Nielsen playing at Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" show in Milwaukee, WI in February 2011
|Birth name||Richard Alan Nielsen|
December 22, 1946 |
Elmhurst, Illinois, USA
|Genres||Rock, hard rock, power pop|
|Instruments||Guitar, vocals, keyboards, mandocello|
|Associated acts||Cheap Trick, Fuse, Sick Man of Europe|
Richard Alan "Rick" Nielsen (born December 22, 1948) is the lead guitarist, backing vocalist, and primary songwriter of the rock band Cheap Trick. He is well known for having many custom-made guitars from Hamer Guitars, including his famous five-neck guitar.
Nielsen was born into a musical family, with both parents being opera singers. His father, Ralph Nielsen, also directed symphonies, choirs and recorded over forty solo albums. During Rick’s teens, the family owned a music store in Rockford, Illinois, and he learned to play a number of instruments. After playing drums for six years, Rick changed direction, learning how to play guitar and keyboards.
His first school band was The Phaetons, which mutated into The Grim Reapers (which lated included Tom Petersson in its line up). The Grim Reapers main claim to fame was that they were due to support Otis Redding in Madison Wisconsin on 10 Dec 1967. Reddings plane crashed en-route killing the singer and others on board.
The Grim Reapers became Fuse which released one poorly received studio album before disbanding in 1970. Nielsen joined the Nazz for a short time (replacing Todd Rundgren), before forming the short-lived Sick Man of Europe in Philadelphia in 1972 with Tom Petersson (drummer Bun E. Carlos joining soon after). In 1973, Nielsen, together with Carlos formed Cheap Trick. Petersson joined later that year, and with Robin Zander joining in the fall of 1974, the classic Cheap Trick line-up was finally together. Nielsen wrote almost all of the songs for Cheap Trick’s first few albums.
Nielsen has enjoyed many highlights with Cheap Trick, including having a #1 US single “The Flame. Amongst personal highlights, Nielsen, together with Carlos, was invited to record a session on 12 Aug 1980 with John Lennon for his upcoming Double Fantasy album. Their contributions did not appear on the released album, only becoming officially available in 1998.
Nielsen's on-stage appearance is influenced by Huntz Hall of The Bowery Boys; he wears a flipped up old style ball cap, his face resembles Hall's, and some of Nielsen's on-stage antics have been compared to Hall's too. Nielsen is also well known for wearing a bowtie.
Nielsen's use of a black and white checkerboard motif on his clothing was in line with the use in other parts of pop culture, including Checkerboard Vans sneakers, that featured in the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Nielsen’s image moved away from the cartoonish look of the 70’s in the early 1990’s, when he sported a mustache, goatee beard (often with a long braid) and dark glasses which gave him a mildly sinister look. That image changed again on 9 March 2001 when he shaved the beard and mustache off during the encore break at a show at hometown Rockford’s Coronado Theater. Since then, Nielsen has retained the clean shaven look, together with designer suits. In the late 2000’s, he started wearing bowties again on stage.
TV, movie and radio appearances
Nielsen has made countless TV and radio appearances over the years with Cheap Trick, on music shows around the world, as well as American late night shows with Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno and David Letterman.
Outside of Cheap Trick, Nielsen's credits include appearing as a hijacked car driver in the 1987 movie “Disorderlies”. He and his wife appeared on HGTV’s “Homes of Note” in the early 1990’s. Nielsen appeared on an episode of The History Channel's show American Pickers that originally aired on March 11, 2013. The show followed the standard format with the show's two stars, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, picking Nielsen's various storage units full of items he has acquired through his years on tour.
In 2013, Nielsen appeared in Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City. In 2014, he appeared on the first episode of the Foo Fighters “Sonic Highways” documentary series, which focused on the city of Chicago. On October 17, 2014, Nielsen appeared on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman, playing with the Foo Fighters.
Work with other artists
Rick has guested on albums by artists such as John Lennon, Hall & Oates, Motley Crue, Foo Fighters, Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts, Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons, House of Lords and others, while Nielsen-written songs have been recorded by artists such as Rick Derringer and House of Lords
Rick displayed thirty four of his guitars at a free exhibit, “Customised Culture – Cars, Guitars, and Lowbrow Art” at the Rockford Art Museum from Feb 15 to April 21, 2002
On April 23, 2012, Nielsen and the Board of the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois, unveiled plans for “Rick's Picks: A Lifelong Affair with Guitars and Music”, an ambitious exhibit displaying Nielsen's passions for guitars, music and rock & roll. The exhibit ran from 11 August 2012 to 14 April 2013, attracting people from all over the world. Visitors were be able to see a huge collection of Nielsen's guitars, personal items, stage clothing and Cheap Trick memorabilia, and listen to rare audio material.
Nielsen involves himself widely in the local community in hometown Rockford, for example, being involved with the Rockford Icehogs charitable foundation. In addition, he was a major supporter of the renovation of the Coronado Theater, and one balcony seat is covered in black and white checkerboard in his honour.
Nielsen is co-owner of Chicago’s Piece brewery and gourmet pizzeria.
- Fender Custom
- Gibson Explorers
- Gibson Les Pauls
- Gretsch Malcolm Young Signature Guitar
- Hamer Guitars
- Gretsch White Penguin
- Fender Deluxe Reverb
- Fender Blues Deville
- Effects & Misc.
- Crybaby Rack Mount Wah
- Shure Wireless Units
- Audiotech Guitar Products Source Selector 1X6 Rack Mount Audio Switcher used for switching between guitars.
- Faioia, Ron (13 August 2012). "Rockford Exhibit Celebrates Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen". OnMilwaukee.com. Retrieved 23 December 2013.
- Tucson Weekly 4 Jul 2002 article "Magic Trick"
- from American Pickers episode aired March 11, 2013/
- "Rig Rundown - Cheap Trick". Premier Guitar. Retrieved September 28, 2012.
(book) Reputation is a Fragile Thing by Mike Hayes with Ken Sharp, published by Poptastic, 1998
- Greg Kot (April 27, 1997). "Cheap Trick: The Rockford-philes". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 23 January 2011.