The Good & Bad of Willie Nelson’s Rock Hall of Fame Nomination
Well here we are again talking about a major country music artist being nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and just like Dolly Parton in 2022, Willie Nelson will be one of the next Rock Hall members. His nomination ordains that. Voters won’t peruse down the list of names and not drop a vote on Willie.
And though as a country fan it is fun to see an undisputed country music icon honored, it lends to the same moral conundrums Dolly Parton’s nomination and eventual induction did last year—a nomination that Dolly Parton initially declined due to those conundrums, but eventually accepted, likely because once the ballots went out, there was no way to pull her nomination back. And just like Willie, nobody was going to not vote for Dolly.
Willie was nominated for the 2023 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Sheryl Crow, Kate Bush, Missy Elliot, Iron Maiden, Joy Division/New Order, Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, Rage Against The Machine, Soundgarden, The Spinners, A Tribe Called Quest, The White Stripes, and Warren Zevon.
What is the moral conundrum Dolly Parton and country fans faced last year? It’s that even though you want to root for your favorite artist for any honor they might receive, it feels like Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions should be reserved from rock and roll artists first and foremost. And if by chance it’s a weak field one year and it feels right for a country nominee to go in, only then should it happen. This was Dolly’s reasoning for initially taking herself out of the running.
Country music has its own Hall of Fame, and it’s a major institution in American music with vibrant and active participation in the arts and entertainment community. Hip-hop, pop, and other genres do not have that, and that’s one of the reasons the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has expanded to include those genres as well.
But most importantly, there are rock artists who deserve to get into the Rock Hall before country ones. No different than how we wouldn’t want big popular names in rock or pop superseding country names for the Country Music Hall of Fame, we should want to be good neighbors in country, and recuse country artists from consideration unless the field was so weak where it makes more sense.
That said, there are a few reasons why Willie Nelson’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination makes more sense than Dolly’s did. When Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings emerged during the Outlaw era in country music in the mid ’70s, the criticism of them was that they weren’t country, they were rock. Waylon Jennings at least had Ralph Mooney playing steel guitar behind him. Willie didn’t really have any traditional country music instrumentation.
When Texas historian Jan Reed wrote his book about the emergence of the music scene in Austin, he put Willie Nelson on the cover, and called it The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock. Unlike country artists at the time, Willie Nelson bucked the system and took his cues more from rock artists who recorded the songs they wanted, and with their own bands, which was completely counter to the Music Row system at the time which put producers in charge. After Willie left RCA, he signed with rock producer Jerry Wexler and the rock label Atlantic. Wexler produced Willie’s albums Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages.
Where Dolly Parton didn’t really have any rock music bonafides (and that’s the reason she’s about to release a rock album), Willie does. But let’s face it, even Willie’s rock credentials are few and far between. Would you really say that he could compete with Iron Maiden, Soundgarden, or Warren Zevon? Still though, Willie will be a shoo-in off of name recognition and respect. It’s hard to say these other artists will be.
The other concern when Dolly Parton was nominated and inducted to the Rock Hall is that it would start the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame down a “slippery slope,” setting a precedent where every year subsequently, a country artist would be nominated and likely inducted. Willie Nelson’s nomination affirms this. It was inevitable. If you were going to put Dolly in, you had to put Willie in. He was #1 on Saving Country Music’s list of next possible country artists into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But now that Willie will go in, who will be next, and next after them? With Dolly Parton’s induction, it feels like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is dramatically in arrears when it comes to inducting country artists, because previously, country artists had been considered out-of-bounds, with the only exception being the “early influence” inductees such as Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.
Again, as a country fan, you may feel happy about this development. But as a good music neighbor, you have to think who these country artists are helping to keep out. One of the reasons certain people were advocating for Dolly Parton to be put in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is because of a perceived lack of women. But Dolly Parton’s induction very well could have kept Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper out for another year, let alone bumping acts like Iron Maiden and Warren Zevon, while Willie’s nomination marks another years where Jethro Tull, Steppenwolf, and Jim Croce don’t receive one.
