Was this difficult, since you hadn't played in almost two years?
This is the funny thing, Tom. I didn't tell them, but I had been practicing these songs, and my fingers hurt so bad ... and when I showed up at the rehearsal, I had to keep turning around when I was playing because my fingers hurt so bad and I didn't want them to see how much pain I was in. I mean, I had no calluses; they were gone.
I know the feeling.
And I thought, "Oh, God! Oh, God!" And then turn around and be all smiles, you know? (laughs) Oh, it was painful.
Robin and Pam (Courtesy Cheap Chick)
(Laughs) Suffer for your art ...
Yeah, and all the soloing I was doing, that's where the pain was coming in. And they were saying, "Ah, okay, that sounds cool." But Pam told me later, "Every time you turned your back, we were saying, 'Oh, my God! Oh, my God! She's the one! She's the one!'" (laughs) I had no clue, I was just like "I hope they like me ..."
So, you already liked Cheap Trick ...
And, you obviously had the chops to do the job ...
That's what they thought, yeah.
Then comes the wardrobe.
(Laughs) Yeah. That part I wasn't as crazy about, but I knew, if I joined that band, that was what I was going to have to do. I was going to have the wear the goofy getup. Hey, Rick Nielsen doesn't even wear that stuff anymore! Now, he's Mr. Cool with his sunglasses and his suit. The only thing (from those days) he wears now is the hat, and he doesn't pull that up, you know, put the brim up, like he used to. He's like Mr. Ultracool now. But they wanted me to dress like he did in the 70s. And I was like, "Oooooookay ..."
But, you make that outfit look very nice.
But Pam, she was so cool. She went out and found me clothes. She hooked me up with an Explorer from a music store - she has so many contacts and she knows so many people - she hooked me up with the right clothes, she hooked me up with a guy that could sell me a guitar for cost. She hooked me up with picks, so I'd have the right kind of picks, she hooked me up with the right artwork. She was the mastermind behind that whole band, and she did so much to help me. She even went out and got me a bunch of old albums - vinyl records - that were KISS albums for me to throw out in the crowd during "Surrender," just like Rick Nielsen.
She did everything to get me all up to speed and comfortable. She did everything to make everything smooth for me. And I really appreciated that. So I had the sweater and the hat. And the guitar she helped me get, I wasn't that happy with it, I think it was the Korean-made version of the Hamer Explorer. So I finally saved up money from the gigs - she was getting us paying gigs, I mean, we were getting paid and everything - and I bought a Gibson Explorer, a used one from 1980, and had it "Tricked" out with a Floyd Rose. I got some contact paper from Kristi, some checkerboard contact paper, and I put that on it. And that's the guitar I play, and it just plays like a dream.
But that isn't the only one you play.
Oh! But here's another thing. I had that guitar all fixed up by my guitar person, who happens to be the person who does all my guitars and builds all my guitars and does everything to 'em. She happens to be the lead guitarist for ThundHerStruck!
Tina Wood. Right. I had never even heard of a female guitar luthier, but she's amazing. She's a guitar luthier, she studied in England, she's done guitars for a lot of cool people. She's refretted five of my guitars and she just did an excellent job on that Explorer. She's very cool and she's a great guitar player.
And you also have that lucite Flying V.
Yeah, I got that from a guy, he's played in a bunch of fine bands, and his name's Bernard. I saw him playing that with one of his bands, and I told him, "Dude, if you ever want to sell that, please call me first." And, the next thing I know, I've got it (laughs).
Is it mainly those two with Cheap Chick?
Well, no ... it varies. I have an endorsement - Pam, again, being the mastermind that she is - I never imagined, Tom, and please put this in print, I never imagined that playing in a tribute band would land me all these endorsements, an article in Spin magazine, showcasing at the NAMM show ... I just never imagined any of that happening.
And it's mainly a Marshall amp for you?
Yeah, my first love is Marshall. I've gone through all kinds of amps, and all kinds of ways, I've experimented with all kinds of stuff, especially in my teens, when I was trying to figure out what I liked.
