Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos stays local

Bun E. Carlos

• International rock star to play Mary’s Place with some local friends Monday, Nov. 21

By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher

And now, for some music news and long-standing gossip …

From, “RE: Statement — March 19, 2010

Bun E. Carlos is not currently the touring drummer for Cheap Trick. Bun E. remains a band member. Everyone is healthy and Cheap Trick will continue to tour as planned.”

What the … hey! Is Bun E. Carlos still in Cheap Trick?” many people have asked each other since Daxx Nielsen took on the duties of tour drummer for our hometown heroes, Cheap Trick. This coming March will make two years since Daxx joined his dad’s (Rick Nielsen) band on tour.

I remember asking Daxx about it and congratulating him on his new gig when we saw one another at Abreo (then Brio) about a year ago. He said it took a while to get into shape for the pounding and finesse it took to play show after show. Since their start in 1973, Cheap Trick is not only famous for the music, but they’re famous for how often they play it. They have always been relentless tour monsters. They WORK.

Daxx said he had tremendous respect for Bun E.’s stamina and brilliant talent; and a year ago, it still seemed like a temporary situation. Now, as two years absent approaches, locals and bloggers on the website keep on speculating.

So, Jack Kooistra of Mary’s Place, who booked the Bun E. gig next Monday, asked me for some publicity for the event and to do a story about Bun E.

I told him Bun E. had been playing recently at the new Adriatic for Nino Gardona (former owner of Big Cities) and Dom Sawchuck on Monday nights. Their music lineup has been very impressive with the likes of Harlan Jefferson, Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames, Steve Ditzell, JF & the Beat Merchants, Big Daddy Woo Woo and Miles Nielsen (the other son of Rick) and his songwriter’s night on Tuesdays.

Speaking of Miles, he’s also playing his annual Turkey Day show at the Sullivan Center Nov. 23 with the talented Ernie Hendrickson. They sold out the 290-seat house last year, and will again with tickets only being $7 at Charlotte’s Web, JustGoods and Minglewood. Doors open at 6 p.m., and Kelsey Wild opens the show at 7 p.m.

Miles, and Robin Zander’s son, Ian, were also in the recently famous “Dream Police” show at the Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee, which will awaken again on New Year’s Eve in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Getting back to the “What up with Bun E. Show?” … I teased Jack that if he wanted publicity, he should get “the Cheapest Little Brat In Town, Becky [she owns Mary’s Place] to buy a lousy $50 ad for a change!”

In my advertise-NOW mode, I grumbled how we give everyone a free calendar listing for their gig and the bands and bars don’t advertise with us enough. Grumble. Oddly, some people think I can be kinda grumpy, cranky, at times. Hmm.

High and behold, Becky calls and says, “OK, I’ll give you your damn $50 for your ad, but you have to find out what’s going on with Bun E.”

Grinning, I said, “OK.” Damn, I go cheap.

But, I added, no one wants to ask “the question” in fear of appearing disloyal to the band and offending them by invading their privacy. This inquiry could be very musically incorrect. Oh, durn.

So, I called Daxx; he never changes his cell number. After some chit-chat about him being totally in shape now, he said the last two years have been the happiest in his life. He really felt lucky. I said “I have to ask the question nobody wants to talk about: “Is Bun E. out of Cheap Trick?”

As I thought, Daxx laughed and was quick, “I’m not the person to speak for Cheap Trick. I’m a hired drummer, and it will be two years in March. I just keep my trap shut and play the drums.”

When I spoke to Father Rick and complimented him on his son’s good manners and told him about the “keep my trap shut” line, Rick said, “I should say the same thing! Really, he’s still in the band. He’s not touring with us — that’s all.”

He then directed me to Carla Dragotti, their resident genius for all things to be done, and their manager, David Frey. Carla was very nice to me when I went out to the Hollywood Bowl to present a Rockford City Council Declaration honoring the band for being the first group in history to play the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band in its entirety live. She was very helpful again in directing me to the website for the March 19, 2010, statement. She said I could send an e-mail to Frey, too.

Frey had been quoted extensively in a Nov. 9 Chicago Sun-Times article, “Cheap Trick plans museum, concert venue on Record Row.” Frey spoke of such a possibility near the famous Chess Records, Vee-Jay and Brunswick Records locations on South Michigan Avenue.

