Local Musicians and Fans Are Mad About Pearl Jam Drummer Dave Abbruzzese's Hall of Fame Snub

Drummer Dave Abbruzzese (center), who grew up in Mesquite, with Pearl Jam in the '90s. Although he was a fan favorite during his tenure with the band, he won't be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when the rest of the members shown receive the honor.
Drummer Dave Abbruzzese (center), who grew up in Mesquite, with Pearl Jam in the '90s. Although he was a fan favorite during his tenure with the band, he won't be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when the rest of the members shown receive the honor.
courtesy the artist

In April, Pearl Jam will be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Noticeably absent from the lineup of inductees? Drummer Dave Abbruzzese, who was born in Connecticut but grew up in Mesquite and played with the Seattle band from '91 to '94.

Since Pearl Jam's induction was announced on Dec. 20, Abbruzzese's fans have been flooding his Facebook page with messages expressing their shock at the snub. A Change.org petition created on Dec. 21, "Get David Abbruzzese Included Into Pearl Jam's Hall of Fame Induction," has 1,382 supporters at the time of writing.

Pearl Jam attained superstar status during Abbruzzese's tenure. He performed almost 300 shows with the band, and drummed on seven-times platinum Vs., as well as Vitalogy. Shortly before Vitalogy's release in '94, he was fired from the band.

"For reasons that I don't completely understand, the other members decided it was necessary to fire me in order to pursue a philosophy which they perceive as incompatible with mine," Abbruzzese told Rolling Stone that year. "I was not involved in their decision, nor do I agree with their decision, but I accept it and am proud to have been a part of what Pearl Jam was."

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Abbruzzese has been just as vocal as his fans about his displeasure with the Hall of Fame and his former bandmates. "The members of Pearl Jam have got to know what's the right thing to do," he posted to Facebook on Oct. 19, the day after the nominees were announced. "They can't justify ignoring my contributions. Like me or not."

But when blogs such as RTT News began reporting his comments about the nominations, Abbruzzese returned to Facebook to insist that he was not upset by the news. "I am not looking to ruffle any feathers," he wrote, presumably hopeful that he would still be inducted. "I am not angry with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or Pearl Jam."

Then in December confirmation came that Pearl Jam had been selected for induction, but Abbruzzese would not be invited onstage. Only Dave Krusen, who drummed on the band's debut Ten, and Matt Cameron, the current drummer and longest-tenured drummer in the band, would be inducted along with Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard and Mike McCready. (Pearl Jam has had a handful of drummers over the years, and it is the only position that has seen turnover since the original lineup.)

At that point, Abbruzzese's tune seemed to change.

"Pearl Jam has always seemingly had a perceived level of integrity and has been known to stand their ground and fight the good fight, but it seems the allure of being given this trophy is just too important for them to take a stand," Abbruzzese posted on Dec. 28. "I have always thought that every award given to a band that celebrates the band's lifetime achievements should be awarded to every person who was ever a debt-incurring, life-sacrificing, blood-spilling member of that band.

"Whoever is ultimately responsible for the decision that deemed my work with Pearl Jam as an effort that was not important enough to grant me induction knows nothing of what we accomplished, and I am personally at a loss for words for how Stone, Mike, Jeff, Matt, Edward and Kelly Curtis are accepting of such an injustice," Abbruzzese's post continued.

Bands become eligible for induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25 years after the release of their first record. The nominees are selected by a committee at the Hall of Fame, then the ballot is sent to 900 historians, members of the music industry and artists who vote to pick five artists for induction. Fans also get a small say, since fan votes are tallied to produce the 901st ballot.

In a Facebook comment responding to the outcry over Abbruzzese's exclusion, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame offered this explanation: "The members of each eligible band are determined by largely who was present and active during the most influential recording years."

Among the Pearl Jam fans and drummers in Dallas-Fort Worth who share Abbruzzese's indignation over the decision is Stephen O'Sicky, of the band Caterpillars.

"He was on the albums that made them who they are," O'Sicky says. "I mean I love Matt Cameron, and he should be inducted too, but to leave out Dave is just shitty."

Matthew Crain, who plays in Dead Mockingbirds and Pearl Gem, a Pearl Jam tribute band, also has a lot to say on this matter.

"Dave was a 'weird' drummer who used a lot of cymbals in his playing," Crain says, citing Abbruzzese's time with DFW funk band Dr. Tongue, which he played in prior to Pearl Jam, as the genesis of his unique playing style. "He was a busy drummer. Dave's groove was different from all other drummers in the '90s and that says something.

"The '90s, in my opinion, were when drumming was cool again and it was not all about the guitars and lead singers as it was for the hair band era, previously," Crain continues. "The drummers of the '90s stylistically did way more than keep time; they helped define the new sound of the decade."

Fan reactions imply the band is receiving the revisionist history treatment. During his time with Pearl Jam, Abbruzzese was a fan favorite. He had a high profile and even graced the cover of Modern Drummer, the most influential drummer-centric magazine.

"The fact that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has omitted members of the band cheapens the entire process and shows just how frivolous it is to give awards that require an asterisk to show that the entire band has not been represented," Crain says.

The award's significance or lack thereof aside, Crain feels Abbruzzese should share the stage with his former bandmates at the Hall of Fame ceremony.

"I have never heard more passion in a Pearl Jam recording than those that have Dave Abbruzzese on them," Crain says. "That was a band that was hungry and had drive. ... Their success was not yet a given and they still had everything to prove. All of Pearl Jam's albums now sound like all the members have kids and responsibilities. They have lost their edge — and I say that with Pearl Jam as my favorite band of all time ... I truly only love and celebrate the early stuff."

Pearl Jam formed when former Mother Love Bone members Jeff Ament (who plays bass) and Gossard (who plays guitar) teamed up with guitarist Mike McCready. They enlisted Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron to fill in while they looked for a permanent drummer and singer. After proving himself by writing lyrics and recording vocals, Eddie Vedder got the job.

Drummer Dave Krusen was also brought on to play with the band full-time, as Pearl Jam began generating considerable buzz around the Seattle area. He played on their debut album Ten, but left the band shortly thereafter because his dependence on alcohol was interfering with his drumming. The next drummer, Matt Chamberlain, backed out when he was offered a spot in the Saturday Night Live band. Chamberlain was a regular in Deep Ellum and recommended Abbruzzese, who became known for his unusual and flashy playing style.

Abbruzzese's replacement, Jack Irons, brought much simpler beats and less finesse to the role. When Irons said he couldn't commit to future recordings and touring, Matt Cameron joined the band and has remained since 1998. In the 2011 documentary Pearl Jam Twenty, in which Abbruzzese is not interviewed, Eddie Vedder comments that each time Pearl Jam has switched out drummers it has been like receiving a heart transplant.

In a book of the same name, released in conjunction with the film, Stone Gossard and Mike McCready praise Abbruzzese as a drummer and cite personality differences as the reason he was shown the door.

"I think anyone who listens to those records realizes he is a great drummer," Gossard says. "It wasn't his drumming that was the problem. The problem was that he needed to fit in with a group of five very different, strong personalities and do it in a way that worked with those five personalities."

Since he departed Pearl Jam, Abbruzzese has played in a number of bands and released material through his label, Free Association. Green Romance Orchestra, a band Abbruzzese created, also counts Denton musician J. Paul Slavens as a member.

Joan Baez, Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, Tupac Shakur and Yes will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with Pearl Jam on Friday, April 7, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The ceremony will be televised on HBO.


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