And I always came back to Marshall. I have a Marshall JCM-900 and I have an old, vintage, 50-watt MK-2. It's probably (from) around 1971, right around there.
Yeah, I really love that amp. And my favorite guitar always changes from year to year, but right now it's my Les Paul Custom, and my Gibson 335, which is a '73 and plays like a dream. And I have a custom guitar that this company called Robin (laughs) made for me, they're down in Houston. I had an endorsement with them back when I was in XOX, and they made a couple of guitars for me, and there's one that I just love.
And I really like my Switch guitars, they're a good, working musician's guitar.
Robin with Switch guitars
& Drive amp
(Courtesy Robin Beacham)
Now, those are ... some sort of plastic, or polymer?
Well, it's not plastic and it's not wood. It's some sort of space-age, rocket ship material ... it's some kind of stuff they use on the Space Shuttle or something, and they pour into a mold, and it's set in a mold to intonate whatever guitar they're emulating. I mean, if it's a Les Paul-shaped guitar, it's tone is similar in wood mass to a Les Paul. It's the weirdest thing.
Yeah. They got it down to a science. And so the whole guitar is one piece, so then they string it up, and it works really well!
Is the fretboard wood, or what is it?
It's another thing they made. The (guitar) material that they pour into the mold is called Vibracell, and the fingerboard - you can either get rosewood or this thing they made ... it's another material, and I can't think of the name of it, but I think it's Ebonite (NOTE: She is correct. - T.W.). It looks like ebony, and it's slick, real slick. And it's great for lead playing because there's no drag at all, it's just totally slick. And their acoustic-electrics that they just came out with, the semi-hollow (bodies), they're really sweet. And you can't beat the price on those things. I mean, Gibson, good Lord! But, for less than a grand, you can get one of these and they play really well. I'd say they're equivalent to an Epiphone, a Gibson Epiphone.
And you use their amps, too.
Yes, I have a Drive (G 120 DSP) amp. It's a good, clean distortion, they're easily mobile, that's what I like about 'em. I can just throw 'em up on stage and go. So when we do smaller shows on smaller stages, or when we're having to travel, like we have a Cheap Chick van ...
(Laughs) ... And we can't fit everything in it - you know, the Marshall takes up a lot of space - I'll take that Drive amp. It's a great-sounding amp.
And there's another amp in the arsenal now, a Valvetech?
Yeah, there's this guy, his name is Rob Pierce, and this is his company. Pam kinda turned me on to these amps, she told me about them. And he's a very nice guy, and he built this amp specifically for me. I told him what I liked, that real, straight-ahead, in your face, ballsy sound, and he said, "Okay, this is the kind of speaker we'll put in it, this is the kind of electronics I'll put in it."
And it's only 22 watts?
Yeah, but it's loud. When they told me that, I said, "Well, I don't know if that's going to be enough," and he said, "Don't worry; it'll be enough." So, yeah, it's a nice amp.
And, for pedals, what do you use?
Well, my main pedal is the Marshall Gov'nor GV2. I kick that on for soloing to get tons of sustain. I use a vintage '70's era MXR Flanger. I had to buy the Van Halen Phase 90 they recently came out with, complete with the VH stripes. I use a Vox wah when necessary and a Rocktron Banshee Talk Box for "Sweet Emotion," and I also have a Rocktron Hush pedal. I used to use a rack of effects with a MIDI controller, but in the last few years in the tribute bands I've scaled down to just a few pedals.
And, more recently, a string endorsement?
Yeah, that's something else that came out of the (2007) NAMM show, too. I got to talk to the guys over at Curt Mangan Strings. This guy really knows what he's doing. I actually met him at the NAMM show a year ago and then met him again this time, and now I'm going to be using their strings and working with them. And I tell you what, I go through a lot of strings, so this is very nice. And (Curt) is a nice guy, and he makes real premium strings. And I use Floyd Rose tremelos on a lot of my guitars, and that puts a lot of stress on the strings. And his strings stay in tune really good and last, you know? So, I was really happy when they wanted to work with me on an endorsement. I always like to work with people when I'm really happy with the product.
Right. One of the earlier gigs, I remember Pam mentioning, was in a strip club?
