Cheap Trick

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Cheap Trick
Cheap Trick performing in 1978 in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the Park Center
Background information
Origin Rockford, Illinois, United States
Years active 1973–present
Associated acts
Past members

Cheap Trick is an American rock band from Rockford, Illinois, formed in 1973. The band consists of vocalist Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen, bassist Tom Petersson, and drummer Bun E. Carlos.[a]

Cheap Trick released its debut album in 1977 and first found success in Japan with the release of its second album, In Color, later that year. The band would achieve mainstream popularity in the United States in 1979 with its breakthrough album Cheap Trick at Budokan. Cheap Trick reached the Top 10 in the U.S. charts in 1979 with "I Want You to Want Me" and topped the charts in 1988 with "The Flame".

Over the course of its career, Cheap Trick has experienced several resurgences of popularity and has toured consistently, playing over 5,000 shows. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.


Origins (1969–1975)

In 1961, Rick Nielsen began playing locally in Rockford, Illinois, using an ever-increasing collection of rare and valuable guitars. He formed several local bands such as The Boyz and The Grim Reapers. Brad Carlson, later known as Bun E. Carlos, played in a rival Rockford band, the Pagans. Finally, Nielsen formed Fuse in 1967 with Tom Peterson, later known as Tom Petersson, who had played in yet another local band called The Bo Weevils.[1]

Fuse released a self-titled album for Epic Records in 1970, which was generally ignored. Frustrated by their lack of success, Fuse recruited the two remaining members of Nazz in 1970 and ended up playing around the Midwest for six or seven months under two monikers, Fuse or Nazz, depending on where they were gigging. With Bun E. Carlos joining on drums, Fuse moved to Philadelphia in 1971. They began calling themselves "Sick Man of Europe" in 1972–1973.[1] After a European tour in 1973, Nielsen and Petersson returned to Rockford and reunited with Carlos.[2][3] According to Rolling Stone, the band adopted the name "Cheap Trick" on August 25, 1973.[4]

Randy "Xeno" Hogan was the original lead singer for Cheap Trick. He left the band shortly after its formation and was replaced by Robin Zander.[1] The name was inspired by the band's attendance at a Slade concert, where Petersson commented that the band used "every cheap trick in the book" as part of their act.[5] The band recorded (with Hogan) a demo, "Hot Tomato", around mid-1974, parts of which would form "I'll Be with You Tonight", which was first called "Tonight, Tonight" (and a slightly different structure), and "Takin' Me Back".

Classic years (1975–1978)

Nielsen and Petersson performing in 1977

With Robin Zander now on vocals, the band recorded a demo in 1975 and played in warehouses, bowling alleys, and various other venues around the midwestern United States. The band was signed to Epic Records in early 1976 by A&R man Tom Werman, at the insistence of producer Jack Douglas who had seen the band perform in Wisconsin. The songs they had written, such as "I Want You To Want Me", were performed throughout 1975–1976 but would not be released until a couple of years later.

The band released their first album, Cheap Trick, in early 1977, produced by Jack Douglas. While favored by critics, the album did not sell well.[1] The album's lone single "Oh, Candy" failed to chart as did the album. However, the band began to develop a fan base in Japan and "ELO Kiddies" was a hit single in Europe.[citation needed] Their second album In Color was released later that year and was produced by Tom Werman, who brought out their lighter and more pop-oriented side, producing an album much more polished than their first. However, the band bemoaned In Color's production and would re-record it many years later. Moreover, the album was largely unsuccessful. The singles "I Want You To Want Me" and "Southern Girls" failed to chart. However, "I Want You To Want Me" and "Clock Strikes Ten" were hit singles in Japan, with the latter going to No. 1 on the charts.[citation needed] In Color ultimately was ranked No. 443 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

The band's third album, Heaven Tonight, released in May 1978 and again produced by Tom Werman, combined elements of the first two albums. Regarded by many fans and critics as their best album, the lead-off track "Surrender" was Cheap Trick's first single to chart in the United States, peaking at No. 62. It has gone on to become one of the band's signature songs. Heaven Tonight is also noteworthy as the first album recorded with a 12-string electric bass.[6]

Budokan brings success (1978–1981)

None of Cheap Trick's first three albums made it into the Top 40 in the United States.[1] 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.[7] During the tour, Cheap Trick recorded two concerts 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.[8] Demand for the import album became so great that Epic Records finally released the album in the United States in February 1979.

