TROY LUCCKETTA OF TESLA ON HOW HARD ROCKING/HONEST BAND OUTLASTED MOST OF EM ALL (INTERVIEW)
May 16, 2016
ARTICLES BY: LESLIE MICHELE DERROUGH
In 1990, Tesla was on the rise as a band, having released two albums and a couple of really cool hits, “Love Song” and “Modern Day Cowboy.” They were very hot on the touring trail, putting on concerts with so much energy and vitality it was knocking fans back in their seats. Tesla stayed grounded and the musicianship was excellent. So it was no wonder that by the end of 1990, they would find themselves shooting towards the top of the music and MTV charts with an acoustic version of an old Five Man Electrical Band song called “Signs.” It was proof that Tesla’s magic lay in being a live band, where they still shine brightest twenty-six years later.
Opening the current Def Leppard tour, Tesla are still earning respect the old fashioned way: with good songs and rock and roll rooted in the blues vs glam. Having that strong rooted base, they have been able to stand up to the test of time, even though they took a break as a band for several years, and as of 2016 are working on new music with Leppard’s Phil Collen aboard as producer. “We’ve done one song already and we’re actually doing it in segments,” Collen told Songfacts earlier this year. “When we’ve got some good songs, we’ll record them, and we’ve got a few on the go already.” Tesla drummer Troy Luccketta reiterated to me that everything was sounding great so far.
Luccketta, who was born and raised in northern California, has been with the band since the beginning so he’s seen the highs, the lows, the struggles and the achievements. “I feel blessed to be thirty years into it and still have a job that I absolutely love,” he acknowledged during our interview prior to their set at the Cajundome in Louisiana. “Whoever knew, right?”
Did you ever expect Tesla would get as big as it did?
You know, I had some expectations for what we could possibly do and I always believed when I got with the band that it was possible and believed that it was going to be so. However, what I didn’t envision is thirty years later, you know what I mean (laughs). At the time it was probably much more short-term thinking, like, yeah, we’re going to get out there and it’s going to be great and we’re going to have some fun and we’ll make some records and it’ll all be good. And here it is thirty years later. Never really saw that coming to the degree it is and things are just getting better out here by the day.
How do you think you have changed?
As a person, I’m much more grown up. We started at a time where we were all younger, in our twenties, and you go through growing pains. I’m coming up on twenty-four years of sobriety. Prior to that, you know, it wasn’t always peaches and cream. We all went through different parts and there hasn’t been a drink or a drug on a Tesla tour in fifteen years; not even a beer backstage. It was a band decision that we made, which I was very in favor of, of course. So that has changed from the beginning. Other things about myself that have changed, I’m much more aware and considerate of others. It’s not about me.
Saying that, when Tesla got all that fame, who stayed grounded the most out of all you guys?
I’m going to say Brian Wheat, our bass player, who has just given up his management position as of last week. He’s been managing the band and he was definitely the most grounded. Looking back, he was a real solid individual and was taking care of business and here we come later in life to where he would actually run our business and put things together for us and kind of built us a future. And now he’s just released that to give himself a break and maybe hopefully align us with bigger and better things.
How do you feel about that?
You know, it’s funny because when he took it on, I don’t know that I was for it, quite honestly, and I quite honestly wasn’t for it. I just didn’t see him as the manager. I just seen him more as the bass player and I always seen our bigger management companies as being management. But what I didn’t see is over those years to come of just how fricking sharp he was, how great he was at what he was doing and every great thing that we have is a direct result today I really attribute to the fact that he kind of aligned himself in his position and the way he handled things, that he just got things done for us through relationships, personal relationships that he had, and I think it really attributed to where we’re at today. And now he’s released that. He’s all about what’s best for the band and quite honestly, when I go back and think about where I was back in the day, I was making selfish decisions that were not for the band. I would want to go do something and I wasn’t thinking about the band, you know. And he’s always thought about the band. So I give Brian a lot of kudos today. He’s done an amazing job for us.
Did you feel like you had more freedom or stability because you had somebody you trusted watching over you guys?
I’ve always had the freedom to play cause we had a strong management team in the beginning with Q Prime Management the first ten years. So going from Q Prime and then having Brian take over the management, I didn’t realize he was qualified for that and quite honestly, he was qualified. He just had lacked the experience at the time. But really, he’s great management material. He’ll have a great future. He’s working with young bands today and he’s going to do well with it. I was very comfortable as we got into it but there were power struggles with him and I and it was very challenging and difficult times. But the more I trusted him, which was earned from watching him, the better things got. Then I completely let go realizing that everything was fine and I knew he was doing a great job. I just sat back and said, well, it’s a good thing they weren’t listening to me (laughs).
Phil Collen told me that he’s working with you on your new record.
Phil Collen is and I believe they are in another room as we sit here working right now. And that’s how this record is going to get done. Every day on this tour they’re going to be working. We’ve got a little Pro Tools set up, another thing through Brian, God bless him. I was just in the room with them. So yeah, we’re going to be doing a record with Phil and we’re pretty excited about that.
How do you record an album and not have it come out as chaotic as life is around you?