Oh, she told you about that? (Laughs) Yeah, we played a club called Club Vodka, and their thing is to have that old 80s vibe, the headbanger thing ... It was more like "hair band" type stuff ... a lot of long hair, a lot of bikers. And I didn't realize they were going to do this, but they had like burlesque dancers. They weren't completely nude, they kept their (panties) on and they had like pasties, I think. So, it was kind of a strip club but not really.
And they kept dancing, even while we played. I figured they'd be dancing in-between the bands but not during the bands. And they danced during our set, and Pam and Judy, for some reason, thought it'd be really cute to hire one of them to come onstage and "bump and grind" all over me.
Oh, they set you up!
Oh, yeah; oh, yeah.
And I still owe 'em. Payback is really nice. I'm gonna get them back someday. When they least expect it. But, they paid her, and she was very well endowed with these implants, I mean, like at least a double-D or something. And I kept running all over the stage to get away from her. A couple of times I got behind Pam and shoved Pam into her (laughs).
And Judy and Pam were just laughing, and I knew they were up to ... Kristi, God bless her, she was horrified (laughs), she was looking at me like, "I had nothing to do with this!" It was only on one song, but it was enough to embarrass the hell out of me. And it made it into Spin magazine, thank you very much, and I think that's why they did it, was to shock (the writer), at my expense (laughs).
How did the Vh-1 show come about?
Well, being in Cheap Chick, being in a tribute band, that's how it happened ... I think the producers of this new show - kind of a contest, kind of a reality-based (show), mixed together - where a musician would win a chance to be onstage with an assigned band, a famous band. They had an episode with Rod Stewart where they were auditioning singers, they had one with Poison, also auditioning guitarists, so it was that kind of thing. They were looking for players and they were looking for female players. They weren't getting enough female players that were just coming through the door ... so they sent their scouts out to find female guitar players, and they were going online. That's a really good place now to find stuff ... and they stumbled across us. And they called Pam, and she's a great PR person ...
... And she said so many good things about me, they asked, "Can she come out tomorrow and audition?" So, she called me and said, "Robin, can you go audition for this show?" And I said, "Yeah, sure." I didn't even know what I was auditioning for.
And I went down there ... When I got there, there must have been 50 people in the waiting room, and they took my picture and made me sign my life away, about using my image and all this stuff, and they gave me a number, and I was number 218, 220, something like that ... and I went and sat in a corner and waited for my number to come up, like at a Baskin Robbins or something like that ...
And there was a camera crew in there, and a lot of people, and a person would go in there and maybe be in there 15 minutes, and they'd go, "Next!"
A real cattle call.
(Laughs) Yeah. So when they called me, I went in there, with my little practice amp, and they said, "Just play something that you know," and there was no band, no tape, nothing. So I've got cameras on me, I've got about 20 people watching me ... And I played a couple of songs, one of them was a Cheap Trick song, because I know Cheap Trick (laughs).
And then I didn't hear a word from them for several weeks ... And then I got a letter, saying "Thank you for your participation at this time," basically a "Dear John" letter, that said "We'll call you if we're interested." And this was in July (2003).
And I think it was November, I got a call, and it was (the producer), and she said, "We'd like you to come audition for the Matchbox 20 episode."
But it was more than one audition, right?
Yeah. And I think I went back two other times, they just kept calling me back, interviewing me and having me play more. And the last callback was at their actual offices, so I thought, so I thought ... they were pretty serious. And they told me I needed to be ready during this two-week window in December, and they weren't going to tell me, that they were going to surprise me.
(Laughs) So, I was bowling one night ... When they interviewed me, they asked for the names and numbers of several of my friends, and, all the friends I had written down, I called them and said, "Tell me if they're gonna do it, because I don't want to be surprised, I want to know." (laughs) And they didn't tell me, I was so mad at 'em (laughs).
They call Pam up, they call my bowling buddies up, and that's how they did it, they came out to the bowling alley. And I was in the middle of bowling, and all these people show up with cameras, and they come running in there ... And at first, I thought, "Is this a drug bust?" Because all these people in black were running in there ...
