Rick Nielsen: On Top Of The World

August 1st, 2012

In Guitar Aficionado’s Autumn 2012 issue, we visits Rick Nielsen at his home in Rockford, Illinois,and discover why the Cheap Trick guitarist has no plans to surrender any time soon.  Plus, how Hamer’s Custom Shop rebuilt and replicated the iconic Nielsen guitars that were damaged in last year’s Ottawa stage collapse.

[The following is an excerpt from the Autumn 2012 issue of Guitar Aficionado.]

The financial rewards of a 40-year career as the guitarist and primary songwriter in Cheap Trick afford Rick Nielsen the means to purchase pretty much any daily driver he desires. But the man responsible for penning such classic rock staples as “Surrender” and “I Want You to Want Me” cruises around his hometown of Rockford, Illinois, in a tiny black Smart car, albeit one with a custom-made Telecaster-shaped rearview mirror and custom chrome doorsills engraved with the names of his wife, children, and grandchildren.

The Smart car’s vanity plates, which read “SHAGOFN,” are also a point of pride. “Shag often!” the 63-year-old guitarist exclaims with his trademark guff aw. “Although a senator once asked me what it stood for and I told him it was, ‘Songwriting Has Always Given Opportunities For Nielsen.’ ”

As he drives toward the storage facility where Cheap Trick keep much of their old gear, Nielsen pilots the little car around town with aplomb, and given that he has lived in Rockford since he was eight years old, he could probably do so in his sleep. As we zip down the road, the guitarist points over a dilapidated fence to a grey house where he lived with his parents when he was a teenager.  The dwelling is now covered with vines and in much need of repair, but the garage where Cheap Trick practiced in the early Seventies, on the rare occasions when they weren’t out on the road, is still visible through the overgrowth.

“By the time Cheap Trick signed with Epic in ’76, we were doing great,” Nielsen says. “We had a Lincoln Continental with suicide doors on it, and then we had a big Cadillac Eldorado that we could all fi t into. We also had our own van, and then we got a bigger truck as well as a GMC motor home.

“One of our last shows before we got our deal was with Tom Petty opening for us at a place called Beginnings in Schaumberg,” he continues. “It was kind of a big club, and I think we made $10,000 that night. It was like, ‘Wow!’ And then we got the record deal and we went back to $250 a night.”

To read the rest of this article, and the entire Autumn 2012 issue of Guitar Aficionado, pick up the back issue here.