As far as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies go, the 2009 installment wasn’t half bad. Not only did the Hall of Fame’s Class of ‘09 feature two of the guitar world’s most prominent acts, it saw those two inductees – along with a boatload of special guests – team up for one of the Hall’s most memorable performances to date.
Indeed, 2009 saw the late Jeff Beck – one of the most influential players to ever pick up an electric guitar – and Metallica both get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and co. enlisting the Stratocaster master for a cover of Train Kept A-Rollin'.
But as if that wasn’t enough, the pair assembled a legion of rhythm heroes and lead legends to support their sonic assault, with Jimmy Page, Ronnie Wood, Joe Perry and Flea all sharing the stage for the pummeling performance.
Perhaps “pummeling” is underselling it somewhat, because – as noted by Hetfield – this lineup is “rhythm guitar player heaven,” meaning when that riff comes in following Beck’s opening bends, it completely knocks the wind out of you.
The six-strong guitar ensemble continues to smash speakers for the majority of the track, with pockets of lead exchanges given to Beck – whose raucous solo is a particular highlight – and Hammett, who lets loose on the fretboard of his white Ouija ESP model.
Perry, with his custom Gibson ES-335 in tow, also rifles through some suitably untethered pentatonic box-based bends and licks, with the Strat-toting Wood and Les Paul-wielding Page – along with the ever-energetic Flea – instead electing to remain on riff duty.
It was a familiar song to the majority of talent onstage. As Yardbirds alumni, both Beck and Page had played a pivotal role in reinventing Tiny Bradshaw’s original track. With the Yardbirds, Beck helped transform it into a psychedelic romp in 1965, with Page joining the fray for an updated version – titled Stroll On – just one year later that brought the addition of dual guitar exchanges.
Train Kept A-Rollin’ was later adopted by Page and Led Zeppelin and became a setlist stalwart for the heavy rock legends, with Perry's Aerosmith also recording it for their second album in 1974.
Although Page didn’t get the opportunity to flex his lead playing that evening, he did get the chance to wax lyrical about Beck – having been given the honor of inducting the guitar legend into the Hall of Fame that evening.
“You’d sort of listen to Jeff along the way and you’d go, ‘Well, he’s getting really, really good,’” Page said in his speech. “And you’d hear him a few years later and he’d just keep getting better and better and better.
“He still has all the way through, and he leaves us mere mortals just wondering and having so much respect for him.
“Jeff’s whole guitar style is just totally unorthodox to the way anyone was taught, and he’s developed a whole style of expanding the electric guitar and making it into something which has sounds and techniques totally unheard of before. That’s just an amazing feat.”
Page wasn’t the only one from the Train Kept A-Rollin' ensemble to give an induction speech that evening – Flea inducted Metallica, and in his speech recalled how he had been “totally floored” when he first heard the band’s music in 1984.
“I didn’t know what to make of it,” Flea said. “It had loud guitars, and it was fast as lightning, but it wasn’t punk rock. It wasn’t heavy metal. It was precise, explosive and heavy, but quick on its feet. It just totally stood by itself.
“I didn’t know what it was, but the only thing I knew for sure, was that it was a mighty thing. That song was Fight Fire with Fire and it opened up my mind to the mighty force of nature that is Metallica.”