It seems almost impossible to believe that Tesla’s first album, Mechanical Resonance, was released 30 years ago. The band’s masterful fusion of the 80’s brand of guitar-driven rock with a contemporary blues flavor gained Tesla immediate attention with their first hit, “Modern Day Cowboy,” and their follow-up release, 1989’s The Great Radio Controversy, provided fans with multiple hit singles, and became the first of three consecutive platinum albums for the band.
The Columbia Music Examiner recently had a few minutes to talk with Tesla frontman, Jeff Keith, during some time off from their current tour with Styx and Def Leppard. Keith talked about the band’s upcoming show at the Myrtle Beach House of Blues, the current tour, and the more than three decade long journey that brought them to where they are today.
Tesla endured many of the pitfalls that so often come with the long term success they have enjoyed. Substance abuse, inner turmoil, and the arrival of the grunge era were just a few of the obstacles they faced along the way, but the band has outlasted and outlived them all.
It became apparent as CME prepared for the interview that one of the major reasons for Tesla’s longevity is an extremely loyal fan base. That doesn’t happen by accident. It comes through consistently producing quality music, and by being as true to your fans as the fans are to your band. Once word spread of the upcoming interview CME was inundated by requests from fans to ask specific questions, and with personal stories from Tesla fans who had met the band along the way. The repeated theme in every response CME received from those fans was that the members of Tesla are as down to earth as anyone, and that they are so accessible and loyal in return.
In an industry so often known for huge egos, CME didn’t sense any of that during the interview. Keith comes across as a man who loves what he does, and is very appreciative to the fans that have made it all possible.
“That’s the cool thing about Tesla, you know, our fans are very loyal,” Keith said to CME. “We really represent them. We’re just regular guys up there on stage, and I think [the fans] really feel like, ‘Wow, they’re really up there just kind of representing me. They’re just average guys that I relate to.’ And we’re loyal to them too.”
Tesla can still pack big arenas, as evidenced by the huge success of the current North American tour along with Styx and Def Leppard, but the opportunity to see the band headlining their own tour at such an intimate venue as the Myrtle Beach House of Blues is an experience no true fan wants to miss. CME asked Keith about some of the drawbacks and challenges of bringing the Tesla concert experience from large arenas and stadiums to a smaller venue such as the HoB, and what he likes about it.
“Well, actually the drawback to playing the bigger venues is you got a lot shorter set, so like coming to play the House of Blues there in Myrtle Beach we’ll be able to play more songs, and hopefully come up with a song or two we haven’t played in a while. You know every once in a while we like to pull a rabbit out of the hat, so hopefully we’ll have a chance to do some of those kinds of songs where people are, ‘You know I haven’t heard that one in a long time.’ So actually, doing our own show we get to do a longer set, so that’s the plus on that. We’re just looking forward to having a good time with the people and sharing our music.”
Did Keith have any idea when he joined City Kidd in 1984 that the band would still be around more than 30 years later, and that they would achieve the amount of success they’ve found? No, but you better believe they appreciate every moment of it.
“I’m just a small town boy, population nine-hundred and something where I grew up, so when I joined City Kidd I was like, ‘Wow! I’m in a big band, I’m in a big city,’ and the next thing you know we’re making a record, changing our name, and we’re still out there today still going strong for 30 years now. We couldn’t be happier with the way things went, and with the way the way things are still going.”
So what is in store for Tesla fans in the near future? Keith said he’s currently working on new music with the band, and was actually at Frank Hannon’s house doing just that when we spoke. CME also asked Keith about rumors Tesla has been in the studio with Def Leppard’s Phil Collen. This sounds like something for fans to look forward to hearing.
“Phil wrote a song for us to record and we recorded it. So now I think what we’re doing now is we’re putting some songs together, he’s coming in later on this week and he has a couple ideas to put together. It’s a long road to putting a record together, but right now we’re just working on some songs and hopefully it’ll come out to be a full-blown record and everybody will like it.”
Tesla will be comin’ atcha live at the Myrtle Beach House of Blues tomorrow night, Saturday Feb. 20. Doors open at 7:30 and the opening act, Loose Jets, is scheduled to hit the stage at 8:30.
“Be sure and be there at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach on February 20th,’ Keith added before we ended the interview, “Tesla, rockin’ the House.”