And then I realized they were running toward me! And I thought, "Oh, sh*t!" And I said, "Pam, I'm going to kill you," and she was like, "Surprise!" (laughs).
And then, you and the other two finalists go to St. Louis.
Right. They told me I could take a friend, so Pam and I got on a plane. They put all three of us on separate planes, to go down to St. Louis. Out of over 300 that auditioned, it was down to us three ... and the nervewracking part, Tom, wasn't playing in front of a crowd. I've played in front of large crowds. It was not knowing how I was going to be auditioning, because I knew I was going to have to go through another audition.
So I never saw these two guys until I walked into this room for this audition the next day, and they had me go in last. And I knew they were gonna do that, so it was like, "Surprise! it's a female!"
And we had no idea that the band was there, and it was a real shock when they walked out.
Robin shines in St. Louis
(Courtesy Robin Beacham)
And the next day, you play with the band at a sound check, and then came the show, and they picked you.
Right. And when they picked me, I went, "Yeah!" (laughs) And I got up there, and I had a blast; I wasn't nervous at all. I mean, I was ready.
You just went up there and ripped it.
(Laughs) It was great. And there were 10,000 people there, and it was great ... and at the very end, after the show, and I was talking to Rob Thomas' sister, and we were just chatting, and I heard these girls, maybe 13-14 years old, and they were going, "Robin! Robin!" So I went up there, and they were saying, "Do you think you could autograph this?" So I gave them these picks, these Cheap Chick picks, with my name on them, and all of a sudden, I hear these other women call my name, and there's this whole group of women coming my way ... and the camera crew comes running out, and they film all these women talking with me, and I was saying to these girls, "Now you're going to take up guitar, right?" And they were like, "Yes! Yes!" (laughs) And they were having a real good time, and I'm glad that got into the show.
So we flew back the next day, and I went back to my job, and I was like, "Oh, boy; now I'm back to reality." (laughs)
Tell me about the Japan trip, was that like the Budokan moment for you?
Yeah, that was really cool. We went over there and played three military bases. We went over there for five days, and they gave us the rock star treatment, they paid for everything, flew us in, shuttled us around on a big bus with air conditioning and nice seats, TVs and all that. And we were the only people on that huge bus. And they took us from base to base, they fed us, they took care of us, they gave us each our own room to stay in. And the servicemen were really glad to see us, they bought lots of merchandise, and I got to see Japan for free, and got paid for it, so that was great.
Not a bad gig, eh?
Not a bad gig at all.
And, more recently, Rockford (Illinois).
Yeah, that was amazing. Pam's just really good about getting the word out about us. And they decided to invite us out there, and we played the night after Cheap Trick played, and I heard rumblings that the guys wanted to come see us, but they couldn't because they had a gig that same night in another city, close by. But Robin Zander's daughter, whom we had met, and Rick Nielsen's son and her brother - all these people were gigging at different clubs - and we went around and met 'em all (laughs). And she was really nice, and she said, "I'd really love to just get onstage and jam with you guys," and she came onstage and sang some songs with us. And that same night, she had a show at a local coffeehouse, and we went over there and got onstage with her! (laughs)
Rick and Cheap Chick in Rockford
(Courtesy Robin Beacham)
And then ...
And then the next day, Rick was in town, and he met us! And he came up to me, and said, "I know you're me, aren't you?" And I said, "Uhhhh ... yeah." He knew who we were.
That's what he said; "I know you're me?"
Yeah, he knew I was playing him. He knew who everybody was. He asked me, point-blank, "How do you get all that press?" He said, "The press you've gotten, you just can't pay for that!"
(NOTE: Rick, we have plenty of room for you on this site. - T.W.)
Right. Wouldn't it be nice, though, to go open for them sometime?
Yeah, I think that's Pam's dream. I think she actually said, "My plan is to eventually open for Cheap Trick." Maybe it'll happen; we'll see. We've actually met members of the band and Judy did an article - an interview - with Bun E. Carlos ...
Yep; I read that.
So, if there was ever a situation where it would make sense, I'm sure they would ask us.
How did Ladysmith get started?
