My interview with Cheap Trick lead singer Robin Zander begins in eight minutes inside the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. I’m trapped outside the gate and no one can find my press credentials so I can get in. I’m starting to get a little nervous.
It all started a few months earlier when a colleague asked if I wanted to interview Zander who served as lead singer on a song called, “The Warrior’s Hymn,” by composer Shawn K. Clement who co-produced the project with legendary music producer Jack Douglas. Clement created the song to help raise money and awareness for wounded warriors which sounds like a great cause to me. “Sure,” I replied, having no real idea of the legends I was about to interview.
When I began my research, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Shawn K. Clement has 300 television and film credits on his resume. He’s created production music for shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, American Idol, The Colbert Report, The Osbournes, Extreme Makeover, etc. Any programs with titles like The World’s Wildest…, Most Daring…, Most Shocking…, World’s Dumbest….chances are Clement composed the background music. You may not recognize his name, but he’s one of the most respected songwriters in the industry.
Also on the agenda, producer Jack Douglas who was a close friend of John Lennon. John Lennon! He was one of the last people to see Lennon alive and spent the day after his murder alone with Yoko Ono. They spent about eight hours together, in shock, listening to every song Lennon ever created.
In addition, Douglas produced some of the most iconic talent in rock and roll history (Lennon, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, The Who, Blue Oyster Cult, etc.). He had some GREAT stories including the one where he and Aerosmith invented rap music. When sharing that story, the most common response I get….”NO, THEY DID NOT!!!” That’s always fun. One more thing, Douglas considers Clement to be a musical genius.
Finally, I could not pass up the opportunity to interview Robin Zander. I got hooked on Cheap Trick the very first time I heard him say, “I want you to want me!” The album, “Cheap Trick at Budokan” was THE album for the summer of 1979 for me and my friends.
As an added bonus, the record really irritated one of my summer recreation counselors that year (I have no idea why). During our summer vacations, my friends and I attended “recreation” where we played sports and other activities under adult supervision at a nearby school. It kept us busy and out of trouble. As a snot-nosed teenager, the fact Cheap Trick bothered my grown-up counselor made the band all the more cool.
If given the chance, it was a story I would share with Zander and Douglas, who both worked on “Budokan.” As I began talking to Clement’s manager, Ed Cohen, I tried to not get too excited. Far too many times, I’ve had an interview, which seemed to be a done deal, completely fall apart at the last minute. People who work in the entertainment industry have unbelievably crushing schedules. Everything needs to be set weeks in advance. One little change and that’s that.
Anyway, the day of the interview finally arrived without any last minute changes. I showed up two hours before interview time to pick up my press credentials. I planned to conduct my interviews before Cheap Trick’s concert later in the evening. Showing up early has paid off more times than I can count, but this time, it worked against me.
The Will Call office did not have the press passes. The lady behind the glass said they might be at the Press Gate. Of course, when we get to the Press Gate…no luck. To make matters even more perfect, my cell phone reads, “No Service.” (This kind of stuff is pretty standard…which is why I ALWAYS show up very early.)
Fortunately, I’m not alone. I’m with Ed Cohen, Clement’s manager (his cell doesn’t have service either), and Air Force Staff Sergeant Kristina LaCoste, who will be my photographer for the evening. We manage to get a message to Carla Dragotti, Cheap Trick Tour Manager. Her message back….”You’re too early. Stay right there. I’ll be there in two minutes.”
Two hours pass by. My interview starts in eight minutes. One thing to keep in mind, Dragotti has a mind-blowing number of details she must handle at these events. To make things worse, Foreigner is the lead act for the evening. The headliner sets the agenda (generally at the last minute). Everyone else must then conform.
I look at Cohen and say, “I’m starting to get a little nervous.” I’m now envisioning a scenario where we turn around and go home for the evening with nothing. LaCoste then says, “Let me go back to Will Call. Maybe the passes are there.” As it turns out…that’s where they are.
In keeping with the theme of the evening, LaCoste went to the Will Call window, but only I can pick them up. I begin running up the hill (you just knew Will Call had to be UP hill). A little background on me and “running”…I retired from the Air Force in 2009. Those who witnessed my last few PT tests probably still chuckle at my annual mile and a half “run.” However, there’s no time for pride and I try to ignore the amused looks as I’m “running” up the hill.
I pick up the passes. I run back down the hill (Things are picking up…downhill this time). We rush inside and the interviews begin. These interviews would later become a special edition of my daily radio show called, “Lunchtime Licks,” featuring, “The Warrior’s Hymn.” During the show, if you listen closely to the first few questions I ask Zander, I’m still a little out of breath.
Robin Zander was incredibly gracious that evening. He allowed AFN to interview Shawn K. Clement and Jack Douglas in his dressing room as he prepared for his concert. This required him to dress in his private bathroom which was not air conditioned on a hot Southern California night. When Douglas asked how he was doing, Zander yelled back, “I’m melting!” Not too many famous musicians would do the same.
In the end, the evening was a tremendous success. We got entertaining interviews from all three gentlemen. LaCoste took some great photos. The Cheap Trick and Foreigner shows were fantastic. It was just one of those nights I will remember for a long time.
As we left the parking lot and starting driving home, my cellphone service suddenly returned. All at once, I received several text messages from Dragotti which were sent much earlier in the evening. They were all various versions of, “You’re too early.” Yes, I suppose I was.
Lunchtime Licks Special Edition, SEP 2017
George Maurer, Contributing Writer