Many drummers have a roadie on standby during concerts, in case of a head breaking, cymbal cracking, or bass pedal busting. Bun E. Carlos, the deceptively powerful drummer of Cheap Trick, has his man on alert just in case the perpetual cigarette dangling from his lips should be extinguished, or should he slap it across the stage with a stick.
But don’t let Bun E.’s act (or guitarist Rick Nielsen’s constant flicking of picks out into the fervid crowd) fool you. Beneath the pomp and parading is a very musical metal, and one of the hardest-working and clearest-thinking drummers in rock. “Bun E. is the best drummer I’ve ever worked with,” says Nielsen, who attended high school with Carlos. “Besides that, he’s a brilliant conversationalist, and he knows how to keep a beat once in a while.
“I could work with anybody I want to just about,” the guitarist continues. “So could Bun E. So there you go. We stick together because it’s a good band.” Indeed, even critics had good things to say about Cheap Trick’s 1985 reemergence, Standing On The Edge. And producer Jack Douglas’s work with Bun E.’s traps make this one of the drummer’s best showcases.
Bun E. claims that his great-grandfather was a Wisconsin Brigade drummer in the Civil War. His dad plays accordion, his mom plays many instruments, and his older brother was a first-chair drummer in school for six years. But being left-handed posed problems with the L’s and R’s in the book at Bun E.’s first formal lesson. So discouraged was he with having to change the stickings in his book that young Carlos gave up lessons in favor of playing along with a jukebox.
Seeing Dennis Wilson play a right-handed kit left-handed with The Beach Boys in 1965 gave Bun E. encouragement, because that was the way he played, too. Carlos began going to more concerts to observe the drummers—Mitch Mitchell, Charlie Watts, Ringo, and any other rock acts that would come through Rockford or Chicago. In high school, Bun E. was part of a group called The Pagans, which released a single of “Good Day Sunshine” and Them’s “I Can Only Give You Everything.” The Pagans became local celebrities in Rockford, Illinois. Out of high school, Carlos and Nielsen toured with some rock ‘n’ roll revival shows, backing up the likes of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and The Shirelles.
In 1973, Rick and Bun E. started Cheap Trick, and a year later, they added vocalist Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson. They played the Midwest club circuit for three years before going national in 1977, with help from a frenzied live album from Budokan. Ten albums, one EP, and two bass players later, they are still with CBS Records.
Bun E. is also part of a group organized by Kansas’ Phil Ehart, called the First Air- borne Rock ‘n’ Roll Division. Members of Toto, Pablo Cruise, LRB, Cheap Trick, the Doobie Brothers, and Kansas make up the unit, which flies to bases around the world to entertain U.S. armed forces. “It’s a chance to serve your country and travel for free. I mean, it pays nothing, “says the drummer. “You’d make more money in America, but those people are sitting over there. It does make you feel great when you get there and play, and they all love it. Everybody wins.” Then there’s The Bun E. Carlos Experience, which gets together in Rockford during Cheap Trick’s off time. Featuring Jon Brant (Cheap Trick’s new bassist) and several of Bun E.’s “guitar teacher buddies, “the group specializes in Lou Reed, Jimi Hendrix, and Yardbirds, and hasn’t risen above bar-band status at this writing.
Actually a bar-band image is sort of what Bun E. projects on stage with simple dress, a fairly normal kit, and a somewhat detached look on his face. Circus recently described him as “forever acting the two-bit nightclub drummer on a nicotine jag,” a somewhat nicer jab than the Rolling Stone Record Guide’s “an overweight war criminal on the lam.”
As he sits nervously warming up before the show, tapping the tips of his fingers, stretching his legs, and fitting a samurai headband on his forehead, there’s nothing in his enthusiastic nature that suggests worry about image. The years of jet lag and high-decibel noise don’t seem to have dimmed his zeal for his sport or for the tools of his trade. If someone ever wants to start a drumset museum, that individual might do well to begin at the home of Bun E. Carlos.
RT: You make it clear in the liner notes to Standing On The Edge that you are playing acoustic drums and cymbals. Was that your doing?
BC: Ooooh, somebody noticed that. Yeah, I did that. I didn’t want to be held responsible for the “booooooms” and that garbage they put in there. So I just put “Acoustic Drums and Cymbals,” just to let people know that, if they didn’t like the dopey effects, it wasn’t my fault. I don’t mind percussion effects on an album, but some of them get a little overbearing, and I thought I just better protect myself.
RT: It’s kind of refreshing to hear somebody play acoustic drums and cymbals on an album. So much of pop is going in the electronic direction.