Rick said, “It’s been something we’ve been talking about for a while, but after the bubble burst two years ago, it’s been on hold until a few weeks ago.”

I told him the article sounded like a stalking horse for investors, and he laughed and agreed, “It’s a Cheap Trick thing, unlike Rick’s Place [his unfinished symphonic idea of a hotel/restaurant/music venue/Cheap Trick/guitar showcase here in Rockford], which is just me.”

Not able to get a direct number for Bun E., yet (the old one I had was disconnected) I called Dan McMahon the in-depth guitar/accordion player for Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, Miles Nielsen, Kelly Steward and Bun E.’s Monday night band gigs.

McMahon said he’d played three gigs at the Adriatic on Monday nights and would be in on next Monday’s gig at Mary’s Place.

I asked him how’s Bun E.’s been doing, he said, “Bun E. fine. It’s great to play with him. He and I started playing together back in 2006 on the Wandering Sons’ album Little Bird with Miles and Corey. We’ve been out in his barn on his property on Monday nights for the last two years. It’s all cover tunes, very traditional Stones, Dylan, 60s, 70s. We hit his archives, bootlegs, B-sides. Bun E. is the Archivist-Of-All-Things, the Collector-Of-All-Things.”

Dan called Bun E., and told him I wanted to talk to him. When he called, I asked him what is was like playing just Rockford for the last two years?

Rockford is kinda like it used to be, familiar faces on stage and in the audience,” Bun E. said.

He said the Monday night thing started at the North Main Tavern, 1419 N. Main St., with five of the six players in the Monday night band playing the bar’s famous bumper-pool table and drinking beer. That was the late ’90s, and it was a good, relaxing time when stopping off in breaks from off the road with the band.

They went from pool and beer at the North Main Tavern to band rehearsal. In the last few years, he said the other five members of his local band are McMahon, Andy Scarpaci, Kevin Holden, Bill White and Dave Ketner.

All the players bring their tunes to the table,” he said softly, even though some accuse him of being grumpy. “It’s a group thing. It’s very unusual for me; three are professional musicians, and three are not pros. I really like working with different people in different levels of music. I’ve never worked with a steel guitar player before. Kevin manages Finnegan’s [Cottage, 4832 N. Second St.], Bill does work at Bobby’s on Broadway. It’s a Blues, Swing band. You might see us at the North Main some time. We play about once a month.”

How evident. Bun E. is enjoying himself and his friends’ new music. He doesn’t have to wrangle about set lists, burn on the road, and he’s had some rest and good memories all around the world and right here in Rockford. He’s very gracious and quietly outgoing with local musicans.

It really bloomed with Boulas, the late Doug Furz,” Bun E. said. “He was great and would call me up to sit in with him at places like Mary’s.”

As to places like the Windy City, he said the Cheap Trick Chicago project had been around for a while and pointed out the local Ald. Bob Fioretti (D-2) was one of the prime movers in the revival of the idea.

When asked about the idea of a problem between him and my long-time friend Robin Zander (who has never said a bad word about Bun to me), Bun E. said: “We’ve been together for 40 years. You’re bound to snipe at each other after that long, like an old married couple. I’m still a member of the band, but I’m not touring at this point.”

Carlos is on the cover of the new Cheap Trick album, The Latest, sweeping the sand of a LA beach with a metal detector. Whether he’s on Cheap Trick’s next album will be the final word as to whether everyone in the band has found what they are looking for in their mutual music.

Kooistra pointed out that Bun E. Monday night gigs are similar to James Brown’s drummer, Clyde Stubblefield’s, long-time Monday night gigs at the King Club in Mad Town. Obviously, a fan of Bun E., Kooistra says Carlos is a big fan of Stubblefield.

Right here in Rock Town, the Monday night band thing seems to be what Bun E. and friends and the Rockford music scene’s fans are looking for, so good for us all! Go to Mary’s. Buy Local. Support Cheap Trick.

From the Nov. 16-22, 2011, issue

One thought on “Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos stays local

  • November 23, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    saw them at marys place monday night good old rockin roll they sound great.

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