Cheap Trick


Total Guitar - - CONTENTS - Words Amit Sharma Pho­tog­ra­phy Adam Gas­son

Cheap Trick are right in the mid­dle of sound­check when found­ing gui­tarist Rick Nielsen starts heck­ling TG and waves us up on­stage. “Hey, is that To­tal Gui­tar? I’ve got a good tip for you guys… prac­tise!” Much like his per­son­al­ity – his gui­tar play­ing is loud and proud, bold and brash, lit­tered man­ner with all of spon­ta­neous ring hand slides and left trills. His amps are cranked loud and there’s seem­ingly no end to the amount of feed­back fin­ger­tips. In at his many ways, it’s like An­gus. he’s the Amer­i­can Af­ter run­ning through a few tracks, he looks over and shrugs his shoul­ders as if it was ef­fort­less. all The US rock he­roes have been go­ing for 44 years and are show­ing no signs of let­ting Every­one from up. Dave Grohl, Slash and Arm­strong Bil­lie Joe to Kurt Cobain have quar­tet cited the Illi­nois as an in­spi­ra­tion for their knack in writ­ing songs that were bril­liantly catchy as they were – some­thing which heavy stands true of their mu­sic to­day We’reAll 18th full-length with this year’s of back on a ca­reer Rick Nielsen looks Al­right!. ex­pec­ta­tion… de­fy­ing

as a gui­tarist? de­scribe your­self How­would you

1967. I haven’t prac­tised since “Well, I haven’t in about 40 years or tuned a gui­tar changed a string just a song­writer that I look at it, I’m haha! The­way rhythm As a re­sult, I play to play gui­tar. I hap­pens has to, and ul­ti­mately some­body and lead, be­cause good songs… I’ve writ­ten some play for the song. too. I like it sim­ple someshitty stuff but I’ve writ­ten of me,other than ef­fect­sout in front – I don’t have to song ev­ery night that I use on one onewah pedal no ac­tual wah noises. There’s sim­ply makethree it’s just me When I writesongs, play­ing, as such! it used to be be­fore player – or at least and a cas­sette in a ba­sic idea. But to quickly record smart­phones –

this band, it’s never like ‘Here’s my demo’. Peo­ple for­get you can spend longer on demos than you do writ­ing the ac­tual songs. It’s all ba­si­cally just blues riffs I make up as I go along!”

What are the main se­crets to writ­ing rock songs that stand the tests of time?

“If you don’t have a great cho­rus, write a good bridge first. I of­ten do that and find I write good bridges. If you dis­cover some­thing that goes be­tween this part and that part, hold­ing it all to­gether – that’s kinda key! That’s why some of the songs like DreamPo­lice start right in the cho­rus, in­stead of wait­ing for it to come. Then the bridge is manic but you can’t start off with that - it all needs to be in­ter­est­ing enough to go be­tween the cho­rus and verse. I wrote the song a long time be­fore I fin­ished the song… that bridge was from a song called

Ul­tra­men­tal. I had this dou­ble neck four-string bass and a six-string gui­tar and Tom (Peters­son) was play­ing this Hagstrom eight-string at the time. We started play­ing it and it was dumb, so we for­got about it un­til that mid­dle part came back for DreamPo­lice. It wasn’t planned that way. It was a good part with­out that du­elling bass thing, fi­nally we had a good place to put it.”

Robin Zan­der has sung and played rhythm by your side through­out your record­ing ca­reer. Why do you think the pair of you work so well to­gether?

“Robin’s a great singer and I write okay songs, that’s how it works! Some­times we’d tell him, ‘Here’s the melody’ and he could sing it way bet­ter than any of us. I could hit the pitch and range okay, but I don’t have a lead singer voice. He sounds too good and I sound too shitty, so to­gether it’s a bit heavy duty. If we had 10 Robin voices, we’d sound like The Ea­gles or Crosby, Stills and Nash… be­cause his voice is that

good. He’s just per­fect for my gui­tar play­ing. He’s the singer I’ve al­ways wanted to have. With all the other peo­ple I’d worked with be­fore, there was al­ways a lack of ex­cite­ment about vo­cals. Look at Bob Dy­lan, his voice is not a great sound, but it gets the idea across… and that is what’s re­ally im­por­tant.”

