“Cheap Trick‏ or Treat”

Cheap Trick the “American Beatles”.

“To Name a Band” – “Budokan” – “John Lennon called” – “Studio albums” – “Not only a cheap collection” – “Under the Influence” – “Party with the animals”

“If you don’t like us you don’t have to pay us”

Cheap Trick is an American rock band from Rockford, Illinois, formed in 1973. The band consists of Robin Zander (vocals, rhythm guitar), Rick Nielsen (lead guitar), Tom Petersson (bass guitar), and Bun E. Carlos (drums). Their biggest hits include “Surrender”, “I Want You to Want Me”, “Dream Police” and “The Flame”.

“Cheap Trick starts in June of 1973 but we didn’t have the name yet. Club owners weren’t fond of ‘Sick Man of Europe’, they just didn’t get it so we called ourselves ‘The Reapers’ for a bit. Rick Szeluga joined on bass and we started playing the clubs again. About a month later we came up with the name Cheap Trick in the garage where we rehearsed”. Bun E. Carlos

“To Name a Band”

“We were sitting around in the garage where we rehearsed at one day and we agreed that we needed a name… well, what should we call ourselves? We didn’t want to be like YES and all the bands with big capes and lasers and all that crap so we came up with the word “Cheap”…cheap this, cheap that…. and I think Rick said Cheap Trick and everyone said yeah that sounds good so we just went with it. Of course the next 2-3 years all we heard from record companies was “you guys gotta change your name, that’s the worst name in the world! We even heard stuff like “you guys look like a comedy act, you got two guys with long hair and two with short hair, etc”. Bun E. Carlos


None of Cheap Trick’s first three albums made it into the Top 40 in the United States. In Japan, however, all three albums became gold records. When Cheap Trick went to Japan to tour the country for the first time in April 1978, they were received with a frenzy reminiscent of Beatlemania. During this tour, Cheap Trick recorded two concerts attended by their loyal Japanese fans at the Nippon Budokan. Ten tracks taken from both shows were compiled and released as a live album titled Cheap Trick at Budokan, which was intended to be exclusive to Japan. Demand for the import album became so great that Epic Records finally released the album in the United States in February 1979.

“Budokan came out in Japan the summer of 1978 when ‘Heaven Tonight’ was our current album in America. We went into the studio and recorded ‘Dream Police’ and after Christmas break we were going over to Europe and then Japan for a second tour. So, the first 50,000 records of Budokan that were made for Japan were Equiped wrong so we said we will not allow you to sell them in Japan. So they ended up shipping them all to America! (laughs) Then the record company told us that the live album has become a record breaking Japanese import! It was $28.00 to buy it in a store in America when albums at the time were selling for $6.00. We were also only getting half of the foreign royalty rates, so we were getting burned there financially” Bun E. Carlos

Cheap Trick at Budokan launched the band into international stardom, and the album went triple platinum in the United States. The smash track was the live version of “I Want You to Want Me,” which had originally been released on In Color. It reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, and became Cheap Trick’s biggest-selling single.

The second single, “Ain’t That A Shame,” peaked at No. 35.

“Need Your Love” had already been recorded for the forthcoming Dream Police album that had already been finished, but after the unprecedented success of At Budokan, Epic postponed the album’s release. Dream Police was released later in 1979 and was their third album in a row produced by Tom Werman. The title track of the album was a hit single, as was “Voices.”

Dream Police also found the band taking its style in a more experimental direction by incorporating strings and dabbling in heavy metal on tracks like “Gonna Raise Hell”.

“We take off for the tour and the record company contacts us and says “we are going to put out this album sampler with 7 songs and send it to radio etc. People are buying the import all over the place! So you guys go to Europe and Japan and this thing will sell a couple hundred thousand and then when you get back Dream Police will come out and you guys are going to be famous! Get ready for this one!” We were like “yeah whatever” because we were about a million bucks in the hole and we almost didn’t even get to Europe, we didn’t have enough money to send our gear over so we were borrowing money from people and stuff”. Bun E. Carlos

“So we came back from the tour and played a couple shows and Rolling Stone called and said “we want you on the cover”! So the record company delays Dream Police for about a year while the Budokan craze is going on so suddenly we find ourselves a year ahead musically! We ended up going out on the road for two years doing anything and everything and it ended up burning Tom out. Everything sort of got all weird and goofy by the end of 1980”. Bun E. Carlos

“John Lennon called”

Nielsen and Carlos participated in sessions for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s album Double Fantasy, recording a bass-heavy and experimental version of Lennon’s “I’m Losing You,” but were never used on the subsequent release, with Lennon favoring a ‘lighter’ sound. (The Cheap Trick version can only be found on the John Lennon Anthology and on various bootlegs.)

