Cheap Trick

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The Band that Put the Legendary Budokan on the Map

TJ Exclusive Interview with Rick Nielsen

TJ caught up with Cheap Trick guitarist, backing vocalist and primary songwriter Rick Nielsen to talk about the 35th anniversary of Cheap Trick at Budokan. It was their best-selling album and is ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Cheap Trick was referred to by the Japanese media as the “American Beatles” and ranked #25 in VH1’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Bands such as Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, Green Day, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Weezer, Stone Temple Pilots, and Extreme have cited Cheap Trick as an influence.

TJ: Congratulations on the 35th anniversary of the release of your album Cheap Trick at Budokan. We understand this album was not supposed to happen! Can you tell us why?
NIELSEN: Well, it was supposed to happen, but only in Japan. It was never scheduled for a U.S. release.

TJ: So how did it get released in the U.S.?
NIELSEN: It became the #1-selling import of all time for a live album. The Japanese release started getting airplay in the U.S. and it started doing so well that they made a U.S. version... an exact copy of the Japanese version.

TJ: We understand Japan really helped make your career. Can you tell us about that?
NIELSEN: Well, the Budokan made us famous and we made the Budokan famous! To this day, it is one of the milestones in our career. It helped launch this interview!

TJ: How did you first get started in music?
NIELSEN: My father was an opera singer and owned a music store. I always liked music. I started off as a drummer. As I had perfect pitch, I ended up learning the guitar and keyboards. I started songwriting, and here I am today.

TJ: How did the name “Cheap Trick” come about?
NIELSEN: We wanted a household name that was sort of fun but not too pretentious. Bands at the time like Iron Butterfly or Led Zeppelin were like, “We’re big and bad!” We didn’t want something big and bad. If you just think about it, The Rolling Stones is a great name now because you know who the band is. Otherwise, The Rolling Stones is just as bad as anything else. It fit. Cheap Trick. Easy.

TJ: Do you think fans in Japan are different from other countries?
NIELSEN: They are very loyal. I’ll put it that way. They just liked what we did. We were lucky that the Japanese fans did like us. We are very grateful to this day. They were the first audience that really liked Cheap Trick. They were so smart. The smartest audience in the world! (Laughs)

TJ: During the recording of your live album recorded at Budokan arena, you can really hear the audience joining in with chants while the band is playing. Was that something the band urged them to do, or was that something they just started on their own?
NIELSEN: They did most of the stuff on their own. In “I Want You to Want Me,” Robin is singing “Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I see you crying?” and you hear “Crying... crying. ” They did that. They did the answer and the echo. The audience just did it. Now every place we play in the world, they copy what the Japanese audience did. So we owe the Japanese record royalties every time we sell a record! They didn’t do that for every song, but for that song it just kind of made sense.

TJ: You’ve been going to Japan for almost four decades. What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen over the years?
NIELSEN: We used to be the only gaijin (foreigners). Back in the seventies, there weren’t a lot of gaijin. Japanese people are taller nowadays, I think. I think they eat more McDonald’s now than they used to. It seems like Japanese people still love American and European influences but are still traditional. There are more Americanand European-style things there now than there used to be. It’s one of the greatest places on earth. I’ve loved Japan since we first went there. When we first went there and we told people we went to Japan, it was like telling people that you landed on the moon. It was so different.

TJ: Do you have a favorite hotel in Japan?
NIELSEN: The Capital Hotel Tokyu. The Capital Tokyu was the place the Beatles stayed when they were there. We stayed there almost every trip. They recently closed it to refurbish the inside and they took out one of my favorite restaurants. It was called Genji. It was a teppanyaki restaurant. It was the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten at in my life and it was the cleanest teppanyaki grill I’ve ever been to. I loved it there… the live prawns they cooked right there on the grill. They called me “Niniku San” because I used to eat the garlic chips that they’d make.

TJ: What was your favorite thing to do in Tokyo besides going out to eat?
NIELSEN: Well, everyone else in the band used to go out to the Lexington Queen. I never really went there. I was never really looking for models. I always liked toys as a kid so I always liked going to Kiddy Land. I also went to a lot of guitar makers and guitar stores. I became friends with the people who ran Ongaku Senka (Music Life). That’s where I hung out most of the time. I also used to go to the all night noodle stands. I loved that.