BC: I was talking to Tony Brock the other night. He “Emulates” his toms and uses a Simmons SDS7. The kind of sound like real drums, but they still sound like fake drums, which I don’t like. And you don’t have any control over them. You live or die by your sound man. Plus, I don’t use monitors for myself. I have guitar coming into my monitor, but that’s all, so I can hear what I’m playing.
RT: Is that why you hit so hard?
BC: Well, kind of. That’s just the way I developed. Drumming for Chuck Berry you had to do that. But that thing on the album cover was very deliberate. When I do play electronic drums, I’ll credit myself for it, but until then, I don’t want to get blamed for them, because they’re very easily abused. A guy tried to get me to put a Syndrum on Dream Police in 1978, and I said, “No way.” The next week, sure enough, it was on The Gong Show, the house band had it. If I had put that on the record, it would have been out of date before the record even came out. I’ll be a big fan of electronic drums when I buy some probably. Until then . . . like tonight the sound man is going to go “kkkkkssssshhhhhh” on a couple of spots: on “Tonight It’s You,” and on a roll on “Ain’t That A Shame.” He’s going to digital delay it, or throw some plate echo on it and jag a little bit of it. Otherwise, it’s going to be just drums.
RT: You said that Tony Brock sampled his own drums on an Emulator!
BC: Yeah, he had a snare drum and a whole set of Simmons. He just basically taped his own kit and sent it back into the Simmons, which seems kind of redundant to me. But we exchanged phone numbers, and I’m going to call him up and grill him—see why he did it and what he did. We’ve worked with Denny Carmassi, and I’ve talked to him about Heart. We did some stuff with them about two and a half years ago, and I thought the Simmons sounded kind of “garbagy,” but on this last tour, they sounded real good. So I’m not anti-electronic drums. I’m just anti-people-that-don’t-know-how-to-use-them-right. Plus, I’m a drum collector, and until I used new Ludwigs, I was using Radio Kings—like pre-World War II and stuff like that.
RT: That’s right, you’ve got some antique drums.
BC: They’re not really antiques. Antiques fall apart. Sorry Bill III, but the old drums are better than the new ones—a single piece of maple with reinforced bonds. I’ve got about six sets of them, and I bash them all the time. You can play them with three-foot sticks, and it doesn’t hurt them. You could knock them down and things, and they hold up really well. In fact, my snare drum is a redone 5 x 14 about 1932 Ludwig. And the thing just holds up better than any drum I’ve got. It plays really good, and it sounds really good.
RT: What about the rest of your kit? Is it new or old?
BC: It’s a new Ludwig kit, a couple of years old—right before they moved to North Carolina. I think they’re five-plies: 14 x 26 bass drum, a little 7 x 10 rack, and then 9 x 13, 16 x 16, and 16 x 18 floor toms. And I like the little rack tom, because I couldn’t get an 8 x 12 to get a good clank or bonk out of it, so I just got one size smaller and skipped the 8 x 12. I started out using a 9 x 13 and a 10 x 14—got in a Ringo mood, kind of. But then I went back to my Keith Moon noisier syndrome. So I switched back.
RT: Do you take care of your own drums, or do you have somebody doing that for you?
BC: I’ve got Kurt Wiesend, my drum roadie. We call him “Cheese Neck,” because he’s from Wisconsin. He sets them up and takes them down. Since he’s a drummer, he’s pretty good at tuning them. He’s the first drum roadie I’ve ever had that’s a drummer. But otherwise yeah, I sit on them every day religiously. Even if we don’t do a soundcheck, 20 minutes before we go on, I sit on my drums and move this or do that. I don’t like them exactly the same every night. I’m always moving something somewhere and messing around with something.
We’ve been on the road for seven months now, and my Speed King pedals— I was starting to dance on them so hard that I could hardly feel them. We dragged out a couple of DW pedals, and I’ve been using them for a while. The springs or the chain-drive is a little bit stronger, and that’s real nice. Next week, I’ll probably go back to Speed Kings.
RT: Do you think you just wore your Speed Kings out?
BC: Well, I have four of them. We kept putting in new ones and tightening up the springs. I think my feet were getting in a little too good shape or something. I play a lot with my toes, and I got to the point where I’d hit it and I couldn’t feel it too much. I wanted just a little stronger pedal. They seemed to work fine, but it’s more a matter of convenience. I prefer Ludwig. I endorse Ludwig. I endorse American mainly. I’ll probably endorse anything American.
