- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2015

Power pop legend Cheap Trick still wants fans to want them as the band returns to Wolf Trap on Thursday night to play a jukebox full of hits — including “Surrender” and “Dream Police” — spanning a four-decade career.

For founding member and guitarist Rick Nielsen, the visit means a continuation of a celebrated musical career that has featured nearly nonstop touring to connect with fans.

“Performing live is always the bread and butter for any band. We tour quite a bit, and we always have,” Mr. Nielsen said from Minneapolis.

This rigorous rock lifestyle was an easy choice for a man now known for dressing like a modern-day Bowery Boy onstage, flicking picks like darts at the audience and showcasing a museum’s worth of guitars.

Born to opera-singing and music-store-owning parents in 1946, Mr. Nielsen grew up in Rockford, Illinois, playing drums before switching to guitar.

He knew early on that his musical ambitions could lead to success.

“I started playing in high school. I never went to any homecomings or football games because I was always playing music. I actually got my first record deal right out of high school with Epic Records in 1968,” Mr. Nielsen said. “I always thought there were possibilities, and that’s five years before Cheap Trick even started.”

Mr. Nielsen hooked up with drummer Bun E. Carlos and bassist Tom Petersson and cemented the first Cheap Trick lineup in 1974 with vocalist Robin Zander, a critical component for the guitarist’s songs.

“I was always looking for a singer who could sing the songs I was writing. I mean, I could sing, but it was not a voice you wanted to hear,” he said.

The band hit the big time with help from a Beatles-eque reception in Japan in the late 1970s and a subsequent live album of the famous concerts, “Cheap Trick at Budokan,” featuring tour staples such as “Hello There,” “Surrender” and “I Want You to Want Me” (a top 10 hit).

Mr. Nielsen fondly remembers that first visit to the arena.

“It’s like we had landed on the moon. But, as I like to say, the Budokan made us famous, and we made the Budokan famous.”

With a career now encompassing over 5,000 live performances, sales of records in the millions, multiple gold and platinum albums, a selection of top 10 tunes including the 1987 top-of-the-charts hit “The Flame,” he and the band have no intention of slowing down.

In fact, fans will be delighted to know that Cheap Trick has been productive in the studio.

“We [have] already recorded around 30 new songs, 18 in Los Angeles and 15 or so in Nashville. We should have something out later this year,” Mr. Nielsen said.

It’s also worth noting that the group’s touring lineup continues to have the guitarist’s son, Daxx, behind the drum kit. The proud father calls the experience “terrific but different” and is quick to defend the decision.

“Regardless of being my son, if he was not good, he would not be playing drums with us,” Mr. Nielsen said.

Despite the band’s success and longevity, one major accolade still eludes the group — entrance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Mr. Nielsen pays no mind.

“It was never a goal of the band — but if it happens, it happens. Of course, it would be wonderful,” he said.

The venerable guitarist, now in his mid-60s, is happy to still make music.

“I’m a little older — I doubt much wiser — but I just love to play.”


WHAT: Cheap Trick and Peter Frampton

WHEN: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Wolf Trap Filene Center, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna, Virginia, 22182

INFO: Tickets $35-$60 by calling 703/255-1868 or visiting WolfTrap.org

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