CLEVELAND: Like the Vatican, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a vast cache of treasures that are not on display in its museum.
Unlike in the Vatican, these treasures are available to scholars and rock ’n’ roll fans who need only a library card to view or handle much of the collection.
Of course, there are a few sensitive artifacts that cannot be touched, like the parchment-like paper on which Jimi Hendrix penned the lyrics to Purple Haze, with many lines that did not make it onto the final recording.
This collection is not at the rock hall itself, but in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives, a separate building next to Route 77 in downtown Cleveland. The building, whose logo you may have noticed from the expressway, shares the facility with the Tri-C Center for Creative Arts complex.
If you’re looking for costumes or guitars, you’ll find those at the museum. The archives and library focus mostly on books, papers, documents, obscure liner notes from old albums or CDs, records, discs, audio files, photos, videos and posters. (There are couple of vintage Les Paul guitars on the wall — a ’59 that belonged to Joe Walsh and a ’58 from Les Paul himself.)
The library and archives is devoted to collecting artifacts from important rock ‘n’ roll figures, rock hall inductees, producers, engineers, promoters and pre-rock musicians who influenced the development of the genre.
Andy Leach, director of the Library and Archives, pointed out that the John Coltrane boxed set The Heavyweight Champion is part of the collection, because the hard bop and modal jazz pioneer started out as an R&B sideman and influenced the improvisation styles of many 1960s rock ‘n’ roll players, like Santana, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix.
With a degree in both music and library sciences, a professional history that includes being the archivist for the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago and being a working musician himself, Leach seems to be the perfect man for the job.
One of the more touching artifacts Leach pointed out, during a tour of the collection, is the Western Union telegram informing Eddie Cochran’s wife that the iconic early rock ‘n’ roller had died in a car accident while traveling in England.
Leach explained that the collection is not intended to be exhaustive.
“Other libraries do that, so we don’t duplicate,’’ he said. ‘‘We try to represent the inductees and other important or influential figures. We collect certain boxed sets, limited editions, historical reissues and things that don’t exist elsewhere.
“We have all kinds of research tools here.’’
Some can be accessed from home via the website, others you have to be in the building to use, like OhioLINK, a research tool that requires a subscription.
The reading room has tables and chairs like any library, but it also has listening stations with video screens, controls and headphone inputs. Visitors can access various specialty databases, or request digitized music from the librarian at the main desk to be sent to a particular listening station.
The library supplies headphones or you can bring your own.
Using the library’s search engine, Leach looked up Hang On Sloopy, which he said generated 22,000 listings — a great many entries for a song that has only three chords.
“On our other floors, we have lots of collections that have been donated by record producers or their families, by agents and managers — things that shed light on what artists were doing or thinking,” he said.
Leach is particularly excited about a collection of papers and artifacts the library received from the groundbreaking TV show Austin City Limits.
“That collection had a wonderful handwritten note from a producer about Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano abuse and fixing a damaged piano bench,” he said.
Another collection contained a document indicating that during the Police’s 1982 U.S. Tour, the band required three limousines — one had to be a stretch — and a pingpong table in the dressing room.
Adjoining the reading room is the research room, where visitors can check out almost anything from the collection, under the supervision of two resident archivists, Jennie Thomas and Anastasia Karel.
Both women studied music and library sciences, said Thomas. “And despite our parents’ concerns about the career prospects of those degrees, we landed our dream jobs here at Rock Hall Archives.
“One of the funniest visitors we had in the archive room was a teenage girl from out of town who just wanted to see a turntable spinning around with a record. She didn’t want to hear it, she just wanted to watch it spin around,” said Thomas.
Karel remembered another visitor who was fanatical about the Monkees.
“She had met them all,” she said. “She spent hours looking through our Monkees collection just smiling and squealing.”
To plan a visit the Rock and Roll Library and Archives or make a research inquiry, go to http://library.rockhall.com.