“It was August of 1980. I got a call from management telling me to contact Jack Douglas. So I call Jack and he says don’t tell anybody but John Lennon is working on an album and they have a song that they want you to drum on! He said got this drummer (Andy Newmark Pink Floyd, etc.) right now that just isn’t getting the feel for it. So again Jack says just don’t tell anybody and I’ll talk to you soon. So of course the first thing I do is hang up the phone and say “GUESS WHAT”! (Laughs) About 3-4 weeks later I get a call telling me to bring the guitar player too. We go in and (bass player) Tony Levin introduces us to John and he says “You’re the guys from Cheap Trick, they told me your names but didn’t tell me what band you were in”. So that was kind of neat that he actually knew of Cheap Trick. We ended up going in there and banging out some stuff. I had John sign the sheet music for the session which was probably a good Idea because a few months later he was shot down in New York”. Bun E. Carlos

Nielsen and Carlos were also involved in recording a heavier and slower version of Yoko Ono’s “I’m Moving On,” but that has never seen any official release (only on bootlegs).

By 1980, when All Shook Up was released, Cheap Trick was headlining arenas.

All Shook Up, produced by former Beatles producer George Martin, reached No. 24 on the charts and was certified gold, but the album’s high-class background did not save it from descriptions like “Led Zeppelin gone psycho.”

Many fans of the band’s earlier albums saw All Shook Up as too weird and experimental. One song from the sessions, “Everything Works if You Let It”, appeared on the soundtrack of Roadie.

This, and “Stop This Game” both missed the top 40, peaking at #44 & #48, respectively. A later reissue of All Shook Up included “Everything Works” as a bonus track.

The band contributed a cover of John Lennon’s song “Cold Turkey” on the Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon album.

Studio albums

Cheap Trick (1977)
In Color (1977)
Heaven Tonight (1978)
Dream Police (1979)
All Shook Up (1980)
One on One (1982)
Next Position Please (1983)
Standing on the Edge (1985)
The Doctor (1986)
Lap of Luxury (1988)
Busted (1990)
Woke up with a Monster (1994)
Cheap Trick (1997)
Special One (2003)
Rockford (2006)
The Latest (2009)

“Not only a cheap collection”

Cheap Trick is known for its use – and large collection – of unusual and vintage guitars and basses. Robin Zander has played a 1950s Rickenbacker Combo 450 Mapleglo since the late 1970s, as well as a Hamer 12-string guitar, a Schecter Guitar Research Corsair Bigsby, a Gibson Firebird, and various Fender Telecaster-styled guitars.

Rick Nielsen is an avid collector who has over 400 guitars in his possession. He has collaborated with Hamer on trademark ‘themed’ guitars, some based on Cheap Trick albums such as “Rockford,” “The Doctor,” and even songs such as “Gonna Raise Hell.” Hamer has also made unique five-necked guitars and electric mandocellos for Nielsen.

Tom Petersson also had created the idea for a twelve-string bass. He previously had used an Alembic and Hagstrom 8-string basses, and asked Jol Dantzig of Hamer Guitars to make a 12-string bass. The company initially made him a 10-string bass. Following the successful trial use of that bass, the prototype 12-string bass, The Hamer ‘Quad’, was produced. Petersson later used 12-string basses made by Kids (a Japanese guitar maker), Chandler, and signature models from Waterstone. His primary choice of 4-string bass is a Gibson Thunderbird, though he also owns a very impressive array of 4, 5 and 8 stringed basses from other guitar makers. He is also an endorsee of Hofner basses.

Bun E. Carlos has played with many different commercial drum accessories, including Ludwig and Slingerland Radio King drums, Zildjian cymbals, rare Billy Gladstone snare drums, and Capella drum sticks. He is also an avid collector of vintage drums.

“Under the Influence”

Cheap Trick is highly respected by its peers and an influence on its descendants. The band was one of Joey Ramone’s all-time favorites and has received acknowledgment from such peers as Gene Simmons (Rick Nielsen appeared on Simmons’ 1978 solo album), Joe Perry, and Angus Young.

In 1979, Robin Zander was informally approached to join British glam rockers Sweet after the departure of singer Brian Connolly. In the 1980s, Cheap Trick garnered support from the hard rock community when bands like Mötley Crüe, Ratt and Guns N’ Roses cited their influence. An interesting shift happened during the early to mid-90s that helped fortify the band’s credibility – the band was now being seen as influential within the blossoming alternative rock scene. Kurt Cobain mentioned the band as an influence, while Smashing Pumpkins showed their admiration by having Cheap Trick open shows for them. Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan has made a number of onstage guest appearances with Cheap Trick over the years.

The thrash metal band Anthrax has covered two Cheap Trick songs, “Big Eyes” and “Auf Wiedersehen”.

“Party with the animals”

“We did a coast to coast tour with UFO in 1981. It was the party dog tour where everyone was getting way too wasted. Cheap Trick always had a good tour rule where it was party after the gig… don’t party before the gig, don’t get high before the gig, etc. Do your job. With UFO, those guys could party anyone under the table and we probably gave them a good run for their money every night after the show but those were some long bus rides…. (pauses) Too many sunrises were seen but UFO was fun”. Bun E. Carlos




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