Comin’ atcha Live!
by Todd K Smith
Unlike their contemporaries, Tesla was one of the few ‘hair’ bands to make it out of the ‘80s with their integrity still intact. Their blues-based, twin-guitar sound combined elements of Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Thin Lizzy, with the good-time vibe of Van Halen. A jeans and t-shirt approach gave the group a mature look that transitioned well to MTV, separating them from the glam outfits of the day. The band’s unusual name, associated with Croatian radio pioneer and inventor Nikola Tesla, also provided a legitimate intellectualism rarely associated with the metal genre. Together now for 23 years, the Sacramento-based five-piece are revisiting their past with a four-disc box set while in the midst of recording their eighth studio album.
“The box set is called ‘Time Machine - The Evolution of Tesla’ and goes back to the early ‘80s when Brian (Wheat) and I would spend weekends in the Bay Area listening to Y&T and Montrose,” says guitarist Frank Hannon about his friendship with the bass player. “We soon recruited a second guitarist; Tommy Skeoch and drummer Troy Luccketta, (ex-Eric Martin Band) then stumbled across singer Jeff Keith cutting a radio spot to promote an upcoming show. In 1982 we changed our name from Earthshaker to City Kidd and talked Ronnie Montrose and this local wiz kid, “Atomic” Tommy McClendon (later to join UK rockers UFO) into helping us produce a number of demos which are included in the box.”
“Time Machine” documents the band with two CDs of unreleased tracks, outtakes and early demos and includes two additional DVDs of film footage and interviews. “Mechanical Resonance’ (1986) our first record, took three years to write and two more to promote,” says Hannon. “We had big tours with David Lee Roth and Def Leppard that introduced us to a whole new audience and pushed the sales way up, so we have loads of stuff for the DVDs. When it came to the second record, ‘The Great Radio Controversy’ (1989) there was a lot of pressure to supersede our success. I remember when we turned the master into the label they remixed it to the point of it becoming unrecognizable, and though we were able to salvage most of it, some of the real gems like the original ‘Love Song’ and the unreleased ‘Did It For The Money’ didn’t make the final cut. With the box set, we’re now able to get a lot of that material out the way it was intended.”
Other albums, “Psychotic Supper” (1991) and “Bust a Nut” (1994) were mined for their magic; however the band’s break up in 1995 ended that period. “The truth is Tommy (Skeoch) had a dependency problem,” says Hannon, “and the other guys wanted to do different things so lawyers got involved and after taking most our money, the band was over.” Three factions came from the split in the form of Bar 7 (Jeff Keith), Soul Motor (Brian Wheat) and Moon Dog Main (Frank Hannon). “Honestly the parts weren’t as good as the whole,” says Hannon, “so after eight years we came back with ‘Replugged Live’ (2001) and finished the box set with a few newer recordings.” The following year, Skeoch relapsed and the reformed Tesla hired guitarist Dave Rude after discovering him on myspace.com.
Last summer Tesla paid tribute to their rock heroes by releasing ‘Real to Reel,’ a two disc set featuring songs by ’70s radio giants like Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin. The initial release was sold at a reduced price with only disc one. The second disc was given away at their live show with the cost of admission. “This is our third leg of the tour that started last summer,” says Hannon of their stop in Reno. “We gave away the second disc on the first two legs, but to satisfy the demand from fans that couldn’t make it out to the shows, it’s now being sold at stores for under ten bucks.” The idea in the packaging and the song selection was to reintroduce fans to the songs the band grew up on…Tesla-fide.
“We always saw ourselves more aligned with ‘70s rock,” says Hannon. “We loved the hard stuff, but also liked it when Heart or Peter Frampton would do an acoustic set in the middle of their show. That’s why our third album ‘Five Man Acoustical Jam’ (1990) was a stripped down acoustic live show. A lot of people attribute the success of that record to the start of the unplugged craze, but there were a ton of bands doing it before us.” He goes on to say, “Our new studio album will have a similar approach to the spirit of classic rock. We’ve been writing the past few weeks and the new songs are monsters…so after this February tour, we will head into the studio with producer Terry Thomas (Bad Company, Foreigner) to finish the best Tesla album yet.”