We’re going to switch sticks to Silver Fox, from down in Florida. We took a couple of pairs out and beat the daylights out of them, and they work. They make great laminated sticks. The ones I’m using right now are the Slingerland 5A Peter Erskine model. I sent them in to somebody and had my name put on them. And we put Power Grip on them, which is basically athletic tape, made by Bryan Holmes, the drummer from The Producers. But the Silver Fox sticks play very nicely, and since I’ve got the straight-up hoop and the clamp-over lugs on the snare drum, they hold up pretty good right here in the middle. They don’t shatter in the middle often, and they don’t break at the tip when I’m crashing my cymbals.
RT: You play wood tips?
BC: Oh yeah, I swear by them. Ever since about 1965, when I first bought my plastic-tip sticks, and they proceeded to break on me in live minutes, I gave up on plastic-tip sticks and never went back to them. I did use them in the studio on a couple of ballads, like “Voices” and “Y.O.Y.” On the album ballads, I usually get them out just to get a clear cymbal. I get a 20″ medium Rock ride and just play with the tip. Otherwise, I use a medium-thin to get a little more mud from the cymbal—a little more wash.
RT: On “This Time Around,” on your new record, the snare sound is like you’re hitting every drum you’ve got and kicking the bass drum at the same time.
EC: That’s probably a little bit of producer Jack Douglas dialing in something. But I had Charles Donnelly, from Newington, Connecticut, make a snare drum for me. It’s a brass shell that weighs about 13 pounds. It’s about 6×14, and it’s got three holes the size of quarters in it. It’s the kind of snare drum that you wouldn’t need a mic’ on for a hall like this if you didn’t muffle it or anything. I used that one on a couple of those tunes to get a big, fat sound. Usually, I use a four- or five-inch snare drum. I get a lot of old snare drums from him. He’s good at coming up with parts and stuff when I want to get something really old. I got a set of Gretsch Gladstones from him that are really neat. It’s Cozy Cole’s snare drum, and Benny Goodman’s tom-toms and bass drum. They’re real nice, with the wood hoops and the three-way tuning key and all that. I can’t play them too much, because I don’t want to wreck them, but they sure look good. I’ve got them sitting at my folk’s house. I’ve gotten about eight or ten Radio King snare drums from him, because I’m putting together . . . someday when my endorsements run out, I’ve got my white-pearl double bass drum Radio King kit with the square-back lugs, and so I thought I’d better get as many snare drums as I can. So I’ve got like a 4 x 13 and everything on up to about 8 x 15 in Radio Kings. And then I started getting into metal tube lugs, because they’ve got those counterhoops on them, like the Supra-Phonic 400 by Ludwig has a little hoop that hangs over on the inside of the shell from the bottom to the top, and that kind of hot-wires the sound back and forth. That’s what I like about those old ones. Between that and the straight band of metal, it’s BOINK! You don’t have to put any noise machines on it to get a boink out of it. And if you hit right along the line of the snare, it’s nice and fat, and if you go off an inch, boink. So you get two or three sounds on one drum. Plus, I mike underneath, so the soundman can jag with it or whatever.
RT: You mike from underneath the snare drum?
BC: From underneath and on top. And for the hi-hat, I use four sizzlers on my bottom cymbal, so I can get a little more ring without as much bottom—just to get a “ssssssss.”
RT: Did you put those in yourself?
BC: Yeah. We did a gig with Fleetwood Mac in ’75, and Mick had them. He would open the hi-hat about a quarter of an inch, ride with the tip at 90 miles an hour real light, and it sounded like he was beating the daylights out of it. But he really wasn’t, and the soundman loved it. I said, “If it’s good enough for him . . .”
RT: You mentioned producer Jack Douglas. You worked with him as far back as Cheap Trick’s first album.
BC: We did that, we did Budokan, we did Found All The Parts and we did the Rock And Rule soundtrack, which never came out. He’s a good drum guy. For the first song on the first album, we worked about four hours on the rack tom for all the little kiddies, to get the perfect rack-tom sound, because he’s an engineer and a tinkerer. He called Rick and I up for the Lennon sessions and stuff like that. He likes us and we like him.
RT: Which Lennon sessions were those?
BC: Double Fantasy. We did a couple of tunes. The story goes—if you talk to Andy Newmark, you’ll probably get a different story—but they couldn’t get a feel for two songs, so Rick and I came in and recut them. They came out sounding real heavy, so they played them for those guys and they recut them again. Ours sounded kind of like the Plastic Ono Band, and theirs sounded kind of like the Eagles. That was the difference. It was kind of neat. I made Bill Ludwig give me one of those prototype snare drums with the cast-iron hoops on it back in 1980. I tried to tune it down loose, and it didn’t work. So I just got out an old wooden one and set it up. Whatever John wanted, John got. That was my first session. That was an experience. It was fun. “What speed do you want it, John?” “Oh, whatever you want.” “Okay.”