Cheap Trick at Budokan launched the band into international stardom, and the album went triple platinum in the United States.[7][9] The first single from the album 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 best-selling single to date.[10] 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 Cheap Trick 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".

A four track EP entitled Found All The Parts was released in mid 1980 and consisted of previously unreleased material. One side of the record contained live recordings and the other side had studio recordings. The live tracks were a faux live cover of the Beatles' "Day Tripper", and "Can't Hold On", a bluesy track recorded at the Budokan concerts in 1978. The studio tracks were "Such A Good Girl" and "Take Me I'm Yours", which the record claims were recorded in 1976 and 1977, respectively. However, while they were older songs, they were recorded with Jack Douglas in early 1980. A total of nine tracks were recorded with Douglas, and remain obscure as they have only been issued on compilations, promotional samplers, and contest giveaways. For years, there was a false rumor that this was an album that had been rejected by Epic Records.

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".[11] 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 the film 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.

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 be found only on the John Lennon Anthology. Nielsen and Carlos were also involved in recording a heavier and slower version of Yoko Ono's "I'm Moving On" which remains unreleased.

1980s struggles (1981–1987)

On August 26, 1980, before the release of All Shook Up, Petersson left the group to record a solo album with his wife Dagmar. The five-song mini-LP titled Tom Peterson and Another Language was released in 1984.

Pete Comita replaced Petersson for the All Shook Up tour, and the band recorded five songs with Comita to contribute to two movie soundtracks. "I'm the Man", "Born to Raise Hell", and "Ohm Sweet Ohm", which were produced by Jack Douglas, went to the film Rock & Rule. An accompanying soundtrack album for the film was never released and the songs weren't released until 1996 (on the Sex, America, Cheap Trick box set). "Reach Out" and "I Must Be Dreamin'" went to the film Heavy Metal and were produced by Roy Thomas Baker. "Reach Out" was written by Comita and Bob James. Comita left the band after completing the 1980–81 World Tour that promoted the All Shook Up album as well as the demo sessions for the band's forthcoming album. He would later claim that he co-wrote songs that appeared on the band's next two albums and was not credited.

Jon Brant became Petersson's steady replacement. In July 1981, CBS Inc. sued Cheap Trick and their manager Ken Adamany for $10 million, alleging they were attempting to coerce CBS into re-negotiating their contract and had refused to record any new material for the label since October 1980. The lawsuit was settled in early 1982 and work commenced on the next album—One on One, produced by Roy Thomas Baker. The band changed direction again, this time opting for an album full of brash, shout-along hard rock songs. The album spawned two minor hits with the power ballad "If You Want My Love" and the innuendo-laced rocker "She's Tight". The music videos for both songs received heavy rotation on MTV.

The following year, Cheap Trick released Next Position Please with Todd Rundgren as producer. Rundgren downplayed the band's brash side and returned them to a more clean, pop-oriented sound similar to that of In Color. The album never found much of an audience and Cheap Trick's commercial fortunes were in decline. The first single was a cover of The Motors' "Dancing the Night Away". Epic Records, desperate for a hit from the band, forced the group to record the track, which had been a hit single in Europe. Rundgren refused to produce the song, and it was instead produced by One On One engineer Ian Taylor. It failed to chart, as did the second single and fan favorite "I Can't Take It". The Ian-Taylor-produced "Spring Break", which was a contribution to the soundtrack of the 1983 comedy film of the same name, was also issued as a single, which also failed to chart. In 1984, the band recorded the title track "Up the Creek" to the Tim Matheson comedy Up The Creek, which Nielsen later called "one of the worst" songs he'd ever written.[12] The track reached No. 36 on Billboard's Top Tracks but was off the chart after two weeks.

