Brenda Lee, Chet Atkins to Join Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Little Miss Dynamite’s fuse is lit.

Brenda Lee -- the owner of that tag -- and the late Chet Atkins, both already enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame, will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 18 during the 17th annual induction ceremony in New York.

Lee will be the first woman to become a member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“This is something that I’ve dreamed of for a long time,” Lee said Thursday morning (Dec. 13) shortly after the rock hall announced its 2002 slate. “After a lifetime of singing on stages all over the world, this is the stage that I’ve been aiming for. I feel like Cinderella finally getting to go to the ball.”

She has never visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s museum in Cleveland, but she recently donated stage clothes and artifacts for the museum’s upcoming teen idol exhibit, which she plans to see when it opens.

“I gained my success in the rock field, and I was one of the first female rock singers,” Lee said. “To be recognized for that really means something to me, as it did when I went into the Country Music Hall of Fame, because I had a very great country music career, too. But I think that I was one of the people that laid the foundation for what rock ‘n’ roll is.”

A child prodigy influenced by the country songs of Hank Williams and the gospel singing of Mahalia Jackson, Lee signed with Decca Records in 1956, when she was only 11 and rock ‘n’ roll was in its infancy. The Atlanta native recorded pioneering rockabilly boppers such as “Bigelow 6-200,” “Rock the Bop,” “Ring-a-My-Phone,” “Sweet Nothin’s” and “Dynamite,” from which she acquired her billing as “Little Miss Dynamite.”

In 1958, Lee recorded one of pop music’s most enduring singles, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Her explosive stage presence made her a fixture on early rock ‘n’ roll touring shows. After becoming a mother at age 21, she began concentrating on torchy trademark tunes like “I’m Sorry.” Between 1960 and 1973 she had 50 singles on the pop charts.

Atkins -- along with Lee’s primary producer, the late Owen Bradley -- is recognized as one of the architects of the country-pop Nashville Sound that became a hallmark of Lee’s style in the ‘60s. “Great, Chet’s going in, too!” Lee said excitedly upon learning the news of his election to the rock hall. “That means a great deal to go in with Chet. I just absolutely loved Chet. He was one of my dear friends and I miss him so much.”

Atkins, who died in June, will be inducted in the side-men category, which recognizes performers who have made major contributions to rock ‘n’ roll while backing other artists. Known as Mr. Guitar, Atkins is the most recorded solo instrumentalist in country music history. He played on many crossover country-pop hits, including Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie.” George Harrison and Mark Knopfler are among the rock stars who have cited Atkins as a primary influence.

Atkins is the seventh musician to be recognized in the side-men division since it was instituted three years ago. Scotty Moore and James Burton, both guitarists for Presley and both with strong ties to country music, were inducted as sidemen in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

The rock hall’s 2002 class also includes Isaac Hayes, Gene Pitney, The Ramones, Talking Heads and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Stax Records co-founder Jim Stewart will go in as a “non-performer.”

Pitney, known mainly for pop hits such as “Only Love Can Break a Heart” and “It Hurts to Be in Love,” recorded moderately successful country duets with George Jones and Melba Montgomery in the mid-‘60s.

Petty’s Heartbreakers have ties to country music. Petty and members of the band have recorded with Johnny Cash, and Petty was a member of the Traveling Wilburys with Roy Orbison. Bassist Howie Epstein is the longtime boyfriend and producer of Carlene Carter. Keyboardist Benmont Tench has written country hits such as “Unbreakable Heart,” recorded by Carter and Jessica Andrews. And drummer Stan Lynch has worked as a songwriter and producer with the Mavericks and is host of the upcoming, debut episode of CMT Crossroads, featuring Elvis Costello and Lucinda Williams.

VH1 will air the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on March 20.

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