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Post-COVID, Tesla once again ready to rock stage

Classic hard rock band visits Honeywell Center


Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published October 13, 2021

Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon admits that he was once an anti-masker and anti-vaxxer.

Then he caught COVID-19.

This was in August. The band was about to embark on a tour.

Other members of Tesla’s crew tested positive, and several shows, including a Honeywell Center date, had to be postponed.

Hannon has a new message for anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers.

“It’s a medical issue, not a political issue,” Hannon said in an interview with Whatzup. “Ignore all this other (expletive) that people are saying. You need to listen to your doctor and what he’s telling you.”

Tesla will perform at the Honeywell Center on October 20.

Feeling Better Than Ever

The upshot of having gone through “COVID hell,” as Hannon refers to it, is that he is feeling better than he has in a long time.

The band recently released a song and an accompanying music video that some fans are describing as Tesla’s best work in a long time.

The song is called “Cold Blue Steel.”

“Cold Blue Steel” represents a shift in strategy for Tesla.

Instead of assembling an album with the onus of a tight deadline, the band is going to write, record, and release songs when the mood and the muse strike.

“There will be an album forthcoming,” he said. “But we’re not going to make it in the same way we have made all our other albums. We’re going to do them one at a time and then we’ll put it on an album.

“A record company will tell you, ‘We have to have something on such-and-such a date,’” Hannon said. “That makes you cram and put things together in a hurry. Well, we’re not a hurry.”

Being True to Themselves

Hannon recently turned 55, but he was once the kid referred to in the band’s previous name: City Kidd.

He was 15 when he teamed up with fellow Sacramento high school student Brian Wheat to form a hard rock band called Earthshaker.

Hannon and Wheat were inspired by Y&T, an Oakland, Calif., band that was an underground sensation back then.

Almost 50 years after its formation, Y&T is still an underground sensation, but no one ever claimed that the music business wasn’t fickle and unpredictable.

Unfortunately for Earthshaker, hard rock wasn’t a lucrative genre in Northern California in the early 1980s.

“At that time, Loverboy was popular,” Hannon said, “Journey was popular. So, we decided that if we wanted to play the clubs, we were going to have to play some pop.”

The band revamped its set list and changed its name to City Kidd.

“Because I was the young kid in the band and everyone was kind of tripping on this 16-year-old guitar player,” Hannon said.

The scheme worked. Before long, City Kidd had as many gigs as it wanted.

The band’s manager arranged for Ronnie Montrose to hear the band perform.

Montrose took them out to Denny’s afterward and gave them a word of advice: Rock.

The verb, not the noun.

Montrose even wrote a song about them called “Don’t Damage the Rock.”

“We were writing our own songs that were heavier rock,” Hannon said. “Then we’d go play Loverboy.”

At that point (or at any point) in history, it would have been foolish for a rock band to ignore the advice of Ronnie Montrose, especially if he wrote a song to drive his point home.

The band decided to be true to itself. A name change followed, which was inspired by a book about Nikola Tesla.

Thinking Man’s Heavy Metal

Tesla has been described by Loudwire Magazine as “the thinking man’s heavy metal band.” Hannon said this is because of Jeff Keith’s lyrics.

“He puts a lot of thought into his lyrics,” Hannon said. “He doesn’t just write, ‘Hey, I went to a party, and I got (expletive) up and I met this chick.’”

The band has always taken risks.

In 1990, before MTV Unplugged had debuted, Tesla released an all-acoustic album called Five Man Acoustical Jam.

It featured some unlikely cover songs: The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out,” The Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lodi,” and Five Man Electrical Band’s hippie anthem, “Signs,” among them.

The last one was the unlikeliest of all, and it was the hugest hit off the album.

In 1994, Tesla took a break largely instigated by former member Tommy Skeoch’s substance abuse problems.

The band returned in 2000 and has been releasing critically acclaimed music ever since.

Concentrating on Healthy Living

Being a rocker in your 50s is not the same thing as being a rocker in your 20s. The former requires adjustments.

“Mentally, my energy is 500 times better than it was,” Hannon said. “I am more creative and more productive now than I was in my 20s, despite the fact that I was, you know, pretty darn productive back then. Physically, though, is a different story.”

Hannon asked Dave Meniketti, lead singer of Y&T, how he keeps sounding like rock’s answer to Pavarotti every night.

Meniketti said, “I actually met Pavarotti. He told me, ‘If you want to sing tomorrow, go to sleep tonight.”

“We can’t drink and smoke weed and all that stupid (expletive) anymore,” Hannon said. “I have to make sure that I get a full eight hours of sleep every night.

“When Tesla was on tour in the ’80s and ’90s, I don’t think we slept once the whole time,” he added with a laugh.

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