It was the same kinda thing, where I thought it'd be fun to do another tribute band if I ever had time, and I finally got this job where I have time to devote to other interests. And I know great players that I wanted to begin a band with, and I thought Leslie would be the perfect singer for it. And it just made sense.
And we wanted to do it full-on, do a photo shoot and copy an album cover they did, and we want to look like them in the way we dress. And we're recording songs like theirs, we're gonna do a full-on website. I mean, Steven Tyler, he's a nut onstage, and I thought, it'd be great to do a band that's very visual, and very guitar-driven, that had a lot of hits. I mean, there's a huge catalog.
Now, Cheap Chick is basically a 70s Cheap Trick, right?
Right. Yeah. With a few 80s songs thrown in.
But Ladysmith is going to be wide open.
Wide open. Yeah. I just look at it as a whole, and I just think it'd be a fun band to emulate.
So, when did you get the idea for Ladysmith?
Actually, Jennifer and I came up with that idea.
So the two of you were just sitting around and said, "Hey! Let's go do Aerosmith."
(Laughs) Well, it actually started not long after I joined Cheap Chick that I thought it'd be cool to put my own tribute band together. Aerosmith was one of the bands I was thinking of, and I can't remember who the other one was offhand. I thought it'd be cool to put an Aerosmith project together but I'd have to find another guitarist who could play lead. And Jennifer came along, and she and I talked about it, and "Let's do it," you know. So that was two years ago, and then we really started putting the band together in January of 2006.
And what have you found out in trying to get the Joe Perry sound?
Well, I went out and got a Les Paul Custom (laughs). And I love that guitar. I had a Les Paul Standard, years ago, that I sold so I could get a six-track recorder (laughs). It's so funny, Tom, every time I sell a guitar I regret it. But this guitar I actually like a lot more. It's a bit lighter, and it has more of an attack to it. But I saved my money again and went out and got that because I had to have that for the Joe Perry thing. And I play through a Marshall stack and it just sounds great.
Joe Perry plays a few guitars.
Yeah, he has a 335 style, and I have one of those. And that's another cool thing, he and Brad Whitford play all kinds of guitars. And I have so many that I can probably pull any of 'em out if I want (laughs).
What have you found out about his playing, stylistically?
Well, he's definitely blues-influenced. And sometimes I'll learn somethiing that he did, like on "Adam's Apple" from Toys In The Attic, there's a riff in the beginning. And it's something that I probably would have never thought of, it's almost like a backwards riff. It's just unusual, and it took me awhile to get the hang of playing it. I guess what I like about learning his stuff is it's fun, it's a different style from what I'm used to, and that kinda opens up more doors for me. I feel like I'll never learn everything there is to know, and his way of playing is different from what I'm used to. So that challenged me to learn something new, you know, and see things in a different way. And I think that will eventually trickle into my original compositions, as you take things from what you learn and incorporate that into what you do. And I have a great appreciation for him as a songwriter.
So, do you have a plan of attack for Ladysmith? I mean, would you like to see it become as popular as Cheap Chick?
Well, you know, it'd be great if it did, but I don't know if it ever will. I think when I first saw Whole Lotta Rosies four years ago, (the tribute band scene) was brand new and interesting. I'd never seen an all-female band like that. But now, there's quite a few of 'em.
Is the market getting too saturated?
Yeah, I think it's getting a little saturated. In L.A.; I don't know about other places. But I think the reason for it is that bands get paid!
I mean, they can make money doing it, so people are jumping on the bandwagon (laughs), so to speak. But, like anything else, the more and more people you get doing it, it gets less and less of a novelty, less and less of a unique thing, you start making less and less money, you know, it's just the whole thing. I'm not expecting (Ladysmith) to, it'd be nice if it did, but I don't expect it to get that big.
Do you still want to do original things?
Yeah! I still want to. I just haven't had the desire to do it. I just haven't had the desire to really pursue that right now. I mean, I'm having fun in these bands, and the original thing was getting where I wasn't having any fun with it.
And, obviously, you don't want to get in that rut again.
No. I want to enjoy playing music for a change, and I do, right now. So I want to keep it that way (laughs).