The Hippo


Aug 23, 2019








Courtesy photo.

Def Leppard, Poison & Tesla

Where: SNHU Arena,  555 Elm St., Manchester 
When: Saturday, April 8, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $29.50 - $129.50 at

Among friends
Def Leppard and Tesla share more than an era

By Michael Witthaus

Throwback package shows are the music industry’s bread and butter. Gather a few acts, put a decade on the ticket and call it a tour. On the surface, an upcoming triple bill at SNHU Arena has all the signs of this classic rock calculus. Three bands sharing a late ’80s/early ’90s heyday and an active rock sound are hitting the road for a show that seems to be the sum of its Headbanger’s Ball parts.

Two of the acts have more in common than an ability to coax soccer moms (and dads) in to the minivan and out to revisit their youth. Tesla opened for Def Leppard on tour in 1987, the moment they began winning a national audience. At one raucous club show, Leppard members Phil Collen and Steve Clark jumped on stage to jam with the  group.
The connection goes back further, guitarist and cofounder Frank Hannon recalled in a recent phone interview. 
“Even before Tesla, we were really huge fans,” Hannon said. “Our first band, City Kidd, would play all those songs in the bars — ‘Let It Go,’ ‘Saturday Night,’ ‘High ‘n Dry.’ Once we started writing our own songs, it became a big part of our sound.”
After they met, the two groups became close friends, and they have toured together several times over the years. In particular, Collen took a strong interest in Tesla. During a tour last year celebrating the 30th anniversary of their 1986 debut, Mechanical Resonance, he stopped by the band’s dressing room and offered his services. 
“Phil has always loved Tesla, and that night he just started throwing all these great ideas at us,” Hannon said.
Collen wrote and produced a song, “Save the Goodness,” which ended up as a bonus track on a live disc of the show. “He thought it sounded a lot like Tesla, and he was right,” Hannon said. “Ronnie Montrose did that with us at the very beginning. ‘Little Suzi’ is one our biggest hits, and he brought that to us.”
Working with the Leppard guitarist was so inspiring that he returned to the helm for a new studio album, currently in development. 
“It was really energizing for the band,” Hannon said. “It’s kind of like in sports — when a coach comes in from the outside,  the team always plays better.”
The hard-rocking band, named after pioneering inventor Nikola Tesla, is often misunderstood. Because they had feather cuts in the days of Mötley Crüe, some critics call them hair metal. “We came out of the same era,” Hannon said with a wry laugh. “But we were always kind of good old rock ’n’ roll guys.”
To be sure, the first music Hannon ever loved was the Rolling Stones — as a toddler, no less. “I remember the first time I heard ‘Satisfaction’  on my mom’s radio in her Chevy Impala; it scared the heck out of me,” he said. “Man, that sound  Keith Richards made was just mesmerizing,” he said.
In grade school, he’d sneak into neighborhood keg parties to hear local cover bands play, and decided to take up guitar after watching the documentary film Monterey Pop: “Seeing Jimi Hendrix light his guitar on fire drew me even more to rock ’n’ roll.”
Tesla blends hard rock elements with a variety of rock influences, and was one of the first bands to have a breakout hit with an “unplugged” album, 1990’s Five Man Acoustical Jam. Apart from a six-year hiatus from 1994 to 2000, they’ve been been at it for three decades.
“One of the reasons for our longevity is we’re very diverse. We didn’t just have a bland image of playing just metal,” Hannon said. “We weren’t a typical ’80s band; there are a lot of acoustic elements in our music, bluesy rock ’n’ roll, country … and we have tons of songs. I’m very diverse, and to balance it out, Jeff Keith has a really consistent voice and approach to songwriting.”
Staying power wasn’t a goal when Hannon and his mates were knocking around the bars in Sacramento, California, mixing  Def Leppard covers with originals and dreaming of rock stardom. 
“I always wanted to play until the day I die, but 30 years later? I never thought of that,” Hannon said. “But I will say that we always did try to write quality songs. It’s great to play something I wrote when I was 18 years old and still have it sound good.” 

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