Turn up Tesla another notch
By Naughty Mickie
Photos by Keith Durflinger
The House of Blues in Anaheim was packed. The fans had come out in full force. Was this the latest chart-topper taking center stage? No... yes... well, sort of. Tesla was performing a rocking set of old hits that had the crowd singing along, as well as some new tunes that had the audience screaming for more. But, I digress. Let me clear the confusion by taking you back to a few weeks before the show, when I chatted with guitarist Tommy Skeoch, as he lounged by the pool of his Florida home.
"It's good, it's really great to be back,'' said Skeoch of Tesla's triumphant return. "I think we're sounding better than ever.''
Tesla, a five-piece blues-based hard rock band, formed in Sacramento in 1984 with the moniker City Kid. Their lineup was, and is, vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarists Frank Hannon and Skeoch, bassist Brian Wheat, and drummer Troy Luccketta. The guys' paths had crossed while playing in different bands around town. Hannon and Wheat were in one group, while Skeoch was playing in another. At that time, it wasn't uncommon for musicians to make a living with their talents, many playing five sets a night, five night a week. Hannon saw Skeoch playing and liked him.
"We hooked up out of mutual admiration," states Skeoch.
A week after their meeting, the new band traveled to Guam, where they played five sets six nights a week for three months. They also wrote "Coming at You Live'' there.
"I loved the islands," says Skeoch. "I want to move to the Caribbean or the U.S. Virgin Islands. When I'm not working, I enjoy the beach."
The combination was perfect, the group changed their name to Tesla, after inventor Nikola Tesla, and got grabbed up by Geffen Records in 1986. The band toured the world putting out six albums with hits such as "Love Song,'' "Modern Day Cowboy'' and, in 1990, an acoustic cover of "Signs.'' But by 1996, the boys went their separate ways.
Today, Tesla's on tour again and has a record deal with Sanctuary.
The group's tour schedule is different from most. Instead of months on the road, Tesla is touring for two weeks at a time and then taking a two week break. The tour ends in California, where they will hang their hats for four months while working in the studio. Skeoch says that Tesla will be re-recording some of their old material, as well as offering some new songs.
Tesla is tackling the writing process as a group and finding things easier the second time around.
"It's clearer without drugs," explains Skeoch. "We work together better and communicate better."
But creativity can still be fickle.
"Sometimes I feel like writing and I pick up my guitar and jam, but nothing happens," says Skeoch. "Sometimes it just comes out. I don't try to force it.''
Skeoch always plays a Gibson, usually a Les Paul. He sounds like a kid with a new toy as he brags to me about the Flying V he just purchased. It looks better and is easier to play if he holds it upright with the bottom of the axe pointing at the floor, he chuckles. I can picture Skeoch striking a rockstar pose holding the V up as an offering to the gods of music.
Skeoch has a fortunate mix of brains and talent, he graduated early from high school and attended college, using his talent to earn the money he needed. From there, he stepped straight into a full-time career as a musician. Skeoch is also blessed by having the income that enables him to do what he wants, which is spending as much time as possible with his wife and children.
"I'm a totally dysfunctional person, so it's good therapy for me,'' Skeoch laughs as he explains how important his family is to him.
Aside from family time, Skeoch admits that he's "focused on music nonstop. I cut back on drugs; they almost cost me my life." Surprisingly he seldom listens to the radio and doesn't buy any albums.
"I need to be in my own space for creativity's sake,'' he says.
Today's music does still manage to leak through to Skeoch, he admits an affinity for Marilyn Manson.
"It's pretty cool," he says of the scene. "Every generation has something great to offer. But that bubble gum music is crap, I like heavier stuff. It's time for something fresh (on the airwaves)."
Skeoch says that he's "totally illiterate" on the Internet. He does use it for travel research though. I ask him about getting some more computer skills.
"I'm still trying to learn to play guitar,'' he laughs.
Skeoch's other project, with Keith, is Bar 7, a band that is almost Tesla's twin. Bar 7 is based in Sacramento, has five members and revels in ripping out blues-based hard rock. They released their debut album, "The World is a Freak,'' on Syndrome Records last year. Currently the group is planning to limit their performances so that Skeoch and Keith can direct their focus to Tesla.
"It's amazing how many people are still down for it,'' Skeoch says, still stunned by the response their tour has been getting. "I appreciate the people who love us.''
Skeoch has had a full day-- spending the morning at the beach with his family and the afternoon chatting with me by the pool, he's ready to pull a bottle of French bordeaux out of the fridge and relax. But not without some last words for Tesla's fans.
He smirks and shouts, "Fucking rock forever!"
For more information on Tesla visit www.teslatheband.com
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