Cheap Trick's Bun E. Carlos Meets Cheap Chick's Bunni Carlos

Suddenly it’s cool to be in a cover band — but not just any cover band. Your basic Top 40 wedding outfit in velvety blue tuxedoes? Sadly, they’re still nerdy. [Editor’s note: We foresee an avalanche of mail inspired by those last two sentences. Go ahead. Let ’er rip!] But to be truly cool, a cover band requires a hook, kind of like the winning formula that Judy Cocuzza and her bandmates contrived when they formed their all-woman Cheap Trick cover band named … what else? … Cheap Chick.

Not satisfied to merely play note-perfect renditions of classic Cheap Trick songs like “I Want You To Want Me” and “Surrender,” the four members adopt the onstage personas of their respective male counterparts. Thus former Betty Blowtorch drummer Cocuzza transforms into Bunni Carlos, right down to the oversized glasses, screaming polyester tie, and smoldering cig dangling from her lips.

It was an idea whose time had clearly come. In short order the Los Angeles-based band crammed its calendar with dates up and down the West Coast, often sharing the stage with other all-women cover bands such as The Iron Maidens, Mistress Of Reality (a Black Sabbath tribute), and AC/DShe. They’ve garnered praise in The National Enquirer and Creem, enjoyed coveted endorsement deals from musical equipment companies, and even found studly groupies hovering around the backstage door. Groupies, I’m telling ya!

Then there’s reality. Playing in a tribute band also involves tedious hours spent dropping the needle endlessly on the same two bars just to nail that one elusive lick buried behind a wall of guitars. Can you relate? You’re not alone. Most drummers who have been in that situation have fantasized how it would be so much easier if only they could just talk to the original drummer for a few minutes, pick their brains, and get some tips. That’s exactly what we decided to do when we hooked up Bunni Carlos to Bun E. Carlos and let the tape recorder roll. Here’s what they had to say.

Bunni: How does it feel to know there are bands like Cheap Chick playing your material?

Bun E: It’s the highest form of praise. It’s cool.

Bunni: What’s your favorite Cheap Trick song?

Bun E: [laughs] All of them! That’s a tough one because they are like your children, you know? It’s hard to choose just one. I like “Goodnight” now because I can really let loose and go crazy and do whatever I want on that one. Plus it’s the end of the set, so you can just let go and know you don’t have to play a whole set after that. “Elo Kiddies” was always a favorite, and also the hits, you know, the crowd favorites. It’s nice to play a song and feel the crowd reaction — that is always a good feeling.

Bunni: My favorites change too, sometimes from month-to-month or depending on the type of crowd we have. When we get the hardcore Cheap Trick fans out, playing some of the older songs like “He’s A Whore” or “Oh Caroline” are so great, because you see them getting into it and singing along. I hear you make the set lists. What are your favorite songs to open and close a set?

Bun E: I used to make the set lists, but now it’s a collaborative effort. I felt that the drummer has a better perspective of the whole picture. You know, they’re sitting back there taking it all in — the show, the crowd — while the guitar player and singer are running around and doing their thing. But these days we have a group effort. We used to start with “Hello There,” “Come On, Come On,” “Elo Kiddies,” but now we mix it up. I like to start off slow or with a song that builds to give the sound guy a chance to get his levels straight and dial stuff in. We like to build the set, too. It gives us a chance to warm up and then play a hit on the third song and go from there.

Bunni: We get a lot of fans that talk about when you guys did the first three albums each in its entirety three nights in a row out here [in L.A.] a while back. Cheap Chick did the whole Budokan album from start to finish, and the crowd response was great. Are you planning anything like that again?

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Bun E: That started as a radio promotion. I think it was Westwood One that had asked us to do that. We did it at the Roxy. I didn’t think too many people even know we were doing it at the time. Then we did the first three albums — one each night, three nights in a row. I don’t know if we can really do anything past the third album because there is more production on the records and parts that would be hard to reproduce. Some of the songs have multiple vocal and drum parts.

Bunni: What about Budokan?

Bun E: I don’t think I have the stamina to do that anymore. It gets hard when you are pushing 50. [laughs]

Bunni: Is there a song that you have played so much that you wouldn’t mind if you never played it again?

Bun E: Well, there are a few. I would say the songs that we didn’t write, like “The Flame.” “Don’t Be Cruel” is another one, and I would be like, “Oh no, not ’Don’t Be Cruel’ again.”

Bunni: I’ve tried to play your drum parts closely to what you originally recorded. Sometimes I’ll get a serious die-hard fan that will say to me, “Hey, you guys did the Budokan version of a certain song and you didn’t play the right fill after the second verse.”

Bun E: Wow, really? That’s amazing. They must be drummers.

Bunni: It’s tough, because I want to do the parts and the songs the right way, but also like to put some of my own fills in. How much have you changed your parts over the years?

Bun E: As you probably know, a lot of the songs get worked on for a while before they make it to a record. By then I really have the best part for the song worked out, so I don’t usually change it much from there. I mean, I will change up a fill or something like that, but I keep to the original ideas.

