Saturday night I watched Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Ronnie Wood (The Birds, The Jeff Beck Group, Small Faces, The Rolling Stones) jamming to the Chili Peppers' rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." They were joined on stage by George Clinton and members of Guns N Roses. I was in Cleveland, Ohio for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, a pilgrimage of sorts from my home in Mississippi, the birthplace of America's music.

Cleveland hosts the induction ceremony every three years (other years in New York City) and is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum. Cleveland was one of the top rock touring cities in the golden years of rock bands and was so recognized in Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous" - the hotel Swingos (now a Comfort Inn) was for a decade home to bands, groupies, journalists and fans. If you lived in Cleveland from the late 1950s into the 1980s, you had a chance to see virtually all the great bands in rock history.

Outside Rock Hall stands an Ohio Historical Marker proclaiming "Birthplace of Rock 'N' Roll." It reads, "When radio station WJW disc jockey Alan Freed (1921-1965) used the term 'rock and roll' to describe the uptempo black rhythm and blues records he played beginning in 1951, he named a new genre of popular music that appealed to the audiences on both sides of 1950s American racial boundaries - and dominated American culture for the rest of the 20th century. The popularity of Freed's nightly 'Moon Dog House Rock and Roll Party' radio show encouraged him to organize the Moondog Coronation Ball - the first rock concert. Held at the Cleveland Arena on March 21, 1952, the oversold show was beset by a riot during the first set."


Rock and roll was a separate dispensation from rhythm and blues, but whether you're reading the Genesis of blues or the Revelation of rock, Mississippi is the musical holy land.

In the religion of rock and roll there are many schisms, and whether by regionalism or simply because it is the one true rock, I'm an adherent of the Memphis claims to the rock papacy, and to the apostle Sam Phillips. It was there at Sun Records in early March of 1951 where Ike Turner and his band from Clarksdale, using an amplifier damaged on the drive up Highway 61, recorded "Rocket 88" - acknowledged by many as the first rock and roll song. The damaged amplifier provided some of the earliest distortion in popular music.

Rock and roll was a separate dispensation from rhythm and blues, but whether you're reading the Genesis of blues or the Revelation of rock, Mississippi is the musical holy land. Even disputing the Rocket 88 orthodoxy, one can still point - as does The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll - to the music of Blind Roosevelt Graves in 1936 as the earliest rock and roll songs, recorded in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Combine the undisputed birthplace of the blues in the Delta; the Meridian railroad songs of the father of country music, Jimmie "The Singing Brakeman" Rodgers; the birthplace of the one true King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley of Tupelo; and it is no surprise Mississippi produces more Grammy winners per capita than anywhere else in the world.

This is not to slight Cleveland's rock claims - or America's other great music Meccas: Detroit, Nashville, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle, Chicago, New York. There is enough rock to go around.

But a stroll through Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum demonstrates the impact - besides Presley and Rodgers - of Mississippi on the genre: Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, The Staple Singers, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Sam Cooke, Jaimoe Johanson (Allman Brothers Band), Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf and the list goes on.

The influences of the great American rock bands past and current, as well as the British rockers, reach back to Mississippi. Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant said, "Once I heard the music of the Mississippi Delta, I was no longer English. I was a man of the world."

So Saturday night, while watching the induction of the Beastie Boys, Donovan, Small Faces/Faces, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N Roses and others, my mind was on Mississippi. Kid Rock, The Roots, ZZ Top, Chuck D, LL Cool J, even Bette Midler all made appearances. Axl Rose declined his induction and did not attend with his past GNR bandmates. But that's rock and roll. I didn't care for folks booing him. But that's rock and roll, too.

For those interested in the show, HBO will air the ceremony on May 5.

If you can't wait until May 5 for rock and roll, I suggest The B.B. King Museum in Indianola, a trip to Sun Records and Graceland in Memphis, a ride on the Mississippi Blues Trail or a visit to your local bar, juke joint or honky-tonk.

Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at