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  • Gail Flug

30 Years Ago Today... My Little Bit Of Tesla History

It was 30 years ago today that Tesla released its live album "Five Man Acoustical Jam." While the band was already enjoying success with their first two albums, "Mechanical Resonance" and "The Great Radio Controversy," it was this 'unplugged' live CD that catapulted them into a radio smash.

The release of this album would also prove to be a boost of notoriety for myself as a writer.


The back cover of "Five Man Acoustical Jam"

THE BACKSTORY

Under the wing of Q Prime Management, whose roster at the time included Def Leppard, Dokken, Suicidal Tendencies, Queensrÿche, and Metallica, Tesla was able to secure opening slots for many arena tours. By the spring of 1990, they had two platinum albums under their belt and were gaining even more momentum touring with Mötley Crüe. When the schedule had a full week off, management felt it better to book a handful of headline shows to spare the expense of flying them home. As a change of pace, their manager suggested the band do these sets acoustic, as it was a well-received idea when they performed stripped-down versions of their hits in the past.


The front cover of "Five Man Acoustical Jam"

According to an interview for Ultimate Classic Rock with guitarist Frank Hannon, they decided to include a few covers into the setlist. Vocalist Jeff Keith brought in the song 'Signs," recorded by the Canadian band Five Man Electrical Band in 1970. Their version was first performed live during an in-studio appearance at a radio station in Boston and would later become a radio hit after the album's release. Now you know where they got the album's title.


So how do I fit within this bit of Tesla history?


At the time, I was the East Coast correspondent for the British rock magazine, RAW, and assigned to write a review of their New York City appearance at the Ritz. I don't need to repeat what I thought of the show - as it is all explained in the reprinted text - but I recognized this series of concerts was a unique experience for their fans. RAW published it in the August 8th / #51 edition of the magazine, and I, like every other active freelance journalist, thought nothing of it other than to start pitching future work.


The original review from RAW #51

Soon later, I went to the Q Prime office to visit in-house publicist Linda Walker (now Linda Chauncey) to drop off the magazine and chat. She asked if I knew anyone who had photos of the tour as Geffen wanted to release the show from the Trocadero in Philadelphia. Half-jokingly, I suggested they add my review to the album art, and they did! I'm sure the closing line - "I just hope that somebody was wise enough to capture at least one of these shows on tape..." - had a lot to do with it.


Geffen reproduced my original copy, sans a paragraph about a guest appearance by Don Dokken as he only sang at the New York show. To emphasize the show was recorded elsewhere, they just crossed out the top of the headline. Unlike liner notes, which are only located inside a CD booklet, my review was on the back cover for all to see. It also appeared on the cassette insert and the CD Longbox. (Remember them). To this day, I still feel inspired, proud, and fulfilled by this accomplishment, and it is nice of the band to be a welcomed guest anytime Tesla plays the New York City area. The platinum album award on my living room wall, next to my framed autographed LP, is kinda cool too.


Below is the text - enjoy!

Me and Tesla vocalist Jeff Keith

TESLA

Verdict: A very special performance


A SELL-OUT, and rightfully so, this show was one of five to be done almost acoustically. Not too many Hard Rock bands would dare attempt such a feat, let alone be able to pull it off, but Tesla managed it with ease.


The intimate setting was ideal; the stage empty save for a scaled-down drumkit, a few folding chairs, a Paul McCartney-style bass and two guitars. The Sacramento quintet turned their usual opener, 'Comin' Atcha Live', into an unrecognizable Honky Tonk number, which somehow materialized into the Grateful Dead's 'Truckin" without missing a beat. 'Gettin' Better' and 'Heaven's Trail' were just a bit more laid back than their studio versions, and incorporating a foot-stomping, uplifting country beat.


Jeff Keith's ever-distinctive rasp was in top-notch form, as the mop-topped guitar duo of Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch smiled, smoked and picked away, seemingly enjoying life away from Marshall stacks and effects. Drummer Troy Lucketta sat out of the really quiet songs - such as 'Modern Day Cowboy' and 'The Way That It Is -and bassist Brian Wheat's elegant ivory-tinkling on a baby grand piano during 'Paradise' and 'Before My Eyes' certainly tugged at the heart strings.

Me and Tesla drummer Troy Lucketta

My jaw dropped as they began a rendition of 'We Can Work It Out' by The Beatles and followed it with the Stones' 'Mother's Little Helper'.


All in all, the change of pace was entertaining, and not one that any Tesla fan could forget. I just hope that somebody was wise enough to capture at least one of these shows on tape. . .







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