the induction, both she and Knight saw themselves as somewhat symbolic of a female rock contingent that has been wrongly overlooked by awarding bodies—though neither like defining themselves by gender; Knight, too, noted how she realized, after a journalist pointed it out, that so many of her songs—“The Warrior,” “Love Is A Battlefield,” “Invincible,” “The Best”—dealt with empowerment via fighting to overcome some sort of adversity.

Of course I had to mention to Smyth how I still marvel at how she chewed gum during her entire show the first time I saw her with Scandal. Gum’s gone now, she replied, replaced by apples; both keep her mouth from drying out while singing.

Got quite a kick out of McEnroe, whom I’d met a couple times, once years ago when he had a photography studio down town and hosted Muhammad Ali’s great friend/photographer Howard Bingham, and once with Patty at a Judith Owen show, I think. He turned to me at the cocktail party and wondered if they’d let him back in, since he couldn’t find his VIP laminate. I told him not to worry.

JD Souther

JD Souther

The great Andy Paley, was there, too, with longtime associate Seymour Stein, Sire Records’ founder, whose role at Warner Music Group has just been expanded to senior label A&R executive for independent music. Andy was kvelling about the forthcoming reissue of Paley Brothers, his 1978 power pop album with brother Jonathan, to also feature bonus tracks including Phil Spector-produced material.

Just before the dinner Paley took a call from his longtime protégé Mandy Barnett, who’s working on an exciting project that I don’t think I’m at liberty to say anything more than it’s an exciting project.

No surprise that the queen of the cocktail party was Alison Krauss, though the ever-gracious but always camera-shy thrush, to dust off an old Variety showbiz term for female singer, stayed long enough for starstruck inductee Steven Tyler to commandeer her for a photo op.

Krauss was there to sing “Faithless Love” during JD Souther’s induction. But she’d have been just as happy singing for Mick Jones and Lou Gramm of Foreigner, who were also inducted, as she’s a huge fan. In fact, there she was, in the green room backstage, watching them on a monitor and singing along to “I Want To Know What Love Is”—at least as angelic as Anthony Morgan’s Inspirational Choir of Harlem, who actually sang with them on stage.

Staying backstage, Tyler’s Aerosmith songwriting partner and fellow inductee Joe Perry was deeply moved by the honor, he said, after first lighting up a clove cigarette. Benny Blanco, who received the Hal David Starlight Award (presented to young songwriters who are making a significant impact in the music industry with their original songs) was likewise overwhelmed, as was Tony Hatch, writer of “Downtown” and so many other Petula Clark 1960s hits (Clark sang it during his induction, and kept her arm around him backstage while he did post-induction interviews).

Jody Klein recalled how his late father (and 2006 SHOF Abe Olman Publishers Award recipient) Allen Klein loved Sam Cooke, whose “A Change Is Gonna Come” received the SHOF Towering Song citation. Allen, of course, was Cooke’s business manager. And it is indeed true that he loved Sam deeply, in fact, he regarded his work with Sam to be more significant personally than managing the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. After inviting me to a studio to hear the spectacular mix of his 2003 Sam Cooke at the Copa reissue—you could hear the tinkling glasses on the trays as the waiters walked by—he said it was the happiest moment of his life.

Nicole Cooke Johnson (of Three Brown Girls)

Nicole Cooke Johnson (of Three Brown Girls)

Cooke’s granddaughter Nicole Cooke Johnson was with Jody, and spoke of how “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which came to symbolize the Civil Rights Movement and was introduced by President Clinton’s taped comments, has since transcended generations. Meanwhile, Smokey Robinson, who presented Berry Gordy with the SHOF Pioneer Award, made note of the Motown mogul’s lesser remembered success as a songwriter, having co-written Robinson’s hero Jackie Wilson’s hits “Reet Petite” and “Lonely Teardrops.”

And there was Elton John, who with Bernie Taupin received the prestigious SHOF Johnny Mercer Award—the highest honor bestowed by the Songwriters Hall of Fame, presented to a past inductee whose body of work is of such high quality and impact that it upholds the gold standard set by the legendary Johnny Mercer.

But I could only watch, hopelessly, as he walked down the hall and past my post-induction interview room, not bothering to stop and look in, let alone enter.

Jim Bessman

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