By David Lindquist
John Mellencamp likely will spend more time onstage during tonight's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony than fellow inductees Madonna, Leonard Cohen, the Dave Clark Five and the Ventures.
Mellencamp and instrumental rock band the Ventures are the only inductees scheduled to play music at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Iggy & the Stooges will perform songs popularized by Madonna, and Damien Rice will stand in for Cohen.
An all-star tribute to the Dave Clark Five is expected to feature Mellencamp, John Fogerty and others. Dave Clark Five vocalist Mike Smith died Feb. 28.
Billy Joel will give the introductory speech for Mellencamp, a choice the Hoosier rock star said he's happy about.
Mellencamp and Joel have been friends since the early 1980s.
"I was starting to have the smell of a hit record with 'Hurts So Good,' " Mellencamp said. "The phone rang, and it was Billy Joel, who was already a big star. He called me up and said, 'Man, this song "Hurts So Good" is rocking.' He said, 'The drum sound is fantastic. I had to pull my car over when I heard it on the radio.' That was the very first call I ever got from somebody really famous to say congratulations on your success."
"Hurts So Good" became Mellencamp's first Top Ten single on Billboard magazine's pop chart.
The Seymour native and Bloomington resident was known as "John Cougar" at the time. He later dropped the stage name and accumulated nine more Top Ten singles while selling more than 25 million albums.
In 2007, Mellencamp was listed as a finalist on the Hall of Fame ballot for the third time. He failed to collect enough votes from music industry experts in 2003 and 2005.
The singer-songwriter leaked news of his induction to a Pennsylvania concert audience in late November, more than a week before the formal announcement was made.
"I got a phone call today," Mellencamp told an audience in Erie, Pa. "I found out I'm in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."
The 56-year-old will issue new album "Life, Death, Love and Freedom" later this year. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, the recording will include songs such as "Jena" -- inspired by the Jena 6 trial in Jena, La. -- the mortality-themed "Ride Back Home (Hey Jesus)" and "If I Die Sudden."
"I think the new record is going to be quite a surprise to a lot of people," Mellencamp said.
A theatrical musical created by Mellencamp and Stephen King, "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County," will premiere in Atlanta in 2009.
The musician and the author began working on "Ghost Brothers" eight years ago. If the production is well-received during a run at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre, a Broadway debut is possible.
"If it ends in Atlanta, at least Steve and I can sit in the dark with each other like we wanted to do the first night," Mellencamp said.
Saying he's turned down opportunities to appear on national television in recent weeks, Mellencamp plans diminished interaction with the media for the rest of his career.
The singer said King can talk to the press about the "Ghost Brothers" project as it moves forward.
"I've been doing interviews for 30 years," Mellencamp said. "There's nothing more for me to say about myself."
There's at least one more public statement on Mellencamp's schedule: Tonight's Hall of Fame speech.
The ceremony will be broadcast live at 8:30 p.m. on cable television network VH1 Classic and streamed live online at www.bestbuy.com/halloffame.
Read the Indianapolis Star article online.
By David Lindquist