The Latest from Cheap Trick.

CTbike-loIn 1974, four men from Rockford, Illinois got together to play music inspired by artists across the Atlantic like the Move, the Beatles, etc. If you asked those young men if they would still be writing and recording thirty-five years later, my bet is that the answer would have been a strange look and a shrug…not a definitive answer. Who knows, their young guitarist may have had a master plan that did indeed include recording and touring into his 60’s.

I had the privilege to talk to this guitarist, Rick Nielsen, founder of Cheap Trick last week. What leads me to believe that the band’s longevity might have been planned, was the enthusiasm still evident in Mr. Nielsen when talk turned to playing music. As our conversation progressed past the usual “tell me about your new album” stuff, the secret to the band’s success became evident to me after thirty years as a fan- this guy actually loves to play.

CH:  You are about to get very busy next week. You have a new cd, a big summer Tour and a song on a major movie soundtrack – all releasing or starting on the 23rd.

RN: Yeah, we’ve got a lot of stuff going on. It’s always a nice thing to do and have.

CH: I wanted to talk to you about The Latest, your new cd which is being released exclusively through your website and amazon.com on June 23. The album has something for all of your fans. Great songwriting and performances. Even if you had the luxury of not being compared to your previous work, this album would stand on its on…

RN: Yeah, we don’t sound like we’ve been… It doesn’t sound like it is our 28th album, or whatever it is. HaHa…The music is kind of , its kind of grown up in a way. But then again we have songs like “Sick Man of Europe,” which sound like we haven’t progressed one iota, but that’s a good thing.

CH: That song is definitely up there with your best rockers. You mention that the music is grown up… the album ends with , to me, one of your best ballds ever- the very grown up “Smile”

RN: Yeah, “Smile.” When Robin hits those notes ( Rick sings the word smile here)- Woah!  It gives you goosebumps.

CH: Another song , I wanted to ask about was the song “Closer, the ballad of Burt and Linda.” Was that inspired by the couple featured in the documentary, “Crazy Love?”

RN: I think that name was brought up, and I think it was inspired by, well… Yeah. HAHA. I don’t know. “Closer” was the title, and then somebody wrote it on one of the rough mixes we were doing and it just stuck ever since. I think maybe somebody was reading about that couple and… Well you are asking the question and I have a great answer- “Huh..” HAHA

CH: Well you’ll be ready next time…

RN: I’ll still be “Huh… what” You are the second person to ask me that and my answer for them was, “Huh, what.” HAHA We just started doing interviews for the new record, I think maybe you are only the second one that has it and has heard it and I haven’t got some stock crummy answer yet…I just have my rough crummy answer.

CH: HAHA Well, it is a nice moody piece- very melodic…

RN: Yeah – the harmony is cool in there and the guitar part (hums guitar line.) I’ve always liked melody more than, “geez let’s see how many notes I can throw in, in twenty seconds.”  I’d never win that battle anyhow, so having a melody is something I’ve always liked.

CH: I think that is true for this whole record. Take a song like, “Everybody knows.” That song has a great twisting melody line that just wraps throughout the entire tune- not really stopping to put in a big chorus…

RN: Yeah, it just keeps going… it reminds me of Procol Harum’s  “Repent Walpurgis” You don’t know what the lyrics mean, but you still listen to it.

CH: You also have a song on the new Transformer’s movie soundtrack (Transformer’s Theme). How did that come about?

RN: The guy that we worked with, on The Latest, name is Julian Raymond. He lives in Hollywood and somebody from Paramount called him and before I knew it we were, on a day off, recording, and the president of Paramount came in with his kid-the kid said it was good. It was like one of those things- we weren’t in when it started but they were looking for something and Cheap Tirck, I guess, sometimes fills the bill.

CH: As I mentioned- you have a busy schedule ahead. Last week you made another big announcement. Cheap Trick will be doing a ten night stand at the Las Vegas Hilton playing the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper in it’s entirety.

RN: They actually wanted us for, I think, almost a year or something like that HAHA, and we just didn’t have the time. We are going straight from the Def Leppard/Poison tour  right to Vegas to rehearse to play those shows.

CH: You have done the show several times, with special guests at each. Any special guests in Las Vegas?

RN: Yeah, I am sure we will definitely. But that is TBA, or rather TBD, to be determined, haha. There are so many people that… We did the thing, Music For Hangovers, a four night stand in Chicago, and we had people from Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Supersuckers,..We had all these bands fighting with each other to get paid $250 to open for us. HAHA.