RT: Did he know you guys before?
BC: When we walked in he said, “I know you guys; you’re in Cheap Trick.” And we said, “Yeah, sorry.” Then he said, “Well, they wouldn’t tell me what band you were in. They just told me your names. They were afraid I wouldn’t like you or something.” So that’s how that was. He knew who we were, because his kid or somebody saw us on TV or something.
RT: Was John at all mad at you guys for stealing so many Beatles licks? [laughs]
BC: Naaa. In fact, he whipped out this guitar at the session—Rick was doing a guitar solo, and John was jumping up and down saying, “This is great. Where was this guy when we did ‘Cold Turkey’? Clapton was a little out of it, and he froze up and only played one lick.” He got his guitar out and said “This is my ‘Day Tripper’ guitar.” And I said, “Oh, ‘Day Tripper’; that’s #10 in Phoenix this week.” John looked at me and said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “Well, we did ‘Day Tripper,’ and it’s #10 in Phoenix this week.” So he kind of figured we were Beatles fans, I guess—even though our instrumental section on “Day Tripper” is Yardbirds: a little “Shapes of Things.” Rick and I were big Yardbirds fans. We used to go to see them all the time.
RT: On your version of “Day Tripper,” that drum part with all the tom-tom work is classic Bun E. You seem to like to use the toms—to base your parts around them.
BC: Yeah, I use cymbals mainly for washes, or “ding ding dings.” When I started out playing I went to take a lesson, and the guy took the book that had all the L’s and R’s in it, crossed out the L’s and wrote R’s, and crossed out the R’s and wrote L’s, because I was left-handed. I saw The Beach Boys in 1965 in Rockford, and Dennis Wilson was riding left-handed, and I said, “Okay, that’s okay,” so that’s how I ended up doing that. Then I read the Max Weinberg book and found out Ringo led left-handed, and I thought, “Oh, that’s how I can sound like Ringo when we do these Beatles songs.” I could never figure out why drummers couldn’t sound like Ringo. I found out that you have to be left-handed on a right-handed set.
RT: I’ve noticed on many of Cheap Trick’s songs that you lay off the hi-hat until you get into the chorus or something. Some drummers just automatically start keeping time with the hi-hat, but you lay off it more.
BC: Yeah, there’s a little Dave Clark 5 thing where he used to ride the snare drum. If you do that, you almost don’t have to play the hi-hat, unless you just want to do some “sshhhsshhh,” some closing, or just do some wash on it—something like that. And it works really nice for me. I wouldn’t suggest anything that I do for anyone else, because I don’t know if it would work. But it works great for me, and it’s the only way I know how to do it. Plus, I’m a fourth-generation drummer—cross my heart—all the way back to the Civil War. My folks didn’t tell me that until after I’d gotten a drumset. They didn’t want to encourage me, I think. But then my grandma told me, and it was like, “Oh neat. Then I can really drum.” That encouraged me—finding out that someone else was a drummer before me. When I didn’t get drafted, then it was like, “Okay, now I’ll be a drummer.” It was either be a drummer, or be a roofer and work for Dad. I said, “Give me a couple of years, Dad.” That was when Rick and I started Cheap Trick. After about a year, about 1973 or ’74, I was listening to a tape one day. I was a typical drummer, like, “Where can I get the most licks in, and how cool can I sound.” I was listening and I thought, “I’m rushing this, and I’m getting in the way of this guy.” One day it dawned; my ears became able to listen to myself objectively. “Okay, I’m screwing this up real bad here.” And ever since that, it’s been easy. It’s like all you’ve got to do is keep the beat, and you’ve got most of these drummers beat, you know.
RT: How old were you when this revelation hit you?
BC: I was about 21.
RT: That’s not too bad.
BC: I had a record out when I was in high school. We had a single out when we were sophomores. We had done a lot of gigs. This happened about two weeks after we had done some gigs with Mahavishnu— me, Rick, and Thomas Dukey were in a band called Sick Man Of Europe, right before Cheap Trick. And seeing Cobham doing the ambidextrous stuff—he let me sit on his drums. And I started taping every show. Ever since then, I’ve taped every show and listened to them all. If I do some- thing in the show and wonder if I messed up there, I play it back later and see.
