Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos on Possible Rock Hall Reunion
The annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony is pretty much the one place, outside of a courtroom, where feuding members of rock bands are forced to come together. The policy has led to stunning reunion performances by Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads and the Police, as well as supremely uncomfortable speeches by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Blondie. Next year’s induction ceremony will bring together past and present members of Cheap Trick, Deep Purple and Chicago, and at this point nobody knows exactly what will happen. We spoke to former Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos about his plans to reunite with the band that night, and why he left in the first place.
Congrats on the Hall of Fame. It’s definitely time.
Thanks. It was a surprise.
Nobody gets in on the first year, I figured.
You’re going to perform, right?
Yeah. As far as I know.
Why do you say that?
The Hall of Fame is inducting the four original members, and I assume that is who they want to get up there and play.
I spoke to Rick [Nielsen], and he envisioned a scenario where there would be two drummers on Hall of Fame night. How would you feel about that?
[Laughs] Rick has visions, I guess. He’s a good dad and he supports all his sons, and he probably thinks it would be great if his boy was up there playing along. I can see why he would lead the conversation that way.
How would you feel about that?
I had a piece of that in ’76. Rick talked about that with you, but his timeline was way off. I read that and was like, “What the hell is he talking about?” What happened is that in April of 1976, Epic Records was flying out to sign us when I tripped over a light case after a gig and broke my arm. We called the next morning and said, “Don’t go to the airport — Bun E. broke his arm.” They thought Mercury or someone was trying to sign us, so they offered us like $25,000 more on top of the deal. We were like, “No, we aren’t holding out for real money. Bun E. broke his arm. The band ain’t playing.”
We tried a couple drummers, but they couldn’t keep up. So we flew out Hank [Ransome] and I got him a set of drums, though I wound up playing along with one arm in case he pooped out halfway through a song. They saw one of our last shows with Hank, signed us and then Hank went home. It was the last we ever saw of him for about five years. Then about a month later, we signed the deal, the four of us. That was in late July and then we went in September and started tracking the record. So they did see the band with one and a half drummers, but they never signed five guys. It was never double drummers.
A lot of fans are confused as to why you left the band. Can you explain what happened?
Me and the singer don’t get along very good. A couple of days before Austin City Limits in 2010, we had a big argument on the phone about scheduling for the summer and all this kind of stuff. We’d argued before over 40 years; all of us had. In the middle of the night, he called the office and said, “[Whiny voice] I can’t work with this guy. He hates me.” He didn’t want me at Austin City Limits. I said, “OK, if you don’t want me there, we need to work out some kind of arrangement since I’m a quarter member of the band.” They were like, “We don’t want you there. Can we use your drums?” I was like, “Déjà vu all over again.”
We just drew up a contract that said, “I don’t tour with the band, but I’m a full member of the band.” We’ve got all these corporations. The touring company said, “If you quit touring, you lose your vote.” I wasn’t going to let that happen. I’m a full member of the band. So we drew up a piece of paper, and a couple years later the check stopped coming. I met with Scott Borchetta — that was something special. And then I had to sue them in federal court to get my money back. We did a settlement last spring and its all hunky dory. That’s the short story.
I thought I read something about you wanting to do shorter shows because you had back issues. Is that true?
I don’t like doing 25 songs. I think that just kills the audience. I think the show should be 17, 18, 19 songs and encores. Robin [Zander] wanted to do longer shows. Afterwards, he was like, “We wanted to do longer shows and he didn’t want that.” I did have back surgery in 2001, but I’ve been fine since then. I’m playing a two-hour show tonight with my local bar band, one of my little side projects. I play every day. I had a bad back, but they fixed it.
What was the basis of your disagreement with Robin over scheduling?
The final straw was, we were offered 100 Sgt. Pepper shows in Las Vegas with a huge back-end. He only wanted to do 50. I said, “Why do you only want to do 50?” He said, “[Whiny voice] I have to take my daughter to kindergarten in September. I don’t want her to go to school in Las Vegas.” I smartly replied something like, “We’re scheduling shows around your daughter’s kindergarten classes?” Then he was like, “Fuck you, you fucking asshole.” Then I just hung up the phone. People tell me to get fucked, I hang up. That happened two days in a row. There you go.
Have you guys spoken since?
I saw him at a settlement conference a year ago, but we don’t speak. Someone sent me a link from Tampa Bay the other day where he said he was going to call me, but he didn’t call. I’m not heartbroken over it. It’s not the end of the world.
Do you think Hall of Fame night will be awkward since you’ll have to play with them?
Nah. I’m assuming everybody is going to make nice. Me too. I have no agenda here. I won’t get up there and be like, “Fuck these guys!” I’m not Jeff Beck. He got up and nailed the Yardbirds.
I think he was at least half-joking.
Sure, but if I did that, people won’t get the joke. I’m not going to do that.
The guys in Blondie fought pretty bitterly at the podium.
You know, they really did a number on their original bass player and guitar player. There was a lot of bad blood there. I know Clem [Burke] and some of these guys were not necessarily on Deb and Chris [Stein]‘s side about that. I’ve talked to Clem about that. I mean, such a highlight day in your career. You should try not to wreck it.
Did the settlement fix all the issues that you had? Were you happy with how it was resolved?
Well, I went after the money I was supposed to be getting. That part is functioning properly. That’s really all I can say.
Do you get money from the ongoing concerts?
They’re paying me back what they owe me. I’m still a quarter owner of the business, so I get a certain amount of profits from that.
Do you see any scenario where you’d return to the band on the road?
I don’t see it happening. Rick’s kid got a gig here and Dad loves that. I’m sure Rick would rather his kid gets paid than Rick supports his kid. Even besides that, any friendship we had went away when I had to file a federal lawsuit. That cost a bucket of fucking money. Going after these guys wasn’t pleasant. The friendship sort of frittered away there.
Do you miss it personally? Do you miss playing those songs every night?
Getting up on a big stage and people cheering for you, that’s very rewarding. But I’m getting up on a stage tonight and a room full of people are going to cheer for me. I don’t miss going to airports and hanging out in hotel rooms.
Is it weird to picture them playing without you?
Musically, it sounds a little strange to me when I hear things. But we did it for 30-something years. I knew most of these guys for 10 years before the band formed, but it’s not that strange. How do bands end? Money, sex, drugs, whatever. This probably is how bands end.
The fans are pretty bummed. They were connected to the four originals.
We play great together and the band has a great feel. When I was drumming with them, it sounded just like Cheap Trick. When Tom [Petersson] left in the 1980s we used to say, “We sound like three quarters of Cheap Trick.” We had good bass players up there, but it wasn’t the same.
At least the fans will be able to see you all together one last time on Hall of Fame night.
I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a gas.
Are you going to shake Robin’s hand and smile?
Of course. As I said, I have no revenge agenda. I won’t be like, “Let me set the record straight, people!” Fuck that.
Is there any scenario where they refuse to let you play drums that night? Is that possible?
If they do, I think the Hall will do what they did with Kiss. They’ll be like, “Well, fuck it, then. Don’t play.” That doesn’t really do much for anybody. These guys got a record to promote. They want the band to be up there playing.
I asked Rick point blank and he didn’t give a firm answer. He said, “He’ll be invited.”
I was invited by the Hall.