In 1985 they were reunited with Jack Douglas, who had produced their debut album, to record Standing on the Edge. The band originally intended to return to their rough-sounding roots on the album, but Douglas backed out of the mixing process due to the legal issues.[citation needed] It was instead mixed by Tony Platt, who added more elements of typical 1980s production. This album was called their "best collection of bubblegum bazooka rock in years".[13] The album also featured Mark Radice on keyboards, and he was also enlisted to assist in the songwriting process. The album's first single, "Tonight It's You", reached No. 8 on the Billboard's Top Rock Tracks chart and the video received heavy rotation on MTV. The following singles "Little Sister" and "How About You" were released as promotional singles only. During this time, Steve Walsh, between gigs as keyboardist/lead singer of the bands Streets and Kansas, toured with the band as a keyboard player and background vocalist.

Cheap Trick also participated in a USO project organized by Kansas drummer Phil Ehart, touring as part of the First Airborne Rock & Roll Division, the band joined other rock bands at U.S. military bases overseas.

In 1986, the band recorded "Mighty Wings", the end-title cut for the film Top Gun, released June 1986. They then released The Doctor in the fall, produced by Tony Platt. Some of the songs contained elements of funk, and the band utilized female back-up vocalists for the first time. However, synthesizers and computer-programmed sound effects drowned out most of the prominent instruments, most noticeably the guitar. The album's lone single, "It's Only Love" failed to chart. The music video for "It's Only Love" made history as the first music video to prominently use American Sign Language.[14] The Doctor turned out to be the final album with Jon Brant as bassist. Brant parted on good terms with the band, and has performed with the band a number of times since as a special guest or filling in for Petersson.

Resurgence (1987–1989)

Petersson rejoined the group in 1987[15] and helped record 1988's Lap of Luxury, produced by Richie Zito. Due to the band's commercial decline, Epic Records insisted that the band collaborate with professional songwriters on the album.[4] "The Flame", a ballad, was issued as the first single from the album and became the band's first-ever No. 1 hit.[10] The second single, a cover of Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel", also reached the top five. Three other singles from the album were "Ghost Town", "Never Had a Lot to Lose", and "Let Go". Lap of Luxury went platinum[4] and became recognized as the band's comeback album.


Busted was released in 1990 and was also produced by Richie Zito, as the band attempted to capitalize on the success of Lap of Luxury. This time, however, the band was allowed more creative control and professional songwriters were only used on a handful of songs. The first single "Can't Stop Falling Into Love" reached No. 12 on the charts but failed to reach as high as the label expected. The second single, the Diane Warren penned "Wherever Would I Be", suffered a worse fate reaching only No. 50. The following single "If You Need Me" was not successful, although the track "Back 'n Blue" reached No. 32 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks.

In 1991, Cheap Trick's Greatest Hits was released. It included twelve (twenty-eight on Japan pressing) of the band's most successful or popular singles and one new track, a cover of the Beatles' song "Magical Mystery Tour", which was an outtake from the Lap Of Luxury sessions.

The group left Epic after the disappointing sales of Busted to sign with Warner Bros. Records. In 1994 the band released Woke Up With A Monster, which was produced by producer Ted Templeman, best known for his work with Van Halen. The album's title track was issued as the first single and reached No. 16 on the US Mainstream Rock charts. The album's sales were poor, and it peaked at only No. 123.

In 1997, Cheap Trick signed with indie label Red Ant Records and released Cheap Trick, produced by Ian Taylor, who the band had previously worked with in 1982 and 1983. The band attempted to re-introduce themselves to a new generation, as the album was self-titled and the artwork was similar to their first album which had been released twenty years before.[16] The album was critically acclaimed and hailed as a return to form. Eleven weeks after the release, Red Ant's parent company Alliance Entertainment Corporation declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The single "Say Goodbye" only reached No. 119 on the charts, and the band again found themselves without a record label. Two other singles were released from the album, "Baby No More" and "Carnival Game".

Cheap Trick began to rebuild in 1998 by trying to restore normal relations with Sony/Epic. They established their own record company, Cheap Trick Unlimited. They toured behind the release of Cheap Trick at Budokan: The Complete Concert, and the remastered re-issues of their first three albums. One of the multi-night stands from this tour resulted in Music for Hangovers, a live album that featured members of the Smashing Pumpkins on two tracks.