For some of the performers that Dolly and now Willie competed with for nominations and induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they may need that induction to help codify their legacy in music. Willie and Dolly don’t. Their legacies are just fine.
All that said, it certainly is cool to see Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and the artists that will be nominated in the coming years from the country music realm receive this recognition. But in this new era where country artists are all of a sudden competing for Rock and Roll hall of Fame slots, let’s be respectful and judicious as country music fans, and as a country music community. Let’s make sure we don’t step on our brothers and sisters in rock through this new opportunity. Because we would want the rock world to show that same respect to us.
February 4, 2023 @ 9:51 am
No. Just no. When Willie gets In before Joe Cocker. That’s just wrong.
February 4, 2023 @ 10:26 am
But, Hey …
Sheryl Crow, you know …
RNRHOF, is garbage.
Has been for several years
February 4, 2023 @ 9:51 am
What’s sad is that artists like Dan Fogelberg and Kenny Loggins still are not in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. I thought their nominees were pretty weak this year.
February 4, 2023 @ 1:00 pm
How about Phil Collins as a solo artist? You could not turn on the radio in the 80s without hearing his voice.
Jim Croce, Foreigner, Kansas. Marshall Tucker. There is massive backlog to address.
February 4, 2023 @ 10:09 am
I was a no on Dolly and NWA — not rock — but I think you can definitely make an argument for Willie. He helped bridge country and rock and that Family Band could be super rockin’ and rollin’ live. Big energy, big sound and an almost jam band vibe at times. Plues, as you mentioned, the whole Outlaw thing was pretty rock n roll. He’s got my vote.
February 4, 2023 @ 10:23 am
They should be inducting Waylon before Willie if that’s how you feel about Willie and rock n roll, no?
February 4, 2023 @ 10:37 am
I don’t know about before — but yes, I think you could make a case for Waylon definitely.
February 4, 2023 @ 10:18 am
Can’t wait for him to begrudgingly record a rock n roll record like Dolly. (Not.)
February 4, 2023 @ 10:22 am
Also, how is Willie getting into the RNRHOF, but Frank Sinatra, one of Willie’s biggest influences, NOT in the RNRHOF???
Wilson Pick It
February 4, 2023 @ 11:58 am
One could further argue that with the release of That’s Life, Willie is a lot closer to a jazz musician than a country musician these days.
February 4, 2023 @ 12:00 pm
Hell, he’s released TWO Sinatra covers albums in the last 5 years alone.
February 4, 2023 @ 12:04 pm
Good point. Frank recorded several Rock songs in the ’50s, like “Can I Steak a Little Love” and “Two Hearts, Two Kisses.” Later he covered the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, and Billy Joel (but in jazz/big band arrangements).
February 4, 2023 @ 12:05 pm
I mean “Can I STEAL a Little Love,” sheesh.
February 4, 2023 @ 1:32 pm
Growing up it didn’t seem you could get further apart sonically than Frank and The Beatles. Nevertheless, recently I was listening to the Long and Winding Road and thought it could fit into Frank’s Capitol Records period.
February 4, 2023 @ 10:42 am
Warren Zevon is the criminal oversight being righted this year. I hope HE wins
February 4, 2023 @ 11:26 am
Let’s be honest. Like Dolly, the Willie nomination is ridiculous.
Willie is an artist that draws from a wide array of musical influences spanning multiple genres. But he was never known as a rock & roll or pop artist. Like Dolly he is an singer whose music has occasionally been accepted by pop audiences and top 40 radio. But clearly both artists were always regarded as core COUNTRY acts whose appeal expanded outside of the genre usually due to a particular recording.
For sure Willie is a musical icon to be widely admired. But not as a member of the ROCK AND ROLL Hall Of Fame. Especially when many worthy rock & roll and pop artists wait in the wings for their induction.
February 4, 2023 @ 11:43 am
I try to just not think about it as a Rock HoF anymore tbh. If the committee are putting people like Willie and Missy Elliot on their ballots, I’m going to choose the five people I think have made the biggest impact with their music regardless of genre. It does seem odd since country artists have their own HoF but then inducting people from every genre except country would also seem strange. Looking forward to seeing Willie perform at the ceremony!