At this point the conversation changed to a discussion about playing music….Mr. Nielsen discussed learning the songs from the Sgt Pepper shows, and how much he loved learning and playing. For five minutes, I was able to talk guitars with a childhood hero of mine, and to end the conversation- perhaps my favorite quote of all time:
RN: Alright Clay, go away HAHAA

Cheap Trick’s new album “The Latest” is available now exclusively from www.cheaptrick.com or www.amazon.com. The band plays in the Carolina’s on August 7 and 8. The Sgt Pepper shows take place at the Las Vegas Hilton –September 13- 23, and the Transformer’s soundtrack releases this week…. Whew.

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the United States of Paul Gilbert….

united statesAs a forty year old male raised in North Carolina, my listening habits stand squarely in the music that was popular when I was a kid- rock music. My tender young age also makes me more open to new music released by artists who were popular when I was younger, unlike radio, who virtually ignore artists over the age of 35, unless they are wearing a cowboy hat, but that is a different story…

This open-minded approach to music listening (wink wink) leads me to numerous discoveries that are virtually ignored by a new generation. (Granted, I cannot name three top ten singles today…) One such discovery is the album, United States by Paul Gilbert and Freddie Nelson.

For those of you old enough to remember, Paul Gilbert was the lead guitarist for the influential metal band, Racer X. He was also guitarist for a band who produced the number one single, “To Be With You”- Mr. Big. Since that huge hit in 1991, Paul has released numerous albums, including two well –received guitar instrumental albums over the past three years.

I had the privilege of discussing these releases and the new album, United States, with Paul recently. What follows are excerpts of that highly enjoyable conversation.

CH: Hey Paul- I wanted to talk to you about your new cd, United States, that came out a month or so back…

PG: Fantastic.

CH: It is actually. A great rock album. Tight production, great songwriting with powerful guitars and vocals. Freddie Nelson- what a singer…

PG: He’s awesome.. His big secret is that he didn’t know he was a singer for a long time. He thought he was a guitar player, and he is, a very good one. I think what happened is he got frustrated with the singers in his own band and thought, “I’ll try this,” and it turned out good.

CH: It turned out great. How did it come about- the pairing of him and you?

PG: Over the years, in the solo period of my career, I have always thought about finding someone else to sing besides me. I thought about maybe bringing in someone from the same era as when I was in a big band, or maybe holding auditions. But when you collaborate you need to have some kind of connection. We grew up in the same little place, and I had heard of Freddie for years, because he was playing in other bands with guys I know. But I left that town when I was seventeen, so I just missed him. Actually I am still trying to figure out if I met him or not back then.

CH: So why now? What made now the time to do a record with Freddie?

PG: Well I had just done a couple of instrumental records. Those actually did great for me. Especially in America and Europe. When I did my first instrumental record, Get Out of My Yard, Joe Satriani took notice and asked me to do the G3 tour with him, and my career kind of took off. I was kind of joking that when I quit singing, my career took off…
But I still love music with vocals, so when I started thinking about going back to that, I thought that I had reached a new level with guitar and that if I went back to how I always do it- which is to do everything, I would not be able to keep that quality up. I thought it was the perfect time to find a collaborator, and Freddie was the perfect collaborator- co-producer, picking out photos fro album cover- everything.

CH: The songwriting on the record, is that pretty much split equally?

PG: It is actually. Even though I ended up pretty much playing the guitars on the record, Freddie actually wrote a lot of the riffs. So his guitar playing presence is still felt.

CH: As far as influences on this record go, I hear a lot of ELO, Queen, all the great melodic stuff with huge hooks.

PG: Thank you , that is what we like. You know, even though I wanted to primarily work with Freddie as a singer, he really encouraged me to sing a lot of the harmonies. I thought since he was such a strong singer that he should at least do half of them, but he insisted that I do it to add a different character, a different variety and texture between the voices. So all the harmonies are me, all the lead vocals are him- it’s a nice contrast.

CH: You toured Japan already for this record…

PG: Yeah. That was a lot of fun. Japan really likes vocals. I have always had a lot of success in Japan- both with Mr. Big and with my own stuff. But as soon as I started doing my instrumental stuff, like I said, my career in Europe and America really went up, but in Japan it just stayed the same. Finally when I did this record with Freddie, it went up again, so that was good.

CH: I know you have the Mr. Big reunion tour in Japan, but do you have any plans to tour the United States record here in the States?

