“This band has no past. Literally. We can tell you some things – a little bit of this and a little bit of that – but CHEAP TRICK is, in fact, a band without a history,” Eric Van Lustbader.
In the liner notes for Cheap Trick’s debut album, future novelist Eric Van Lustbader concocted a ridiculous backstory for the band – that they formed in the south of France, that Bun E. Carlos was from Venezuela, that Bun E.’s family “was instrumental in building the Panama Canal.” Of course, Vanbader’s fiction provided more intrigue than writing, “Cheap Trick is a hard-working Midwestern bar band whose talent and persistence has resulted in a major label record deal.”
First time author Brian J. Kramp has spent years researching the band’s verifiable past, conducted dozens of interviews with relevant parties, and has penned a definitive history of the band spanning from their teenage high school bands to “At Budokan.” If you are not a diehard Cheap Trick fan, much of this writing would be as exciting as reading a telephone book. Serious to diehard Cheap Trick fans will love it.
The book is structured as both a written history from the author’s research and an oral history with remembrances from musicians, business executives, and other associates of the band. It begins with Ralph Nielsen, Rick Nielsen’s opera singing father, establishing a music retail store in Rockford and ends with the surprise hit of Cheap Trick “At Budokan.” Two key figures that Kramp interviewed was Bun E. Carlos (nee Brad Carlson), who was always the serious archivist of the band, and Ken Adamany, who managed the band from their beginning days to the mid-1990s.
Adamany is in interesting case. He was portrayed in the 1979 “Rolling Stone” cover story about the band as a master manipulator (Adamany, “The truth is, I saw Rick one day and said to myself, ‘Ken, you’re gonna make $10 million off that guy.”‘ Author Daisann McLane, “Adamany grins toothily. And who can tell if he’s joking?”). After he was fired as manager, members of Cheap Trick blamed Adamany for creating contentious relationships with label executives that ultimately hurt the band. Now, if we’ve learned anything from Bob Woodward it’s that people who cooperate with authors often come out looking better than people who do not. Still, Adamany gets his due as a key factor in Cheap Trick’s success – going deeply into debt to support the band, negotiating with record labels, finalizing key business deals. Adamany was a shrewd booking agent in the Midwest and he kept the band alive with bar business money until true success was delivered via Tokyo.
Kramp doesn’t make value judgments or cast aspersions about motives, but there are several instances of completely prickish behavior by Rick Nielsen. At one point, Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson, and Bun E. were based in Philadelphia, working under the band name Sick Man of Europe with vocalist Stewkey Antoni, formerly of the Nazz. In 1973, the band moved to Rockford. Stewkey sold all of his furniture, left a nice apartment, and moved to Illinois. He was fired by the band a week later. Other less than flattering stories include Rick trying to replace Robin Zander with vocalist George Faber shortly after Zander joined the band, Rick firing Bun E. after the band signed to Epic Records (the label refused to accept the band with a replacement drummer), Rick sabotaging a radio show hosted by long time band supporter Cary Baker, and Rick calling George Faber from Japan to rub the band’s success in his face.
I will not recount the band’s complete history here, anyone interested should buy this book. (For irony fans, it was interesting that Bun E. was the main advocate for hiring Robin Zander). My only quibble is that the author often referenced happenings in U.S. history or pop culture events concurrent with what was occurring with the band. Sometimes those transitions feel clunky and the information doesn’t seem completely necessary. Still, it isn’t done to the point where it impacts the effectiveness of the overall writing.
When it comes to the band’s catalogue, it seems that Kramp maybe unknowingly gives away his preference for the Jack Douglas produced debut album (1977’s “Cheap Trick”). He writes much more in depth about that record than he does the bigger selling albums produced by Tom Werman (“In Color,” “Heaven Tonight”). That doesn’t particularly rub me the wrong way. Like most diehard fans, I consider the debut album the band’s best outing.
In conclusion, this is as good a history of Cheap Trick as the world will ever have. I applaud Brian J. Kramp for his passion, organizational skills, and dedication to this project.
Grade: A (however, I’m just a little weird)
I scratch and kick and bite and punch
if his songwriting skills have eroded, his life performance never
the more distractions inside the venue, the less satisfying the performance is going to be
at the top of the singles charts and at the top of the movie box office
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – November 1978 (Volume 10, Number 6)
I’m not taking the band QUITE as seriously as I once did
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