Sunday, July 31, 2022

Review: 'This Band Has No Past: How Cheap Trick Became Cheap Trick'

When future "Jason Bourne" novelist Eric Van Lustbader began his fanciful liner notes for the first Cheap Trick album with "This band has no past," he was practically issuing a challenge to rock writers. At least that's how it now seems since Brian J. Kramp went to great lengths to prove Van Lustbader wrong in his new book This Band Has No Past: How Cheap Trick Became Cheap Trick. Not only does Cheap Trick--those saviors of old-fashioned rock and ribaldry--have a past, but it's a really involved one. All four original members were already in working bands ten years before Cheap Trick released that debut. Rick Nielsen was playing piano on sessions for The Yardbirds and opening for that group and The Who with his group The Grim Reapers. With all due tasteless, Cheap Trick-style irony, The Grim Reapers were scheduled to open for Otis Redding at a show the headliner could not perform due to his tragic death (The Reapers went on, though). Nielsen and Tom Petersson played in a prog group called Fuse fronted by former Nazz vocalist Thom Mooney. A pre-Robin Zander Cheap Trick opened for and backed Del Shannon, Freddy Boom Boom Cannon, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry at a Rock & Roll Revival show. For a band with no past, those guys really worked their asses off before becoming the Cheap Trick we know and love.

One of the most interesting aspects of this story is that aside from getting that they were extremely hardworking musicians, we don't really get a sense of the members' personalities until they become Cheap Trick, which happens about a third of the way into This Band Has No Past. It's almost as if they became the crazed characters each guy carefully chose to play, and there is apparently little about the members' cartoon personas that isn't contrived. Even Bun E. Carlos's ever-present cigarette was more about costuming than addiction. The only band member who emerges as a strong personality pre-Cheap Trick is Petersson, the most unassuming band member (more Cheap Tricky irony!), as he freaks out rednecks with his glammed out stage style and helps trash the stage at a New York Dolls show.

Kramp also covers a lot of the more trivial stuff fans will want to know. What's the true first side of the Cheap Trick LP? What's the origin of that smeary, type-set "Cheap Trick" logo? Whose parents, exactly, are screwing on the sofa in "Surrender"? What's the story with Petersson's crazy 12-string bass? The author answers all using a semi-oral history structure. Carlos is the only band member who contributes, but myriad former bandmates, friends, and co-workers contribute, and Nielsen, Zander, and Petersson have their says via previously published interview excerpts. 

This Band Has No Past: How Cheap Trick Became Cheap Trick stays true to its subtitle by winding to a halt just as they are about to release Live at Budokan and seize the success they worked so hard to achieve. So we don't learn much about the second half of the group's quartet of absolute classic albums, we don't get to the in-fighting that upset that rock solid original line up, we don't follow them as they get a genuine number-one single with the genuinely horrid "The Flame", we don't tour with them and Guided By Voices, or see them inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame amidst acrimony between Carlos and the rest of the band. Hopefully that is a tale Kramp plans to tell in another volume, even though I surmise the most unique and compelling stuff is in this first unique and compelling book. Still, ending it where it ends is a bit like doing a gig and skipping out on the encore. Come on, guys... play "Gonna Raise Hell"!

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