Bunni: Do you have any tuning tips you could give me to get that Bun E. Carlos sound?

Bun E: Well, I use standard drum sizes to start — 12", 13", 14", 16" toms, 26" kick. I usually take the top head off and tune the bottom head first. I tune it up until I get the drum to sing, [so that] I hit a note that stays — that’s pretty much where the drum wants to be. Then I’ll put the top head on and do the same there. They kind of tune themselves.

Bunni: I tune the same way — bottom head first. There is always a sweet spot on the drum and once I get that I also put the top head on as well. I’m glad to know we have the same approach.

Bun E: I try to tune them so when the drums are tuned right it forms a chord, say the 13" tom is a E, then that’s the base note, and the other like the 12" is a G and the 14" is a C. I like my kick drum to be tuned low and deep; again it kind of tunes itself. I don’t have any wrinkles or ripples in the head, but I tighten it up just enough.

Bunni: I also tune the kick that way. In fact, I can pretty much finger-tighten my lugs and I get a really great sound from my kick. How about your snare?

Bun E: I use a Black Beauty. I like to tune it up a little higher than most guys, but I just tune it the way I like it to sound.

Bunni: How do you describe your feel?

Bun E: Oh I don’t know, a little Dave Clark, a little Elvin Jones, ten percent Ginger Baker.

Bunni: That’s pretty good company to be in. What should I do before the show to get into that Bun E. Carlos headspace?

Bun E: [laughs] Let’s see, I eat a banana for potassium.

Bunni: A banana? Really?

Bun E: Yes, you know I passed out after a show a few months ago.

Bunni: I know. That was terrible. What happened?

Bun E: It was after a show in Seattle. We were on the bus and I started not to feel so good. I didn’t want to lie down in my bunk because I wasn’t sure if I was having a heart attack or something, and all I thought was, “I don’t want to die on the bus!” So we got on the CB and asked where the nearest hospital was and they said 250 miles. So I said, “Forget this. Pull the bus over and call the Highway Patrol.” They took me to a hospital back in Seattle. I passed out and when I woke up the doctors were saying I was dehydrated and needed potassium. I told them I drank Mountain Dew on stage.

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Bunni: Mountain Dew?

Bun E: I always have. I don’t like the stuff. I would never drink it off stage, but I drank it at shows because of the caffeine and sugar. The doctors told me that was a bad idea and to drink Gatorade because it has the electrolytes your body needs. So now I eat a banana and drink Gatorade.

Bunni: What’s your favorite flavor?

Bun E: They all taste bad. The green is the closest to Mountain Dew. But to answer the rest of the question, I walk around [before the show]. I used to stretch out more. I used to warm up about 30 minutes, but not anymore. Now I warm up about five minutes. At this stage of the game it doesn’t make a difference for me.

Bunni: I try to stretch out, and warming up varies for me, too. If I’ve been playing a lot I warm up about five to ten minutes as well. What advice would you give my bass player about locking into the rhythm section?

Bun E: To watch your timekeeper. If it’s the hat, the snare, whatever it is that you use to keep the time, she should watch and lock into it too. I feel sorry for your bass player.

Bunni: Really? Why?

Bun E: Because she has to play that 12-string!

Bunni: I know, but it really sounds great.

Bun E: Oh yeah, they do. The whole original idea behind that was to have a 12-string guitar and 12-string bass going. Tom [Petersson] had to wait forever for Hamer to build it, but after he got it Hamer started selling them like crazy.

Bunni: Pam [Cheatersson] has a Hamer 12-string. It really makes the sound of the band come alive. We’ve practiced before without it, but when she came to rehearsal the first time and plugged that in it was like: ahhh, that’s the Cheap Trick sound! It was great. The girls are always harassing me to bring the big sticks for the end of the show. What happened to your big sticks?

Bun E: I used to play a Radio King kit with a heavy double-braced tom holder and they could take the heavy sticks. But the new stuff just can’t take the beating. I was breaking parts off the cymbals stands and breaking about a cymbal a week, and that was before I had any endorsements.

Bunni: That can get expensive.

Bun E: I know! The new gear just can’t take the beating — those sticks are heavy. They were promotional sticks from Pro-Mark. The idea behind the big sticks was that I was going to do a really big drum solo that no one could top because I had these huge sticks. But I had to retire the sticks because the gear just

couldn’t take it.

Bunni: I saw you and Torry C. from The Donnas in a Target commercial that was awesome! I got a lot of phone calls when that came out asking me why I wasn’t in that commercial with you.

Bun E: That’s funny. I got a lot of calls from friends thinking that it was a look-alike in the commercial. Yes, we should do a commercial together. That would be great, anytime. I wish I could do three or four commercials a year — then I wouldn’t have to work.

Bunni: Yeah, me too. Well, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time out to talk to me.

Bun E: Sure. I’ll see you in Los Angeles the next time we are out there.