By Brian Ives
Former Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos has just released his debut solo album, Greetings From Bunezuela! It’s a garage rock tribute that he recorded with a little help from his friends: Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum sings Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” John Stirratt of Wilco sings the Who’s “Armenia City in the Sky” and the members of Hanson are a cover of Paul Revere & the Raiders’ “Him or Me.”
Other guests include indie rock legend Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices on an update of his own song “Do Something Real” as well as on a cover of the Bee Gees’ “Idea.” Original Cheap Trick singer Xeno sings two songs as well.
“I’ve been thinking about it since the late ’70s,” Carlos tells Radio.com about his solo album. “But I never got around to it. Last December, the Hall of Fame announced that Cheap Trick was getting in, and I was told that Cheap Trick were piggybacking a record on the Hall of Fame induction. So I thought I’d piggy back a record on Cheap Trick’s.”
Besides the singers on the album, he also worked with some of his bandmates from his current groups. “One is the Monday Night Band,” he says. “It’s musicians around town, some of them are in other bands, and we play on Monday nights. Early on Monday nights! From seven to nine. And I have a side band in Chicago wth John Stirratt from Wilco and Rick Rizzo from Eleventh Dream Day, we’re called Candy Gold. We have an album in the the can, we’re just mixing it. Those are my two main bands.”
A lot of the guests, including Pirner, Hanson, Stirratt and Pollard came to prominence in the ’90s, which was a great time for Cheap Trick. “In the mid- to late ’90s, everybody was name checking us and we were seeing lots of familiar faces at the side of the stage. There were other guys that I wanted to call for the album, like Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins and Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes, and other people that I know and admire, but there wasn’t time to do the album. But the guys that stepped up for me did me a big favor, and I owe them all.”
In the case of Hanson, Carlos says that he just asked Taylor Hanson to contribute, and was surprised to hear all three brothers on the finished song. “I asked their manager if Taylor could do something, and the word came back that he wanted to do it. We cut the track and I emailed it him, and I was expecting to get it back with just one Hanson. And I got all three brothers when the track came back. Triple my pleasure!”
Carlos and Taylor Hanson are bandmates: they are both members of Tinted Windows (which also includes Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha). The band’s 2009 self-titled album is an under-appreciated classic. “I think every song on that album is a winner,” he agrees.
“A couple of summers ago I subbed for the Fountain of Wayne’s drummer, because he was out with the Jesus and Mary Chain, and Adam was like, ‘You want to do some Tinted Windows stuff, James is talking about it!’ and I said, ‘Yeah, anytime!’ But Adam has been working on Broadway shows, and he produced the Monkees’ album, but when he gets a batch of new tunes written, I’m sure we’ll be in the studio.”
Another reunion on the album sees Carlos working with long-forgotten Cheap Trick singer, Xeno, who Carlos name-dropped during his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony speech. Xeno, aka Randy Hogan, left the band before they ever recorded an album, and was replaced by Robin Zander.
“Xeno lives in Milwaukee,” Carlos explains. “He’s in a band called Bad Boy for about 30 years, they had some albums in the ’80s, he’s got about 18 billion bands up there. He’s a full time musician, he works six nights a week, I’ve been on a couple of his records. We’ve always been friends. He was a natural to call for the record.”
On the subject of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Carlos says, “It was a lot of fun, I didn’t know what was going to happen, because people have been sniping at people in the press, and it’s a Cheap Trick tradition that if there’s three guys in the room, the fourth guy gets nailed. I figure I’ve been been getting nailed for six years!”
But he says that at the ceremony, everyone was civil. “Face to face, everything was fine, everything was real cordial, we didn’t rehearse, we really didn’t need to. It was all fine. Other people were coming up to me and saying, ‘Did you hear what those guys were saying about you on the radio yesterday?’ Or ‘They called you some names in Rolling Stone,’ but yeah, you know, there you go. They were probably pretty pissed off at me because I had to take them to court and spank them in the courtroom. That’s how things go these days. If they can’t deal with it, that’s their problem, not mine. But we’ve known each other for fifty years, so once we saw each other, it was, ‘Hey, what’s happenin’?’ It was all hunky dory, face to face.”
“The singer made some lawsuit jokes in his hastily written speech,” he says, referring to his former bandmate Robin Zander. “A couple of those guys didn’t have a speech at soundcheck and the director of the show was like, ‘Give us your speech, please!'”
“But it was a lot of fun, and it was a real honor. And, more than that, our fans really feel validated. A lot of family came, and a lot of fans from Rockford [Illinois] came. It was pretty cool.”
Will this be the last time we see the classic lineup of Cheap Trick perform?
“It probably is the last time, and it was real fun to get up and play. Like when [bassist] Tom [Petersson] rejoined the band in ’87, when we sat down to practice, it was like, ‘Oh yeah, the four of us play so much better together than the three of us without one guy. ‘ It was kind of that good old feeling again, and that was real nice.”
“I’ve been asked repeatedly lately, ‘Are you ever gonna play with these guys again?’ I’m sure some promoter will come along and cough up the dough and offer us one more tour [with the original lineup]. And they’ll say, ‘Hey, that guy’s not so bad, let’s do one more!’ I really don’t anticipate that happening, though.”