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'Greetings from Bunezuela!'

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In this May 2, 2009 file photo, Tinted Windows drummer Bun E. Carlos, formerly of Cheap Trick, performs in Atlantic City, N.J. In this May 2, 2009 file photo, Tinted Windows drummer Bun E. Carlos, formerly of Cheap Trick, performs in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP photo/Charles Sykes, Invision)

An interview with rocker Bun E. Carlos

Fans held their breath at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in April of this year when the four original members of Cheap Trick, one of America's most beloved bands, took the stage for the first time in more than six years. It was a short-lived reunion - one that drummer Bun E. Carlos says may never happen again.

'Yeah, me and the singer (Robin Zander) don't get along,' Carlos said in a recent phone interview from his home in Illinois. 'So they go out and tour and I stay home. That's kind of how I see the future. We snipe and bark at each other like a bunch of old hens. I doubt I'll be on the road with those guys unless someone shows up with a bucket of money and dumps it in my lap.'

With a sizable stake in Cheap Trick business, Carlos is technically still a member, but the three other members now perform with guitarist Rick Nielsen's son Daxx on drums.

Not content to waste time stewing about inter-band dysfunction, Carlos has brought to fruition a project that's been brewing for decades. He gathered a group of indie-rock pals to record 'Greetings From Bunezuela!' - an album of semi-obscure rock nuggets performed with gloriously ragged power-pop abandon.

'I've talked about doing a covers album for years and years and had a list of songs going in a desk,' Carlos said. 'If I'd get a new album or hear an old song on the radio that I liked, I'd write it on a piece of paper and it would go in the drawer. For this record, we did two songs at a time so it was kind of like cutting singles back in the 60s. I'm in for two.'

On 'Greetings From Bunezuela,' Carlos is joined by Wilco bassist John Stirrat, who takes the lead on a faithful cover of The Who's 'Armenia City in the Sky' (the opening track on 1967's 'The Who Sell Out'). Carlos remembers seeing The Who in Chicago in 1968 and convincing one of their roadies to let him help set up Keith Moon's drums for the show.

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum takes on Bob Dylan's 'It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry' (originally from 'Highway 61 Revisited').

'I've always liked the song and thought that it would be a great one for the record,' Carlos says. 'Dave called and said I heard you're doing an album - do you have a song for me?' I said Dave, you're from Minneapolis and the guy who wrote is from up north there, this will go well together.' And it did.'

A long-time friend and fan of Robert Pollard and his band Guided By Voices, Carlos asked the indie-rock legend to consider doing one of his own songs. The result - 'Do Something Real' was selected as the album opener.

'He asked to do another one and I gave him a CD with a dozen tunes on it,' Carlos told me. 'He chose The Bee Gees tune Idea' (an album cut from 1968).'

Carlos remembers Guided By Voices opening for Cheap Trick in the 80s and early 90s and co-headlining in later years.

'When they played, I'd grab a cowbell or something and show up on their stage. It was like that with pretty much everyone on the record. I have a lot of their CDs in my record collection.'

In 2009, Carlos was part of the supergroup Tinted Windows alongside James Iha of The Smashing Pumpkins and Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne. It was while with this outfit that he befriended Hanson, the trio of brothers who had most of the globe humming 'MMMBop' in 1997. 'We rehearsed in Tulsa and got to know the guys,' Carlos said.

For his album's rollicking take on the Paul Revere and the Raiders garage rock anthem 'Him Or Me,' Carlos asked Taylor Hanson to take the lead.

'When they were kids, their dad would buy them compilations when they lived out in the middle of nowhere,' Carlos says. 'They grew up listening to 50s and 60s rock. They're a really rockin' live band. I sent 'Him Or Me' to Taylor and asked him to do the vocals and it came back with all of the Hanson brothers on it, so I got the good deal on that one!'

Tex-Mex roots-rock road warrior Alejandro Escovedo appears on two of the album's standout cuts, including a take on 'Tell Me,' an early Rolling Stones single.

'Any song Alejandro approaches, he gives it his own identity,' Carlos told me. 'The guy sounds great and plays great. It was a pleasure getting him in.'

With no desire or expectation to ever again join Cheap Trick onstage, Carlos only needs to walk downstairs if he wants to relive those days. As the band's archivist, he holds the key to the group's expansive vault of live recordings.

'I probably have five thousand shows down in the basement, boxed up and sorted out,' Carlos says. 'They're on cassettes, CDs, DAT tapes, open reel tapes, all sorts of formats.'

'Greetings From Bunezuela!' is an audio love-letter from Carlos to the bands and singers who shaped his musical formative years. He can't imagine where his life would have led without them.

'Return To Sender' by Elvis Presley was the first single I bought when I was in grade school,' he recalls. 'And six months later, The Beatles came along. Then it was all over (laughs). I knew what I wanted to do with a set of drums which was to get out and make a bunch of noise, but I never thought someone would pay me to do it. It turned out good that way.'


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