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Cheap Trick's Robin Zander on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: 'It's overwhelming'

Robin Zander, who has lived in Safety Harbor for more than 22 years, and his band of power-pop pioneers Cheap Trick were one of five artists elected to the Rock Hall on Thursday
Robin Zander, who has lived in Safety Harbor for more than 22 years, and his band of power-pop pioneers Cheap Trick were one of five artists elected to the Rock Hall on Thursday
Published Dec. 17, 2015

Robin Zander awoke Thursday to a call from his teary wife, Pam, his phone already beginning to overflow with messages and e-mails.

His band, Cheap Trick, had just been elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"She called me up in tears, and I thought, Oh my God," Zander said by phone from Los Angeles, sounding a bit like he might be tearing up himself. "I'm kind of verklempt. I'm kind of choked up, to be honest."

Zander, who has lived in Safety Harbor for more than 22 years, and his band of power-pop pioneers were one of five artists elected to the Rock Hall on Thursday, alongside gangsta rap icons N.W.A., British metal progenitors Deep Purple, rock 'n' soul fusionists Chicago and FM hitmakers the Steve Miller Band.

No one gets into the music biz for accolades so monumental — and neither did Cheap Trick, back when they formed in Rockford, Ill., in 1973. Zander himself has been ambivalent about Cheap Trick's Hall of Fame chances over the 13 years the band has been eligible.

"Who the hell cares?" he told the Tampa Bay Times in 2011. "I don't need someone like them to tell me how great I am."

But after getting elected, Zander admitted the honor actually meant quite a bit to the band.

"We honestly never thought that we were going to be in, I got to tell you the truth," he said. "We talk about it quite a bit, and we're kind of like, 'Yeah, it's great just to be nominated, but if we don't get in, so what? We've still got our fans, and we're still playing our hearts out and touring around the world.' So, God, getting in is like, wow."

For years, Cheap Trick's Hall of Fame chances had been a cause celebre for legions of diehard fans across the world. The band has sold more than 20 million records, including its blockbuster live album Cheap Trick at Budokan, and scored radio hits like Dream Police, Surrender, The Flame and I Want You To Want Me. Just as importantly, they were a big influence on numerous artists who came afterward, including Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer.

One question on fans' minds Thursday: Will Cheap Trick reunite with founding drummer Bun E. Carlos at the induction ceremony, April 8 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn?

"I'm going to make that phone call today," Zander said. "I'm sure he'll be there. After all, 35 years of working with somebody, and he deserves it as much as anybody. And he's still a member of the band, don't forget. He's just not touring. So if he comes, I'm sure he'll play."

Within hours of the announcement, Zander had already received congratulatory messages from countless friends in the industry, including famed Beatles producer George Martin.

"It's an acknowledgement that all the stuff that you did, being involved with something that you love so much, it's just..." he pauses. "It makes you feel like, God, I've done something that I've loved all these years. And you get these accolades from your peers, and it means a lot."

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But for Zander, the reaction back home in Safety Harbor means just as much. His wife was flooded with congratulations at their daughter's school drop-off on Thursday, and Zander knows that when he returns home from the West coast next week, he'll see plenty of well-wishers at Lightning and Rowdies games, as well as hometown haunts like the Whistle Stop Grill and Bar.

"I can't wait to get there and enjoy Christmas with my family, who deserve more credit than I do for this whole thing," he said. "I love everybody there, and I just want everybody there to know that I appreciate their support. I'm going to not hide myself in a closet. I'm going to go out and thank everybody."

Cheap Trick is taking some rare time off in early 2016, which will give Zander time to reflect on the honor and prepare for the ceremony.

"We didn't know when we started our band that it would last more than a year or so," he said. "You just don't know. You just put one foot in front of the other and follow your heart. God, I've been chasing 'follow my heart' now for 40 years. And now this. It's overwhelming."

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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