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Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen on the buildup to ‘Budokan’: interview

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Cheap Trick Best Group

Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson and Robin Zander of the classic rock band Cheap Trick perform December 5 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota. Here they are during the MMR B Q radio station concert at the Susquehanna Bank Center on Saturday, May 18, 2013, in Camden, N.J. (Photo by Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP)

When Cheap Trick performs December 5 at Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall - the venue’s only real rock show of the season - there will be certain expectations. Guitar hero Rick Nielsen really must wear his trademark old-school ball cap flipped up and some black and white checkerboard attire and, yeah, he better lead his band through a generous offering of songs from the landmark live disc “Cheap Trick at Budokan.” Released about 35 years ago, the album remains a wonderfully catchy and quirky collection of songs from the extraordinary mind of Nielsen.

“I don’t want to toot my own horn but I didn’t want to be a jock or nerd growing up, I just wanted to be me, and me is complex,” Nielsen says by phone. “I go from one song to another and there might be a kind of humor here or there but you can’t paint with one brush; the world isn’t all lovey-dovey and it’s not all doom and gloom.”

Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick Best

Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick performs at the Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary celebration, on Friday, August 30, 2013 in Milwaukee, WI. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Invision for Invision/AP)

Aerosmith producer Jack Douglass witnessed a Cheap Trick concert in 1975 that convinced him he had found another American hard rock band every bit as awesome as, well, Aerosmith. But while Aerosmith borrowed style and substance from The Rolling Stones, Cheap Trick built from The Beatles. Cheap Trick created a sound that would be called power pop; one of the most influential sounds to emerge in the post-Beatles era.

Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen (lead guitar, vocals), Robin Zander (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Tom Petersson (bass guitar, vocals) and Bun E. Carlos (drums) had been touring nearly non-stop for a couple years when they went into the studio with Douglass as producer and created their self-titled debut disc. Released in 1977, the album captures nearly every dynamic of the band’s singular genius and trailblazing glory, with a harder edge than subsequent releases. Standout tracks include “ELO Kiddies,” “Oh, Candy” and “He’s a Whore,” all penned by Nielsen, who has been the band’s chief songwriter since its formation.

“I think we did something like 28 songs in 10 days, way more than what we needed to do because we had played them so much live, we would only do one, maybe two takes,” Nielsen recalls. “Jack wasn’t trying to overproduce us, he liked the way were live and helped us make a record without much frills. I think it’s one of our best. It’s raw and cool and noisy.”

Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick 5

Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick performs at the Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary celebration, on Friday, August 30, 2013 in Milwaukee, WI. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Invision for Invision/AP)

Although considered masterpieces today, Cheap Trick’s debut album and the equally excellent and influential power pop classics “In Color” (1977) and “Heaven Tonight” (1978) all somehow failed to reach a wide audience upon release. And then it happened. Cheap Trick found a following in Japan and went to Tokyo to record a pair of shows in 1978 that resulted in “Cheap Trick at Budokan.”

"Finally here was a whole country that liked us,” Nielsen says with a laugh. “These were the smartest people on the planet.”

“Cheap Trick at Budokan” eventually reached number four on the Billboard 200 and the single “I Want You to Want Me” climbed to number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single, a cover of the Fats Domino hit “Ain’t That a Shame” cracked the Top 40. Other killers include “Hello There” and “Surrender.”

The album, which has spawned a sequel and a pair of reissues, will likely be generously represented when Cheap Trick performs in Sarasota with the same lineup from Budokan except for Bun E. Carlos. In 2010, Cheap Trick announced that he was not currently the touring drummer for the band but remains a band member with Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx handling drummer duties ever since and earning positive reviews.

“I like to look back and see someone who is a great player,” Nielsen says of Daxx. “He just happens to be my son; or, maybe it’s better to say my son just happens to be my drummer.”

Cheap Trick
8 p.m. Thursday, December 5; Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; $55; 953-3368; vanwezel.org.

Cheap Trick
8 p.m. Thursday, December 5; Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; $55; 953-3368; vanwezel.org.

Wade_Tatangelo_by_Mike_Lang_HT_06212013 Wade Tatangelo has been an entertainment reporter, columnist and reviewer for more than a decade at publications nationwide. He is a Hershey, Pa., native who grew up in Tampa and graduated from the University of South Florida. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune in 2013. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: November 27, 2013
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