When Cheap Trick was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April, the world of rock fans crowed a collective “about damn time!” For five decades, the quartet from Rockford, Illinois (vocalist Robin Zander, lead guitarist Rick Nielsen bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Ben E. Carlos) has delivered album after album of amazingly pure rock ‘n’ roll. “I Want You To Want Me,” “Dream Police,” “Surrender,” “Tonight It’s You” and “The Flame” always make listeners crank up the radio and sing along.
You do it too. Admit it.
This is proving to be a banner year for the band, which continues with three-fourths of the long term line-up still in place. (Mr. Carlos left in 2010, and Mr. Nielsen’s son, Daxx, has stood in since.) Besides induction into the rock hall, the band has released a seriously good new album, “Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello,” and are hitting the road for a tour with Heart and Joan Jett.
Guitar god Mr. Nielsen discussed what it’s like to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after so many years in the biz and why he may just open his own museum.
Question: Is it true that in the basement of your house is a Cheap Trick Museum?
Answer: Well, no, not really. I do have a lot of stuff. But it’s not in a museum. It’s a holding area. [laughs]
Q: Do you ever allow people in to see the stuff?
A: I have. A couple years ago I had an 8,000-square-foot room of my stuff in a museum in Rockford. It was there for eights months and had people from all over the world look at it. I’ve got warehouses full of stuff that nobody wants to see.
Q: Would you ever consider actually opening an official Cheap Trick museum?
A: The slogan would be “Cheap, cheap museum: Open daily twice a year.” Then if the demand was there, we would be open daily three times a year. And before you know it, “Open daily: 24 hours a day.”
Q: What did being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame mean for you?
A: It was a honor. I didn’t know what to expect. It’s kind of a standard or landmark for something that lots of people understand. It’s like the Baseball Hall of Fame. Lots of baseball players are good, but being in the “hall of fame” means you’re extra good.
Q: Why did it take so long, and why do you think they finally got it right?
A: I don’t care. [laughs] The fact that we did get in is wonderful. It was out of our hands. The fact that we got nominated and inducted on the first ballot is unbelievable. That just doesn’t happen. There are some bands that have been on the list for 10 years and still haven’t gotten in. To get on and get in is unreal. We’re just happy to be there.
Q: Where do you keep the trophy they gave you?
A: I actually had my trophy shipped home from New York, and the guy that was delivering it dropped it and broke the thing. Nobody got hurt. They have to repair it or build me a new one. I’m happy to have a broken one.
Q: Was it awkward having original drummer Bun E. Carlos, who sued you guys, be there for the ceremony?
A: Yeah, it was a little awkward. But we have played enough times together in the past years. It was like falling off a log.
Q: Whose idea was it to bring your son Daxx into the band?
A: About 15 years ago, Bun E. had his back operated on. Daxx actually took over playing drums for him, then for about three months on the Aerosmith tour and the Meat Loaf tour. He just played all these shows with us. After that he was the drummer fro Dick Dale for three years [and] played with Brandi Carlisle.
We were going to be playing at the South by Southwest convention and Austin City Limits. Bun wasn’t. Robin and Tom made it their decision to get in contact with Daxx and ask if he wanted to play. I tried to stay out of it because I didn’t want to have repercussions later.
Q: What advice did you give him in joining the band?
A: Ha! What happens on the road stays on the road. I think that is a pretty good bit of advice for anybody that wants to be in this business.
Q: The new CD has a classic 1970s Cheap Trick sound. How did you guys capture that?
A: It’s the players, not the room. It’s what we do. I go see all these bands, and on the floor there is a 10’ by 10’ door covered with pedals. I don’t use any pedals. I play the guitar straight. Less is more with us. We go from the way we play live and take it into the studio. Just trying to get it to sound good.
Q: You’re touring with Heart and Joan Jett. Is there any sense of competition when on bill with other bands?
A: Not a true sense of it. If it’s a show, it’s a show. It’s not “our show” or “their show.” It’s not “their show” plus us. We go out every night and try to kick our own asses.
Q: What is your favorite song to play live?
A: The songs that the people enjoy. I always get a kick out of playing “Dream Police” and “Surrender.”
Q: Do the recent deaths of David Bowie and Prince make you think about your own mortality?
A: As long as I don’t change my name to Bowie or Prince, I’m fine. [laughs]
Cheap Trick, Joan Jett and Heart will play Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia, Sept. 11. For tickets go to LiveNation.com.