Crank up the Car Speakers and Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rollin’ and Rockin’: Classic vehicles and rock. Add a slice of apple pie, and you have a powerful taste of America.
Despite COVID-19, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland has been celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. As part of that event, the hall recently inducted Depeche Mode, The Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, The Notorious B.I.G., T. Rex, and Ahmet Ertegun Award honorees Jon Landau and Irving Azoff, adding to the 338 groups enshrined.
Designed by the world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, the glass-enclosed double pyramid and adjacent 162-foot tower resemble a vintage record player from above. The 150,000-square-foot Hall of Fame preserves the history of the most influential artists and personalities of rock and roll. The museum archives and displays 35,000-plus artifacts relating to the American-born-and bred musical form, including some of the cars and motorcycles its inductees have enjoyed.
More than 13 million fans have visited since 1995; in 2019, nearly 600,000 fans and 2,300 artists toured the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The museum is temporarily closed over the holidays because of COVID-19 but expects to reopen after the New Year. Meanwhile, the museum expects construction to begin in 2022 on a 50,000-square-foot expansion, designed by the Practice for Architecture and Urbanism.
Known as the birthplace of rock and roll, Cleveland upcharted New York, San Francisco, Memphis and Chicago for hosting rights. That was deserved, as here disc jockey Alan Freed popularized the term “rock and roll” and where the first rock and roll concert, the Moondog Coronation Ball, took place in 1952.
The museum features signatures from every inductee; jukeboxes with career-defining playlists for each; The Garage, an interactive exhibit floor where visitors can take lessons on guitar, bass guitar, keyboard and drums; rockabilia such as the Gucci suit worn by Harry Styles when he inducted Phoenix-area resident Stevie Nicks in 2019; and many other educational opportunities.
“Cars and rock and roll are wonderfully intertwined in America’s cultural DNA,” says Nwaka Onwusa, chief curator for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “In every musical experience, and every drive, stories are created and shared.”
Cars Go Platinum
Some inductees love cars or motorcycles in general or a specific vehicle. Onwusa shares some of those vehicles that are in the permanent or loaned collection of the museum, have appeared there as exhibits in the past or are enjoyed by the rockers in their private lives.
•1933 Ford Eliminator Coupe –– This is one of the most famous cars in rock and roll history. Bill Gibbons, ZZ Top’s guitarist and car enthusiast, commissioned its construction with Buffalo Motor Cars and Southern California’s now famous So-Cal Speed Shop in 1976; the shops combined an all-steel Ford three-window coupe with a Corvette engine. The hot rod debuted on the cover of ZZ Top’s 1983 album, Eliminator, and it became a symbol for the world tour that followed.
The Eliminator also appeared in ZZ Top’s first video, Gimme All Your Lovin’. The next two videos, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs, combined the music of ZZ Top with the imagery of cheap sunglasses, beautiful women, Fury guitars and the red Eliminator coupe. Eliminator sales reached multi-platinum status in 1984, and the band received its first Grammy nomination.
The Eliminator was also featured during the band’s performance at MTV’s first Video Music Awards show in New York’s Radio City Music Hall and continues to appear around the globe through television, movies, custom car exhibits and charitable events. (Collection of Billy F. Gibbon, on loan)
•1965 Porsche –– Janis Joplin was often seen cruising San Francisco in her custom-painted psychedelic with her collie, George. (Gift of Rolling Stone)
•1979 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLS 1000 –– This motorcycle, ridden by former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer, Thomas Delmer ‘Artimus’ Pyle, was built by Daryl Dean at Gowanda Harley-Davidson in New York and customized with airbrushing by Cody Hughes. The artwork commemorated Pyle’s 2006 induction into the Rock Hall as well as honor Pyle’s late bandmate, Skynyrd frontman Ronnie Van Zant (1948–1977).
Pyle received the bike as a gift from his friend William Parry. “This bike is a tribute to my dear friend, Ronnie Van Zant, who I sadly miss,” Pyle has said.
