Cheap Trick‘s 17th studio album, Bang, Zoom, Crazy … Hello (Big Machine), arrived April 1 — a date that, thanks to a resolution passed nine years ago by the Illinois General Assembly, is recognized in the band’s home state as Cheap Trick Day. “It’s not like we get an award or anything,” says guitarist/co-founder Rick Nielsen, “but it’s definitely an honor.” On April 8, another institution will immortalize the long-running power-pop group: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “It’s a big deal,” says Nielsen, though he also admits he still hasn’t written his acceptance speech. “We’ve been together for 40 years — try putting that into a minute-and-a-half! So maybe it’ll just be, ‘Hi, I’m Rick Nielsen. Any questions?’ ” Until then, the 67-year-old guitarist answers a few about his musical milestones.
First autographed album Frank Arsenault, The 26 Standard American Drum Rudiments
“I started out as a drummer, and when I was 9, my drum teacher had an album out. He was the rudiment king! He signed it for me, ‘Rudimentally yours, Frank Arsenault.’ How cool is that?”
First record that blew his mind The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced
“Hendrix was a different kind of guitar player. It was like, ‘Holy cow, this guy can sing, he can play all this weird stuff … what is this?’ It was a new kind of music.”
Cheap Trick song he’s proudest of “Dream Police”
“I get to sing — that’s the most exciting part!”
Best show he ever saw The Who at Majestic Hills in Lake Geneva, Wis., 1968
“They were pure excitement. Pure wild. My band at the time opened. We were called The Grim Reapers. It was the coolest thing. I got to meet Keith Moon!”
Song Cheap Trick will definitely play at the hall of fame ceremony “I Want You to Want Me”
“The version on [1979 live album] Cheap Trick at Budokan was our breakthrough. Live, it was heavy, but I always pictured it as a ’40s dance-band song. So we rerecorded it [for the 1998 In Color reissue] and added clarinet. We called it ‘Cheap Trick with a Licorice Stick’ or something like that.”
First Cheap Trick song the band heard on the radio “Southern Girls”
“We played New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles, maybe 1978, opening for Kansas or somebody. Driving to the hotel after the gig, we came on KLOS. It was like, ‘All right! We’re in L.A., we just played a big gig, and we’re on the radio!’ That was the start of something big.”
This story originally appeared in the April 16 issue of Billboard.