Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen

This year was a busy one for guitarist Rick Nielsen and his band Cheap Trick. The '70s

pop-metal band toured the United States re-creating its famed 1979 Live at

Budokan LP. These gigs supported the CD re-release of the album, which for the first

time featured the entire concert.

When the gigs were history, Cheap Trick again toured the United States, this time

re-creating their first three albums -- 1977's Cheap Trick and In Color, and

1978's Heaven Tonight -- on separate nights. Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam

each opened one of these shows, which supported the re-release of those LPs (with

bonus tracks).

Nielsen was born 52 years ago today in Rockford, Ill. In 1961, he began playing in local

clubs. A band he had formed went through a series of name changes before settling on

the name Fuse in 1967. This group, which included future Cheap Trick bassist Tom

Petersson, issued a flop LP in 1968.

After adding another future Trickster, drummer Bun E. Carlos, Fuse became the band

Sick Man of Europe. Following the addition of ex-Nazz singer Robert "Stewkey" Antoni,

the band broke up. But it re-formed quickly thereafter as Cheap Trick, with vocalist Robin

Zander taking Antoni's spot.

Cheap Trick toured constantly for the next few years opening for such bands as Kiss,

Santana and Boston. Nielsen adopted a cartoonish demeanor onstage, performing

gymnastics with his guitar. The band's first three albums were not big sellers. But its

fourth release, 1979's Live at Budokan, recorded at a gig in Japan, was a

breakthrough. The LP was buoyed by the hit singles

href="http://media.addict.com/atn-bin/get-

music/Cheap_Trick/I_Want_You_To_Want_Me.ram">"I Want You To Want Me"

(RealAudio excerpt) and "Surrender."

Nielsen and company then found themselves headlining huge venues and issued

Dream Police that same year. But subsequent LPs were increasingly unpopular

with the public, and Petersson quit before the release of 1982's One on One. In

the meantime, Nielsen, Zander and Carlos played on tracks for John Lennon and Yoko

Ono's Double Fantasy (which were recently issued on Lennon's Anthology

boxed set).

Petersson returned before 1988's Lap of Luxury, which brought Cheap Trick back

to the top of the charts with the #1 single, "The Flame," and the top 10 cover of Elvis

Presley's classic, "Don't Be Cruel." But Cheap Trick's return to the spotlight was cut short

when Busted (1990) flopped.

Woke Up with a Monster (1994) marked the band's switch from Epic Records to

Warner Bros., but didn't change its commercial fortunes. That same year, Epic released

At Budokan II, featuring outtakes from the group's earlier hit LP. Around this time,

alternative rockers began citing Cheap Trick as a major influence, restoring the band's

tarnished reputation.

Smashing Pumpkins called on Cheap Trick to be their opening act in 1995, and the

following year, Nielsen and band played the Lollapalooza tour. In 1996, the group

issued the boxed set Sex America Cheap Trick, which was well received.

Last year, the band signed with the indie label Red Ant and issued an eponymous

album. Earlier in '98, Cheap Trick cemented their handprints and signatures on

Hollywood's Rockwalk.

"We never wanted to be like everyone else," Nielsen said of Cheap Trick this year.

"People just look for different stuff."

Other birthdays: Barry Jenkins (Animals), 54; Maurice and Robin Gibb (Bee Gees), 49.