On the latest album, we did 11 mixes of the song “Tonight It’s You,” and I was thinking, “This doesn’t sound right, especially the drums.” And then it dawned on me: I was doing all these great Kenney Jones-type Small Faces drum intro licks right there on the vocal spots. So I sat down with Tony Platt, who mixed the album, and said, “Listen Tony, I think we’re going to have to bury the drums on this one. Put the drums in mono.” So that song came out good, but we had to mix the drums down in the record and kind of disguise them so they wouldn’t get in the way, because that’s my main job—to make those other guys look good.
RT: Do you always know what the vocals are going to be on a song when you go into the studio?
BC: Yeah, 90% of the time. On All Shook Up, we did a tune with George Martin and Geoff Emerick. I put my drums on—all these cool drum licks in all these choruses, and I did a bunch of off-the-wall stuff. And when I was done, George said, “That’s a great take. Now I want you to triple everything.” So I had to go back to my room, write everything out in Bun E. drum language, sit there for six hours, and run over everything I played.
RT: What tune was that?
BC: “Love Comes A-Tumblin’ Down.” If you listen to it, you can’t even tell. It doesn’t even matter, but I sat there for about six hours and tripled everything, just because the producer said to.
RT: What was it like working with George Martin?
BC: It was great. I would say, “George, I’d like to get a little more clank out of my snare drum.” He’d say, “Okay. Geoff, can we have a little more clank out of the snare drum?” And Geoff would walk out there, move the mic’ about one inch, hit the drum and put his ear down there, move it a little more, and walk back into the booth. That’s the English way of doing it; screw this stuff with the dials, man. Just go in there, place the mic’ in a different part, and do it acoustically. That was really a lot of fun. For digital delay on “Who D’King,” I did a maracas track, and for the overdub, he said, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” He got his stopwatch out, set the digital-delay machine on whatever delay it was, and just doubled it on the other side of the channel. Instead of getting a $10,000 machine to do it, he did it with a stopwatch and some little English machine, which is kind of neat. They can’t screw around with you too much when they don’t have all those toys.
BC: Yeah, the producers and those people. They can turn your drums into something you never dreamt they’d be, much to your dismay. Usually it turns out okay, though.
RT: Did you find your drums sounding kind of Ringo-ish working with George Martin?
BC: Yeah, a little bit. I took a Tama kit in; I endorsed Tama in Japan for a year. The Tama kit was still in the boxes, so we got the drums out and set them up, and they worked like a charm. And then I gave them away to somebody—my brother or something. Then I started going American. I started buying old drums, and saw they were as good as the new Japanese drums, so I figured I’d just buy American. Even though nowadays all the hardware and stuff is all made in Taiwan anyway. But I try to buy American. They’re not that much worse than the Japanese. The parts are easier to get. I’m still a big fan of old Ludwig, old Gretsch, or old Slingerland Radio Kings, and if I can’t get those, new Ludwigs or new Slingerlands.
Ludwig takes real good care of me, and Zildjian takes even better care of me. I’m using a K on top of my hi-hat. The thing sounds very nice and bright. It’s so loud. I was using a regular medium or a medium thin, and it cracked. So I got the K out. It’s a dark K, and the thing just sounds great. The best thing that happened to K’s was that they moved to America. I got a 22″ dark and a 15″ dark, which I’m not using currently but I save them for the studio. I love them so much that I don’t even want to take them out on the road. Now I’m using an 18″ medium, 18″ medium-thin, 20″ medium-thin over the floor tom for my main ride, and then a 20″ Dark China Boy. But since I’m ambidextrous, every cymbal is a ride cymbal, and every cymbal is a crash cymbal—which probably ticks a lot of people off. I mean, you know, if Max Roach saw me, he’d probably shoot me or something.
RT: You’re not supposed to play that way, I guess.
