You guys on this website really help me come up with many of the stories I include here. Most of them I forget about until somebody posts about their meeting so-and-so and getting an album signed. It’s always so much more enjoyable to log onto the site and see stories like that, instead of yet another person asking us if the set of Beatles autographs they just bought online for $100 is real.
It was a few months back that somebody talked about Cheap Trick, and I started thinking about all my various experiences with the band.
It all started in 1979. I was born a poor white child 10 years earlier (The Jerk reference intended), that couldn’t afford to buy as many albums as I wanted. That meant, not only did I get hand-me-down clothes from my older brother, but I’d raid his record collection to get my rock n’roll fix. For some reason, the live albums were more fun. You’d hear the roar of the audience, grab that broke tennis racquet, and play air guitar imagining the screams were for you.
Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan made me wonder…did that crowd in Japan actually understand all the words? Do they just sing along phonetically? I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. I was listening to the magnetism of Robin Zander, the charisma of Rick Nielsen, the tunes…I Want You, to Want Me (sorry, I’m a movie critic, so, that Fast Times at Ridgemont High reference was intended).
When I started working in classic rock radio in the late ‘80s, I never did cross paths with the band. Yet I did get lucky enough to score their autographs before a concert. One of our DJs was going to introduce the band to the crowd before they came onstage. He could only bring one guest, and that went to his wife. I was going to ask him to take the Budokan album, but that has a dark cover, and handing somebody a paint pen is never a good idea. The caps get left off and they dry up. They stain their shirts, and get mad at you; sometimes they smear. It’s so much easier to have a lighter album with a black Sharpie. The perfect album would be Dream Police. Yet that request became a nightmare. You see, the DJ snapped, “I said I’d get you the autograph, not carry an album around everywhere.”
Lucky for me, I had an 8 x 12 photo from a magazine. That was easy enough for him to fold up. He got it signed, and it was the first time I ever saw that gorgeous signature of guitarist and mad-man Rick Nielsen. He always includes his caricature.
A few years after that, Nielsen was in a rival radio station doing an interview. I showed up with a few of my albums, but he had already left. Yet I heard him say he’d be at the Guitar Center down the street signing autographs for a dollar. All the money was going to charity. I loved the idea that he’d do that for charity, but was a pit perplexed at the price. Why not charge $10? The line of 150 people waiting surely would’ve paid that. I would’ve.
And what did the $1 include? Any items you wanted signed, a conversation, a guitar pick, and you could get on a stage and take a photo holding one of his crazy guitars (he has a lot of interesting Hamer’s, some with lots of necks).
Rick looked at it and said, “Wow man…that’s cool, but…it probably hurt your chances to get laid. I mean…women don’t want to look up and see my ugly mug staring back at them.”
I swear, I’ve never heard a rock star tell stories like this. Each person he spoke with, he seemed thrilled to meet, and had humorous anecdotes for.
I mentioned hearing Hall & Oates in an interview and one of them saying he was friends with Rick. It surprised me that a band that did those easy listening songs would be friends with a hard rock guitarist. He told me what could possibly be the craziest rock star story ever. He said he had a party at his place and Hall (or Oates, I forget which one), came over. Things were getting loud and the cops showed up and asked them to keep the noise down. They obliged, and then it was late in the evening and everyone left. Hall (or Oates) had brought some pills he smuggled back from another country. He was telling Rick how psychedelic they were, and they popped a few. Rick went on to say he was hallucinating and seeing things he had never seen before. Hall (or Oates) had left, and it was around 4 a.m. The cops showed up because, even though Rick was by himself, he apparently was still being loud. As they questioned him, they’re looking at him rather oddly. He thought it was because it was now early morning, and he was still wearing a suit. They probably weren’t used to rock stars having loud parties, while wearing suits. And as the cops kept talking to him, with weird looks on their faces, they warned him not to be loud again or he might be taken in. He assured them he wouldn’t and that he was going to bed soon. As he thanked the officers and shut the door, he noticed – he was wearing no pants. He didn’t have underwear on, either. Just a suit jacket, tie, and dress shirt.