On another note, I think the Country Music Hall of Fame should do something like this as well. By releasing a shortlist of potential inductees, you create a conversation which ultimately brings publicity to your institution. The public vote section for the Rock Hall has had nearly 700,000 votes so far and it’s been less than a week. The Country Hall is too insular – yes I get keeping the honour exclusive but I think it’s to the detriment of the institution at this point.
February 4, 2023 @ 1:50 pm
Totally agree on the second point, and wrote about this awhile back. The Rock Hall creates so much water cooler talk and attention for itself through its nomination and induction process. For the Country Music Hall of Fame, it’s all exclusive and secretive, and barely anyone even knows it happens.
February 6, 2023 @ 7:05 pm
I definitely get and respect where you guys are coming from on this and don’t entirely disagree, but I am more inclined to think it is best to err on the side of exclusivity as the Country HOF does now.
It seems to me that one of the reasons for this is respect for the artists themselves. Releasing a short list beforehand would risk making it more of a direct competition between nominees, which would have the potential to get a little unseemly. I tend to think that in country music we treat our legends with such a degree of reverence that we want to protect them from the indignity of picking “winners and losers” in what could become a tacky public process.
February 4, 2023 @ 11:48 am
I think he should be recognized as an influence but there are pure rock artists not getting in. Also think Rage Against The Machine is way too recent for a nomination (I understand the rules, just don’t like them). Then again, like the Joe Dolce song goes: “my home ain’t in the hall of Fame…”! It’s less silly than awards shows but not by much.
February 5, 2023 @ 3:26 pm
I mean rage are within the time period you’re just getting older. And they’re the most impenitent rock band of the 90s they belong in.
February 5, 2023 @ 4:47 pm
Not arguing that, I saw them live in 1997 and it was awesome, but they have what three albums and have only toured again recently. But really what I mean is when we have bands from the 60’s and 70’s still not in I’m not really seeing it. Mainly I’m a grouch who really doesn’t listen to much new music at all. It’s probably a good thing I’m not in charge of these things.
February 4, 2023 @ 12:48 pm
The sooner we all can start ignoring the “Rock and Roll” in the Hall of Fame’s name, the better. It has long been, the Late 20th and Early 21st Century Popular Music Hall of Fame. As such, I have absolutely no problem with accepting Willie as a nominee and a near-certain inductee. He meets every possible criterion but “rock and roll”: an important, influential and popular singer and songwriter, and well-known to millions of people who don’t listen to, and hardly know anything of, country music.
Most other inductees, especially in recent years, flunk one or multiple criteria, especially when it comes to influence and popularity. The Spinners: Were they influential? Warren Zevon: Other than one novelty hit, which he likely hated performing in his later years, was he really all that popular? In this context, Sheryl Crow is more qualified than either.
In summary, don’t overthink it — Leave that to retired occasional music writers like me 😉 — and celebrate the induction of any worthy country music figure to the Rock, I mean Popular Music Hall of Fame.
February 5, 2023 @ 3:22 pm
While not singular in his position in music history, Zevon, besides being merely enjoyed by many, influenced countless songwriters. He had a direct hand in if not writing entire songs by or covered by everyone from Linda Ronstadt, The Turtles, Dwight Yoakam, The Grateful Dead, Meatloaf, Stevie Nicks, G.G. Allin, The Pretenders and many many more. In addition, maintaining a cultural presence well after his popular music career was well in the general public’s rearview. If respect across the board from all corners of Rock music, and music in general, isn’t enough for Zevon to count for what the RNRHOF does do, i’m not sure what does.
February 4, 2023 @ 1:04 pm
I didn’t realize Rage Against the Machine was an actual band. I thought someone just recorded drywall screws in a garbage disposal and put that name on the CD.