BC: Yeah. Lenny DiMuzio brought Louie Bellson to a show in Boston one night. We did one song, and I looked over stage left and there was Louie Bellson standing there. I was like, “Aaaaaggghhhh,” because that was about the third time I’d tried double bass. And so after the show, Louie said, “Oh, sounds great,” because he’s like the nicest guy in the world. And I said, “Mr. Bellson, I’ve got a question for you. I just started playing double bass. I’m left-handed but I’m ambidextrous. I want to do a bass drum roll. What do you do, start with your left foot or your right foot for the downbeat?” And he said, “Either way—my feet are ambidextrous.” So I felt about one-inch tall. I still haven’t figured out double bass. But I’m going to go home next week and set up my Ludwig white-pearl set. I’ve got two 28″s and two 24″s, so whatever set I like best I’m going to set up and mess around on for three or four weeks, and maybe take those out next year. When you’re ambidextrous, it’s fun to have drums wherever you go, instead of everything being on one side of you—making you have to lead with one hand. I may have two snare drums. But after seeing Ratt and drummers like that, it made me realize I’d better go back and practice my double bass drum a lot before I go out and play it, because there are a lot of younger kids out there who can do it easily as well as I can. So I’m not going to make a fool out of myself for someone who pays $15 to see me drum. I try to play for the people on stage with me and for the six drummers out in the house who are saying, “What’s that screwball doing up there?” That’s what I did when I was a kid. I took set lists off the stage and watched the drummer to see what I could nick. I’ve got about 10,000 tapes and about 5,000 records to steal off of. I used to talk to drummers’ roadies and try to get their drumsticks. I’d figure out a way to get behind them and see what kind of pedal they had. When I saw Mitch Mitchell had a Rogers Swiv-O-Matic, I went out and bought two of them in 1967. I used them for eight years. If it was good enough for Hendrix, it was good enough for me. I didn’t know any better, and I probably still don’t. Now people come up and say, “Oh, you’re my favorite drummer.” I tell them, “Well, here are the drummers I stole from. Go listen to them and then you can play just like this.”
I remember playing at the Cow Palace once with Kiss. It was neat, you know. Rainbow played there. That stuff really made a big impression on me. Meeting famous drummers was neat until we toured with a couple of English bands who I won’t mention, but I never bought their records again. I kind of don’t want to meet the rest of my heroes now, because I’m afraid I might not like them. But it was always fun to talk to those people when I was younger, nick stuff from them, or just see what they were doing and ask them questions. I learned by watching people— taking the bus to Chicago to see concerts. If there was an afternoon and an evening show, I’d go to both shows and write down set lists, so I’d know what was coming up in the next show. It worked pretty well.
RT: You were talking about how you lead with your left hand. I haven’t seen many drummers use both hands as much as you. Even if you’re leading with your right hand on the hi-hat, your left hand is sometimes playing 8th notes on the snare.
BC: Yeah. When I lead into a drum fill with my right hand, it’s like a little Kenney Jones-type setup thing. My drum roadie—who knows how to play drums properly—and I try to explain it to each other and try to figure it out. We’ve got to face each other and match our hands. We do little shuffles. We do “Freeway Jam” by Jeff Beck once in a while, and I’ve got a great shuffle for it that uses little triplets. It’s left-handed, and a hand drops down. I was never any good at shuffles, so that’s what I work the hardest on. I have a couple of Gary Glitter-type shuffles, but no Texas shuffles. I sat in with the Thunderbirds once in Dallas, and the guy was left- handed on a right-handed kit. He kind of looked at me like, “Hah hah, try to play this kit.” He had a hi-hat a mile away and a cymbal a mile away on the left side. So I just sat down and did it. I got away with it, but I’m not too good on a Texas shuffle. “Lame” is probably the word to describe it.
RT: There was one blues tune on the EP you guys did that you did some great bashing on.
BC: “Can’t Hold On,” from Budokan. That was fun, doing those triplets and stuff. I first got into that listening to “A Little Help From My Friends.” That’s 3/4 all the way through, and that’s like a lesson in cool chops. It’s the version of “A Little Help From My Friends” with B. J. Wilson, Procul Harum’s drummer, Jimmy Page on guitar, and Steve Winwood on keyboards. There’s like a catalog of licks in one song. We did that song for four or five years before we cut it, so Tom and I had those things down very well. I like blues drumming, being that I’m a Chicago-area guy. I got into Delta blues real big, and then electric slide blues when I used to mess around with guitar—”Little Red Rooster” kind of things. I’ve got a lot of Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson albums. Then I got into using brushes. I was listening to the half-speed master pressings of the Stones, and on “Love In Vain” from the Let It Bleed album, that’s a pair of brushes. I’ve seen the Stones a few dozen times, and I thought Charlie used sticks. But I listened to the album last winter with some headphones on and it’s like, “Brushes!” I never knew people used those things in this day and age. But they’re fun.
RT: I saw you using one brush tonight on “Little Sister.”
BC: Yeah, and I set it down in the middle for the roll. It gets weird because of the weight difference. One hand is flying all over the place; the other one’s got a big piece of wood in it. But I think people should use a brush on the snare rather than always riding on the hi-hat. It helps clean up the sound a lot. The hi-hat is such a noisy instrument.
