Cheap Trick's Robin Zander holds the distinction of being perhaps the only singer in rock history whose influence can be detected in such polar opposite musical styles as '80s glam metal (Mötley Crüe's Vince Neil, Enuff Z'nuff's Donnie Vie), and '90s alternative (Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Stone Temple Pilots' Scott Weiland, etc.). Born on January 23, 1953 in Beloit, Wisconsin (but raised in Loves Park, Illinois), Zander discovered his fondness for music via his father's jazz band, as well as his older sister's record collection. But as with countless other subsequent musicians, it was the Beatles' infamous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show that inspired Zander to pick up the guitar, and play in various high-school bands. By the dawn of the '70s, Zander turned his back on rock for a spell, as he played in a folk band with a piano player (Zander and Kent), which held down a residency for three summers at the Wisconsin Dells Picadilly Pub. Between breaks however, Zander would play in groups that featured drummer Bun E. Carlos. But it wasn't until a stint during the early '70s where Zander hitchhiked across Europe that he was approached by Carlos and his bandmates to join their group full-time (who just happened to be in France on a night that Zander was playing a solo show at a pub). Zander was still under contract with Wisconsin Dells however, and had to decline the offer. By September of 1974, Zander had moved back to the U.S., and his contract with the Dells had finally expired -- resulting in a second invite to join Carlos' band, Cheap Trick (which also included guitarist Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson). This time, Zander accepted.
The Rockford, Illinois-based quartet played the area steadily during the mid-'70s, during which time Zander's pin-up good looks were incorporated into the group's image -- Zander and Petersson would be the 'cool guys,' while Carlos and Nielsen would be 'the nerds.' The ploy worked, as the group signed a recording contract with Epic, and issued a trio of underappreciated studio albums that combined power pop, punk, and hard rock -- 1977's self-titled debut, and In Color, plus 1978's Heaven Tonight. It wasn't until 1979's classic concert recording, Live at Budokan, that the band took off, resulting in Zander briefly becoming one of rock's leading teen idols. But Cheap Trick's success was fleeting, as a string of unfocused albums during the '80s saw the group (which had lost Petersson along the way to a solo career) barely stay afloat. Zander performed a one-off solo show in 1983 at Rockford's Midway Theater (backed by an orchestra and choir for select numbers), performing everything from versions of "Ava Maria" and "Nights in White Satin" to Cheap Trick standards, and was also invited to join a group being assembled by former UFO bassist Pete Way. Although such activity would lead one to think that perhaps Zander was contemplating leaving the group, he remained a member of Cheap Trick through the thick and thin.
Almost immediately upon Petersson's re-entry into the group in 1988, Cheap Trick issued their first hit album in years, Lap of Luxury, which helped introduce the quartet to the MTV generation. Around the same time, Zander began duet ting with others, including soul singer Rebbie Jackson ("You Send the Rain Away" from her Reaction album) and with Heart's Ann Wilson (the Top Ten hit "Surrender to Me," from the motion picture soundtrack for Tequila Sunrise). The '90s saw Cheap Trick continue issuing albums and touring, while Zander found the time in 1993 to issue a self-titled solo debut. The album failed to ignite the charts, but did include an impressive roster of guest talent -- including Stevie Nicks, Dr. John, Maria McKee, Don Felder, Mick Fleetwood, Dave Stewart, and members of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. In addition to his solo work and Cheap Trick releases, Zander has guested on several other artists' albums over the years, including Mötley Crüe's Dr. Feelgood, the Posies' Amazing Disgrace, Shudder to Think's First Love, Last Rites, Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana's All the King's Men, Foreigner's Complete Greatest Hits, Boot Camp's As You Were, and on a Queen tribute, Stone Cold Queen: A Tribute. ~ Greg Prato