As Joan Jett Is Inducted, Women Still Scarce At Rock Hall



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Joan Jett. (Getty Images )
Joan Jett. (Getty Images )

Of the 726 artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since the ceremony began in 1986, only 65 have been women. But on Saturday night in Cleveland, Joan Jett will be inducted along with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Lou Reed, Bill Withers, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and Green Day. They each represent a different era in rock's history — from the mid-'60s to the mid-'90s.

At the audio link, hear from women in music — including The Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker, The Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde, Chaka Khan and more — who describe the challenges they faced entering the industry.

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Tomorrow night in Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will induct its 2015 class. The class includes artists from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band to Lou Reed, Bill Withers, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and also Green Day. Each represents a different era in rock's history from the mid-'60s to the mid-'90s. Also being inducted - Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. Jett is one of the few women who have made it into the Rock Hall. And as David C. Barnett from member station WCPN reports, there have been plenty of challenges faced by women who rock.


DAVID C. BARNETT, BYLINE: As The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was tearing up Chicago clubs in the mid-1960s, The Velvet Underground was making its own waves in New York, thanks in part to the solid drumming of Maureen Tucker. But in 1987, she told WHYY's FRESH AIR that she wasn't welcomed by Velvet's co-founder, John Cale.


MAUREEN TUCKER: No chicks, no chicks, that's what he said (laughter). I guess he figured it would just make trouble or I'd be whiny or something.

BARNETT: That, despite the fact that one of the band's singers was Nico, a German former model and actress. Music journalist Lucy O'Brien tells the story of Maureen Tucker and hundreds of other women in the music industry in her book "She Bop."

LUCY O'BRIEN: I interviewed Moe Tucker, and she said herself that there was a lot of attention on Nico because of the sexual theme because she had beautiful blonde Nordic model looks. But Moe didn't play the game. She didn't try and sell herself on her sexuality.

BARNETT: Of the 726 artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since the ceremony began in 1986, only 65 have been women. That's less than 10 percent, and most of those are singers. Among this year's inductees, Bill Withers was cranking out hits from Los Angeles in the early 1970s at the same time as a different sort of soul voice could be heard on the south side of Chicago.


CHAKA KHAN: (Singing) You ain't got no kind of feeling inside.

BARNETT: Yvette Marie Stevens was raised by a stepmother steeped in feminist politics. Stevens became immersed in the emerging black power movement and adapted the stage name Chaka Khan.


KHAN: (Singing) Tell me something good. Tell me that you love me.

BARNETT: As lead singer for the band Rufus, Khan says she quickly learned that she had to make her voice heard.

KHAN: If you're a girl and you're coming into a band full of guys, you know, on several levels you have to lay it down, lay down the rules. You know, I had to fight.

BARNETT: But not all males were threatened by strong female musicians.

GARY MOSS: I got that record and I was just struck by the raw nature of it.

BARNETT: Gary Moss was a kid in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s when he heard The Runaways - five young women playing their own instruments.


THE RUNAWAYS: (Singing) Hello, daddy. Hello, mom. I'm your cherry bomb.

MOSS: And, of course, the sexuality of it to a 13-year-old kid - you know, five girls playing rock 'n' roll was pretty darn cool.

BARNETT: The Runaways only lasted three years. When the band's former guitarist and 2015 Rock Hall inductee Joan Jett was assembling her own group, bass player Gary Moss was quick to sign on under the name Gary Ryan.


BARNETT: As Joan Jett & the Blackhearts started touring, Moss says it was obvious they were in the middle of a cultural shift.

MOSS: The girls were supposed to be the fans, you know? The guys were playing in bands to get the girls. The girls weren't supposed to be the ones playing in the band, but you saw it turn around 'cause we had a lot of male fans, we had a lot of female fans.


JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS: (Singing) When you were down, they were never there. When you're all alone, you really get to learn. If you get back up they're going to come around

BARNETT: By the end of the decade, Stevie Ray Vaughan was starting to attract notice in Austin, Texas, and Chrissie Hynde was living in London. In a 1995 interview, the Ohio-native told me that the British punk community embraced cultural and gender diversity as a way to poke a finger in the face of the establishment.


CHRISSIE HYNDE: It was actually so uncool even to discriminate on any level. I mean, it lasted for six months, but that's when I sort of made my attempt to get into the game.

BARNETT: She assembled The Pretenders.


THE PRETENDERS: (Singing) Got brass in pocket, got bottle, I'm going to use it.

HYNDE: I never saw this as a man's world, and I never saw this as a man's field, rock 'n' roll. It never felt odd to me to pick up a guitar and be in a rock band. I didn't want to be a novelty because I was a chick in a band, so I waited until, I suppose, 1977 when I could slip through the net and it didn't seem exceptional to be a woman, which obviously it's not.

BARNETT: But because she was a woman, she faced some challenges that many of her male counterparts didn't. In her 1983 song "Middle Of The Road," Hynde reflects on the manic reality of mixing career and motherhood.


THE PRETENDERS: (Singing) Don't harass me. Can't you tell? I'm going home. I'm tired as hell. I'm not the cat I used to be. I got a kid, I'm 33, baby.

BARNETT: Writer Lucy O'Brien says Hynde wasn't alone.

O'BRIEN: A lot of women do end up leaving the business. Like Patti Smith, I mean, she took a long break to have her kids. She stopped touring.

BARNETT: Chaka Khan says she nursed her babies on the tour bus and relied on her mother and nannies to care for the children as they got older.

KHAN: That's a juggle on any level - any woman who has a career and wants to be a mother. The kids used to crawl on my suitcases, you know, when I was packing. It was really heartbreaking.

BARNETT: Still, Khan continued performing and became a successful solo act.


KHAN: (Singing) I'm every woman, it's all in me.

BARNETT: By the mid-'90s, when one of this year's Rock Hall inductees Green Day was topping the charts, bass player Carla DeSantis Black had already been in the business for over a decade. In 1994, she started a magazine devoted to female performers called ROCKRGRL. In an interview four years ago from the Rock Hall's oral history archives, Black said that she longs for the time when a woman with a guitar or playing drums or engineering a record won't be a novelty.


CARLA DESANTIS BLACK: You know, I'm a little bit old now to be talking about it's still a novelty. You know, when I started out, it was the early '80s and we're still having these conversations.

BARNETT: When Joan Jett walks onto a Cleveland stage tomorrow night, the scales of the Rock Hall will tip a little closer towards some semblance of balance. For NPR News, I'm

David C. Barnett in Cleveland.


JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS: (Singing) Really gets you down when you don't belong, and everyone around says you growed up wrong...

GREENE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Our theme music was written by BJ Leiderman. It was arranged by Jim Pugh. I'm David Greene.


JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS: (Singing) Then everywhere I went I caused them such alarm. You know I never meant to cause anybody harm, no. Just a victim of circumstance. Didn't you know? Just a victim of circumstance. Doesn't it show? I'm just a victim of circumstance. Wherever I go. I'm just a victim of a bad reputation... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.