TJ: Did you check in under different names to hide from your fans?
NIELSEN: Well, the first trip, we stayed at the Keio Plaza. They made us hide there, but I never tried to hide from Japanese fans. I loved it. I thought it was great. The fact that there were so many of them - that was the only scary part! They used to chase us around in taxicabs. But as far as meeting them goes, that was the fun part. We played at Sendai and so many places. During our first trip we were there for two weeks. We were there longer during our first trip to Japan than any of them.

TJ: You mentioned about the Beatles staying at the Capital Tokyu and I understand that you participated in sessions for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy album. Can you tell us about your experience with that?
NIELSEN: I was asked to play by Jack Douglas who not only produced “Double Fantasy” but also produced our first album. He also mixed “Live at Budokan” and he did all of the Aerosmith stuff, but John Lennon wanted a different sounding guitarist and a different feeling than they were getting with the guys who did “Double Fantasy.” When I listen back to that album, it sounds to me more like a studio band or a lounge club kind of band. Bun E. [Cheap Trick’s drummer] and I did “I’m Moving On” and“I’m Losing You.” Later we found out that John wanted Cheap Trick to do his next album and he also wanted us to be the touring band to work with John Lennon, but obviously that didn’t happen. If you hear the tracks that we did with John (they put it out 10 years later after his death), you can really hear the difference. But it was an honor to be asked. Recording started August 12, 1980. It was the day my son Daxx was born. Now Daxx is our drummer!

TJ: You’re an avid collector of guitars. How many do you own now?
NIELSEN: I own about 400 guitars but I own about 2,000 instruments. Actually, I gave John Lennon one of my guitars when I worked with him and I got it back three years later from Yoko. It was a Fender Telecaster String Bender, and I also had one made for him that is at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the John Lennon display.

TJ: You have five-neck guitars. What is the advantage of having a five-neck guitar?
NIELSEN: Nothing! It will give you back problems…. but it looks scary!

TJ: What kind of music do you listen to these days?
NIELSEN: We were just in L.A. and I listened to the station with Nikki Sixx’s “Sixx Sense”. I listened to Metallica, Buckcherry and all kinds of stuff, heavier stuff than I normally listen to. But you know, I never get tired of listening to Jeff Beck.

TJ: Bands and performers like Foo Fighters, Green Day and Taylor Swift have covered your songs. Who has done your favorite cover version of a Cheap Trick song?
NIELSEN: I loved the Foo Fighters because I have just been working with Dave, Taylor, Pat Smear and Krist Novoselic. Anthrax have been doing some Cheap Trick covers as well. If I say who is my favorite, though, I’ll be in trouble with all the others!

TJ: You mentioned Dave Grohl. I heard he’s not a fan of shows like “American Idol” and“The Voice” because he thinks it destroys people’s hopes with a single performance, while others think it can help make a star ut of someone almost overnight. Do you have any thoughts on that?
NIELSEN: I’m not a fan either. I mean, it takes guts to get up there and do all that stuff, but if you think of people like Tom Waits or Bob Dylan, they would never make it! It’s not so much about talent. It’s about being what the judges want. And the people who call in for you is kind of rigged anyhow, so… I’m not a fan of that kind of stuff. I mean, Cheap Trick, as diverse as we are, I don’t think we’d ever make it on a show like that. We’d probably get voted off the first week!

TJ: I don’t know about that…
NIELSEN: OK… we’d probably get voted off before we even got on!

TJ: So what advice would you give to young artists just starting out?
NIELSEN: I’d just say practice, practice, practice! And play anything you can. To this day, we still do private parties, we do birthday parties, we do big concerts, we do small stuff, we play Summer Sonic. Last night we played at some mountain winery. We’re playing in Napa Valley, Bakersfield, Las Vegas… We play any place there is. Play any place you can! Play at a church. Play at a wedding. Play at a funeral. Play them all!

TJ: What are your plans for the future?
NIELSEN: Well, to enjoy the summer. We’re playing all over the place and we’re looking forward to going to Japan again. Can’t wait to play there and I wish we were playing more! tj



The complete article is available in Issue #272. Click here to order from Amazon

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.


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