ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 17, 1988
By Steve Newton
Everybody sings along in the car radio. Whether you can carry a tune or not, it’s pretty hard to hold back if a song like “Back in the USSR” or “Brown Sugar” hits the airwaves while you’re cruisin’. For singer Jeff Keith of Tesla, which opens for Def Leppard at the Coliseum next Thursday (June 23), that was just the training he needed to set him up for his current occupation.
“I drove a cement truck for seven years after high school,” explains Keith, on the line form his home in Sacramento. “I never thought I’d be in this position ever in my life, but I just sang along to the radio like everybody does. Then all of a sudden I got the opportunity to be in this band, so I took it up. And here I am!”
Although it receives virtually no radio airplay up here in Canada, Tesla is actually one of the top new bands in today’s lucrative hard-rock arena. Tesla’s debut album, Mechanical Resonance, has sold over 750,000 copies since it’s release in December of’ 86, and tours with the likes of Alice Cooper and David Lee Roth have helped create a strong street-level buzz on the California quintet.
The group is managed by the heavyweight partnership of Cliff Bernstein and Peter Mensch (Def Leppard, Metallica, Dokken), and signed to the prestigious Geffen record label (Aerosmith, Whitesnake, Guns N’ Roses). If ever there was a band with good commercial prospects, it’s Tesla. And from the great sounds of such rowdy rock tunes as “EZ Come EZ Go” and “Rock Me to the Top”, the group deserves whatever good fortune comes its way.
Tesla first started to hone its live performance in, of all places, Guam, where the band entertained both U.S. military personnel and native rock-lovers alike.
“We made good money,” says Keith, “and we were far from home, so nothing could distract us from our first real writing adventure. [Guitarist] Tommy Skeoch had just joined the band, so it was a good chance to get really tight. And when we came back and got [drummer] Troy Luccketta, we really got serious.”
With the lineup solidified (including guitarist Frank Hannon and bassist Brian Wheat), the band played numerous club show in California and recorded demos in L.A. with noted songwriter Duane Hitchings who, says Keith, “taught us how to write a hit single”. Then an A&R rep from Geffen spotted Tesla at one of its club gigs.
“She saw a lousy gig, but liked us enough to bring Tom Zutaut with her next time. And Tom, who had signed Motley Crue and Dokken, told us he would sign us if we would forget how to write hit singles and just play from our gut instinct. So we did.”
Utilizing the production skills of New Yorkers Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, the group set out to make a gritty, no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll album with the emphasis on raunchy guitars and excitable vocals.
The band’s named after physicist Nikola Tesla, the man responsible for discovering the alternating current.
“We like the name because he invented the juice that we get for our amps. The electricity and everything–that’s what rock and roll’s all about.”