You use your fingers a lot. What made you grav­i­tate away from us­ing the pick?

“It’s just how I play. I don’t need a pick all the time; I don’t want ev­ery­thing to sound hard and heavy. I’m not like Bil­lie Joe Arm­strong in that sense, though I have to say it’s per­fect for what he does. I pre­fer to fin­ger­pick and play my own funny songs. That’s what feels right for me. I al­ways wrote songs so I could look at the au­di­ence and not my neck… I mean, who cares what’s go­ing on with the fret­board. I want to see peo­ple pick­ing their noses or look­ing the other way haha! I like us­ing my rings a lot too – drag­ging them across the strings makes a big ‘whoosh’ sound. For me, that’s al­most like an ef­fect.

You’ve of­ten pointed out Jeff Beck as an in­flu­ence – which could also ex­plain the fin­ger ap­proach…

“A lot of it comes down to Jeff Beck – he’s my favourite be­cause he came up with things no-one else played. I guess that’s why I like him so much. I have a lot of Jeff Beck his­tory, even on my phone. There’s a pic­ture of my ticket to see him on 11 De­cem­ber 1965 with The Yard­birds. He played about 15 min­utes from my house at the Rock River Roller Palace. You know, I sold Jeff Beck the se­cond Les Paul he ever owned not long af­ter on 4 June 1968. I’m not kid­ding one fuck­ing bit! It was a ’59 that had a Bigsby on it… If you look close, you can see where it used to be. I traded a Gib­son SG and $25 for it. I have pic­tures of me with him, Buddy Guy and Ste­vie Ray Vaughan 10 years af­ter sell­ing him that gui­tar.” Not many peo­ple can say they’ve met SRV… what was he like? “Ste­vie was re­ally great – I knew him back from Texas be­fore he was fa­mous, when he was this un­known hot­shot fuck­ing guy. He was a bit of a wild­man, so you could say he did fit right in with me. As a lead gui­tarist, I can play to a level… but that guy that could stand up and play so­los all day long by him­self. That’s the dif­fer­ence – I need a band. I need Robin Zan­der, a good drum­mer and bassist. I can’t do that stuff by my­self, I’m just not that kinda guy.”

How did you end up get­ting to know all th­ese older gui­tar play­ers?

“I flew to Cleve­land to a place called Le Cave for three nights of the Jeff Beck Group, with Micky Waller, Ron­nie Wood and Rod Ste­wart. I was also in Chicago for the Ki­netic Play­ground shows where every­one did two per­for­mances, which Led Zep­pelin and Jethro Tull also played at. I went to all of that stuff back then – I’d al­ready seen Jethro Tull the year be­fore at the Mar­quee Club in Lon­don, which was the first time I was ever over here. In De­cem­ber 1969, I saw Yes when Tony Banks was in the band. I was al­ways go­ing to gigs… Any­ways, one time when Jeff was play­ing he sat his gui­tar on the top of his amp and the roadie picked it up by the body, ac­ci­den­tally knock­ing it down. I don’t think any­body else in the place no­ticed ex­cept for me as I was to­tally glued look­ing at all of his gear. I went back­stage, be­cause it wasn’t like to­day where you can’t do that, and saw his road man­ager ask­ing if I could talk to Jeff about some­thing that was wrong with his gui­tar. I ex­plained that I col­lected gui­tars, lived 90 miles away and Jeff was my big­gest hero, blah blah, I’d seen him at La Cave in The Yard­birds. The whole bull­shit story be­cause this guy didn’t know me at all, so I handed him my num­ber…”

And he called back?

“A week later I got a call from that man­ager guy say­ing, ‘Hold on for Jeff Beck!’ So I got in­vited out to see them in Phil­a­del­phia, which was re­ally far away. I took about five or so gui­tars with me, some Ju­niors and some Stan­dards.

“i have a lot of jeff beck his­tory – even on my phone”

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