PG: I’d love to…I kind of leave that up to my manager, I just open my schedule and say here is when I am available…. hopefully with Freddie, we can get some people out to rock.

CH: Well, based on the strength of the recording, that should not be a problem. Thanks for chatting with me.

PG: Thank you.

United States by Paul Gilbert and Freddie Nelson is out now on Mascot records on cd and is available digitally on iTunes. Be sure to visit Paul’s website: http://www.paulgilbert .com.

ARC Angels fly again…. A brief conversation with Doyle Bramhall II

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Following the death of Stevie Ray Vaughn in 1990, his rhythm section consisting of Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton teamed with a pair of Austin songwriters by the name of Charlie Sexton and Doyle Bramhall II. Not only were these two gentlemen established songwriters, each were guitarists extraordinaire.  Charlie Sexton had toured opening for the Clash by age 15, and released a major label solo album by age 17. Doyle is the son of Blues drummer/singer Doyle Bramhall.

The combined forces named themselves the Arc Angels, after the rehearsal space that put them together- the Austin Rehearsal Center.  A self-titled album was released in 1992 to great reviews and nationwide radio play. Songs such as, “Sent By Angels,” “Living in a Dream,” and “Too Many Ways to Fall,” became staples on rock stations across the country, with their unique blend of Texas Blues and Rock. After a couple years of touring, the band imploded without following up on the promise of the debut album…

Fast forward 15 years to the present and the Arc Angels are back. On June 7, after a tour of the UK in May, including an eleven night stand at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the band, now consisting of Charlie Sexton, Doyle Bramhall II and Chris Layton, will bring this widely appealing brand of rock to Charlotte’s Neighborhood Theatre. I spoke with Doyle Bramhall about the decision to reform the Arc Angels recently:

CH: You and the band have been in the studio recording recently, is that right?

DB: Yeah , we have been in the studio quite a bit, trying to mix songs on the live DVD that we are putting out as well as 3 new studio tracks. 2 of those songs are originals, one is a cover.

CH: Are these newly written songs, or songs that remain from the original incarnation of the ARC Angels?

DB: These are newly written. The one that Charlie sings is one that he has had around for about 3 years and is performed live on the DVD. The song that I sing is one that I had and took to Charlie. We then worked on it and have done some different things with it. The cover song is “Too Many People,” the Paul McCartney song from RAM.

CH: So, you have an eleven night stand coming up at the Royal Albert Hall? Opening for Eric Clapton… you have worked with him for quite a while.

DB: I have worked with him on record since 2001.  And I opened a tour for him that year. In 2004, after making two or three albums with him, he wanted me to come join him in his band. So I started in his band in 2004.

CH: Well that must be like the dream phone call…

DB: Yeah. The first call I got from him was that he wanted to cover a couple of my songs for the album he made with BB King called “Riding with the King.” So, Eric Clapton and BB King did a duet on two songs that I wrote…haha…pretty crazy. Everything progressed pretty naturally from there to playing in his band. But yeah- that first call was definitely a dream call.

CH: The ARC Angels are playing at the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte on June 7…

DB: Yeah , we are doing three shows in the US after the UK trek. Then we are taking a month to record. Hopefully we will have written enough songs while in the UK, because our proximity to each other on tour makes it easier to collaborate, because we all live in different places…or at least I do- band is based out of Austin, but I live in LA.

CH: What was the deciding factor to officially reform the ARC Angels now? You have been playing shows for the last several years, was there one event that precipitated the reunion?

DB: We were playing a lot of shows, and it seemed that in Texas, where we were doing a lot of regional touring, that our fan base just kept growing. We would play Dallas or Houston or wherever, and we would be playing bigger places with more people, and selling out, and we were not doing anything. No kind of promotions- no new songs , nothing on the radio. So it seemed like something that needed to be followed up.  When we played we would come up with interesting things during soundchecks, and think “Wow, this is a really cool rock band”…. And maybe we should consider doing this, especially in these days when there is strength in numbers.

CH: As far as your live show goes, can we expect to hear the new songs that you have recorded for the DVD release?

DB: Yeah, those three songs are the first three tracks towards a new album as well. Hopefully we will have that recorded this year. We are playing a lot of stuff that we have not brought out before.

CH: I look forward to hearing the new stuff, as well as the music from the ARC Angels release on the 7th in Charlotte.

DB: Yeah, we look forward to going out and playing  , cause like I said we just have that chemistry that makes the ARC Angels such a cool Texas Rock band.