Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen talks rock and Vancouver’s “cannabis people”



By Steve Newton

Rock stars don’t always call on time. Sometimes they don’t even call at all. And it’s a rare occasion when they actually call early. So when Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen rings the Straight up from Phoenix a good 10 minutes before our scheduled interview time, I’m caught off guard. Not only that, but I don’t have my questions ready; I’m busy scanning Cheap Trick’s entry in Rock: The Rough Guide for leads. That’s when I come across one critic’s view that, while Cheap Trick’s first four studio albums were pretty great, the band’s music went downhill after 1979’s Dream Police. “Well, that’s their opinion,” remarks Nielsen when I relay the impression. “I think we’re playin’ better than ever, so… It’s a real good band.”

Nielsen doesn’t actually dispute The Rough Guide’s assessment that his group’s recorded output started to falter with 1980’s George Martin–produced All Shook Up. Maybe he realizes that four worthy albums is more than most rock bands ever achieve. Unlike a lot of ’70s acts that played heavily with the image angle, Cheap Trick also had the music to go with it. “I think our biggest image is probably our musical image,” states Nielsen. “All the rest of it’s fun, but nobody buys records, more than once, because the picture’s good.”

In its heyday, Cheap Trick’s exhilarating power pop and crafty image couldn’t lose, and scored it the opening slot on sold-out tours with the likes of Kiss and Queen. I remember seeing a brash and ballsy Cheap Trick threaten to steal the almighty Kiss’s thunder on the latter’s Destroyer tour of ’76. Anyone else who was there might want to consider checking out the exact same lineup—Nielsen, vocalist Robin Zander, bassist Tom Petersson, and drummer Bun E. Carlos—at the Commodore on Wednesday (July 25). “A lot of people who were conceived at those shows are at our shows now,” relates Nielsen.

A native of Rockford, Illinios, Nielsen claims that he loves Vancouver. He asks about the routine police crackdowns on the city’s “cannabis people”, and whether or not Blunt Brothers—the reefer-friendly Hastings Street hangout—is still open. Hey, who’s asking the questions here? I want to know if the guy has heard any good rock bands lately. That’s information I can use.

“I subscribe to the magazine called Computer Music,” he says, “and there’s a lot of electronic stuff that I enjoy. As far as hard-rock bands, I still have a hard time finding stuff that I like. They can usually make pretty good records, ’cause it’s a lot of stuff done in the studio, but then live they’re just not so good. With Cheap Trick, we’re known as a live band, and we make pretty good studio records, too. I think you’re supposed to know how to do both.”

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