RT: There’s one tune on All Shook Up that has marimba on it and almost sounds like a Zappa tune.
BC: Oh, “High Priest Of Rhythmic Noise.” We did a lot of heavier songs in the old days. “Heaven Tonight” is a song about taking too many drugs and dying. “Gonna Raise Hell” is a song about “Go ahead and raise hell, but you’ll get an ulcer.” They’re anti-drug songs in disguise, and no one knows it. We’ve had a lot of songs like that. We tried to sneak one in. “Ballad Of T.V. Violence” on our first album was originally called “Ballad Of Richard Speck,” because he’s a Chicago boy, but the legal department wouldn’t touch that title. And “High Priest” was one of those types of songs. We’re trying to find a screenplay or something to do with those songs, like all the songs about violence. It’s hard to find a place to put those, unless you’re Pink Floyd and can just fill up a side with that stuff. But the real reason is that they do it better than we do. We throw in everything but the kitchen sink once in a while. You know, “We’ve got it; let’s use it.” When we did “High Priest” live, our soundman would punch in the vocoder part, and they threw it to my monitor. I’d suddenly have to sync up with it in the middle of a verse, no matter where it came in. I’d have to drop a beat, add a beat, or drag a beat. I’d play along with this tape that came in. There was no pulse or anything. The guy cued the tape up at the board, and when the part came, he just pushed a button and hoped it came in at the right time. It wasn’t the full length of the song, or we could have done like The Who and gotten a pulse and given me a headset, which I would have preferred. That lasted one tour, and I said, “That’s out the window.” Drummers of the world, don’t let them do it to you.
RT: I think one of your best recorded performances is “Invaders Of The Heart” [Next Position Please]. You’re just going wild on it.
BC: Oh yeah. We did that at a few soundchecks. And it’s all single-stroke stuff. I found out that, if we started with it, I could do it any night we wanted to, but that would be it, because it’s an arm killer. There was a group called Patto from England, from 1971 or ’72. And it was John Halsey on drums, who was later in the Rutles. That guy is the closest thing to John Bonham that you’ll ever hear, or better, and he did a lot of that kind of stuff. And Mike Patto and Ollie Halsall were later in Boxer. They were real influential to Cheap Trick. There are tons of drum chops on there, and I probably ripped off about half of them. We did that song up at Todd Rundgren’s studio—that little A-frame up there. It was lots of fun and a good atmosphere. I don’t know if I could have done that in a big studio in a separate drum booth. We didn’t have a middle for it, so Rick counted to 32. “Here’s the middle. We’ll put something in later.” But I like that song, too; that’s one of the few songs on that album that came off the way it was supposed to sound—that, “I Can’t Take It,” and a couple of others.
RT: At the end of “Invaders Of The Heart,” after the song has ended, the tape keeps rolling and somebody yells, “One more time!” Then somebody else says, “You’ve got your choice of lousy endings now.”
BC: That was me. We kept doing false endings. At the end, I thought they were going to fade out on some cool drum lick, and that was Todd who yelled, “One more time.” I said, ” No, you’ve got your choice of lousy endings.” We started out talking about The Who, so they started with a couple of bars of “My Generation.” It was one of those things. Todd brought a few good licks out of us on that album.
RT: That song on your new album, “She’s Got Motion,” sounds kind of like a ZZ Top groove. It really moves.
BC: Yeah, that’s a clone of a part. It’s the same thing we did on In Color, on a song called “You’re All Talk.” It’s a chuka-chuka-chuka-chuka beat that’s hard for me, because my left hand has to cross over my right hand to hit the snare. That wasn’t all Linn, because I played it first, and then we synced up the Linn later. There are all those tom-toms in the middle eight. That’s one of the things that the producers put on. That’s another reason why I put “Acoustic Drums and Cymbals” on the liner notes. There was an eight-bar buildup, and I didn’t know what to play. I didn’t know what they were going to put in there. They wanted to put just a Dream Police chord buildup thing in there, and I said, “No, don’t do that.” So I just left it up to the producers. So that’s Jack Douglas or somebody on drums.
RT: “Standing On The Edge” has a very tasty drum track, with breakdowns and good dynamics. Do you write your own parts?
