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Rick Nielsen (born December 22, 1948 in Rockford, Illinoismarker) is the lead guitarist, backing vocalist, and primary songwriter of the rock band Cheap Trick. For the band's first few albums, Nielsen wrote the majority of the material himself. He is well known for having many custom-made guitars from Hamer Guitars, including his famous five-neck guitar. He sings lead vocals on the demo for the song "World's Greatest Lover", which appears on the Cheap Trick boxed set entitled Sex, America, Cheap Trick released in 1996, and the first verse of "O Claire" off the 2006 CD Rockford.


Nielsen formed Cheap Trick in 1972 with bassist Tom Petersson, another Rockford, Illinoismarker native. Before Cheap Trick, he was in a number of bands, including Grim Reapers and Fuse. The latter recorded a one-off debut album released on Epic Records which sold poorly. After the record failed to gain any attention, the band moved to Philadelphia and the band changed their name to Sick Man Of Europe. The group toured Europe unsuccessfully in 1972 and returned to Illinois in 1973. Upon their return to Rockford, Nielsen and Petersson renamed the band Cheap Trick after adding drummer Bun E. Carlos and vocalist Randy "Xeno" Hogan. In 1974, Hogan left the band and lead singer Robin Zander joined after his contract with a Wisconsinmarker resort was completed.

The band was a pioneering frontrunner in the 1970s' "Power Pop" movement, which combined pop sensibilities with cranked-up guitars and powerful drumming. During the 1970s Nielsen's guitar playing was much sought-after; he was the session guitarist on albums by Hall & Oates, Alice Cooper, and Kiss bassist Gene Simmons among others. He has owned some 2000 guitars throughout his career, and never tours with less than 45. He has been a steady customer of the Hamer guitar company, having dozens of "Rick Nielsen" models built for himself over the years. He also throws personalized guitar plectrums (picks) during live shows, and any concert-goer sitting within the first five to six rows will get a pick to the upper torso; he is an expert pick marksman and fans clamor for his guitar picks as a concert souvenir.

For most of the middle 1970s Cheap Trick played 150 dates a year. They opened for the likes of Journey, Santana, Kansas, Queen, and Meat Loaf among others. In the summer of 1977 they got a huge break by being selected KISS's opening act on the KISS: DESTROYER Tour. They played well, and were often cheered for an encore—rare for an opening act. The band got a break with a tour of Japanmarker in April 1978; although the tour was downplayed in the U.S., the Japanese were smitten with the band, as Cheap Trick's debut album, In Color (1977) produced numerous radio hits. Finally, in April 1978, Cheap Trick arrived to thousands of screaming Japanese fans.

The consequential Japanese tour produced the blitzkrieg quintessential live rock album At Budokan. This album reached the U.S. shores only by import copies, but was reaching legendary status by the fall of 1978. The album was officially released in the U.S. by Epic in the spring of 1979; it reached #4 on the U.S. Top 40 album charts and also spawned the #7 single "I Want You to Want Me" (written by Nielsen). At Budokan propelled the band into superstar status and helped Cheap Trick claim their place in rock and roll history.

"Surrender", another power pop tune, debuted in 1978 (written by Nielsen) from the album Heaven Tonight; it ecame an FM favorite as well as the band's set-closer through the years. In 1980 both Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos played on demos with John Lennon, a musical hero of the band, for Lennon's final album, Double Fantasy.

Other work


The look or appearance of Rick Nielsen on stage and in public venues can be traced to several elements. One apparent source is apparently Huntz Hall, of Bowery Boys fame; Nielsen wears a flipped up old style ball cap, Nielsen's face in some ways resembles Huntz Hall, and some of Nielsen's on-stage antics have been compared to Hall as well.

Nielsen's use of the black and white checkerboard motif on his clothing was in line with (if not inspiring) the use in other parts of pop culture. Checkerboard Vans sneakers, made famous in the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, is an example of such use after Nielsen.


  1. Tucson Weekly 4 Jul 2002 article "Magic Trick".

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