Vocalist Robin Zander performing at Gulfstream Park in 2006.

Cheap Trick Unlimited sold the CD exclusively on for eight weeks prior to releasing it in stores. To support the record they toured with Guided By Voices, and also played a concert with Pearl Jam. That same year, the band spent time in the studio recording with Steve Albini, who had produced the Baby Talk/Brontosaurus single. The band began re-recording their second album, In Color, as well as a handful of other miscellaneous tracks. The recordings were not finished and have yet to be officially released, but they were leaked onto the Internet.[17]

In 1999, the band recorded a cover of Big Star's 1972 song "In The Street" that was used as the theme song for the hit sitcom That '70s Show. Cheap Trick ended the song with the lyric "We're all right," which was drawn from their own 1978 song "Surrender".[18] That year the band performed in Toronto.[19]


After spending much of 2001 writing songs and about six weeks of pre-production, Cheap Trick went into Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York in March 2002, where they recorded their first studio album in six years, Special One in May 2003. At the same time, the band brought their record label to Big3 Entertainment. While the lead-off single "Scent of a Woman" was typical Cheap Trick fare, most of the album's tracks were acoustic-based. Two following singles "My Obsession" and "Too Much" were released. The album was met with mixed reviews, with one of the larger subjects of criticism being that the last two tracks on the album were basically the same song. The band also contributed the 1999 re-recorded version of "Surrender" to the comedy film Daddy Day Care, and made a cameo in the film.

In April 2005, Cheap Trick released the five-track [email protected] EP for digital download.

In 2006, Cheap Trick released Rockford on Cheap Trick Unlimited/Big3 Records. The first single from the album was "Perfect Stranger" (produced by Linda Perry and co-written by Cheap Trick and Perry). The following singles "Come On, Come On, Come On" and "If It Takes a Lifetime" were released shortly after. The band promoted the album through appearances on the Sirius and XM satellite radio networks and a North American tour. That same year, "Surrender" was featured as a playable track in the hit video game Guitar Hero II, and the albums Dream Police and All Shook Up were re-issued in remastered form with bonus tracks. One On One and Next Position Please (The Authorized Version) were released as digital downloads. The band also appeared in a McDonald's advertising campaign called "This Is Your Wake-Up Call" featuring the band.[20]

Guitarist Rick Nielsen performing at Gulfstream Park in 2006.

In 2007, officials of Rockford, Illinois honored Cheap Trick by reproducing the Rockford album cover art on that year's city vehicle sticker. On June 19, 2007, the Illinois Senate passed Senate Resolution 255, which designated April 1 of every year as Cheap Trick Day in the State of Illinois.[21] In August of that year, Cheap Trick honored the 40th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by playing the album in its entirety with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted by Edwin Outwater, along with guest vocalists including Joan Osborne and Aimee Mann.[22] The Chicago chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences honored Cheap Trick at the 2007 Recording Academy Honors event in Chicago on October 11, 2007. Nielsen and Carlos were present to receive the award, which was presented to them by Steve Albini.

On April 24, 2008, Cheap Trick performed at the Budokan arena for the 30th anniversary of the 1978 album Cheap Trick at Budokan.[23] On November 11, the band released Budokan! 30th Anniversary Deluxe Collector's Edition, a box set featuring 3 CDs of the band's two concerts at Budokan recorded on April 28 and 30, 1978 and a DVD containing concert footage that originally aired on Japanese television, plus bonus features including footage from their return to Budokan for the original album's 30th anniversary.

In 2009, the band released The Latest. It was also available in both vinyl and 8-track tape versions on the band's website. The group also performed the theme song for the film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The group released Sgt. Pepper Live, their interpretation of the classic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on August 25, 2009. This was released as both a compact disc and a DVD.