February 4, 2023 @ 1:19 pm
I love Dolly & Willie (duh) but let’s reverse the argument. I also love the White Stripes, they have killer covers of Dolly Parton (“Jolene”) & Loretta Lynn (“Rated X), and Jack White produced a killer Lotta Lynn album in 2004, “Van Lear Rose.” So there’s a tangential link to country. So should the White Stripes be in the Country Hall of Fame? Before the Stanley Brothers or Jimmy Martin or Johnny Paycheck or Dwight Yoakam or John Anderson or… you get the idea… Of course not – it’s absolutely ridiculous!
I personally have always thought the Rock Hall of Fame seemed pretty desperate (and cheap – charging inductees for tables at their own induction, for example…) and this isn’t helping…
As usual, I agree with Trigger.
February 4, 2023 @ 1:40 pm
Why are’nt groups like Grand Funk, The Guess Who ,Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night who had many hits not in yet. The hall of fame is a joke. Went there last year and only stayed about an hour. When I saw a Taylor Swift display I knew it was time to leave. Besides like Dolly Parton Willie Nelson is not a rock artist.
February 4, 2023 @ 2:27 pm
: D So,
Are you about ready to leave Key Western Fest – you butthead?
I’ll bet Deana Carter puts on a somewhat smokin’ show, this evening.
Have been salivating thinking about your bad self, down in my neck of the woods, for two weeks.
Even went on the Riffe International site today, getting oil for my speargun.
Time to get in the water & get wet.
Going to have to talk to Julie (Riffe).
Also wanted to get a Riffe mesh baseball cap, but i want one in pink.
Bet Uncle Becky would have a smart mouth, albeit, dainty, ball cap i would like
February 4, 2023 @ 2:49 pm
I wrote in the comments of one of your Dolly Parton HOF articles that Willie should have been inducted first because he was the most natural “country” selection.
“Would you really say that he could compete with Iron Maiden, Soundgarden, or Warren Zevon?”
If I squint real hard, I think Willie could compete with Warren Zevon. I don’t have to squint at all to say Willie’s music compares/ competes/ rivals The Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, or Bob Dylan. Besides touring with those artists, Willie very much sounded like those artists in the 70’s. Listen to Willie and Family Live (1978) – that’s a straight-up jam band rock and roll outfit.
“But let’s face it, even Willie’s rock credentials are few and far between.”
In 2017 and 2019, Willie won the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album (My Way, Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin). In fact, over the last 30 years, more times than not, when Willie won a Grammy, it wasn’t for the country genre.
But look no further than the beginning of Willie’s prolific career to justify his Rock & Roll HOF nomination. “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Crazy”, “Night Life” – the three pop/rock standards that started it all made hits by Al Green, Patsy Cline, Ray Price (amongst other notable Pop/ Rock/ R&B artists like Elvis, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King).
I’m not a HOF, museum, or statue guy; in the end, I really don’t care. But, I think Willie within the set rules is a natural fit for the Rock & Roll HOF.
February 4, 2023 @ 3:16 pm
Personally I think Willie should get all the honors he can, let’s face the dudes a legend. He has done it his own way. But I have lost respect for the rock and roll hall of fame. If I had any to begin with
February 4, 2023 @ 4:18 pm
I’d put Conway Twitty in for “It’s Only Make Believe,” “Lonely Blue Boy,” “Danny Boy” and “Mona Lisa,” but I don’t think that’s what they’re looking for.
February 5, 2023 @ 7:11 am
I agree with that statement also. Marty Robbins had a string of hits that were Rockabilly before he went all Country. It’s a great honor for Willie & Dolly, but if someone from another genre went into the CMA HOF before someone in the Country genre there will be an outcry.
February 4, 2023 @ 4:34 pm
I think the Country Hall of Fame should be restructured in its categories by adding at least 1 more tier and allowing more than 1 entry per year to clear out the back log of deserving artists. Hard to imagine that in 1963 there was no entires.
Here’s how I feel it needs to be restructured to:
The modern era : National Prominence since 1990.
The veteran era : National Prominence from 1970 – 1989.
The classic era: National Prominence from 1950-1969.
The pioneer era: National Prominence prior to 1950.
The non-charting/influential performer – Those who have endured lasting popularity despite never achieving a top 40 hit.
