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Cheap Trick Nominated For Induction Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In Music
DADDIES ALL RIGHT: Cheap Trick were recently nominated for induction in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

DADDIES ALL RIGHT: Cheap Trick were recently nominated for induction in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There are several ways to think about Cheap Trick. They’re both masters of hard-edged-pop and rock subversives. However, there is one tag that makes the band’s bassist, Tom Petersson, cringe: American Beatles.
The comparison probably comes from Cheap Trick At Budokan, a live album on which the screams of teenage Japanese girls resemble Beatlemania-level hysteria. The band also released a track-for-track cover album of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And, of course, Fab Four worship is nothing unusual for bands of Cheap Trick’s generation.

“You have to realize something,” Petersson says, speaking from his home in Nashville. “I was 14 in 1964 when the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan show. The British Invasion changed everything.”

Cheap Trick has certainly enjoyed a longer lifespan than those most legendary of Liverpudlians. Almost 40 years on from the group’s self-titled debut, they’re about to drop album No. 17—the first in seven years. The as-yet untitled record will be released on Nashville-based Big Machine, better known as Taylor Swift’s label.

“That’s not as surprising as you’d think,” he says, explaining that the label’s owner, Scott Borchetta is “a rock guy.” The latest recording sessions with producer Julian Raymond yielded enough material for a second album, which will be released shortly after this upcoming set. “Sort of how we did early in our career—an album every year. On tour, at home, we’re always writing.”

While the forthcoming material is being billed as vintage Cheap Trick, the promise is ambiguous when considering that the four studio albums between 1977 and 1980 (widely considered their best) encompass everything from the disco pulse of “You’re All Talk” and the bubble gum ballad, “I Want You To Want Me,” to the new wave synths of Dream Police’s title track and tongue-in-cheek “Surrender.” Hell, the guitar tones of “Stiff Competition,” from 1978’s Heaven Tonight, sound as if they might have been dialed in by Angus Young.

In other words, the band is too chameleonic for a signature sound. The Cheap Trick story is one of music nerds shoehorned into the Top 40 formula by the music industry. The band’s third album, In Color, is a perfect example of this conflict.

“To this day I can’t listen to that album,” he says, explaining that the band never wanted to make overt pop music—rather, they wanted to make hits that snuck onto the charts. “We wanted songs good enough for the radio without being The Knack.”

Despite becoming rock stars, Cheap Trick mocked rock star conventions from the very beginning. Guitarist Rick Nielsen dressed like an eight-year-old in a baseball cap and bow tie, and rocked a spine-crushing, five-neck axe; and drummer Bun E. Carlos could have been mistaken for a dentist. Simultaneously, Petersson and singer Robin Zander sported shaggy manes and Miami Vice-style leisure suits, which exposed their hairy chests.

Following the recording of the George Martin-produced, 1980 record, All Shook Up, Petersson was fired. Though he was devastated, the exile proved fruitful for the bassist, as he ended up working on Mick Jagger’s first solo album.
“I was still working,” he says. “But it wasn’t in the way I had planned.”

He returned to Cheap Trick for 1988’s “comeback” album, Lap Of Luxury, which coincided with an uptick in the band’s fortunes after a few commercial duds.

Though Petersson doesn’t take credit for the band’s resurgence, his playing is, without a doubt, integral to Cheap Trick. Playing in a group that refused to hire a full-time keyboardist, his signature 12-string bass fleshes out songs that might otherwise sound skeletal.

“It’s a full sound, almost like a grand piano,” he says. “Kind of like three people are playing.”

When not making music, the happily married father of two is promoting Rock Your Speech, an award-winning app he co-developed for developmentally disabled children (Petersson’s eight-year-old son, Liam, is autistic). “Instead of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ I wanted something you could actually listen to,” he says with a laugh.

The group was recently nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016—a long-overdue validation from the music gods—though Petersson is trying to temper his expectations.

“Who knows how people will vote,” Petersson shrugs. “Members always say ‘Oh, Yeah man, I’ll vote for you,’ then they just vote however they want. Whether we get inducted doesn’t matter—just being nominated makes us incredibly happy.”

Cheap Trick plays on Dec 20, 7pm, $40-$60 at City National Civic, San Jose.

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