Interview with Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon

Date: July 19, 2022
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
Photos: Joe Schaeffer Photography

‘Our singer Jeff Keith has such a big heart. He’s always tried to write songs with a positive message, even if they are about a negative subject. Some that come to mind are songs like, “What You Give,” “Love Song” and “Hang Tough.” Songs like “Modern Day Cowboy,” “Cold Blue Steel” and “Heaven’s Trail” are about subjects that are more thought provoking and relevant with society and the world, but not in a way that takes sides or that is preaching,’ says Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon when we spoke to him on July 19th, 2022 about the new Tesla tunes. Tesla have a new single to follow up “Cold Blue Steel” which the band has remixed. The new single is “Time To Rock” and is sure to get the attention of the Tesla fans of old. Gone is the slick, at times sterile sound of the album Shock. The remixed “Cold Blue Steel” and “Time To Rock” are a return to the ‘blue collar’ Tesla that we know and love.

‘We’ve survived four decades. Every decade or so, there’s a new wave of bands and trends and we’ve survived them all. The thing that we’re most proud of is that we’re truly live and we aim to entertain our audience with guitars, bass, drums and vocals. We’re keeping it real with songs we’ve written and covered and these songs have stood the test of time. We’re proud that we can still sell tickets and we still show people a good time.’

Sleaze Roxx: You have a new single coming titled “Time To Rock,” which is the follow up to “Cold Blue Steel.” You went back and remixed “Cold Blue Steel” and gave it a new coat of paint and reissued it.

Frank Hannon: Yeah, we did for several reasons. We have the freedom to be able to do that creatively. It’s really exciting, for me as a producer and as an engineer to have the reins is a dream come true for me. I have been producing the demos for Tesla since 1983 on my four track! We’ve always had labels and producers in charge of things. We have decided to produce ourselves. The other reason is when we released the song last year, we all got sick with Covid! It put a real damper on the release and the tour we were going on. We all got really sick. We had to cancel a whole leg in August. We had just filmed the video. In fact, in the “Cold Blue Steel” video, we all had Covid and we didn’t know it [laughs]! If anyone watches that video and they think that we look a little sweaty, it’s because we were all ‘feverish’ [laughs]! It was a drag man, it was a drag.

Tesla‘s “Cold Blue Steel” video:

Once we felt better, we resumed the tour and we opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd. The song “Cold Blue Steel” was actually influenced by “Saturday Night Special,” a song that Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote about gun violence. We didn’t feel that the song had gotten a fair shake at its release. As a producer and an engineer, I thought that the guitars could have been ‘cranked up’ a little bit [laughs]! I went back and I ‘cranked up’ the guitars and I went back and took out the explicit language so that radio stations wouldn’t have an excuse not to play it. I remixed it and put it out again. It did really well the second time around. We’re really proud of it. I think the song has a strong and relevant message. It doesn’t take sides on either side of the ‘gun control’ issue. It examines what is to blame. It asks the question ‘Is it the cold blue steel or is it the person pulling the trigger’? Which is it? We’re really proud of writing a song that makes people think. We did that back in 1986 when we wrote “Modern Day Cowboy” when we were still at odds with Russia.

Sleaze Roxx: The new single is also an independent release. There’s no major label involved at this point?

Frank Hannon: We started our own label years ago called Tesla Electric Company Recordings. We released ‘Forever More’ on that and ‘Simplicity,’ ‘Reel To Reel’ on that, but the album ‘Shock’ which was produced by Phil Collen [Def Leppard] was on Universal.

Sleaze Roxx: “Time To Rock” has such a killer groove to it. I know you guys got some blowback from the production on ‘Shock.’ “Time To Rock” is a return to the classic Tesla, ‘blue collar’ sound that fans love.

Frank Hannon: Thank you. It’s definitely us. It’s Jeff Keith and I, who are the main writers of the band. He and I chipped away at it for a couple of months. We had the chorus on the bus. We chipped away at the song in dressing rooms, on the bus and in my garage. I came up with that first groove which is a ‘heavy handed’ blues lick, which is very reminiscent of Ronnie Montrose or something. Maybe it is a ‘throwback’ because working with Ronnie Montrose takes us back to our early beginnings. Going back to ‘Shock’ for a minute, that album was ‘sonically’ a collaboration with Phil Collen. It was definitely a Def Leppard type sound, because he co-wrote all the material. It was an experiment that we tried. We hadn’t even done that before. Nothing wrong with that. Artists do that stuff all the time.

Tesla performing “Time To Rock” live in Des Plaines, Iowa, USA on June 26, 2022 (video from rbrobbi‘s YouTube page):

Sleaze Roxx: Are “Cold Blue Steel” and “Time To Rock” a response to the lukewarm response to ‘Shock’? Did you talk amongst each other that it was time to go back to the ‘Tesla sound?’

Frank Hannon: I think so. The band is pretty much run by Brian Wheat and myself. We started the band together and we take turns on different things. I’m more of a fan of ‘jam’ oriented kind of stuff. Brian is great at producing more ‘polished’ kind of stuff. I’ve been very involved in these singles and the rest of the guys will be working with Jeff on the next few things and we’ll all be taking turns and collaborating on things when they come.

Sleaze Roxx: The plan is to issue singles for the time being then?

Frank Hannon: Yeah, we’re going to go with the way the world is today. We’re going to write a song then put it out and enjoy it while it’s fresh. It’s much different than sequestering ourselves in a studio for six months and ‘forcing’ ourselves to write ten songs that are kind of fabricated. If someone in the band comes up with a song idea we will pursue it, write it, record it and put it out. It doesn’t matter if it’s me, Brian, Dave [Rude] or Jeff. When we were a new, young band, we must have had like 20 songs that we developed over time. Those songs were killer and we developed them over time. We put the best stuff on the debut album, like most bands. Usually a band’s debut album is their best album because those songs were written over a period of time when the band was paying their dues.

