‘Sign, sign, everywhere a sign’ pointing to Tesla at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Tesla at Hollywood Casino (Part 1)

They were a staple of the U.S. rock scene throughout the ’80s and ’90s, but Tesla is still going strong, having just played their first-ever residency in Las Vegas at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

This Friday night, the band travels to play a sold-out show at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, West Virginia, just over the border for our Maryland and Virginia listeners.

“We’re in a cool position with the legacy of the band,” guitarist Dave Rude told WTOP. “We’ve got a lot of records and songs that people demand to hear, so we always do the hits and some particular live fan favorites that everyone expects … we also like to keep it interesting. We have a lot of diehards who come to a lot of shows, so we’ll throw in some deep tracks, new songs, old songs we haven’t done in a long time, covers just to spice it up.”

The band formed in Sacramento, California, in 1981 under the original name City Kidd with a lineup featuring vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarist Frank Hannon, bassist Brian Wheat, guitarist Tommy Skeoch and drummer Troy Luccketta.

Signed by Geffen Records, the band changed its name to Tesla and released its debut album, “Mechanical Resonance,” including hit singles “Modern Day Cowboy” and “Little Suzi.”

“Those songs are a blast to play live,” Rude said. “To hear that electricity when people hear their favorite Tesla song, it’s always really exciting … in 2016, we did a live record of ‘Mechanical Resonance’ in its entirety, so we went through and learned all the old album tracks. That was fun to do a more recent interpretation of those classics.”

In 1989, Tesla’s second album, “Great Radio Controversy,” went double platinum, including the songs “Heaven’s Trail” and “Love Song.”

“There’s a good amount of songs that I think we’d get run out of town if we didn’t play every show, so ‘Love Song,’ all that stuff, we definitely gotta do,” Rude said. “One fun one on ‘Great Radio’ that we learned for Vegas was ‘Lady Luck.’ We’ve been doing that a lot since Vegas and that one is really fun to do live because it’s an album track, it wasn’t a huge hit, but all of the fans know it and love it and we haven’t done it in forever.”

In 1990, the band released its live album “Five Man Acoustical Jam,” which featured the badass cover of The Five-Man Electrical Band’s “Signs,” which was first released back in 1971.

“‘Signs’ was not a big departure arrangement-wise, but the fact that it’s Jeff singing and has a lot more hard-rock energy, even being acoustic, that just made it unique,” Rude said. “Honestly, I don’t think the majority of people know that ‘Signs’ is a cover … it’s so just linked to the band … as soon as Frank hits the first [hums a few notes], people lose their minds. That one gets one of, if not the biggest, reactions of the night.”

In 1991, the band released another platinum album with “Psychotic Supper,” which was actually the band’s highest position on the U.S. Albums Chart, including the hit song “Edison’s Medicine.”

“Dude, ‘Psychotic’ is still my favorite Tesla record, hands down,” Rude said. “Every song on that record I think is a classic. Everything, the production, the performance, that was really a band at their peak. It was just magic. ‘What You Give’ is one of my favorite songs ever by anyone. It’s up there with The Beatles and Zeppelin to me … that initial opening guitar line, the acoustic, is so weird and so unique, it just really resonates with me.”

After “Bust a Nut” (1994) and “Into the Now” (2004), Rude joined the band in 2006, just in time for “Real to Reel” (2007) and “Forever More” (2008), a dream come true after a life of Tesla fandom.

“I grew up listening to Tesla,” Rude said. “I got the ‘Five Man Acoustical Jam’ record when I was in seventh grade and I had it on a cassette, I had no CD player yet, and I literally wore it out to where the writing was gone and it was like a blank piece of plastic with music inside and followed the band ever since … that was my gateway drug to Tesla … it all just happened really randomly when Frank Hannon found me on MySpace in 2006.”

Since then, the band has dropped new albums every few years, including “Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions” (2011), “Simplicity” (2014) and “Shock” (2019), co-written and produced by Phil Collen of Def Leppard.

“Just working with such a great musician and song smith, I think that really upped our game in just the writing of the songs before we even got to recording, then putting all of the extra time into making a really well-produced record and have it be so sonically big, that’s a really good memory for me and I really love that record,” Rude said.

Thankfully, the band has avoided copyright battles with Elon Musk, founder of the Tesla electric car company, both named after Thomas Edison’s rival, the inventor Nikola Tesla.

“I had just joined the band when the car company just started to blow up,” Rude said. “There was a little bit of like, hmm, is there any legal things here? But I think it was just sort of all right. If it was another band it would be different, but it’s such a different field of business, so there’s no issue. It’s kind of cool. Elon [Musk] knows about us. There’s a photo of him wearing an old-school Tesla t-shirt on a red carpet, pointing at his shirt.”

Could Rude’s electric guitar take Musk’s electric car?

“Ooh yes, can we plug it into the car? Can we power a Marshall amp with a Tesla battery?”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Tesla at Hollywood Casino (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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