Interview: Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick
Interview: Bun E. Carlos on Ground Level TV
Bun E. Carlos needs little introduction. As the drummer for Cheap Trick, Bun E. embodies the essence of a “rock star” more figuratively than literally. His humility and guy-next-door demeanor is rare for someone who has achieved his level of success and acclaim. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting and talking with Bun E. on three different occasions over the years. The first was at his nephew’s graduation party back in 1985 where he gave me some autographed drum sticks (his and Tommy Lee’s of Motley Crue). The second was when he agreed to record some promo spots for my Musician’s Corner® radio segments “on location” at North Main Tap in 2002. And the third was when he graciously appeared as a guest on Rock Valley College’s Ground Level TV show that I hosted from 2002-2007. This interview was recorded in November of 2004.
Tommy Leu: All right. Welcome back to Ground Level. It’s my pleasure tonight, I have a very special guest here in the Musician’s Corner®. The Musician’s Corner® is a syndicated resource of mine. You can check it out at www.SuccessInMusic.com. Joining me here tonight is Bun E. Carlos, drummer of the band Cheap Trick. Hi Bun E!
Bun E: Hey, Tom.
How are you doing?
Real good. How are you doing?
I’m doing great. I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I know you’re a busy guy and I appreciate you coming on our program. This is our sixth season of the show.
Every night I try to have a section called the Musician’s Corner® where I feature a lot of the local and regional bands from the area. All kinds of music… blues, rock, country, I’ve had everybody on. This is the first time I’ve been able to have on a big star like yourself (laughing), so I appreciate it. Before we even get started I just wanted mention and probably remind you, that many years ago, about 19 years ago, I went to a graduation party. It was the first time I met you. I know you meet a lot of people but you had given me one of your Bun E. Carlos drumsticks. Steve McCarty, your nephew right?
My nephew, Steven.
It was in 1985 and we were at [Steve’s] graduation party. You got me that stick. I’ve had it at home ever since, and back in those days, I also got one of these from you.. this is an autographed drum stick from Tommy Lee.
Ah, yes. The drummer for the University of Nebraska band now.
Did you hear about that? What do you think about that? Are you going to go back to school?
Tommy’s got a book. He’s got a TV show. He’s making his career.
He’s more famous now than he was back then, I think, with the band and everything. I wanted to thank you for these. These are really cool. I have them up in my studio, so I wanted to start with that. So many things to talk to you about… One of the things that you’ve got coming up is your drum clinic. You said about once a year you do these?
Yeah, I do them in November usually. It’s National Drum Month.
This one is going to be down in Champagne, IL right?
Yeah, there’s one in Champagne.
A couple of hours you’re there and people are watching you play? You’re showing tips and techniques on drumming or what exactly?
Yeah, I’m kind of telling stories about where I learned what I do and then do some practical demonstrations, do some Q&A, sign some stuff.
Sign some stuff? That’s cool. There’s a phone number on your website. It’s 1-888-442-DRUM for more information for people to check that out. Then some upcoming gigs for the band, Cheap Trick, of course, looks like November 19 Cleveland House of Blues Grand Opening. A brand new one in Cleveland?
The chain is expanding.
Have you guys played at just about all of them?
We’ve done most of them. We’ve never done the little one in Harvard Square, but we’ve done pretty much the rest of them.
Then you’ve got a House of Blues in Chicago coming up on the 20th, for the Kerry Wood’s Foundation.
Yeah, Kerry Wood from the Cubs, he’s got some baseball players coming in, meet and greets, hang with Kerry. Tickets are from about 50 bucks to about 1,000 bucks depending on how long you want to hang with Kerry Wood.
That’s cool. It all goes to his benefit; a good cause and everything. That’s awesome!
Then I see New Year’s Eve at Pleasure Island.
Oh, yes. Our good friends at Disney called us up and said, “Come on down and do a New Years.” We called Universal first because they had a big Universal ad this year where they were using our song “Surrender.” Mommy’s all right, Daddy’s all right. We called Universal and said, “Hey, the Mouse wants us. Is it cool with you guys?” And they said, “Yeah, come on down.”
