Besides the comfort and personal satisfaction that comes with keeping a band together for four decades, there are some less obvious benefits too: like not having to rehearse. After so many years on the road, Cheap Trick simply show up to a town, create a setlist, and at soundcheck, play through any songs they may not have played in a while. But with so many songs to choose from, even creating a setlist can be difficult at times.
"We have a master list that we keep," confesses singer Robin Zander. "Remembering the damn lyrics, that's the hard part!"
Zander and his bandmates, which include guitarist Rick Nielsen, bassist Tom Peterson, and Nielsen's son, Daxx, on drums, formed in Rockford, Illinois in 1974.
"We've been together a long time because we just stay out of each other's way," Zander says of the band's longevity. "We thought we were going to break up after a year or so anyway, but that didn't happen."
Instead, the band forged a musical bond by spending years on the road, often playing seven nights a week, all before they had a record deal. "We traveled the country in our little car pulling a U-Haul, and somebody came to see us play in a bowling alley in Waukesha, Wisconsin. It happened to be Jack Douglas, who was working with Aerosmith and Lennon and Yoko."
Zander says their work ethic is rare for a rock band, but playing live is what the band's foundation is built on. "We enjoy that part of it probably more than anything else."
Over the years, Cheap Trick have played with just about everybody, leading Zander to joke that they're “the most popular opening act in the world.” He also purports that everybody has at least one Cheap Trick album in their collection. And the band has another on the way—their first since 2009—slated for release in early 2016.
Though the music business has changed dramatically since their 1977 self-titled debut, the band’s sound hasn’t. Zander says they've always made records for themselves above all else. "We brought an audience to us, rather than us trying to cater ourselves to an audience."
After more than 5,000 gigs and so many years on the road, why, then, isn't the band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? "I don't know, I don't care really," says Zander. "The time has gone by when we should have been in there. I feel like, c'est la vie. If it happens, bravo, and I'll be honored and humbled. But until then, screw 'em!"
Days after this interview, Cheap Trick was nominated for a 2016 induction.
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