| Rick Nielsen (born December 22, 1946 in
Rockford, Illinois) is the lead guitarist, backing vocalist, and primary
songwriter of the rock band Cheap Trick. For the band's first few
albums, Nielsen wrote the majority of the material himself. He is well
known for having many custom-made guitars from Hamer Guitars, including
his famous five-neck guitar. He sings lead vocals on the demo for the
song "World's Greatest Lover", which appears on the Cheap Trick boxed
set entitled Sex, America, Cheap Trick released in 1996, and the first
verse of "O Claire" off the 2006 CD Rockford.
formed Cheap Trick in 1972 with bassist Tom Petersson, another Rockford,
Illinois native. Before Cheap Trick, he was in a number of bands,
including Grim Reapers and Fuse. The latter recorded a one-off debut
album released on Epic Records which sold poorly. After the record
failed to gain any attention, the band moved to Philadelphia and the
band changed their name to Sick Man Of Europe. The group toured Europe
unsuccessfully in 1972 and returned to Illinois in 1973. Upon their
return to Rockford, Nielsen and Petersson renamed the band Cheap Trick
after adding drummer Bun E. Carlos and vocalist Randy "Xeno" Hogan. In
1974, Hogan left the band and lead singer Robin Zander joined after his
contract with a Wisconsin resort was completed.
The band was a pioneering frontrunner in the 1970s' "Power Pop"
movement, which combined pop sensibilities with cranked-up guitars and
powerful drumming. During the 1970s Nielsen's guitar playing was much
sought-after; he was the session guitarist on albums by Hall & Oates,
Alice Cooper, and Kiss bassist Gene Simmons among others. He has owned
some 2000 guitars throughout his career, and never tours with less than
45. He has been a steady customer of the Hamer guitar company, having
dozens of "Rick Nielsen" models built for himself over the years. He
also throws personalized guitar plectrums (picks) during live shows, and
any concert-goer sitting within the first five to six rows will get a
pick to the upper torso. He is an expert pick marksman
and fans clamor for his guitar picks as a concert souvenir.
For most of the middle 1970s Cheap Trick played 150 dates a year.
They opened for the likes of Journey, Santana, Kansas, Queen, and Meat
Loaf among others. In the summer of 1977 they got a huge break by being
selected KISS's opening act on the KISS: DESTROYER Tour. They played
well, and were often cheered for an encoreórare for an opening act. The
band got a break with a tour of Japan in April 1978; although the tour
was downplayed in the U.S., the Japanese were smitten with the band, as
Cheap Trick's debut album, In Color (1977) produced numerous radio hits.
Finally, in April 1978, Cheap Trick arrived to thousands of screaming
The consequential Japanese tour produced the blitzkrieg
quintessential live rock album At Budokan. This album reached the U.S.
shores only by import copies, but was reaching legendary status by the
fall of 1978. The album was officially released in the
U.S. by Epic in the spring of 1979; it reached #4 on the U.S. Top 40
album charts and also spawned the #7 single "I Want You to Want Me"
(written by Nielsen). At Budokan propelled the band into superstar
status and helped Cheap Trick claim their place in rock and roll
"Surrender", another power pop tune, debuted in 1978 (written by
Nielsen) from the album Heaven Tonight; it became an FM favorite as well
as the band's set-closer through the years. In 1980 both Nielsen and
drummer Bun E. Carlos played on demos with John Lennon, a musical hero
of the band, for Lennon's final album, Double Fantasy.