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June 27. 2013 12:45AM

Happy Outcasts

Tesla still bucking trends with metal rock classics

BEHIND THE SCENES: Tesla takes pride in having stuck to its sigature sound — and avoided the glam metal fashion fads of fellow rockers of the 1980s. 


Much like their namesake inventor Nikola Tesla, who was a bit of an outcast in the scientific world, it could be said that the band Tesla has made a career of being underestimated and not quite fitting in.

BEHIND THE SCENES: Tesla takes pride in having stuck to its sigature sound — and avoided the glam metal fashion fads of fellow rockers of the 1980s. 

“Every record we've ever made, it was never the latest trend or fad,” said Jeff Keith, lead singer of Tesla, which made it big in the late '80s with songs like “Signs” and “Love Song.” “We've always stayed true to our sound, and we always know who we are. We're just Tesla: hardworking, blue-collar rock.”

Tesla's Frank Hannon 

Tesla will be bringing that work-a-day sound to Hampton Beach Ballroom Casino Sunday, June 30.

Known mainly for its melodic songs and down-to-Earth approach to things, Tesla got its start in Northern California in 1982 as a band called City Kidd, before the band's managers suggested a name change. The group came of age at the height of hair and glam-metal bands, and Tesla continues to tour and make records, the 14th of which drops next year.

“We always wrote songs from the heart ... and we were always told to have fun with it,” Keith said. “Because that's the only thing that nobody can ever take away from you. They can say, 'I don't like the way you look, walk, talk, sound, I don't like your songs, I don't like your record ... but they can't say you didn't just have fun up on stage.”

While Tesla was rocking the scene as hard as other bands in its heyday, the group left the lipstick and hairspray at home, refusing to take on the popular glam image. And Keith said he thinks the group benefitted from that decision, even though, at the time, there was a lot of pressure to conform. He said CeCe Deville, guitarist for the glam band Poison, used to tell him to get the big hair and to pump up their look with “clothes from your sister's closet.”

“We all joke about it now,” Keith said of being labeled by another well-known band of the time as being “just a bunch of tomato farmers from Sacramento.” “But, yeah, that's right, that's who we represent: hardworking blue-collar people. That's what we are. We weren't into image; we were into music. So, when the grunge movement came along, the first thing they kicked out was image. (It was) plaid shirts and torn-up jeans, and that's it. Well, that's what we always wore in the first place.

“In the grunge world, in '91, ... they allowed us to stick around, because (the consensus from industry folks and the record-buying public was) 'Hey, you were always pushed out of the circle for not fitting in, and you were never about image, so we're going to kind of let you stick around. And plus we like your songs'.”

The fans are still there, and Tesla can sell out 1,500- or even 5,000-seat shows, he said. Though today's lineup has been clean and sober since 2000,when they went on tour with the Scorpions, Tesla lost Tommy Skeoch in 2006.

“We found Dave Rude, and he's a perfect fit,” Keith said. “So, us old dogs are still able to pull it off, and we're still going stronger than ever right now.”

As for the June 30 show, Keith said they love playing Hampton.

“The Hampton beach casino has never let us down,” he said. “It's wide. It's got people upstairs and downstairs, and it's always hot and sweaty. And what I love is that it's up close and personal. You can reach out and touch them, and they're just sitting there loving the show. When we play, we feed off the audience, which feeds off of us, and it comes full circle.”

The set list is always a challenge because they have a large catalogue to draw from. Still they have staple songs, “which you don't go anywhere without playing,” he said. “We've been playing ... some of them for 26 years now, like 'Modern Day Cowboy,' 'Signs,' 'Love Song,' 'Hang Tough.' We take from the old all the way up through the new, and we like to pull one or two what we like to call rabbits out of the hat,” songs they haven't played in a while.

Ticket to the 8 p.m. show are $30-$33. For details, call 929-4100 or go to Casinoballroom.com.

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