•1985 Harley-Davidson Wide Glide –– Rocker Billy Idol bought this motorcycle in 1987 when he moved to Los Angeles. “I have ridden her all over LA to the many sessions, shows and shoots over the years and on many bike runs all over the USA. . . . “This bike is a part of my heritage,” recalled Idol, who began his career as a punk rocker and later led Generation X.
In February 1990, Idol was seriously injured while riding this motorcycle; he ran a stop sign and collided with a car, breaking his wrist and leg. “[The bike] came out of it better than me, as she was only hit in the transmission,” Idol said. Because of his injuries, Idol was only able to be filmed from the waist up for the Cradle of Love music video. The song reached Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100. (Gift of Billy Idol)
•1960 Chevrolet Corvette –– Bruce Springsteen’s black/white ragtop features silver chrome trim and black leather interior. The original AC Delco radio has been replaced with a tape deck. The ignition key on a ring with an aqua blue plastic tag says “60vette.” The museum also has a 1957 white/red ’Vette convertible owned by ‘The Boss’.
•1979 Johnny Cash Tour Bus –– Cash used J.C. Unit One for the last two decades of his career. He started touring with his band in private cars. As bookings grew, he used several motor homes for touring, but they could not withstand the demanding schedule.
So in 1979 Cash bought the shell of a 40-foot Motor Coach Industries Cruiser MC9, the same frame used on many Greyhound buses. He sent the frame to Land Cruiser Customizer in Columbus, Ohio, for the structural build; Creative Mobile Interiors of Grove City, Ohio, completed the interior.
Johnny, his wife June, and their son, John Carter, all had separate compartments as did the driver. Including the frame and the customization, Cash spent an estimated $553,000-plus (in 1980 dollars) on the coach.
Cash sold the bus in July 2003, just two months after June died and only two months before his death. Eldon Wright, gospel singer and guiding light of the American Heritage Music Foundation, bought the bus. “Johnny couldn’t stand to have the bus once June was gone,” Wright said. “It was ﬁlled with so many memories of her.”
“I have a home that takes me anywhere I need to go, that cradles me and comforts me, that lets me nod off in the mountains and wake up in the plains: my bus, of course,” Cash recalled. “I love my bus. It really is my home, too. When I make it off another plane and through another airport, the sight of that big black MCI waiting by the curb sends waves of relief through me: Aah!: safety, familiarity, solitude. Peace at last. My cocoon.” (Gift by David and Esther Wright)
•1969 Chevrolet Chevelle –– According to Toby Scott, a sound engineer who worked with Bruce Springsteen on 18 albums (including Darkness On The Edge of Town, Born in the U.S.A. and Tunnel of Love and numerous live performances), this Chevelle “is a car [Bruce and I] had driven around New Jersey on many an occasion.”
Although not the inspiration for the song “Racing in the Street,” [that song’s] opening lines describe it exactly: “I got a ’69 Chevy with a 396, fuelie, headers and a Hurst on the floor . . .” The song appeared on Springsteen’s 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town. “In ‘Racing in the Street’ my street racers carried with them the years between the innocent car songs of the sixties and the realities of 1978 America,” Springsteen recalled. “To make [the song] personal, I had to infuse the music with my own experience, my own hopes and fears.”
Springsteen gifted the car to Scott in 1988, and he lent it to the museum.
•1989 Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle –– Bruce Springsteen rode this motorcycle through the Southwest in 1989. He said he rode “several thousand miles,” making the trip with three friends. The motorcycle features a black gas tank, wheel covers, chrome handlebars, two rear-view mirrors, red turn signals at the rear and a single red brake light. Also included is a large white front lamp with two orange turn signals and a leather console pouch with conchos. The California license plate is 11W958.
