I Still Want You to Want Me
In 1979 – 14 years old and trapped in a small South Texas town – Cheap Trick meant everything to me. That was the case for plenty of teenagers everywhere. It was also more than enough to propel them to record stores after hearing the live “I Want You to Want Me” that took over airwaves that summer. Tonight, the band takes over ACL Live at the Moody Theater.
That single and its parent album, Cheap Trick at Budokan, made the Midwestern rock & roll act chart-topping stars after years of hard work. It finally spelled the end of the disco era as well, and a chart return to high-energy rock & roll, if only for a moment.
Cheap Trick at Budokan defined a certain brand of musical excitement – one that embraced both the Beatles and the Who, as well as punk’s blitzkrieg approach, emphasis on high energy and economy of structure. Even then, Cheap Trick didn’t look like your standard-issue rock band. There were two 16 Magazine-style pin-ups, a zany lead guitarist who dressed like Huntz Hall and spazzed out behind a prodigious guitar collection, and a drummer who looked like a chain-smoking accountant.
That wacky guitarist, Rockford, Ill., native Rick Nielsen, happened to write songs that reflected a warped worldview, one that could produce “Surrender,” a sort of “My Generation”-in-reverse that would become as iconic as that Who song: “Mommy’s alright, daddy’s alright/They just seem a little weird.” And who can forget the verse about catching mom and dad on the couch, rolling joints on your Kiss albums?
Cheap Trick has survived the usual career ebb-and-flow and remained a hard-touring, meat-and-potatoes rock & roll band that occasionally still issues albums as solid as any of their Seventies classics. We checked in with Nielsen last week.
Austin Chronicle: This is an anniversary year for the Budokan album, correct?
Rick Nielsen: Yes, sir!
AC: You did a couple of shows commemorating that?
RN: Yeah, we did a couple: one in New York and one in Los Angeles. I think we have one more later this summer, and then we’re going to Japan in August.
AC: Is the Japanese tour gonna be a series of dates playing the Budokan set?
RN: I don’t know. We haven’t decided what we’re going to do over there.
AC: For an album that was never meant to be an American release, it’s the one that seems to be your benchmark.
RN: The Budokan made us famous, and we made the Budokan famous.
AC: You’ve been able to maintain a hard-working touring regimen. Hasn’t Cheap Trick traditionally done 200-250 dates per year?
RN: Yeah, I think it’s around 200 per year, which is a lot. With the travel, it really adds up. We’re doing at least four shows a week over 45 or 50 weeks a year. Yesterday was a day off. Played the night before, left the hotel in Tucson about 8:45 in the morning, then didn’t leave the Tucson airport until 6:30 at night. One flight got canceled, and we could get on until much later. We didn’t get to Dallas ’til 10 at night. So, we had a 14-hour day and did nothing! That’s the stuff that’s not fun.
AC: I know the idea when you formed Cheap Trick was that you would be a working band. And you have remained a working band.
RN: We’re lucky that we get enough requests and we get enough people that we can sell tickets. It’s terrific! That’s what we love to do. And we’re pretty good at it.
AC: I know one change is that Bun E. Carlos can no longer tour with you, right?
RN: My son Daxx has played drums with us for the last three years, something like that.
AC: Does Bun still play on the studio recordings?
RN: Well, he hasn’t been, so … I think last winter there was a track where Daxx played and Bun E. played. But we didn’t even see Bun E. He did it on his own, played to a track that we had done.
AC: Has he retired?
RN: I don’t know. We’re on tour, and Daxx is our drummer. So …
AC: The last thing you got out was The Latest, wasn’t it? That was 2009?
RN: I’d have to look up the date to remember. We had a Christmas single that was out last year, “I Want You for Christmas,” which we did for the Special Olympics. And there’s been a bunch of releases of the Sgt. Pepper[’s Lonely Hearts Club Band] stuff that we had done, too.
AC: I heard some of that. I was amazed at how well you were able to replicate that one live.
RN: We had Geoff Emerick, the engineer who did all the stuff on Sgt. Pepper with George Martin. He did every show with us. And we have two shows coming up where Geoff is on those shows, too. We’re going to be doing a show outside Chicago where we’re gonna be doing Sgt. Pepper and Budokan in the same night. Then we’ve got another one in Wyoming or Montana or South Dakota. I can’t remember where it is. But we’re doing it again there with the orchestra.
RN: I think for those two shows I called up Jimmy Vivino, who’s Conan O’Brien’s guitarist and also plays in a band called the Fab Faux. I’ve been with them a number of times. He’s actually joining us to play the Sgt. Pepper shows. Oh, and there’s one other in Seattle.
AC: Have you been working on material for a new album?
RN: Yeah, we have been, actually. We have some days off in July. Robin [Zander, singer] and I are gonna be working in Chicago a little bit trying to get some songs ready. Probably in the new year we’ll record, because we just don’t have any time right now.
AC: Well, it’s all part of the work rate.
RN: Yeah. That’s what we do. Hey, I’m on the cover of Guitar Player this month!
AC: I’ve gotta pick that one up. I got the first Guitar Player cover story you did in 1979. I’ll never forget you trying to convince the writer you played slide guitar with a toilet roll you had chrome plated!
RN: Yeah, I was on the cover in 1979, and I’m on the cover in 2013. So, I’ll be on the cover again in 2047!
AC: Well, they’d have to reanimate you for that.
RN: Gimme some of Keith Richards’ drugs!