Guitarist & Songwriter With Band Admits To Having Fun The Past 45 Years
By: Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
Although the band formed in 1973 and found minor success in Asia in the mid 70’s, it wasn’t until the release of ‘Live At Budokan’ (1979) that American audiences warmed up to Cheap Trick. Their live version of ‘I Want You To Want Me’ quickly found it’s way into the Top 10 on the charts, and began a more than four decade musical love affair with the Rockford, Illinois natives.
Through it all the band has primarily maintained their core lineup including founding members Rick Nielsen (guitar), Robin Zander (lead vocalist), Tom Petersson (bass), with original drummer Bun E. Carlos replaced with Nielsen’s son Daxx part time in 2001 and more permanently since 2010.
Only a few select bands can lay claim to still being out there 45 years down the road, but for Nielsen whether he achieved worldwide acclaim or not, the decision to rock n’ roll was never a question. “If you have something going that’s good, than why stop it. I love the band, and even if we were just playing in local clubs in Illinois, I’d still be out there on stage. Fortunately we’ve been very lucky, and our music is enjoyed by the masses.”
One of the rewards Nielsen takes from the past decade is having his son Daxx man the drum kit. Daxx filled in for Carlos back in the early 2000’s and became their full time touring drummer in 2010. “The good thing is I know I can depend on him. He’s got my back. He’s actually a very good drummer. And the upside it’s nice to know his dad can keep him employed.”
Cheap Trick are currently on tour with ZZ Top, a band celebrating 50 years in the business. “It’s awesome being out on the road with them. They are a great group of guys. We go way back together. The fact that they’ve been around for 50 years just goes to show you the greatest bands have longevity.”
Nielsen and his fellow bandmates were inducted into the hallowed Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. “I guess that’s cool because you can’t buy your way in. You have to be asked or invited, so that says something about how the fans feel about us, those who actually voted for us. Obviously we’re honored to be in.” He jokingly adds, “It doesn’t make me any taller or cuter, but it’s still pretty cool to be among the greatest in our chosen profession.”
The band were toasted by another mid-west rocker during the HOF induction ceremony. “Having Kid Rock introduce us was beyond cool.” Kid Rock gave one of the most rousing introduction speeches ever in Rock n’ Roll HOF history, adding that when it comes to live performances many in the industry pale in comparison to Cheap Trick. “Kid is definitely a character. I don’t imagine there was anyone better than Kid to welcome us into the hall of fame. A night I’ll never forget.”
Like many well known axe slingers, Nielsen is known for his coveted guitar collection. Over the years close to 2000 guitars have come and gone through his hands. “I currently have around 500 guitars.” With that many could he quite easily lose track of one. “It could happen, but hopefully it never will. Of course I say that, and a little over a month ago I was looking for one particular one, and didn’t find it until I searched one of my warehouses.”
Whether solo or with Cheap Trick, Nielsen has garnered many milestones in his life, including recording with a rock n’ roll legend. “I got to be in the studio with John Lennon during the ‘Double Fantasy’ recordings. What we laid down didn’t initially make it on the album, but still it’s amazing to say I worked alongside him.”
That moment in time came at another amazing time for Nielsen. “I worked with John the same day my son Daxx was born. Thankfully my wife gave me a hall pass at the time so I could spend some time with John.” Nielsen recalls The Beatles guru being a down to earth guy. “What we shared was more workmanship. He is one of the greatest of all time, but he didn’t come off as the rock god. It was pretty much musician to musician. That’s what was so cool about it.”
Avid Nielsen fans might be aware, but many are still discovering that he’s the co-founder of a Chicago based pizzeria called Piece Brewery. “I’ve been a partner for over 18 years now. Much like myself, it’s off the wall. It’s a thin crust pizza in a deep dish pizza town. But it seems to be very popular and has great reviews. And oh yeah, it has really great beers on tap.” http://www.piecechicago.com/
He jokes about never having been to Piece, but quickly comes back with. “I get there as often as I’m in the area. I’ve taken many of my friends there. I’ve taken Def Leppard, Hall & Oates, and Sammy Hagar there. They loved it. Let’s face it, what food and drink goes better with rock n’ roll than pizza and beer.” Piece often has some of Nielsen’s memorabilia hanging on the walls.
Cheap Trick’s latest commercial full length release is ‘We’re All Alright’ (2017), a tongue and cheek reference to their 1978 single ‘Surrender’. The album was sandwiched in between 2016’s ‘Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello’ and their first ever holiday album ‘Christmas Christmas‘ which was released near the end of 2017. “We put out three albums in a period of 18 months. That kept us busy for a while.”
Prior to the three album onslaught Cheap Trick hadn’t released anything in seven years. “I think fans were hungry for something new from us. But it has to be right. The songs have to be songs we want to record. I’ve recorded songs I wished I could have taken back. So when we put out new music it has to be really good.”
Aside from “I Want You To Want Me’, Cheap Trick have an arsenal of songs that continue to receive heavy airplay on classic rock and pop stations, including ‘Surrender’, ‘Dream Police’, and their lone chart topping hit ‘The Flame’. Their covers of 1950’s classics ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ (Fats Domino) and ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ (Elvis Presley) have become their own classics over the past 40 years. “Some songs we’ve written, and others found a there with to us. The bottom line is they’re songs we’re proud of.”
It’s been a good long journey for Cheap Trick. They’ve racked up over 5000 performances, sold over 20 million records, been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and still draw crowds around the world. “It’s been a good ride, a ride I don’t want to get off.” Nielsen sees no reason to slow down. “I’m still having fun. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
ZZ Top and Cheap Trick will visit Charleston on their current tour. The duo play the Volvo Car Stadium on Daniel Island on Wednesday, Oct 9th. “Charleston is a great city with a lot of history. I have a friend who has a house down that way. We love playing in Charleston.”
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