After a month-long battle with COVID that left him in a state where he could “barely breathe”, guitarist Frank Hannon was “excited” to finally hit the road with Tesla.
The band are on their current run without drummer Troy Lucketta, who decided to “take some time on the road to spend with family and friends” after 35 years of touring. In his place is Steve Brown, brother of former Dokken “Wild” skinsman Mick Brown. Young Brown “saves the day” according to in Hanno.
Currently celebrating their 40th anniversary, the veteran hard rock band continues to tour and record new music, which is incredible for the veteran guitarist. “When I was 18, writing that first album, man, I wasn’t thinking 40 years later,” he told UCR. “I had no idea we were in the future, the year 2021. I mean, it sounded like a sci-fi movie to me.”
Hannon shared some ideas on “Cold Blue Steel”, the band‘s latest single, as well as gigs with Lynyrd Skynyrd and some vintage touring memorabilia with David Lee Roth.
Let’s talk about this new song, “Cold Blue Steel”. Seems like it emerged as all good songs often do, in a very organic way. Can you explain this to us?
I have been producing young artists in my studio for a year and a half. My production and recording were therefore operational. Knowing that we were going on the road in a few months with Tesla, I called [Tesla vocalist] Jeff [Keith] and I said, “Hey man, why don’t you come. Let’s write a song and record it. The studio is up and running and we can create something.
He was excited for it. We wanted to release something new for this tour. I was jamming in my garage on this heavy detuned [Jimi] Hendrix-y ambiance thing. On the way home, he had listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Saturday Night Special”. He was setting this up and shot at it. Around that time there had been some news violence so I said, “Why don’t we bring it up here? “
Now, as Tesla likes to be, we’re very righteous. If you listen to the lyrics, they sound like “Modern day cowboy, while we touch on a topical subject. Like “USA / USSR, foreign countries, terrorist claims”, but we are not taking sides. “Cold Blue Steel”, we approached it in the same way. The song is actually about people’s intentions.
The first verse says: “Give them a thumbs up and they’ll take a mile / Sick and miserable behind a smile. “The song is about bad intentions. It’s not really about guns. Even though it started out like that.” Cold Blue Steel “can be a plane you fly in a building, if you’re a evil person.
Watch the Tesla “Cold Blue Steel” video
You talked about how the song inspiringly begins with Skynyrd. You do shows together. Do you know the people of Skynyrd?
We know Lynyrd Skynyrd. We have a history with them. In the 90s, when they had their reunion, we shot with them on The last rebel to visit, [with] Gary [Rossington], and Léon [Wilkeson] was still there [as well as] Billy Powell. We are great friends with Johnny Van Zant. We met them in Paris. We had a festival with them last year.
But beyond that, we love their music. It’s the kind of band that writes songs like “Simple Man” and “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Free Bird”. Songs that come from the heart. They are one of our biggest influences. When we wrote “Cold Blue Steel” we had no idea we were going to do dates with them.
It wasn’t until after we got a phone call, “Hey guess what, you’re going to open for Skynyrd.” And we’re like, “Hey, guess what from our end, we just wrote a song influenced by Lynyrd Skynyrd. So it worked.
What memories do you have of your first encounter with the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd?
I remember being a 12 year old driving a car and listening to FM radio. “Free Bird” was on the radio. Obviously the guitar solos are amazing at the end. Everyone knows how awesome it is. But the beginning of “Free Bird”, when Gary Rossington plays that weeping slide guitar, really slow and moving. I just remember being a kid and that sound hit me instantly and made me feel a certain way that I had never felt before.
Tesla recorded most recent album, 2019’s Shock, on the road with Def Leppard producer Phil Collen. How has this experience influenced the way you create the songs you’ve worked on most recently?
It opened my eyes to realize that it can be done. You can record an album these days anywhere. You don’t have to go to an expensive studio and we used to think we couldn’t write songs on the road because we were too busy doing scales and stuff. But the truth is, you can actually get more inspiration on the go and you can if you manage your time well. What we’re going to do now is keep writing when the time comes and keep it raw. [Tesla bassist] Brian Wheat and I are going to set up a studio and do as we did with Shock, but by ourselves this time.
I saw the band on the first reunion tour in 2001. You’ve been able to add a lot of chapters to Tesla’s story since then. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years.
The road has been bumpy. It is not an easy road. The first half, from ’86 to ’96, we piled up and worked without ever stopping and we never took a break. Then it came to a head. We were all frustrated and the summit was gone. We should have taken a break. But we didn’t. We got mad at each other and got a divorce and went through all kinds of legal bullshit.
If we had taken a break it might have worked differently. We got back together and had to change guitarists, but [guitarist] Dave [Rude] has been with us for over 15 years. What a solid guy, man. The team is strong.
I spoke to Dave. He’s a good, solid guy, as you say. It’s hard to find that kind of chemistry with a guitarist even once, so the fact that you got to find that magic with Dave is pretty cool.
Thank you. It was not easy, my brother. Before, when we were going through hardships with our old guitarist again, I started shopping for about a year. I auditioned a bunch of guys and I had a guy who was going to be in the place. But he was a younger guy and he wanted to play in a band. He ended up playing in a band called Lit. He was more of a punk rocker and a killer guitarist named Ryan [Gillmor]. It didn’t work with him, so I searched and searched frantically for a long time.
I had an audition night in Sacramento at a bar and had eight guitarists who jumped with me, along with my solo band, Kaleidoscope. We played every guitar song you can imagine. Hendrix, Rush, Aerosmith, Van Halen [and bands like that]. I had different guys coming. In my back pocket, I had Dave Rude arriving. I found him on Myspace and I knew he was a killer, because he looked like a killer.
He sat down with me that night and I made a videotape of it and took it home and played it for my wife. We were both saying, “This is the guy right there. It’s him!” [Laughs] He was such a relief. He succeeded in the solo “What You Give”. Tommy Skeoch’s solo on “What You Give” is really hard to play with feeling and Dave nails it. So he got the job.
Last bit here. Do you have a good David Lee Roth story?
I do, man. David Lee Roth was really great with us. But we never saw him. They had security so tight around him. Because he was the biggest thing since Elvis [Presley] at this moment. I mean, “Yankee Rose” and Eat them and smile, David Lee Roth was huge!
We would be in these cities like Buffalo, New York or whatever, in the middle of the day. He was going to run in the snow. I remember him entering the room with his bodyguard, just covered in snow. He looked like The abominable snowman, because he had jogged there. [Laughs]
Top 100 rock albums from the 80s
UCR takes a chronological look at the top 100 rock albums of the 80s.