Midwest rockers Cheap Trick have had a long and rewarding career, but the rewards didn’t always come easy, and they certainly didn’t often come in a timely manner.
The band that launched itself out of northern Illinois in the mid-1970s had its first hit album with 1979’s live “At Budokan,” but it’s on a short list of hit albums for the band. Even one of its best-known songs, “Surrender,” was never a hit upon its release, and the album it came from, 1978’s “Heaven Tonight,” peaked at a paltry No. 48 on Billboard’s album charts. The band’s next hit didn’t come until 10 years later — the radio-ready ballad “The Flame” — also the band’s only No. 1 single.
This year, the band is nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, more than 10 years after the guys were first eligible. They’re in the company of nominees the Cars, Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller, Nine Inch Nails and more. Good thing for Cheap Trick, then, that the band was always in it for the long run and one day at a time.
“It’s just something that kind of never stopped,” bass player Tom Petersson said from home in Nashville, Tenn., where he lives with his wife, 8-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. “We never had a master plan, we just do things one day at a time, one tour at a time, one album at a time. Some years are more successful than others, but we’re always trying to better ourselves. We’re not phoning it in, and we’re not an oldies act.”
The band hasn’t had a chart-topping album in years, but that’s not the noteworthy thing about this band. What it has achieved over the years is a die-hard fan base, critical acclaim and artists including the Ramones, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana and Green Day who cite Cheap Trick as an influence. It’s been a steady, if not sometimes spotty, road to success.
“It always looked like we had this big plan to go to Japan and record a live album and have that be a success,” Petersson said. “It all kind of fell into place by accident. All you can really do is just be as good as you can be and be prepared for whatever comes up, and if something comes up, 'OK, we’re ready.'”
Cheap Trick’s last album was 2009’s “The Latest.” Unafraid to poke fun at themselves, the band released the album on 8-track tape.
“It was expensive (to make) and a bit of a joke,” Petersson said. “We sent it to radio stations knowing that they weren’t going to play our music anyway. ‘Here’s our latest 8-track!’ It was the top-selling 8-track for several years,” he joked. “It was probably the only selling 8-track. It was a short-lived thing to get some attention, and it didn’t work!”
Next up is a 2016 release that finds the band back on a major record label, details of which Petersson couldn’t yet reveal. The band has released indie albums since departing with Warner Bros. in the mid-1990s following a career on Epic Records.
“We’ve almost got two (new albums) finished,” Petersson said. “Recording and putting out records is a big deal to us, so we don’t ever want to stop doing it or just be an oldies act and that’s it.”
If we followed trends, we'd be Beyoncé
Petersson said a six-year gap between albums is no longer in the plans.
“Our plan is to put one out at least once a year,” he said. “Like in the old days when we first started, pretty much everybody would put out two albums a year. Our first and second album came out in 1977 and we averaged 290 shows a year. Recordings last a lifetime, so we put all of our energy into it and make music that we like and hopefully other people like. We don’t sit around and ask what the kids want to hear. I don’t think we’d be any good at it, anyway. (If we followed trends) we would have been a glam group, then a disco act, then punk, then new wave and I guess now we’d be … Beyoncé.”
Although they don’t spend time trying to figure out what “the kids” will like, Petersson has observed a new wave of young fans at shows. New fans have had the chance to pick up on the band through video games and movies, like the latest inclusion of “Surrender” in the Adam Sandler movie “Pixels.”
“The weird thing is young people and teenagers are singing along to deep cuts from our second and third albums,” Petersson said. “That really is surprising and heartwarming. These kids are into this?”
While the band continues to tour and prepares the new albums, it’s not hedging any bets on the Hall of Fame.
“It’s one of those things we have absolutely no control over. It’s certainly a nice compliment, and we’re thrilled and we’ll just see what happens. It’s nothing that affects our playing or our music. We’ve been around a long time, and we have a lot of die-hard fans that have really been pushing for it. We really appreciate that.”
Few acts have been around continuously as long as Cheap Trick. Aerosmith, AC/DC, Alice Cooper and the Rolling Stones come to mind.
“A lot of people would love to be in this position,” Petersson said. “We can’t complain, but we still do. We’re doing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, new records; there’s quite a few up sides to it.”