Quite a few rock bands that hit it big in the late 1980s have seen their following dwindle right along with the original band members. Not Tesla. The band that scored such hits as “Love Song” and “Signs” routinely performs every year on bills with some of rock’s most renowned names, and this summer is no different. Longtime Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon spoke to me before the band is set to rock Jones Beach on June 29, as part of a lineup that also features Styx and Joan Jett.
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The band has recorded an album with Phil Collen [of Def Leppard] as producer. When will it be released?
The last thing I heard is that it is going to be coming out in September. We’ve known Phil for years and we’ve always had a great relationship with [him] since the Hysteria tour back in 1987. We’ve had a 30-year friendship with the guys. When we were on tour with Def Leppard last year, Phil was really excited about having Tesla out there and was always coming into the dressing room and really exuded a lot of energy. The guy is in massive shape and he’s a great motivator. He’s like a coach. He was just motivating us to try recording on the road and writing songs together…All I can really say about the album is it was definitely a shot of adrenaline…and he inspired us to really try some new things.
Speaking of 1987, I saw Tesla live back that January at Nassau Coliseum opening for David Lee Roth.
It’s hard to believe that so much time has gone by. Gosh, I can remember like it was yesterday. That was the heyday. December 1986 was our first show with David Lee Roth—the album came out [Mechanical Resonance was issued on December 8, 1986] and “Modern Day Cowboy” was on Headbangers Ball. We worked really hard building ourselves. Q Prime was our management. Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch, they were really smart about putting us out as a support act, opening for some great artists—David Lee Roth, Alice Cooper, Poison, Great White and then ultimately, Def Leppard. It really built our mainstay with the fans early on, paying our dues, paving the way as an arena band.
Was it as wild and crazy touring back then as it’s made out to be in documentaries and books?
Oh yeah, we were young and crazy back then. The thing was you could bounce back a lot easier when you’re in your twenties; you can recover quicker. [Laughs] But we’re so blessed to keep doing it now and being on the road with Def Leppard, and now we’re touring with Styx and Joan Jett. We’ve had some great experiences continuing to tour with a legendary bunch of bands and artists.
Tesla has most of the original members still in the lineup. What are your thoughts on bands from the era that tour with few original members?
Well, I’ve seen some recent articles and interviews with guys who put down bands that are missing a lot of their original members and I don’t want to be that guy…For an older band, it’s very difficult to keep original members together. I’m very grateful that Tesla has got four out of the five original guys, including the original singer [Jeff Keith], which is the key. Some bands have been very lucky to go out with different singers and still do it like Journey or AC/DC.
The Styx-Joan Jett-Tesla bill is an unexpected combination.
To be honest, at first, I didn’t think people would think that would be a good bill, but everyone has been very excited about it, especially with Joan Jett. I am a huge Joan Jett fan…but I don’t know if she is a fan of Tesla or not. [Laughs] But we’re huge fans of hers, so like it or not, we’re going to be watching her show every night. I have nothing but admiration and respect for Joan Jett. Her songs are timeless. That’s what it’s all about. You were asking me about bands without their original members—to me, it’s about the music and the songs…When a band can go out with only one or two original guys, it’s the songs and the music that matter.
What can fans expect at the upcoming show at Jones Beach?
They can expect a night of great songs and a night of a lot of history. But also, they’re going to get entertained, because luckily, we all have a lot of energy, especially with Tesla. Even though we’re older now, we have a ton of energy still. It ain’t no sleeper show, that’s for damn sure.