In 2010, Bun E. Carlos stopped touring with the band. Rick Nielsen's son Daxx, who had filled in for Bun E. while he was recovering from back surgery in 2001, became the band's touring drummer[24] and remained in that role as of 2016.[25]

In November 2010, the band played a set of shows in the UK, each with an individual set list and their album The Latest was given away as a free disc with the UK magazine Classic Rock. On July 17, 2011 at the Bluesfest in Ottawa, 20 minutes into Cheap Trick’s set, a thunderstorm blew through the festival area. The band and crew were on the stage when without warning the 40-ton roof fell. It fell away from the audience and landed on the band's truck which was parked alongside the back of the stage, breaking the fall and allowing everyone about 30 seconds to escape.[26]

In 2013, Carlos filed a lawsuit against his former bandmates, claiming that even though they claimed that he was still a band member, he was not being allowed to participate in band-related activities, including recording. The remaining three members of Cheap Trick filed a countersuit, seeking a legal affirmation of their removal of Carlos. Their lawsuit was dismissed in late 2013.[27] The legal dispute was eventually settled.[4] Following the settlement, Carlos remained a one-quarter owner of Cheap Trick and a member of the band, but did not record or tour with them.[25][28][29]

In 2015, Cheap Trick signed with Big Machine Records.[4]

On April 1, 2016, the band released its first album in five years, Bang, Zoom, Crazy... Hello. They released a single, "No Direction Home," as a teaser for the album.[30] The album was the band's first record on a major label in 22 years.[4] Daxx Nielsen played drums on the album.[31]

On April 8, 2016, Cheap Trick was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[32][33]

Also in 2016, the Republican Party offered the band $100,000 to play at a concert launching the 2016 Republican National Convention. Zander said, "We turned it down. Then we had second thoughts. Maybe we should have accepted it—but we would all have got swastika guitars made."[34]

On June 16, 2017, the band released the album We're All Alright!.[35] Daxx Nielsen played drums on the album.[36] In August 2017, the band appeared on Insane Clown Posse's single "Black Blizzard".[37]

Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick
Cheap Trick performs live at Rockfest 80's in Pembroke Pines, Florida on November 4, 2017. The band was featured as a headliner on day one of the annual two day music festival.

On October 20, 2017, the band released a Christmas album, Christmas Christmas.[38]


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction

In 2016, Cheap Trick was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony was held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on April 8, and the band was introduced by Kid Rock.[32] Zander, Nielsen, Petersson, and Carlos were in attendance; with Carlos on drums, the band performed "I Want You to Want Me", "Dream Police", "Surrender" and "Ain't That a Shame".[32][33]

Live performances

Cheap Trick is known for its four decades of almost continuous touring. The band has performed more than 5,000 times and is known worldwide as a premier live act, as the band proved early on with the massive success of Live at Budokan.


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 and 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 and Jol Dantzig of Hamer Guitars created the idea for a twelve-string bass. Tom Petersson previously had used an Alembic[39][40] and Hagstrom 8-string basses, and asked Dantzig 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 and from The Electrical Guitar Company. During 2015 and 2016, his primary 12-string bass was one of a pair of prototype Gretsch White Falcon basses in all white and also cream / green finishes. They have been said to be envisaged as a future 'signature' production model. 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 endorser 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.

Band members

Current members

Current touring members

  • Daxx Nielsen – drums (2001, 2010–present)[a][25][31][36]
  • Robin Taylor Zander – rhythm guitar, backing vocals (2018-present)

Former members

  • Randy Hogan – lead vocals (1974)
  • Pete Comita – bass, backing vocals (1980–1981)
  • Jon Brant – bass, backing vocals (1981–1987, 2004–2005, 2007; one-off 1999)

Former touring musicians

  • Magic Cristian – keyboards, backing vocals (1982–1986, 2008–2011, 2013; one-off 2002, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016)
  • Steve Walsh – keyboards, backing vocals (1985)
  • Mark Radice – keyboards, backing vocals (1985)
  • Tod Howarth – keyboards, backing vocals (1986–1987, 1990–1996, 2000, 2008; guest 1999)




  1. ^ a b c d e As of 2016, Bun E. Carlos remains a one-quarter owner of Cheap Trick and a member of the band, but no longer records or tours with the band. Daxx Nielsen became the band's touring drummer in 2010 and had continued in that capacity as of 2016. Nielsen also played drums on the band's 2016 album Bang, Zoom, Crazy... Hello and the band's 2017 album We're All Alright!.


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