“All of me is nervous,” Cheap Trick lead singer Robin Zander tells Billboard two days ahead of his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tonight (April 8). “I’m afraid to walk and trip; I’m afraid to talk and slip; I’m afraid to do all those things. But I think it will all come together. The music industry is a smaller world the older you get. These are my friends.”
If the frontman of the massively influential, historically underrated rock outfit sounds like he’s talking himself out of a panic ahead of Cheap Trick’s induction, he can at least rest assured knowing that unlike many bands who’ve entered the RRHOF’s ranks, at least his musical compatriots wantto be there together as a team.
The same can’t be said for Deep Purple, who, along with Cheap Trick, Chicago, Steve Miller and N.W.A, make up the Class of 2016. That pioneering hard rock band’s numerous lineup changes and ongoing tensions (not to mention the death of cornerstone member Jon Lord in 2012) will make their induction tonight a more fragmented affair.
“It will be a little disjointed,” former Deep Purple bassist/singer Glenn Hughes admits to Billboard. “A couple of us aren’t going to be there because they’re dead, and a couple… or three… or four… aren’t being inducted.” And then there’s Ritchie Blackmore, the band’s most iconic guitarist, who has made it clear he will not be attending. “I can’t lie to you. I wish I could tell you we’re all brothers, but we don’t get together enough,” Hughes laments. “But I hope we can be a band, a family [at the induction ceremony].”
Hughes says he recently made a last-ditch effort to get Blackmore to attend the RRHOF ceremony, but couldn’t even get him on the phone.
“I did try to coax him into it,” Hughes says. “His wife answered the phone and said, ‘He’s not coming.’ It was very normal — there wasn’t any back and forth. ‘He’s not coming but he loves his fans,’ that’s what I was told to say.”
Regardless, Hughes seems genuinely humbled by the impending honor. “We’re so stricken with gratitude. It’s strange thing to say ‘stricken with gratitude,’ but I am.”
Both soon-to-be Hall of Famers spoke to Billboard on the evening of April 6 at a pre-Rock Hall event hosted by John Varvatos and Klipsch, an audio company with a history slightly longer than rock music itself (it was formed in Arkansas in 1946, less than a decade before rock n’ roll started gestating in the U.S.).
The evening featured Zander, Hughes, Guns N’ Roses‘ Matt Sorum (a friend of theirs and former inductee) and John Varvatos — whose Bowery store, formerly the site of CBGB, hosted the event — talking in a group Q&A. It was set up like a panel, but it felt more like watching three friends, who just happen to be rock legends, sit around and shoot the shit about their early days and inspirations. The conversation moved so organically, calling it “honest” misses the point — it was just three guys with crazy histories guilelessly sharing their rock memories.
For example, after some prodding, Hughes shared an insane story about a female police officer handcuffing him for doing cocaine in public, and then undressing in front of him and sexually…”prosecuting” him, as it were (the euphemism “prosecuting” was suggested by his wife, who was in the audience laughing; she undoubtedly already knows the story from his 2011 autobiography).
While Hughes and Sorum shared stories touching on their respective band’s troubled pasts (Sorum referred to his Rock Hall induction as one of the few good experiences to come out of GnR), Cheap Trick’s Zander shared the secret to keeping a band together while speaking to Billboard after the event.
“Don’t shit in each other’s backyard. It’s as simple as that,” Zander says sagely. “I think that’s one of the reasons that kept us together so long. We don’t hang out, we don’t have a commune; we live in separate towns. But when we do get together to tour or make a record, we have a lot in common. There’s a musical superglue.” The living proof: The 42-year-old band just released its 17th studio album, Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello, last week.
As for Sorum, whose tenure with his Rock Hall band has long passed, he admits that while it’s nice to have a band to wake up to each morning, the “hustle [has] kept me fresh.” To that end, Sorum is going on tour with the Hollywood Vampires — the rock supergroup that includes Alice Cooper, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and actor Johnny Depp — this summer.
“He’s an artist,” Sorum tells Billboard of the Pirates captain-turned-guitarist. “[Depp] embodies all of what art should be. He studies his craft, he grew up with great rock n’ roll and he came to L.A. to be a musician. He plays great, and he obviously looks the part.”
Aside from music, Sorum is also getting into the world of music journalism with his just-launched blog The Musician’s Ear, which he started to fill a void he saw in online discussions about rock and metal. “I was tired of seeing websites like Blabbermouth and stuff like that,” Sorum says. “I thought we were missing something.” As Sorum started the site with his friend Seth Frank, founder of SoundStage Direct, the blog also focuses on vinyl and general audiophile-related matters. Like an increasing number of music fans, Sorum insists something is lost when music is listened to solely through streaming. “There’s the sound of the needle going on the record,” he says. “I have this beautiful VPI turntable set up with Klipsch speakers,” he says, nodding to the audiophile-approved company that brought the night together. “I get the record, get a cocktail going, light the fire, and put the needle on. It’s different than clicking play on your iPod. I stress that everyone should try it.”
As for his place in rock history, the former Guns N’ Roses drummer seems a bit self-conscious to have been inducted in the Rock Hall a few years ahead of the other legends on hand that night. “Deep Purple and Cheap Trick were part of my top 5 in my record collection as a kid. I saw Glenn [Hughes] in Long Beach Arena and I saw Cheap Trick at the Forum. These guys are my heroes,” he says, sounding suddenly like an earnest teenager. “The fact that I got in three years ago is almost a little sacrilege for me. These guys should be first. There’s a pecking order to rock n’ roll — I learned from them. They handed down the greatness.”
Regardless, they’ll walk away full-fledged members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when they exit Brooklyn’s Barclays Center tonight.