•Joan Jett Jaguar 1983 XJ-S H.E. –– This was Joan Jett’s first automobile. She purchased the car before she had a driver’s license and drove it off the lot with only a learner’s permit. She was recording at Kingdom Sound, where “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” was recorded, her first day with the car. Between recording sessions, she took it for a joy ride with teenage actor Matt Dillon.
The Jaguar XJ-S H.E. (for High Efficiency) was one of the first fuel-injected engine Jaguars and had a lot more power than the previous carbureted models. Jaguar claimed that this was the fastest automatic transmission car in the world at that time, capable of 155 miles per hour. (Collection of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum)
•1965 Honda CL77 –– John Cougar Mellencamp has always been a motorcyclist. He acquired this bike when he was in high school. He said: “As long as I had a guitar, some food, a motorcycle and some beautiful arms to fall into, that’s about all I ever wanted.”
•1967 Chevrolet Corvette –– Roy Orbison connected with cars and speed in his teens and later owned many high-performance vehicles and motorcycles; this was a passion that nearly equaled his love of music. He purchased this red iteration of “America’s sports car” in the late ’80s while living in Southern California. He drove it daily to the studio while recording the albums The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 and Mystery Girl. It was the last car he purchased before his death in 1988. (On loan from Barbara Orbison)
•1965 Porsche Cabriolet –– After he moved to California, Tom Morello, Rage Against the Machine, used this as a tour van from 1991–1993. The classic has two front doors, a sliding passenger side door and two back doors. It’s missing the removable rear seats, but where would you transport the guitars and drums otherwise?
•1977 Harley-Davidson XLCR Cafe Racer –– Billy Joel’s black 1000-cc motorcycle has a gold/red/navy Harley logo on the lower right near the exhaust pipe. It also features a smoked plastic windscreen, dual front mirrors and a black leather seat with silver studs.
The license plate reads “Billy Joel” in black, and the plate is in silver frame with lighthouse and text: “Harley-Davidson Huntington, Long Island, NY.” This bike was a reworking of Harley’s Sportster motorcycle, a predecessor of current sports bikes.
•1988 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail –– Owned by Jon Bon Jovi, the motorcycle has California license plate number 14M0820 and features red/white front and rear fenders, brand logo plates on the left and right sides of the tank and chrome plates on front fender.
In addition is one large center headlight with two smaller headlights on either side, two black leather saddlebags with black leather fringe and padlocks on the right saddlebag. Strips of black leather are woven around the handlebars. In the center of the gas tank is a red rectangular piece of leather with three conchos. Conchos are also on the seat and saddlebags.
This motorcycle was one of the best-known Bon Jovi accessories in the late ’80s and early ’90s. In 1990, he rode the bike in the video for “Miracle” from Young Guns II.
•1968 Bullitt Mustang –– “This is essentially an old Mustang set on top of a new Mustang, so it’s all brand new on the inside,” says Phoenix-area resident Alice Cooper, who in 2019 displayed his stage electric chair and guillotine at the Rock & Hall of Fame. The car celebrates the great 1968 Steve McQueen movie including one of the great cinematic car chases ever.
Cooper’s garage evolves. Now he has a magnificent ‘63 Studebaker Avanti (they had Chevy 327- and 350-cid engines): “I’ve had several of these over the years,” he says. He and wife Sheryl also own an Alfa Romeo Spider and a Dodge Hellcat. He just picked up his red-on-black 2020 Corvette from the dealer and is ecstatic, reminiscent of an Alice Cooper performance: “You should see this car; it’s one of the most gorgeous things you’ve seen in your life!”
Cooper’s car love started in the Motor City as a child. “My dad was a used-car salesman in Detroit, and pretty much all of my friends growing up had parents who were in the car business in some shape or form,” he recalls. “You just get programmed to love them. My heart still runs on high octane, 400 horsepower and four on the floor.”
To learn more about the inductees and the exhibits at Rockhall.com. If you or someone you know has a GreatGarage and would like it to be considered for an upcoming issue, email us at [email protected].