It’s not a surprise that Warren Zevon has been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it is a little eyebrow-raising that it happened for the first time in 2023, 20 years after he died of cancer at the age of 56. Why now? One reason is Billy Joel, who according to the Los Angeles Times wrote a letter to the nominating committee on Zevon’s behalf.
“I just wanted to put in my two cents of supporting Warren Zevon to be included,” Joel said. “If anyone deserved to be, he did. He was a real original, and I don’t know if that’s appreciated enough.”
Joel himself has been a Hall of Famer since 1999, and he’s written similar letters for Joe Cocker and Cyndi Lauper, another 2023 nominee.
“The first minute I saw [Zevon], I was knocked out,” Joel recalled of seeing his performances in the 1970s. “He was like the crazy brother I never had. He was fearless, and it stuck with me. I never thought he got the attention he deserved.”
Joel guessed the lack of respect is because “he was a piano player, and we all tend to get lumped into this thing of ‘They’re not real rock guys’ — which I don’t think is fair, but I understand why it happens. Piano is perceived to be this middle-of-the-road instrument only played by dorks. But when I saw Warren, he was kind of breaking the piano to pieces, little by little, which I thought was an interesting style.”
He meant that “metaphorically, but physically too,” Joel said. ““Piano is actually a percussion instrument. Most people think it’s a stringed instrument, but you play it like a drum. And Warren, he really fulfilled that role. He banged it, and he banged it good. Even without amplifiers, he was getting the most volume he could get out of that thing.”
Zevon’s fellow nominees in the 2023 class are The White Stripes, Kate Bush, Willie Nelson, Soundgarden, Missy Elliott, Joy Division/New Order, A Tribe Called Quest, George Michael, Rage Against the Machine, Iron Maiden, Sheryl Crow, Cyndi Lauper, and The Spinners. The final selections will be announced in May and the induction ceremony will be held this fall.
Editor’s Note: Listen to the latest season of The Opus, which tells the story of Billy Joel’s classic album The Stranger.