BC: Yeah, that one came very easily. On the intro riffs, I wanted to play real sparse bass drum just to accent the chords and to keep out of the way of the singing, because it was mainly power chords. And they threw an effect on the snare drum, so I didn’t want the hi-hat to bleed through. So I did one of those Charlie Watts tricks—laying off the hi-hat on the snare backbeats—you know, a lazy way of drumming. And there’s not a drum roll on the song. That’s what I like about Cheap Trick songs: I can do that. There isn’t one drum roll on “Stop This Game” on All Shook Up. On the next song, there are 36 tracks of drums. We were playing brushes on piano stools, playing bass drums like tom-toms, and stuff like that for “Just Got Back.” It’s pretty wide open in Cheap Trick. If the song needs drums, I’ll put a ton of drums on, and if they don’t work, we’ll just take them off and put a snare drum, bass drum, and a hi-hat on. We’re wide open on that kind of stuff. But 90% of the time, I believe less is more, and then about 10% of the time, I like a controlled chaos. You know, what would Keith Moon do if he was here? You should try not to be boring. And I try not to do it the same every night.
RT: What concessions have you made to your appearance on stage?
BC: Well, in our videos, I play left-handed drumkits so I can play orthodox, or whatever you call it, because I think that looks really neat. I think drummers should look good when they play. You should be able to see their heads. They shouldn’t be sitting on the floor. One night the drummer in Saxon got sick, and I was going to sit in with them. We were headlining. I said, “Don’t cancel; I’ll drum for you.” So we went out to rehearse, and I sat on this guy’s kit. His chair was on the floor, you know. I almost had to stand up to hit his cymbals. Fortunately, the guy got back from the hospital just in time to do the show, because I didn’t know how I was going to do it. But it’s fun to watch other drummers, and sit on their kits to see how it feels from where they sit. I don’t see how they can sit low. I sit about a mile up in the air. Drummers sit on my kit and say, “Whoa, my feet are dangling”—stuff like that. That’s my Dave Clark 5 influence; sit up straight and look down on them all. They were always good when I saw them live. Dave Clark made drummers proud to be drummers. Until Ginger Baker, there was no other band named after a drummer. Dave always sat there, smiled, and acted like he was singing. That was why I got my first Rogers kit, too. I saw he had one, and went out and bought one just like it, which I still have. I never get rid of a drumkit.
RT: I noticed that you play your hi-hat up very high.
BC: Yeah, I play the hi-hat up. It just kind of crept up there. It keeps separation for the soundman. As you saw, the hi-hat is open a lot and it bleeds like crazy.
RT: You open it up at the ends of songs sometimes.
BC: Yeah, to get some dynamics going. Hopefully, someday I’ll learn how to really play it. Then I’ll really be good at it. That’s one bad thing about leading with your left hand on a right-handed kit: You can’t do that much on the hi-hat. It’s kind of a pain. But I started drumming in 1964, so it was Ringo, Charlie Watts, Dave Clark, and the Beach Boys. I couldn’t figure out how they got that “sssssshhhhhhh” sound. I thought they were playing with brushes or something. I went out and got some brushes. I didn’t know anything. So I have no excuse for my hi- hat playing [laughs], except I like to go “sshhiiuuuuppp”—do those little slops or whatever you call them.
RT: Those open-to-closed things?
BC: Yeah, they set up a snare lick really nice.
RT: Watching you play tonight, it looked like you were almost standing up, your seat was so high.
BC: Yeah, I just lowered my chair, too. Now they’ve got me on a riser, which I hate. Next tour, it’s either going to be a 6″ riser or I want to be on the floor, so I can look everybody in the eye. You lose a lot of contact when you’re up. I don’t see how Vinnie Appice can stand being five or six feet up in the air. Plus, all your sound has to be piped in. You’re at the mercy of your monitor man. I have Rick coming through my monitor, and if that breaks, I can still hear what’s going on, because I’m only 14 inches off the ground. So it’s mainly that I just like to sit where I can keep eye contact with everybody and be seen, and I don’t trust anybody to get my sound to me. That’s why I don’t monitor myself. Some night, sooner or later, they’ll blow me up or something. I was born deaf, and it took about six months to get it fixed, so I don’t want to mess around with my ears. My hearing has never been even, so I try not to get blasted out on stage. And we’re a loud band, so it’s kind of a losing battle.
RT: Do you work out at all to stay in shape? You’re very physical on the drums.
BC: I just work out by drumming or just walk around. And all four of us in the band go on stage dead straight from the moment we get up till the moment we’re done playing—no beers, no pot, no nothing. A cup of coffee, maybe, but that’s about it. No one gets high or anything, because we can’t do Cheap Trick and do that. So half of it right there is keeping our noses out of trouble. No one gets blasted before going up to play. When something goes wrong, then everybody can get out of it.