The band formed in 1984 in Sacramento as City Kidd, and was renamed Tesla during the recording of their first album, 1986's Mechanical Resonance, on the advice of their manager that City Kidd was not a great name. The band derived their name, certain album and song titles, and some song content from events relating to Nikola Tesla, a Serbian inventor and electrical engineer born on the border of Serbia and Croatia in the 19th century.
The band's original line-up consisted of vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarists Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch, bassist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta.
Tesla's music is often referred to as heavy metal, but is better described as hard rock with a bluesy feel. The band's lyrics also strayed from the themes popular in heavy metal, particularly in the 1980s at the beginning of their career. A further distinction from their comtemporaries was their T-shirt-and-jeans image which was in strong contrast to Glam Metal bands of the time, which were characterized by big hair, leather pants and flashy-make up. Also in the early days of their career, Tesla toured with David Lee Roth, Def Leppard and Poison which incorrectly resulted in the band being categorized as a Glam metal band. The band's members resented this labelling.  Tesla have always been proud of the fact that their music has always been just guitars and drums, with an occasional piano from guitarist Hannon and/or bassist Wheat and occasional organ from Hannon, with no synthesizers or anything to distort their sound. Their albums always proudly proclaimed, "No Machines",referring to that fact. However, the band's 2004 album, Into the Now, included synthesized beats.
It was three years before the band released their second album, The Great Radio Controversy. The album help solidify the band growing reputation and fanbase. The album produced the hit single "Love Song."
In 1990, Tesla released Five Man Acoustical Jam, a live album featuring acoustic renditions of hits such as "Comin' Atcha Live," "Gettin' Better," "Modern Day Cowboy," and "Love Song," The album also featured a number of covers most notably a version of "Signs," a song by the Five Man Electrical Band.
In 1991 the band released their third studio album Psychotic Supper. The band themselves consider this to be their best album according to their official Web site. The 1998 Japanese reissue import of Psychotic Supper contains three previously unreleased songs, including "Rock the Nation," "I Ain't Superstitious" and "Run Run Run."
In 1994 the band released their fourth studio album Bust a Nut. The 1998 Japanese reissue import of Bust a Nut contains the previously unreleased cover of Led Zeppelin's "The Ocean."
After 1994's Bust a Nut, the band took a hiatus to support Skeoch during his struggle with substance abuse. However, it wasn't long before Skeoch briefly joined up with solo artist Marshall Coleman's band to support his solo career, only to see a departure of Marshall soon after. This band eventually morphed to include vocalist Jeff Keith and resurfaced as Bar 7 with a single "Four Leaf Clover," from the album The World Is A Freak. Bassist Brian Wheat formed "Soul Motor," and Frank Hannon "Moon Dog Mane" while Drummer Troy Luccketta worked with several local artists including the Bay Area's "One Thin Dime."
After a break of six years the band reformed in 2000 and recorded the double live album Replugged Live. In 2002 they were featured in the Rock Never Stops Tour alongside other 80s rock bands.
2002 saw the release of a further live album Standing Room Only which is just a single CD version of Replugged Live.
In 2004 they released their fifth studio album Into the Now which debuted on the Billboard album chart at number 30. The album was well received by fans and the band was featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.
In the summer of 2006, the band embarked on the Electric Summer Jam Tour and put the following statement on their Web site: "We would like you to join us in welcoming guitarist Dave Rude, who will be hitting the road with us for the 2006 Electric Summer Jam Tour as Tommy Skeoch will not be performing with us. Please also join us in congratulating Tommy and his wife on the birth of their new baby boy. We wish the whole family the best."
An article in the Deseret Morning News (June 16, 2006) that featured an interview with Wheat clarified the situation: "The tour is also a chance to introduce the newest member of the band, guitarist Dave Rude, who replaces Tommy Skeoch. Skeoch has been in and out of the band since 1994, addressing substance-abuse problems. 'But with a new baby at home,' Wheat said, 'this time Skeoch's departure is full-time. He just wanted to spend more time with his family after all these years. It's hard. He'll always be a part of Tesla history.'"
"Comin' Atcha Live" appeared in the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
Tesla have recorded a covers album titled Real to Reel, which was released on June 5, 2007. The recording is available as a 2 CD set. The first CD (containing 13 songs) is sold in a case with a blank slot for the second CD. The second CD (containing 12 additional songs) will initially be available to concert goers in the USA at no additional charge beyond the cost of a ticket. The second CD was also given away with the August edition of Classic Rock magazine in Europe.
At the end of August Tesla announced their first world tour in 16 years with dates in Australia, Japan and Europe in October and November 2007.
It has been confirmed that Tesla is going to play at the Sweden Rock Festival in June 2008 as well as Rocklahoma 2008 in Pryor, Ok in July 2008.
In March 2008, Tesla helped fund and headlined a benefit concert for victims of the Station nightclub fire. The show was broadcast by VH1 Classic. Tesla played two songs: "Love Song" and "Signs."
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