Sacramento rockers Tesla have gone back to the future with Five Man London Jam – the long overdue follow-up to Five Man Acoustical Jam. Rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth caught up with drummer Troy Luccketta.
Rushonrock: How’s the Tesla camp coming to terms with the coronavirus crisis?
Troy Luccketta: Fortunately, everyone in the band seems to be ok. I’ve been in touch with Brian [Wheat, bass] lately but of course we can’t see each other. I go out for my allotted short walk with the dog each day and we’re just hoping everyone stays fit and well.
Rushonrock: Thirty years on from the release of Five Man Acoustical Jam what can you remember about that transformational period for the band?
TL: The whole thing was a big accident! It was never on our agenda but we were in the Bay Area and there was an awards show going on. The girl organising it asked if we’d play two acoustic songs and it seemed like a good idea. It went down well and she came back to the band and asked if we’d play a full acoustic set in San Francisco. It challenged us but we enjoyed it and straight after we went out on the road with Mötley Crüe on the Dr Feelgood tour. We weren’t playing every night so we booked in five acoustic shows on that tour. We recorded one of the shows – at the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia – but we never planned on putting it out. We filed it away as something for our fans further down the line or maybe for B-sides. But then Jeff [Keith, vocals], Frank [Hannon, guitar] and Tommy Skeoch [guitars, 1984-1994 and 2000-2006] played a version of Signs on the radio in Boston and it became the most requested song in that city. Our record label, Geffen, got wind of the success and suddenly wanted to revisit that live show in Philly. It just kind of blew up and the Five Man Acoustical Jam record was born.
Rushonrock: Did the record give Tesla’s credibility a shot in the arm?
TL: I guess it did make some people sit up and take notice. The acoustic nature of the record meant there was an increased focus on the musicianship. People saw that the band could really play away from the bright lights of the arenas and the hair metal scene. It probably helped us gain some credibility.
Rushonrock: Was there any negativity around Five Man Acoustical Jam at a time when the focus was on big hair, big choruses and big production?
TL: Not at all. It wasn’t a pretentious record at all. As I say, it was never planned. I think the organic nature of the album appealed to people. As a band we never relied on anything other than our music and our playing. We were never about the image and as far as the media was concerned we were pretty much faceless. I think FMAJ reflected what we were all about.
Rushonrock: Were those acoustic shows on the Crüe tour a necessary antidote to rock and roll excess every other night?
TL: The funny thing is Crüe were in the best shape of their lives on that tour. As far as I know it’s the only time that they were all clean and sober. We just happened to be there when their focus was fully on the music and they were on fire. Maybe we were a good influence…
Rushonrock: FMAJ had only been out for a few months when Psychotic Supper was released. Should you have spent more time promoting the acoustic album?
TL: I don’t think so. Signs got so big that we reached a point where we just wanted it to go away so we could out the new album! We were very proud of Psychotic Supper and wanted our fans to hear it. We enjoyed our happy accident with FMAJ but were ready to move forward by the summer of 1991.
Rushonrock: Was it always the plan to revisit Tesla’s acoustic past 30 years on from FMAJ?
TL: Not at all. It’s like history repeating itself because it was very much a last-minute thing and not pre-planned at all. It was brought up three or four weeks before we went into Abbey Road but we didn’t sign a contract until a week or so before. It went right down to the wire and we weren’t sure whether it would happen at all. But we got the green light to record Five Man London Jam and rented a rehearsal space two or three days before we got to England. We revisited some of the songs that appeared on FMAJ and practised a few of the newer songs.
Rushonrock: How did you feel about the format?
TL: It was completely live but there were only 20-odd people in the room – record label people and journalists. That was a little strange but we went straight through the set and didn’t even have time to listen back to the recording as we were playing Download the following day. When I did listen back to what we’d done I was pleasantly surprised. It was another happy accident! We were in the right place at the right time and, on reflection, I’m glad we did it. A week beforehand it was still up in the air and I’d asked the guys ‘are we actually going to do this?’.
Rushonrock: FMAJ featured The Beatles’ We Can Work It Out and 30 years later you played the song again in Abbey Road. How did that feel?
TL: Absolutely frickin’ amazing! It wasn’t even on the radar and suddenly we were making a record in Abbey Road. You couldn’t make it up. We hardly ever played that song after FMAJ was released but we rehearsed it before heading to London and it was just like old times.
Rushonrock: Describe the Abbey Road vibe?
TL: In many respects it’s just like any other world class studio. Of course it’s got that storied history but we were there to do a job and it’s not as if I was tripping or anything. Of course, we were happy to be there but it was only later on that I heard that Frank was really nervous. Looking back, I guess it was a special moment. There was a great energy and a vibe when we were playing the show but I would have preferred to see more people there and more fans there. It’s difficult to get a small, ‘industry’ crowd going and I was worried about that. But the people who were there really got into the show and in the end I was really happy with how it turned out.
Rushonrock: You featured new tunes from 2019’s Phil Collen-produced Shock – was that an easy decision?
TL: Yes. Phil did a phenomenal job on that record and we all love it. He brought real energy to the table and made sure we got it done. I don’t think we were really ready to make that album but Phil was like our fifth Beatle. He was heavily involved in every aspect and has been a huge supporter and friend of the band for so many years. That’s so cool and the songs from Shock sound great on FMLJ.
Rushonrock: How do you feel the world is going to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak when life returns to some kind of normality?
TL: I hope life will return to normal but I think the whole experience has proved to be very humbling. We’ve taken life for granted and it’s taken this sad state of affairs to make us realise that. The positive is that we’re going through it together as one world – I’m facing the same challenges as people on the other side of the planet and that’s a pretty unique situation. I just pray that it’s all over as soon as possible and that people stay safe and it doesn’t cripple the global economy.
*Five Man London Jam is out now via UMC.