16 Things We Learned Hanging Out With Cheap Trick - Rolling Stone
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16 Things We Learned Hanging Out With Cheap Trick

They don’t love live albums, regret suing their label and feared becoming a Beatles tribute act

It’s taken 42 years, 17 studio albums (including their brand new disc Bang, Zoom, Crazy … Hello), about 5,000 concerts and perhaps a half million guitar picks thrown into the crowd, but Cheap Trick finally entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 8th. We travelled with frontman Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen, bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Daxx Nielsen to Nashville and Rockford, Illinois, for a recent Rolling Stone feature you can read right here, but there was a ton we simply couldn’t fit into the article. Here are 16 things we learned while reporting the piece.

1. Zander attributes the group’s signature sound to the fact that all four members came from distinct musical backgrounds.
“When I came into the band, Rick was more of a Yardbirds guy,” he says. “I was more of a Beatles guy. Tom was more of a Rolling Stones guy, and Bun E. [Carlos] was a Keith Moon guy. We all brought different things and merged them together.”

2. They felt a kinship with the punk bands of the 1970s.
“We were all coming from the same place,” says Petersson. “We were both coming from nothing. And because we were a bar band, we just had the sensibility of getting to the point really, really quickly. But what we do is really heavy pop music.”

3. In the 1970s, they opened for Kiss, the Kinks, Queen, Thin Lizzy and many other legends, but only one band truly threatened them.
“When we toured with AC/DC, we always had to bring our A game,” says Nielsen. “They really felt like our equals.” Adds Zander: “At the time we were almost equally unsuccessful, playing dumps all over the world. Playing with those guys is some of the fondest memories that I have.”

4. Even though Live at Budokan made their careers, Petersson doesn’t really like live albums.
“I just think that studio albums are better because that’s where all the thought went,” he says. “I don’t think Budokan is anywhere near our best album. If I was asked to play one album that represented our career, I would not pick a live album.”

5. They regret getting into a legal tussle with their label right after Budokan turned them into superstars.
“The label basically went, ‘Oh, really? You’re going to get into a lawsuit with us?,'” says Petersson. “‘Let’s see how that works out for you.’ Then they pretty much blackballed us and put all their efforts into making sure we didn’t have success. It’s kind of a miracle we stayed together and stuck around to this day. Looking back, the lawsuit was just a terrible idea.”

6. In the mid-1980s they found themselves opening up for bands like REO Speedwagon, but they never thought about packing it in.
“You don’t have to be the biggest band on the planet, making billions of dollars, to still be popular and making a living doing what you’re doing,” says Zander. “We’ve always made a living, somehow or another. We’ve relied on live performances. That’s allowed us to survive and finance our recordings. Also, it’s a privilege to get out there and play. Traveling isn’t much fun, no matter if you’re riding in a bus behind Mötley Crüe or not.”

7. Most of the early-Nineties grunge bands loved them, but that didn’t help their career very much.
“People would say to us, ‘This is going to be the greatest thing for you guys!'” says Petersson. “‘Now you’ll get this underground audience!’ Well, it didn’t do shit for us.”

8. The group grew intensely frustrated in the Nineties when Carlos insisted they play short sets that didn’t vary much from night to night.
“The one person who is not here made it next to impossible to change things,” says Nielsen. “He just didn’t like the idea [of doing long, varied] shows and didn’t want to do it that way. We suffered and our audience suffered.”

9. They not only make good money playing corporate gigs; they have a lot of fun doing it.
“Some bands are like, ‘If I’m not playing Shea Stadium, this is bullshit!'” says Petersson. “But what do they know? Private gigs never bothered us. People are always so glad to see us. They walk up to you and go, ‘When I was in high school …’ They tell these great stories. And we always get a great paycheck, even better than what we normally get. One time we did a series of club shows organized by some corporation where you could win tickets. It wound up that there was often nobody there, which was kind of fun, like playing someone’s living room. We got to walk around and talk to everyone.”

10. Robin was not happy that Bun. E Carlos brought up his young daughter when explaining to Rolling Stone why he left the band.
“I don’t even care to acknowledge what he said there,” says Zander. “It just proves why he isn’t with us anymore. But he’s still a member of the band and still gets paid, but he’s not on the road and there are reasons for that, real reasons, not bullshit. Look, the guy hated the last record we made, The Latest. He wanted us to get rid of Julian Raymond, our producer. Bands always use the term ‘musical differences.’ Well, we had some musical differences that were pretty extraordinary.” Adds Petersson: “He’d be critical without offering an alternative. ‘OK, this sucks.’ ‘What’s the alternative?’ ‘I don’t have one. Just do something good.'”

11. Zander says that Carlos was right when he told us he didn’t want to do an additional 100 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band gigs in Las Vegas.
“If you were in a rock band as great as Cheap Trick, would you want to end your career being a Beatles cover band?” says Zander. “There you go. Not me.”

12. Rick’s son Daxx has been their drummer since 2010, but he’s still a little unclear on his exact role in the band.
“There was never a thing where anyone said, ‘Hey, you’re the full-time drummer,'” he says. “I still to this day don’t know that I’m the permanent guy yet. I’m in the promotional pictures and I’m on the new album, but I’m not in the Cheap Trick corporation. I’m not a primary … whatever you call it. I have no stock in the company, and I don’t make the decisions. But this is still all a dream come true.”

13. Daxx wants to be very clear that he didn’t take anyone’s job.
“I did not take Bun E.’s job,” he says. “The spot was vacant and they hired me. They didn’t leave him for me. If he wants to come by at the Hall of Fame and say hi to me, I’ll have no hard feelings. And until he did that interview with you guys, he never did anything wrong to me.”

14. Zander would be willing to be a guest singer for AC/DC on their upcoming tour.
“I’d love to do that,” he says. “But I’d want the blessing of Brian [Johnson]. I wouldn’t go there as a slap in the face to him. But if he said, ‘Go ahead,’ I would do it. And I’d donate the money to somebody. They’re AC/DC. People want to hear those songs. Sure, they want to hear them with Brian. But if Brian isn’t there, they can get someone else. I don’t know what else to say, but I know I’d be heartbroken if something happened to me and I couldn’t sing in Cheap Trick.”

15. They might play more complete-album shows.
They nearly invented the concept in 1998 when they played their first three albums on a special tour, and a few years ago they did a series of Dream Police concerts. “I think we should do it again,” says Zander. “Only this time we should take on some other eras.”

16. Retirement is the last thing on their minds.
“I don’t see myself doing anything but what I’m doing right now,” says Zander. “I’m not going to retire. Why would I ever do that? That’s crazy.”

Find out five things you didn’t know about Cheap Trick.

In This Article: Cheap Trick


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