Sleaze Roxx: What song or songs were holdovers from the debut album that made their way onto ‘The Great Radio Controversy’?

Frank Hannon: We had a lot of those song ideas ‘brewing around’ even going into our third album ‘Psychotic Supper.’ The song “What You Give” which is one of our biggest ballads was floating around my campfires along with my acoustic guitar, as far back as our first album [‘Mechanical Resonance’]. ‘Psychotic Supper’ is our fouth album. It came after ‘Five Man Acoustical Jam.’ There were some songs that were held over that needed ‘refinement.’ On the second album, there is a song called “The Party’s Over.” There’s a song called “Lazy Days, Crazy Nights.” Those were songs that we played in the clubs early on in our career.

Tesla‘s “Lazy Days, Crazy Nights” video (from The Great Radio Controversy album):

Sleaze Roxx: I asked Brian [Wheat] when I spoke to him when he was promoting his book. Any movement on a Tesla box set?

Frank Hannon: [Pause] We have a lot of demos and ‘funny’ recordings and stuff like that. We had ‘talked’ about doing a box set back in the day, when box sets were a popular item. Now 20 years later as time has gone by, do people even buy box sets anymore? I don’t know. Maybe there will be a new format in the future where we would put out some of those ‘unreleased’ demos and stuff. I personally foresee it [happening]. Some fans might want it. I know there are some diehard collectors out there. That’s more of a Brian thing because he’s into those things more than I am.

Sleaze Roxx: I love ‘Five Man London Jam.’ I feel that was really underappreciated. What do you think?

Frank Hannon: [Pause] Yeah. It was kind of ‘thrown together’ pretty quickly by Universal [Music]. There were a lot of changes going on with us at the time. Maybe it didn’t get publicized enough. For us as a band, as musicians and as artists, it was a fantastic experience to be able to spend the whole day at Abbey Road Studios. Just to be in that environment, it will be an experience that I will never forget. I feel honored to have gone from ‘the ghetto’ of South Sacramento and end up playing my music and a show at Abbey Road Studios 40 years later. It was a pretty cool feat! We were very proud to have been able to have done it.

Sleaze Roxx: You have Steve Brown sitting in for Troy [Lucketta]. Did he perform on the new singles?

Frank Hannon: Steve Brown played drums on “Time To Rock.” He has been playing with us for a long time actually. He has played with us before. There were previous times where Troy couldn’t make it and Steve stepped in. He’s been part of the Tesla family for a while now.

Sleaze Roxx: What’s your thoughts on Tommy Skeoch’s Resist & Bite?

Frank Hannon: Oh man! I love it! Nathan [Utz] his singer, he’s a great guy! I’m so glad Tommy found Nathan and vice versa. There’s some good chemistry there. I’m so happy for them! I’ve always been a huge fan of Tommy Skoech’s guitar tone, his riffs and his approach to the guitar. It’s all over that album! I couldn’t be happier for him and the band. I am happy that he is still alive to be honest. He’s got more than nine lives I think! More than a cat!

Sleaze Roxx: That debut album really hits the mark. It wasn’t the case with a lot of his stuff. I’m glad he finally did something that connected with a lot of people.

Frank Hannon: I think one of the things that is important when recording music is ‘teamwork.’ Tommy in the past put out solo albums in the past and like you said, didn’t hit the mark. I’ve done the same thing. It makes a difference if you have a team. I would compare it to this, is it more fun to play basketball with a team or just shoot hoops? When you don’t have the comradery or the team working together, it’s going to lack something. I remember playing some music for Jesse James Dupree from Jackyl. I played him some rough mixes of an album I was working on. He suggested that I play it for some of my musician friends and collaborate with them [laughs]! I think he could tell I was doing it by myself, because there was something missing. I’m happy Tommy is still alive, he’s making music and he’s still rockin.’

Sleaze Roxx: Any chance that your ‘Far Out” Podcast will make a comeback?

Frank Hannon: Thank you for asking, I think so. I really enjoyed doing that. It ran its course when Covid hit. During Covid, I shifted gears and went into [the] production end of things and worked with a number of young acts. The ‘Far Out’ Podcast was put on the shelf during that time, but I’m thinking I might get back into that eventually. I really enjoyed interviewing other people. That was a lot of fun.

Sleaze Roxx: Last thing, ‘The Stadium Tour’ is in full swing. You’ve toured with both of the co-headliners, more with Def Leppard of course. Do you have one memory from your time supporting Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard?

Frank Hannon: Oh gosh! There’s so many! Being in ‘the round’ with Def Leppard. They conceived that idea back in 1987. That was a ‘mind-blowing’ experience. For me, being 20 years old on that magnitude, on a stage that big, was just fantastic. I was a huge fan of Steve Clark’s. He was super nice and he’d always hang out with me. We had a love for Gibson guitars. He’d always take me to the Gibson factory when we were passing through Nashville. I’d jump in the cab with Steve Clark and we’d go to the Gibson plant. I have great memories of that. Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe was also very cool to me. When we were out with them on the ‘Dr. Feelgood Tour’, Mick Mars would like to go guitar shopping as well. He invited me to go guitar shopping with him one time. He pulled out his credit card and bought me some killer Fuzz Boxes and some phase shifters in this guitar shop in Minneapolis one time. It was freaking awesome! I couldn’t believe it! There was a comradery between myself and the guitar players in those bands.

Tesla‘s “Shock” video (from Shock album):