Backstage at the Rock Hall ceremony


NEW YORK -- News and notes from backstage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, held Monday night at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Madonna, John Mellencamp, Leonard Cohen, the Ventures and the Dave Clark Five joined the hall as performers, while Little Walter was enshrined in the sideman category and Gamble & Huff were inducted as nonperformers.

Madonna breezed through the press room with Justin Timberlake and Iggy Pop without answering questions from the media. But she did offer some amusing tales during her acceptance speech, including the night she met Michael Rosenblatt, who signed her to Sire Records in the early 1980s.

"I jammed my demo tape into his hand, we both did a tab of Ecstasy and then we danced the night away," she said.

To illustrate Madonna's no-nonsense approach, Timberlake recalled a day in the studio with her while they were working on her upcoming album, "Hard Candy." Timberlake was feeling very under the weather, and Madonna asked him if he wanted a B12 shot.

"And so I'm thinking that we're going to call a doctor and he's going to make a house call," he said. "Then she proceeds to reach into her designer handbook and pull a Ziploc bag of designer syringes out. She looks at me and says, 'Drop 'em.' I don't know what you say to that, so I immediately dropped my pants. She gives me a B12 shot in my ass, and then she looks at me and she says, 'Nice top shelf.' And that was one of the greatest days of my life. That's what she will continue to be for all of us: the shot in the ass, when we really need it."

Damien Rice, who performed Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" just after Cohen's induction, talked to Billboard backstage about what makes the song so special for him. "There's an amazing connection between sex and spirituality, and it's something Leonard Cohen hints at in that song," he said. "It's almost like a Buddhist master giving you a hint, but not the whole story. You have to take that hint and go sit with it."

Rice added that he's presently in the studio in Los Angeles, but has no timetable to release his next album. "I'm just floating, seeing where the wind takes me," he said.

While inducting John Mellencamp, Billy Joel recalled being taken out to a steak dinner by Mellencamp during a visit to Bloomington, Ind., in the early 1980s. "We ate at Little Zagreb's, and it was the best steak I'd ever had in my life," he said. He then called Randy Newman to gush about the meal, "but he's never called me back," Joel said with a laugh.

Ready to celebrate his band's 50th anniversary in 2009, the Ventures' Don Wilson said of the induction, "It feels absolutely incredible. We've been eligible for 22 years. You know, I was thinking just the other day that if we had been inducted early, we probably would have been forgotten about now."

Asked what makes a good instrumental, Wilson remarked, "We always have strong melodies. But you know, I can almost count on my fingers the hits that were a combo hit. Most instrumental hits were a TV theme or a movie theme."

By Wilson's estimation, the Ventures have released "about 250" albums. "Now, there's a lot that a lot of people don't know. Unfortunately, what happens in Japan is like Las Vegas; it stays in Las Vegas. We have 20 No. 1 hits in Japan. We started the guitar boom there in 1962. We outsold the Beatles two to one in our first year."

"We had songs that made people dance and songs that made people fall in love. We also had songs with a social commentary, like 'For the Love of Money' and 'Love Train,' " producer Kenny Gamble said backstage after he and partner Leon Huff were inducted in the non-performer category.

And how did the duo maintain their creative roll for so long? "What is the old saying, opposites attract?" Gamble asked. "Huff is like my brother. That's what makes this so wonderful. We've been able to stay together 45 years, make great music and build an institution. We had every odds you could think of against us."

"Working with Kenny and Leon has meant honesty," said Patti LaBelle, who scored huge hits with the duo. "dThey showed me in the studio how it should really be -- get the song done ... no punch-ins. Just sing it. I'm a real girl. I sing real songs. So working with them and seeing them tonight get this wonderful honor is making me so proud."