Awesome. Now do you play every New Year’s Eve? Do you ever get one off?
Oh yeah, New Year’s is good for musicians because they double or triple your pay on New Year’s. It’s an old union thing.
I see. A little known secret. Even here at the local level, I think that’s the case too. You get a little more money for the shows (on New Year’s). That’s something I have to ask because I imagine you’re probably always working on those days. Do you ever wish you could have a New Year’s off just to hang out and do your own thing?
I had a New Year’s off about 10 years ago. I was in Rockford, and I drove home from my sister-in-law’s at 10:30 pm… and everything was closed. Since I wasn’t downtown, I missed First Night. Rockford shuts the windows about 9:30 or 10:00 pm.
I imagine someone like yourself who’s been all over the world… it’s probably a different feel coming back here to Rockford. You can see you around here every once in a while. For years, we’d see you around and see you hanging out at the local establishments and stuff.
It’s home. I like to go out on weekends and sit in with local bands. Since I grew up with most of the guys in the local bands, it’s fun to hang.
That’s one of the things I was going to lead into. Bare Bones, certainly you’ve done some stuff with those guys. The Bun E. Carlos Experience… what’s going on with that? Are you going to be doing some more stuff with that? It’s been a long time.
Nah, I put that to bed. I found being a band leader is the most thankless gig you could ask for.
Everybody else wants to know when they’re getting paid and where’s the money going and how come they’re not getting paid more.
So it’s just easier to sit back and play the kit?
It’s easier to be the drummer and let some other clown run things. Like the manager.
(laughing) The manager… I hear ya. Speaking of the local groups, like myself and a lot of the acts that we have on here, there are a lot of good local bands in Rockford and probably in every city in the United States and the world for that matter. What’s something that some of us miss? You’ve obviously been to the highest levels and everywhere in between, and for those of us who work at the local and regional level, I would imagine writing a good song would be a good start. But what are some things we don’t know about the music business?
A good song’s number one, but you have to have a totally dedicated bunch. There can’t be any dead weight. It’s got to be a good organization. It’s just like a baseball team. One guy has a bad day and the team loses. You need a band, you need a crew, you need management, you need material, you need the desire and the drive to go out and do it. I mean, you’ve got to risk. You’ve got to put your head on the block. Before we had a hit record, we were about a million bucks in the hole. Back in ’78 or ’79, we’d been on the road for three albums losing money. We made money before we signed a record deal. Then once we signed a record deal, we started to lose money.
Do you encourage bands… if they can do it the indie way to go that route, before they sign that record deal?
There’s nothing wrong with the indie way. An indie release is a Class A demo, or the record company will be glad to take your product, slap their name on it, and throw it into every store in America. That’s what they’re good for, record companies. They’ve got big pockets and they’ve got professionals to sell your music.
You said something earlier about the band that can stay together. Longevity, it’s like a marriage, right? I mean, you guys 27 years or something like that now?
We’re the exception. We’ve been around for 30 years. We had a bass player who took an eight year vacation in the middle of it and stuff. You get on each others nerves if you hang out too much together. You’ve got to give each other some space.
You’ve got to have some time off and do your own thing. I’m going to say a couple names of some drummers, and the first thing that pops in your mind you give me the description if you know them or think of them. Tommy Lee?
Tommy Lee, hard hitting guy.
John Bonham is probably the blueprint for a lot of the guys that came after him.
Sure… Neil Peart?
Neil Peart, Mr. Chops. He’s got all the chops in the world. He’s a drummer’s drummer. People love him.
Chad from the Chili Peppers?
Chad is a great guy. He subbed for me about four years ago when my back was bugging me. He just sat in at a show and broke up all my cymbals. One of the hardest hitting guys I’ve ever seen.
How about Bun E. Carlos?
Bun E. Carlos, all around great guy.
All around great guy. That is a fact! All the info for what’s up with Cheap Trick is on their website, www.CheapTrick.com.
CheapTrick.com or send us an email if you want.
Send them some email and be sure to check out those shows coming up. Bun E. I want to thank you so much for coming out. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Thanks, Tom. It’s been good.