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Catch up with Cheap Trick 30 years after Budokan

Rick Nielsen and producer Jack Douglas reflect on Cheap Trick's classic live album.

“All right, Tokyo, are you ready?” With these words Cheap Trick took its first steps to international stardom.

Oddly enough, fame in the Land of the Rising Sun came more swiftly than in their home country, or even the band’s home state of Illinois. When Cheap Trick arrived in Japan, the members were puzzled as to why thousands of people were waiting on the runway.

Guitarist Rick Nielsen reflects back on arriving in Japan for the concerts that became Live at Budokan.

“All four of us rode in coach on Northwest Orient Airlines. When we landed, we saw all of these people screaming and yelling, and we thought somebody famous was on the plane. As we were in coach, we were the last ones to get off the plane. Only then did we realize they were there to see us.”

In retrospect, Cheap Trick’s success in Japan makes sense. Looking back, it becomes easy to see how the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. At the time, however, one could never have predicted the events that unfolded to bring Cheap Trick fame and fortune. It all began when Cheap Trick was asked to open for Queen on a 1977 tour of Japan. The Japanese press showed up in droves to cover the headlining act and, in the process, discovered Cheap Trick.

Trick returned later the same year to open for rock gods Kiss and were, once again, greeted with praise from the music press. A Japanese journalist approached Nielsen and asked him to write an article for the magazine. At first, the guitarist was unsure of why they asked him to write the article but agreed to give to give it a try.

“I told them I was not that kind of writer but that I would do it,” says Nielsen.

This small gesture spurred the beginnings of what would become known as Trick Mania. Nielsen recalls the changes the band began to see after he penned the article.

“A couple of months later, we started getting magazine clips with little caricatures of us. We had seen little clips before for bands like Kiss, Queen and The Beatles, but these were of us.”

In addition to the adulation, the band began receiving something they had never had before: Fan mail. “It started out as one piece here, and one piece there, but after awhile we were getting a hundred pieces a day coming into our office in Wisconsin from Japanese people,” says Nielsen. “I wasn’t getting fan mail from people who lived across town, let alone from people living halfway around the world.”

The band were invited to return to Japan in 1978 to headline a week of concerts. The shows were to be recorded for a Japanese-only live album. Trick was not prepared for what was waiting for them on the tarmac, let alone the rest of the country.

“When we were riding from the airport to the hotel, there was cab after cab after cab chasing us down the street,” Nielsen remembers. “They would try to pass us and be hanging out the window yelling at us. It was very dangerous, but it was also pretty darn cool.”

The mayhem continued at the band’s hotel.

“It was crazy. We stayed on the 28th floor,” Nielsen laughs. “You would look out the window and the fans would know where you were. Every time we looked out the window, it was pandemonium. We couldn’t leave unless we were driven away from the hotel. Once we were away from the hotel, then we could walk around a bit. Thirty years ago, going to Japan was like landing on the moon. It was all Japanese people, we stuck out like a sore thumb, or a sore Illinoisan.”

Crowd control was not the only worry the band had to deal with at the time. Cheap Trick had been slogging it out on the road for years, playing in clubs before becoming a perpetual opening act. Both trips