He signed my two albums, and as I walked away he yelled, “Hey man…take a pick.”
My next meeting with the band wasn’t as smooth. They were playing a small club that had sold out in 10 minutes. I got free tickets (ah, the perks of being in the media). My friend and I showed up late in the afternoon hoping to get the band before they went into the venue. We went near the tour bus and some roadie with long hair, that looked to be in his late 20s, said, “If you guys are waiting for autographs, you’re wasting your time. The band isn’t here and when they show up, they’ll be too busy.”
Yeah, yeah. We’ve heard that a million times. Go smoke a joint and wheel the amps onto the stage.
About 10 minutes later we see an old dude get off the bus. We think about asking him if he knows when the band will show up, but we don’t. He went inside the venue, and when he came back out 30 minutes later, I approached. I said, “Excuse me, but…do you know when the band is going to show up?”
He rolled his eyes and said “No” and kept walking. Well, the roadie saw this from 100 feet away he yelled at me, “Hey dumb ass! You were bugging me about getting autographs, and you didn’t even recognize that was the drummer!”
Yep. It was Bun E. Carlos! He’s harder to recognize without the cigarette dangling from his mouth and loose tie around his neck. Lucky for us, he came off the bus 15 minutes later. When we asked for his autograph, he had major attitude. I wasn’t sure if it was because we didn’t recognize him or what. He also said, “I’ll only sign two albums for each of you.”
I was wearing my Cheap Trick shirt and I pointed to my friend, who had been in a Cheap Trick tribute band. He seemed to get a kick out of that.
An hour later the rest of the band showed up. Robin Zander signed a few items and then asked if we’d give him privacy, as he walked with his young son to the beach. Bassist Tom Petersson was super nice, and talking and signing up a storm. Rick, always friendly, had more humorous stories to share with the crowd.
I was glad I got all my stuff signed then because a few years later, they played a bigger hall. I was dating this cute rocker chick and for some reason, she got backstage and I didn’t (I wonder why). Zander came out, with his arm around a woman, but refused to sign autographs. I did have one CD, and right before he got into his car, he gave a sloppy signature on it. When others stuck albums in his face he said, “Sorry, gotta go.”
Neilsen was sweaty and tired. He stayed in his limo but yelled out the window, “I will sign everything you guys got, but I have to sit here and do it.” We lined up and got our things signed.
Carlos never came out, but one young kid gave a message to security. His dad was friends with Carlos in high school. Security went and told him, and Carlos came out and was excited to see him. He wasn’t excited to see us. He said no to autograph requests, but brought the young man backstage.
A year ago I was sharing this story when I was on a radio station. One of the producers is a huge Cheap Trick fan. We were talking about how weird it was that Neilsen’s son now drums for the band and not Carlos. He told me the band hated the fact that he never liked to sign autographs and wasn’t very friendly.
My girlfriend did finally come back from her backstage party. She was drunk, and she was clutching a set list the band signed. I was afraid to ask her what happened back there.
The last time I saw the band was about a year and a half ago. The place was sold out, and I got there late. I was standing near the back and ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years. When his wife told me her favorite song was “The Flame” (a ballad that went to #1 in 1988), we both laughed. You see, when you’re a hardcore fan of a band, you’re not supposed to like the popular songs. I said, “You know, when a song like ‘Freebird’ is played, people always hold their lighters up. But less people are smoking now, or they’re using e-cigarettes. Most people don’t have lighters anymore.”
With that, my friends eyes lit up. He pulled out his cell phone and started pressing things on it furiously. I asked what he was doing and he said, “I have this app. It shows a lighter on it.”
When “The Flame” started, women were weeping. A few lighters were held up in the air, as were some cell phones with their blue glowing light. We were the only ones holding up a cell phone with a flame on it.
I didn’t wait for autographs after the show, but heard that they didn’t sign for anybody. In fact, I left before the show was over. I was 42 at the time, and the idea of going home and getting some sleep before waking up early for work…seemed a lot more appealing than waiting in the cold by a tour bus for an autograph…or for my girlfriend to come out of the bus with an autograph (and possibly something else!).