OnMilwaukee.com – Cheap Trick Feature

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Cheap Trick continues on its rock ‘n’ roll quest

By Joshua Miller
Published July 4, 2016 at 8:56 a.m.

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Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen has a trademark look that’s hard to miss. He’s often wearing a baseball cap and bow-tie. However, he’s just as likely to be identified by the wide range of guitars he wields. While he retired his orange-colored 1981 five-neck Hamer, he regularly tours with two five-neck guitars including his trademark checkerboard guitar.

“It gets more applause than I do,” Nielsen said during a recent phone conversation. “Has it gotten heavy? It sure has.”

The Rockford, Ill., band has played Milwaukee and Wisconsin so much since forming in early ’70s that it’s been like a home away from home. In fact, frequent band producer Jack Douglas’ recommendation after seeing the group play Wisconsin helped get Cheap Trick signed to Epic Records.

“It’s a good place,” Nielsen said of Milwaukee. “I’ve gone to baseball games and all kinds of stuff there. We’ve always found a good audience in Milwaukee, even from the beginning of our career. Even before Cheap Trick, I’ve been playing Milwaukee for decades and decades. Great place, great people.”

Nielsen still fondly recalls playing venues like The Stone Toad and County Stadium in Milwaukee and Sunset Bowl in Waukesha. He said he enjoyed playing with local groups like In a Hot Coma, Sigmund Snopek and the Violent Femmes.

“I’ve played with a bunch of different people and recorded at the studio that used to be across the street from The Pfister Hotel,” he said.

Cheap Trick’s performance at Summerfest on Thursday, July 7 will be extra special, as it’s their first Milwaukee show since releasing their 17th studio album “Bang, Zoom, Crazy … Hello” and their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year. Nielsen was pleasantly surprised when the band was announced as an inductee.

“It was quite an honor,” Nielsen said. “It was something we didn’t quite expect, but now that we’ve gotten in, it sure means a lot.”

He adds that his favorite moment of the ceremony was when it was over, possibly wanting to get back to the more natural flow of touring.

Nielsen has no doubt why Cheap Trick remains relevant after 40-plus years. The core lineup of the band has been together from the start, and its members have a deep passion for making music together, he said.

“We like the music we play, and we always wanted to be musicians,” he said. “Musically and lyrically, a lot of people can relate to it. Say the song ‘Surrender,’ to every person I ever met, they think their parents are weird. Aren’t your parents weird?”

“We play in different cities every day so we’re always playing to a different crowd. So that keeps it fresh, and we always try to do a good show. So there’s no secret to it. It’s how we go about doing it.”

The same reasoning went into making their latest album.

“We were just trying to make a good record. It wasn’t like we had any specific plan,” Nielsen says. “It’s the same with basically any record we’ve ever had. There’s always some good music.”

In the seven years since their last album, 2009’s “The Latest,” Nielsen says the material piled up, and they had a good selection to choose from. Much of album recording process was very DIY. They recorded with Grammy-winning producer Julian Raymond, whom Nielsen says really helped get things in motion.

“When we [first] went into the studio, we didn’t have a record deal. We were spending our own money to record,” Nielsen explained. “It’s because we love what we do.”

One of the guest musicians on the album is MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer. He performs on their song “Do You Believe Me.” Nielsen enjoyed the energy created with his fellow guitarist.

“I’ve known Wayne for a long time. He’s a great player, and it’s almost like a guitar battle; it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

He also has enjoyed playing with his son Daxx, who plays drums.

“He’s a great player,” Nielsen says. “It’s very interesting working with him. He knows the songs as good as we do or maybe even better.”

Like much of their past albums, “Bang, Zoom, Crazy … Hello” is straightforward rock and roll seeking to make an impact.

“Rather than look for a title that meant something, this doesn’t mean anything but at the same time means a lot,” Nielsen said. “It’s four impact words that will get your attention.”

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