Michelle LaRose talks with Rick Nielsen for 22nd Century Rock Magazine
Photographs by Michelle LaRose
If you’re not sure who Cheap Trick is, just ask your parents. Odds are you’ll get an earful of reminiscing about Dream Police and Live at Budokan. It’s easy to hear Cheap Trick on any given night belting out the theme song to That 70’s Show on television. They’re hard to miss with twenty-six years of world touring behind them and over forty gold and platinum albums.
Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, Bun E. Carlos and Tom Petersson are collectively known as Cheap Trick and their hits such as Surrender, I Want You To Want Me, Dream Police and The Flame are still in rotation on radio stations across the globe. We found guitarist Rick Nielsen and asked him about his trademark guitars and picks.
Rick: Well I was thinking the same thing myself!
22CR: You’re widely known for having an enormous guitar collection. How many guitars do you estimate having right now?
Rick: Well, through the years I’ve owned about 2,000 guitars. Right now I’d say I have about 300.
22CR: Your five-neck guitar is infamous. How many of those do you presently own?
Rick: I’ve had three of them. I currently have the checkerboard on tour with me. One is at the Rockford Art Museum and one is back at Hamer having some work done to it.
22CR: What is the difference on each neck and/or pick up?
Rick: Each guitar is different. One of them has a twelve string, a six string, a six string vibrato, six string with tele-like single pickups and a six string fretless.
22CR: The five-neck is so huge, it looks like it’d break your back! Is it heavy?
Rick: Well, I’m two inches shorter than I used to be!
22CR: What is the most important quality you look for in a custom guitar? Materials? Style?
Rick: Whatever attracts chicks!
22CR: Roughly how many guitars do you play during one of your shows?
Rick: Well if it was a seventeen-song show, I’d go through about sixteen guitars.
22CR: Tell us about the book, “Guitars Of The Stars”?
Rick: It’s just a little book I put together showcasing most of my guitar collection. I also helped with a book about John Entwistle’s guitars, who is no longer with us but his guitar’s live on.
22CR: You’re notorious for throwing handfuls of guitar picks into the audience. Do you design your own picks?
Rick: Yes I do. I even have a guitar with all of the pick styles I’ve been through on the body.
Rick: About a dozen.
22CR: How many would you estimate you launch at a performance?
Rick: I’d say probably about 500.
22CR: What ever possessed you to start doing that in the first place?
Rick: Most people hand out business cards. I throw picks instead.
22CR: Cheap Trick Live at Budokan was the album that secured the bands place in the rock-roll history books. At that time, you were relatively unknown in the states. Why were the Japanese so hysterically crazy about you guys?
Rick: They were just fans of the music. They knew the music and liked it.
22CR: When you look out into a Japanese audience, are they singing along with your American songs like we do here in the US?
Rick: Oh yeah. A lot of them speak English. They know all the words. You may not be able to understand them but they’re singing all the words.
22CR: You’ve been around the world several times. Where are one or two of your favorite places to go to?
Rick: Home (Rockford Illinois) and I like Tokyo a lot; it’s a great place.
22CR: You must be very flattered that there are Cheap Trick tribute bands out there like Dream Police.
Rick: Yeah. There are a couple of them out there… Cheap Track and Cheap Chick which is an all girl band.
22CR: Have you ever heard them or seen them live?
Rick: Yeah. Cheap Track is a Japanese band and they played for us once at this after show party. All their songs were in Japanese.
22CR: Your DVD From Tokyo To You was awesome! But I must say, I felt like I was watching Forrest Gump…. Tom invented Pop-Tarts! Robin was a bull rider! Bun E.’s dad helped build the Panama Canal! Your dad was Bozo the clown! What is that all about?
Rick: Yeah well the DVD failed to mention other things like Bun E. and I did work with John Lennon.
22CR: Yes! You and Bun E. worked on John Lennon’s Double Fantasy album. What was your role in that?
Rick: “Would you like cream and sugar with that Mr. Lennon!”
22CR: What was that experience like for you?
Rick: It was just an awesome experience being there. It’s something I’ll never forget.
22CR: What is Trickfest?
Rick: It’s a gathering for the fans. It’s like three or four days at a hotel and we have autograph signings and merchandise. Stuff like that.
22CR: When and where is the next one?
Rick: There is nothing planned right now.
22CR: You are now on Big3 Records. What happened to your own label, Cheap Trick Unlimited?
Rick: It’s not so much that we’ve changed labels. It’s more of a merging; It’s Cheap Trick Unlimited on Big3 Records.
22CR: There are rumors in the air that you’re making a brand new album right now?
Rick: Yes! The rumors are true. We just finished the new album and we are having it mixed right now.
22CR: Can we get the inside scoop on what’s coming our way?
Rick: Call Big3.
22CR: Do you have a ballpark release date?
Rick: Call Big3.
22CR: I see Bun E. is selling his own blend of coffee on the Internet.
Rick: Well, it’s just some guy with coffee that put Bun E’s name on it, so Bun E. felt he had to promote it.
22CR: Have you ever had any of the Bun E. Carlos Blend Coffee?
Rick: Yes. Yes I have and I must say it’s the greatest coffee in the world!
22CR: He needs to collaborate with Bunn coffee makers.
22CR: Rick, thanks so much for taking time to speak with 22nd Century Rock today.
Rick: My pleasure. Thanks.