Tesla was formed in 1981 by guitarist Frank Hannon and bass guitarist Brian Wheat. Drummer Bobby Contreras, guitarist Brook Bright and vocalist Jeff Harper were also added to the group that originally went by the name of Earthshaker, which was later changed to City Kidd. The group also underwent a few personnel changes over the next few years. Guitarist Tommy Skeoch, drummer Troy Luccketta, and lead singer Jeff Keith were the last members added to their now-classic lineup. They also decided on another name change, opting for the name Tesla shortly before their debut album Mechanical Resonance was released in December 1986.
The group was categorized as a glam metal band because they wound up touring with Poison, Def Leppard, David Lee Roth and Alice Cooper in support of their first record. However, Tesla saw themselves as more of a roots-rock oriented band. The group grew in popularity after their second album. The Great Radio Controversy, came out in February 1989. This was followed by their first live album, Five Man Acoustical Jam, in November 1990. The live record featured acoustic-based renditions of hits from their first two efforts as well as a few covers of some modern rock classics.
Tesla’s third studio record, Psychotic Supper, was released in August 1991. The album was critically favored, but didn’t chart as well as their previous recordings. Their fourth effort, Bust A Nut, came out in August 1994. Shortly after its release, guitarist Tommy Skeoch to deal with his substance abuse issues. Tesla continued on for a brief period as a four-piece band. Tesla eventually went on hiatus. During the downtime, the band members went on to pursue side projects including Bar 7 (Skeoch and Jeff Keith), Moon Dog Mane (Frank Hannon), Soulmotor (Brian Wheat) and One Thin Dime (Troy Luccketta).
In 2000, the members of Tesla reunited and began performing again. They released the live album, Replugged Live in September 2001, which was followed by their fifth studio album, Into The Now, in March 2004. Tesla went on the road again in 2006, but were again without Skeoch. He chose to leave the band again to spend time with his family and deal with his ongoing issues with addictive substances. Guitarist Scott Johnson from the Sacramento rock group Rogue filled in for Skeoch temporarily, until Dave Rude took over Skeoch’s spot in the band permanently.
Tesla released their first covers album, Reel to Reel, in June 2007. That fall, they embarked on a lengthy tour of arenas in Europe, Japan and Australia. The group played several festival shows in the US and Europe the following summer and released the live album Tesla-Comin’ Atcha Live! 2008 in July. In October 2008, Tesla’s sixth studio album, Forever More, debuted on the band’s new record label, Tesla Electric Company Recordings. The band kicked off another world tour in support of the new album.
An acoustic-based studio album called Twisted Wires and the Acoustic Sessions came out in July 2011. Tesla released their seventh album, Simplicity, in June 2014. Two years later, they went on a world tour with REO Speedwagon and Def Leppard. A 30th anniversary edition of their debut disc, Mechanical Resonance Live was released in August 2016. It was produced by Def Leppard lead guitarist Phil Collen. Collen also produced Tesla’s eighth studio record, Shock, which is scheduled to be released in March 2019.
Here are ten of the best known Tesla songs:
# 10 – Hang Tough
This song from The Great Radio Controversy is a powerful message about determination. It’s been described as an anthem for many of their hard-working fans who have dealt with setbacks at some point in their lives. The music and lyrics encourage them to never give up and “give it all you got!”
# 9 – Gettin’ Better
Another optimistic tune. The Mechanical Resonance song strikes a personal chord. Some say this describes personal issues for some of the band members. Another memorable Tesla song that many fans have listened to faithfully for decades.
# 8 – Edison’s Medicine
Released in 1991, this song from the album Mechanical Resonance gives some insight into the band’s namesake, inventor Nikolai Tesla. It deals with some of the challenges he had to face with rival Thomas Edison and other contemporaries. A great song that’s also a great history lesson.
# 7 – Song and Emotion
A song from Psychotic Supper that was a loving tribute to former Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark. A wonderful tribute to their departed friend, who passed away in January 1991 from brain compression. This condition was said to have been caused by a fatal combination of alcohol and prescription drugs. Tesla plays this song live to honor his memory and other rock artists who have since passed away.
# 6 – Signs
One of the most requested Tesla songs is actually a cover of a song written by the Five Man Electrical Band in 1970. Tesla’s version was released on the 1990 album Five Man Acoustical Jam. An insightful tune that reached chart success in two different decades, because its message was relevant for both generations. (The original version peaked at #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1971, and Tesla’s cover version reached #8 on the US pop charts in 1990.)
# 5 – What You Give
“What You Give,” is another song off of Psychotic Supper that most Tesla fans can relate to. The acoustic-tinged song offers up some of Jeff Keith’s best vocals and another inspiring lyrical message. A track that has been said to have motivated some fans to follow their dreams in life, and reminds them that whatever they get out of anything depends on the effort they put in. After all, “it’s not what you got, but what you give.”
# 4 – Modern Day Cowboy
This song off from Tesla’s debut album paints a unique portrait of what being a cowboy in the 1980’s was all about. Dealing with the Cold War crisis and a gangster mentality and a magnificent guitar solo are just some of the song’s highlights. Modern Day Cowboy has become a modern day rock & roll classic!
# 3 – Little Suzi
Another track from Mechanical Resonance that quickly became a rock hit. The acoustic introduction leads listeners into another song story about an interesting main character, a heroine who’s definitely “on the up.” It’s been described as an 80’s version of a Doors or Led Zeppelin anthem, which is rather high praise indeed.
# 2 – Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)
Released in 1989 on The Great Radio Controversy album, this song also become another fan favorite. A tune about a tough guy who’s determined to make it through the obstacles in his life, no matter what may come his way. The clever lyrics and skillful blend of acoustic and electric guitars are just some elements that stick in fans’ ears whenever they hear this song.
# 1 – Love Song
This song from the Tesla album The Great Radio Controversy was Tesla’s first real power ballad. It’s also one of their most beloved songs. It’s motivated many people to keep searching for that one true love,even if their heart’s been broken before. It became a gold record, peaking at #7 on the US rock charts when it was released as a single in 1989.
Tesla is currently gearing up to tour the US, Canada and Europe to support their newest album. They are one of the most diligent and accessible rock bands around today. They make time to hang out with their fans and followers whenever possible. A must see when they’re in your town. They’ll play new tracks and old favorites that you’ve probably been rocking out to for several decades.