The supporting musician/influential non-performer category – Those who contributed to country music’s success over the years.
I feel as this would help get more artists in that truly deserve to be in the hall of fame. As George Jones said in his song “Whose Gonna Fill Those Shoes” – “This ol’ world is full of singers, but just a few were chosen to tear your heart out when they sing…” As true as this is, more need to be recognized for their contributions and years of dedication.
February 5, 2023 @ 7:13 am
I agree to that. They need to get caught up a bit. The Veterans category will soon be flooded with artists that should have been in the Modern category.
February 4, 2023 @ 5:09 pm
Isn’t/wasn’t R n R an off shoot of country music?
February 6, 2023 @ 7:17 pm
Country music and rhythm & blues are the parents of rock ‘n’ roll.
February 4, 2023 @ 5:37 pm
Bob Wills is still the king…
February 4, 2023 @ 7:37 pm
I visited the Rock Hall not long after it opened in the 90s. Featured artists at the time included Madonna and PFunk. I knew right then that it was not going to be exclusively a R&R Hall. It got even worse later on. Genre dilution and overlap in order to ensure commercial viability was just inevitable.
Now, time and age has made me realize that HOFs as a general matter are silly and pointless. Technology alone makes them irrelevant. Everything is stored in the cloud now and is available to view in the comfort of your own home. The historical impact and importance of any particular artist is now secured electronically in a 4″x3″ box.
HOFs just make no sense anymore. If you want to see something musically special and interesting, you should visit the places where the history was actually made, like the Motown Museum, or Stax, or other such hallowed halls.
February 4, 2023 @ 9:12 pm
I agree it’s a bad decision to include Willie and don’t support it, but there are a number of artists on that list which show they aren’t serious about restricting it to rock n roll musicians. I’d certainly say he deserves it more than Missy Elliot.
February 5, 2023 @ 12:42 am
C’mon, seriously. Willie should be on Mount Rushmore. He and Waylon should have been in the RRHOF twenty years ago. Like Dolly, he is so iconic, music is almost secondary. In the late seventies he basically saved society from the scourge that was Disco; the Stardust album reintroduced Hoagy Carmichael to the planet. It ain’t rock, but seriously, who cares? The RRHOF has ABBA in it! Plus, do you really think cannabis would be legal in half the country but for him? C’mon, mark the ballot and let’s celebrate his ninetieth birthday. We do need our heroes.
February 5, 2023 @ 1:58 am
As some mentioned above, it appears the “Rock and roll” hall of fame is no “popular music” hall of fame.
Willie Nelson: country artist
Sheryl Crow: rock artist
Kate Bush: pop artist (which I guess can be called Rock)
Missy Elliot: Hip Hop
Iron Maiden: Heavy Metal (which is rock)
Joy Division/New Order: While NO played with electronic, pop and dance, they are a rock band
Cyndi Lauper, George Michael: Pop artists
Rage Against The Machine, Soundgarden, The Spinners: Rock artists
A Tribe Called Quest: Hip Hop
The White Stripes, and Warren Zevon: Apparently someone have a lot of friends and/or fans there, but other than the curiosity element, Rock artists.
So Pop, Rock, Metal, Hip Hop, Country, It’s really not a “rock and roll” hall of fame anymore.
A. Michael Uhlmann
February 5, 2023 @ 6:06 am
I think it’s ok to get Willie into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame but would have loved to see a package deal, where Wlllie & Waylon would have entered together, as purveyors of the Austin sound.
On the other hand, we are still waiting on the nomination and induction of Gram Parsons and Doug Sahm – while Gram could have been nominated to get into the Hall with the Byrds, he did not! He is way overdue – be at as a member of some of the earliest country rock bands, as his own act, or how a deep friendship with Keith Richards influenced Keith and the Rolling Stones.
