But looking back today, there are few veteran rock bands that have been as universally beloved, influential, and successful as the Rockford, Illinois band (heck, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016). Hence, it’s almost unfathomable to conceive that at one point during the decade, Cheap Trick would be opening a string of arena dates for a then-still new Ratt in 1986 – who were riding high with such hits as “Round and Round,” “Lay It Down,” and “Dance.”
In my new book, World Infestation: The Ratt Story, then-Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos was willing to look back at the time Cheap Trick opened for the L.A. glam metal band – who was touring at the time in support of their platinum LP, Dancing Undercover.
“We weren’t doing much business – we had The Doctor out,” Carlos recalled. “Probably the office called and said, ‘We got you out as special guests with Ratt. Here’s a list of dates…get on a bus and go.’ We’d done that before – being middle of the bill with somebody. Nothing unusual there, as it’s a way to pay the bills.”
As with most veteran ’70s rock bands hitting a rough stretch of road career-wise in the ’80s, Cheap Trick’s latest offering was certainly not their strongest – especially from a sonic standpoint, as Tony Platt’s glossy/electro-sounding production simply screams “80s.” And not in a good way. “All the records sounded noisy back then – they all had that noise gate on them,” remembers Carlos. “The music scene wasn’t the greatest music in the world in 1986, as I recall. Not for me, anyway. Or most of the bands I liked – the Stones – were putting out stuff like Dirty Work, their worst album ever.”
“We weren’t selling any records and we weren’t getting along with the label in ’86. We were still kind of ‘at war’ with them – they were busy ignoring us, and we were kind of doing the same. The only way we were paying our bills, paying our roadies and retainers on time off was if we were out gigging. So, we’d get a call from someone like Ratt and, ‘We’ll give you this much a night to go on the road with us.’ And by being on the road with those guys, we’d kind of give them credibility by opening for them. And they paid good money to have us out there with them. And we sold a lot of tickets for them, too – because that was our ‘west coast tour’ for that year. We weren’t exactly cheap to get hired. So, it was good for Ratt, it was good for Poison as it turned out, and it was good for us, too – ’cause it paid the bills.”
“Of course, we would rather have been headlining our own arena shows, but our latest single [‘It’s Only Love’] hadn’t done much business. We weren’t crazy about going back and playing big clubs for big bucks – we’d rather play arenas. So, when someone like Ratt called, we were glad to go, ‘Yeah, OK. We’ll go out with you.’ They’d give us a good amount of stage, a good amount of lights – they didn’t treat us like shit or nothing, or else we wouldn’t be there. So, it was good for us at the same time.”
We went walking through Stephen’s dressing room, and there’s all this crap hanging on the walls and the lights are dimmed, a Playboy magazine on the table or something goofy like that. It was like a real ‘stud muffin dressing room.’
And once Cheap Trick hit the road with Ratt, it didn’t take long for Carlos to form opinions concerning certain members of the headlining act. “Bobby [Blotzer] was sloshed every night – half the crew avoided him. It was ‘party central.’ Robbin [Crosby] was always pretty screwed up – he was definitely the hardest partying dude in that bunch. But they were all really nice guys. Stephen [Pearcy] had his own dressing room – which everyone thought was kind of a joke. He was ‘the lead singer.'”
“I remember one night one of the guys said, ‘Let me show you something in the dressing room,’ and you had to walk through Stephen’s dressing room, and then the back of his dressing room was another door for the band’s dressing room. We went walking through Stephen’s dressing room, and there’s all this crap hanging on the walls and the lights are dimmed, a Playboy magazine on the table or something goofy like that. It was like a real ‘stud muffin dressing room.’ He probably didn’t get the respect from everybody on the tour that he thought he should get. I remember Warren [DeMartini] was a nice guy – a pretty serious guy. And Juan [Croucier] was a nice guy. So, there’s a little of this going on and a little of that going on…and the lead singer.”
“At the time, they were kind of a ‘one hit wonder,’ but they were riding it for all it was worth. And Bobby was walking around like he was the best fucking drummer in the world. He was a good drummer…but he wasn’t the best fucking drummer in the world. The crowd was the usual kind of crowd – we’d been out maybe the year before with someone like 38 Special or REO Speedwagon. It was all the same kind of gigs – playing the same arenas, same dressing rooms, the same old everything that had been going on for years and years by then. The tour went well – I remember we did out west and down south.”
Also, for at least a few shows on the Dancing tour, fans were treated to a three-band bill – Ratt, Cheap Trick, and Poison. “Poison were young guys, they were just starting out,” recalls Carlos. “They were huge Cheap Trick fans – there were a couple of tunes on that first album [1986’s Look What the Cat Dragged In] which were basically Cheap Trick songs rewritten. They were fun to watch, because they’d get up there and they were running around, and CC [DeVille] is everywhere on stage, Rikki [Rockett] is jumping up and down behind the drums…and the singer was the singer.” [Laughs]
Greg Prato is a longtime AllMusic contributor. World Infestation: The Ratt Story is available as paperback, hardcover, and Kindle versions (and soon, an audio version).