Almanac Music: My Favourite Rock Drummers – Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick


My Favourite Rock Drummers – Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick



Cover of The Essential Cheap Trick, released in 2004. Bun E. Carlos is first on the left as one looks at the image. (Wikipedia.)


Ah, Bun E. Carlos!


Born Brad Carlson.


Also known as ‘Bunezuela’.


In the last couple of years of secondary school, one of my favourite bands was Cheap Trick. Early on in the group’s career, I remember buying their album, Heaven Tonight (1978). Its lead-off track, ‘Surrender’, remains a great signpost of the era for me, reminding me now of schooldays, rock bands I was in, and teenage girlfriends.


Cheap Trick had a strong image, with two conventional, long-haired rock star types, Robin Zander on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, and Tom Petersson on bass guitar, and two (apparent) eccentrics, lead guitarist and main songwriter, Rick Nielsen, and drummer, Bun E. Carlos. Nielsen had a goofy, cap-wearing persona, while Carlos looked to me like the kind of moustachioed, bulky, white-shirted bloke with a daggy tie that you’d see behind a desk in the windowed, enclosed office of the warehouse of a trucking company. Also, part of Bun E’s image, at least in the early Cheap Trick days, was the half-finished smoke hanging out of the corner of his mouth – I strongly suspect he hasn’t smoked for ages, though, as there’s not a cigarette to be seen in the numerous photos of the older Bun that I’ve come across.


Carlos’s drumming work was certainly a major factor in the band’s sound and success, as is the case with all excellent drummers: I have a strong belief in the dictum of a band being only as good as its drummer. Bun E’s work on the traps is characterised by energy and technical prowess. He knows just what licks a song needs and, by a very early stage in his career, had discovered that less is often more, and that good drumming serves a song, not swamps it; in other words, a drummer’s playing should not be akin to a bull crashing around in a china shop – it shouldn’t overwhelm, but instead compliment the important work of the vocals and other instruments in the band.


Carlos has been Cheap Trick’s archivist (in terms of compiling recordings of the band’s concerts, different versions of the songs released on their website etc.) and possesses an impressively large personal collection of drums and percussion-related stuff. He’s also done some fine talks/workshops on drumming, some of which can be watched on YouTube. Interestingly, like Clement Burke of Blondie, featured in an earlier article in this series, as well as the most famous rock drummer of them all, Ringo Starr, Carlos’s ‘drums of choice’ are the well-known Ludwig brand.


Carlos’s years with Cheap Trick are listed by Wikipedia as 1973 (foundation member) through to 2010 – though he was inducted into the Roll and Roll Hall of Fame with the band in 2016, and played with them on that occasion. The band itself remains in existence to this day.


The following songs show examples of drum work by Carlos in his long-term Cheap Trick phase (he’s worked with other bands, too): ‘Surrender’ (1978), written by Rick Nielsen, where the drum-related keywords are drive, speed and quick, effective fills; ‘I Want You to Want Me’ (1977), also written by Nielsen, where the punch and solid structure Carlos gives to the song are most important; and, finally, ‘The Flame’ (1988), written by Bob Mitchell and Nick Graham, where Carlos’s restraint and insertion of tasteful, resonant fills are the order of the day.




Various YouTube clips of Bun E. Carlos talking about drums and drumming





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Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, was published in late 2020 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.


  1. KD, without doing a deep dive on the net, I have a feeling that Carlos had a falling out with the other band members of CT ?

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Smokie. Yes – there were lawsuits ‘flying back and forward’ (so to speak) between Bun and the other band members in the 2010s, though the group reconciled to the extent of appearing on stage together to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. That said, Bun is not longer friends with the other guys, and they’ve replaced him in their current line-up.

  3. This reminded me of a conversation overheard on a bus in 1990 as we travelled past Adelaide’s Thebarton Theatre. A fellow passenger had attended the previous evening to see The Angels supported by Cheap Trick. His main takeaway was that Cheap Trick had the superior drummer even though his kit was only half the size of the headliner’s kit.

    ‘The Flame’ is a reminder of my later school years.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Greg, for your comments. Personal memories such as yours about things like bands and songs evoke something very important, something highly significant in addition to dry facts and technical musical details about these subjects (which have their own rightful place, too).

    I have no doubt at all about Bun E’s superior drumming skills – if one listens to enough Cheap Trick songs and watches various YouTube videos where Bun plays and talks about drumming, you know you’re in the presence of one fine player. I’ve watched stuff where he does such things as test the same drum kit with different individual drum tunings – and also other videos where he talks about matters such as, during sound checks, getting his drum tech to play his kit so he can hear for himself how the kit is sounding in the auditorium concerned. Bun’s attention to detail is commendable indeed.

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