Why Doug Sahm still has not gotten any attention from the Hall is unbelievable. From sitting and playing steel guitar on Hank Williams’s lap to child prodigy who was asked to join the Grand Ole Opry when he was a teenager to a Rock’n’Roll hitmaker first in San Antonio and then nationwide in the Sir Douglas Quintet, who recorded with Bob Dylan among others or jamming with the Grateful Dead at the Armadillo World Headquarters, as a Blues-belter with the Last Real Texas Blues Band, more country recordings as Wayne Douglas to the co-leader of the Tex-Mex quartet Texas Tornados. If one single person describes the variety of Texas music a picture of Doug would be a great illustration.
February 6, 2023 @ 11:18 am
Unquestionably Doug Sahm is a Texas music hall of Fame guy. I’m assuming he’s in already?
But outside of the Texas scene he’s not as well known as you think. You say the name Doug Sahm to the average person, they draw a blank. He’s one of those cult guys who draws an insanely devoted fanbase, for various reasons but outside of that niche, he’s not known. I’m thinking Mendocino was the big one he’s associated with.
The other issue is that a lot of his music doesn’t neatly fit into genres. Texas Tornados was a sort of Tex Mex country rock. Jamming with The Dead doesn’t qualify you for Hall of Fame admittance either. He’s one of those great musicians that was in a bunch of bands, but the Rock Hall typically inducts big name solo artists and big name bands. He was a big name MUSICIAN and that’s what will keep him out
There is a musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, which could be a good possibility.
February 5, 2023 @ 10:14 am
The Rock Hall is a joke — totally void of any legitimacy. Far too much bias from the nominating committee and a lefty-agenda. Dolly Parton is awesome. Her addition to the Hall was a sad joke. The place is a marketing platform now; they added Foo Fighters 10 years too soon because Dave Grohl is a big star (and he had a book to sell.) Until INXS, Jethro Tull, Foreigner, Joe Cocker, and J. Geils Band (among others) are in, the institution is not to be taken seriously.
Of course they induct plenty of amazing, worthy artists every year (and plenty of terrific nominees are in the mix this year), but there is an agenda in place to add rap stars and country stars to somehow expand the Rock Hall platform for all music fans.
Meanwhile, the voters will bend over backwards to get in Jay-Z but can’t be bothered to acknowledge real rock n’ roll artists.
It’s embarrassing. And they know it and they don’t care. The Hall exists to make people pissed off. And they succeed.
Willie Nelson is amazing and a legend and I love him. But if he goes in than why not Waylon? Or others? There is zero rhyme or reason.
J. Geils Band IS rock n’ roll. Not Dolly Parton. But the losers associated with the Hall don’t care. It’s as if there’s no one over the age of 30 in charge.
Goodness, nothing riles me up more than the nonsense that is the Rock Hall.
February 5, 2023 @ 10:18 am
Sigh, oh no, not this again, I could care less, everyone blew a gasket over Dolly, now Willie, as we found out no matter how much whining and crying people do, Dolly still got inducted, same with Willie, there are far more important things to worry about. You don’t want want Willie to be nominated? Too bad sucks to be you, it didn’t change any thing for Dolly and it won’t change anything for Willie. So grow up people time to move on to something far more important.
February 5, 2023 @ 2:10 pm
Yet here you are flapping your lips. Shouldn’t you have something “far more important” to worry about?
Imagine that. People discussing music on a music website.
Willie, like Dolly, was only nominated for the publicity. It worked great last year, and it’s working great this year. The HOF needs all the publicity it can get at this point.
The hall of fame has been a joke for decades. White Stripes? Lol. RATM? Lol. Sheryl Crow? Lol.
February 5, 2023 @ 11:13 am
The Dead Kennedys, The Misfits, Dead Boys, Shudder to Think, Fugazi…
February 6, 2023 @ 2:24 pm
No body brought the rock n roll crowd together at Woodstock 99 like the red headed stranger. https://youtu.be/EkgLErVwoKk
February 6, 2023 @ 3:07 pm
And let us not forget how the punk rock bands in 96 made a loving tribute to Abbott texas favorite son..which he seemingly had fun with.
February 6, 2023 @ 6:24 pm
Hope everyone has seen the picture of G.G. Allin, who was wearing a Nazi helmet at the time, shaking hands with Johnny Cash. Hilarious! Johnny looks fairly amused.