Is Tesla Sacramento’s Greatest Rock Band Ever?
Look in the second half of the article for information about other prominent Sacramento rock bands
Sacramento, California has produced many excellent rock bands, and perhaps the best of the bunch is Tesla, a hard rock assemblage formed in the middle 1980s. Please bear in mind, Tesla isn’t simply a local rock band; they’ve toured throughout the world. In fact, you may have heard of them.
Let’s check out Tesla and see how they stack up against other Sacramento rock groups in the present and earlier times.
History of Tesla
The band formed in 1984, having gained at least some inspiration from legendary scientist Nikola Tesla, who invented electrical alternating current. Tesla’s first studio album was Mechanical Resonance, produced in 1986. Tesla has a grungy, blue jeans appearance, in counterpoint to the hair metal (or glam metal) bands such as David Lee Roth, Def Leppard and Poison, with which Tesla toured as the warm-up band in those heady times. By hanging with these flashy rock groups, Tesla became known as something similar, a labeling they reportedly resented.
Tesla’s original lineup included vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarists Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch, as well as bassist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta. The rhythm section has stayed with the group since its inception.
In 1989, Tesla released their second studio album, The Great Radio Controversy, which includes perhaps their finest power ballad, “Love Song,” a hit single. Incidentally, over the years, Tesla’s produced numerous popular singles. Then, in 1991, Tesla produced Psychotic Supper, the band’s favorite album, which includes such metal butt-kickers as “Change in the Weather,” “Edison’s Medicine” and “Toke about It.” (Perhaps no Tesla song trumpets the genius of Nikola Tesla better than “Edison’s Medicine.”) And on all of these tunes, singer Jeff Keith sounds and looks decidedly Steven Tylerish.
The group’s fourth studio album, Bust a Nut, came along in 1994. (A Japanese reissue of the album includes a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean.”) This album solidified Tesla’s place as hard rock balladeers adept at producing memorable, tear-jerking tunes.
Then guitarist Tommy Skeoch left the band, allegedly because of substance abuse issues. This was the first of many times Skeoch exited the group. In 2006, guitarist Dave Rude replaced Skeoch, seemingly for good.
Consequently - or maybe the time was simply right - Tesla went on hiatus, the next five to six years members fragmenting into solo efforts of one sort or another.
Tesla reunited about the turn of the century, playing a concert in Sacramento on October 25, 2000. Apparently this emotional event re-energized the band, because they soon produced the double-album set, Replugged Live, offering such metal staples as “Comin’ Atcha'" and “EZ Come EZ Go.”
In 2004, Tesla produced the album Into the Now, a song of which the band played on the hit late night show, Jimmy Kimmel Live! The album debuted at number 30 on Billboard’s album chart.
Then, following the lead of many rock bands, Tesla turned indie in August 2008, as they released the album Forever More on their independent label, Tesla Electric Company Recordings. The album features the hit single “I Wanna Live.”
These guys are certainly capable of conquering adversity, as their Sacramento studio burned to the ground on Sept. 30, 2010. But the members have soldiered on, continuing to produce cutting edge hard rock - or could it be called pop metal? This author bets the members can’t abide that silly label!
Moving on in 2011, Tesla produced the acoustic album, Twisted Wires and the Acoustic Sessions.
Musical Score for a Documentary
In early 2012, members of Tesla sponsored the documentary “Running with Demons,” which follows the travels of a licensed chemical dependency counselor named Todd Crandell, who engages in a three-day, 318-mile triathlon in British Columbia. Crandell, a recovering drug addict, shows the benefits of using physical exercise to get clean and sober and stay that way. Tesla guitarist Dave Rude wrote the score for the documentary, using only original tunes and fills – not Tesla’s music, keep in mind. Rude’s story regarding the creation of the film can be seen at the following link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gbIcqBd7vE.
More Sacramento Rock Bands
As the author stated before, Sacramento has definitely had its share of superb rock bands. Back in the 1980s there was Bourgeois Tagg, a new wave funk band, which once performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Incidentally, the Tagg played the best dance music ever!
For a passage to BT’s performance on the Tonight Show, please click on this link.
Also, in the ‘80s there were other notable rock bands such as Secret Service, Charlie Peacock, Lady and the Boys, Steele Breeze, as well as the electric blues band, Little Charlie and the Nightcats (now billed as Rick Estrin and the Nightcats.) The Nightcats, formed way back in 1976, play some of the best urban blues found anywhere. Other important blues artists originating from that period are Johnny “Guitar” Knox and Leo Bootes.
More recently, the alternative rock band Cake formed in 1991. Cake’s music is offbeat and satirical and certainly deserves the label of alternative. Cake released the album Showroom of Compassion in 2011, garnering much national interest. Other notable rock bands forming around 1990 were Sex 66 (Why don’t they call it Sex 69?), Tattooed Love Dogs, The Deftones and Blufood.
One more Sacramento mainstay for many years has been Mumbo Gumbo, a soft rock band which plays a little bit of everything, though they present a distinctive rock and roll style on such hits as “Barbecue,” and “Love Birds.” Because of renown and variety, Mumbo Gumbo may have the largest audience of any rock band ever in Sacramento.
In current times, the Nibblers are a soul and funk ensemble worth a look. Comprised of many fine Sacramento musicians, this band’s sound is similar to that of the Mellotones and Tower of Power.
Another up-and-coming Sacramento rock band is The Old Screen Door. Their music is country rock meet R&B. Don’t miss these guys, who play all over the state or right down the street.
The aforementioned Leo Bootes is a Sacramento bluesman and rocker who’s been blazing the gig scene since the 1980s. From Seattle, Washington and a member of the Sacramento Blues Society, Bootes plays all the blues standards and plenty of rock and roll, including the classic rock of John Lennon and other rock artists. He plays all over, so go check him out!
Admittedly, many Sacramento rock bands haven’t been mentioned in this article. The bands that came and went before the 1980s weren’t represented, for instance. But it seems no rock band tops Tesla, a band which has sold millions of albums, four of which platinum. Simply listening to some of their songs will show you how good they are. As for the best rock band ever in Sacramento, who’s to say which one qualifies? Nevertheless, in the realm of hard rock or heavy metal, Tesla is almost certainly the best ever in Sacramento.
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© 2012 Kelley Marks