Well, first of all, this is what we do. We can do it pretty much anywhere today, especially with the technology that’s available to us. So really it’s not that chaotic out here. Everybody’s pretty mild-mannered, so to speak. There’s schedules between soundchecks and meet & greets and such that have to be met and we just squeeze it in those time factors. The first week of June I’m going to be cutting drums with Phil on these songs that they’re working on so they have to get them done so they have to prioritize if that’s going to happen, if we’re going to meet those deadlines. So it’s almost not an option. If you’re going to commit to it then it has to get done. You take on the responsibility and you say, Okay, here we go, let’s do it, let’s get it done. So that’s what’s happening and that’s the approach.
Do you know when we’re going to be able to hear it all?
I don’t have an answer for that cause I don’t know (laughs)
You started playing drums when you were like ten.
I was. I remember my sister had a party and there was a band playing and I was really, really young sitting there watching and I remember the song “Born To Be Wild” and I remember that little drum break in there and I remember just thinking, man, I just want to play drums. So I had a paper route and I bought myself some drums and I started putting on records and playing to records. I was self-taught. I never took lessons. I did a little bit in junior high, played snare drum for a little bit in the school band. But I just wanted to play, man, I just wanted to play music. So I just put records on and one of the first songs I ever played was Ike & Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” Then it went from that to playing to the Experience record, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cosmo’s Factory, Creedence Clearwater, Black Sabbath, Zeppelin. Then progressing through the years of music, I got interested in a lot of things musically and I just kind of stayed the course.
Was your family supportive?
Oh yeah, very much. One year they ended up getting me some stuff for my drums. They actually one year gave up some of their Christmas presents so I could have these things, cause we didn’t have a lot at the time.
You’ve talked about Mitch Mitchell being an inspiration to you.
I loved Mitch Mitchell. He was great. I loved his Jazz roots he had and that swing because that’s what made some of those rock drummers so great. Like John Bonham and Ian Paice, who was one of my drum heroes, they were rooted in Jazz. They really had some Jazz roots with the swing stuff that a lot of the rock drummers don’t have today and if they do, it’s more mathematics. I was watching a friend of mine, Denny Seiwell. He’s the original drummer, the first drummer for McCartney. He did “Live & Let Die” and “My Love,” “Uncle Albert,” the first five years with Paul. And I was cleaning my computer out the other day, and I stay at Denny’s house a lot when I am in LA, and I was watching all these videos, he made all these little videos for me playing brushes, and I’m watching him and I’m thinking, My God, he is such the real deal. And you know what, I’m not, I’m really not. I’m rooted and I play the music that I play but when I look at the roots that he has and where he comes from, it’s another level.
Will you ever feel worthy?
No, I probably won’t
What will it take for you to do so?
I think I’m a good drummer and I think that’s been warranted and people like what I do and that’s great but for me, some of the guys I listen to and grew up with like Steve Gadd and Mitch Mitchell, Jeff Porcaro, David Garibaldi from Tower Of Power, those guys are on another playing level, they really are. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved and what I’m doing and I’m still aspiring to do more.
Which Tesla song do you think should have gotten more recognition or attention than it did?
Well, you know what, I would have to say probably “What You Give” because it was a beautiful song. It did well but it didn’t go like “Love Song” or “Signs” or anything like that and it really had the potential. In my heart, it’s one of my favorite songs that we play.’
Which song when you play it live takes the most energy out of you as a drummer?
There’s quite a few songs that we play that are high energy. When I’m in good playing shape I can usually keep up with the demand of the song and the energy level that it’s putting out. But I don’t know that there is something that is just that demanding right now except for when I’m out of shape and I’m jumping into the up tempo songs. Maybe “Cumin’ Atcha Live.” It’s not an up tempo song, it’s not like it takes it out of me, but like an athlete you just can’t run that fifty yard dash without being conditioned.
That’s what Tommy Aldridge has told me.
Tommy is a fricking animal. There’s another great, amazing drummer.
What song in the Tesla catalog was the hardest to get right in the studio?
There was a little drum solo-ish type song on Psychotic Supper and I don’t remember what it took recording-wise but I remember time-wise a song called “Don’t De-Rock Me” on our Psychotic Supper record and I remember I think it went down fairly well when we tracked it but I remember the prep for that was pretty involved for me cause it had a little drum solo spot. I didn’t want to make it like a drum solo but you want to make it part of the song so I had to kind of condition it around that and that’s how it turned out. And it turned out great and I was very happy with it.
Who was the first real rock star you ever met?
Well, I was young in the Bay Area growing up with Journey, Eddie Money, Montrose, Ronnie Montrose, and that whole scene, and this might sound kind of crazy, but for me the band Y&T, this guy David Meniketti, the guitar player. He was always to me such a star even before the first album was out. He might not qualify because I met him at that time but I remember just being young and seeing him that way. But probably it could have been somebody like Eddie Money at the time cause he had records out and “Two Tickets To Paradise” and all that stuff. So I really think it was probably someone like that.
You need to remember if you write your book
(laughs) You know, you’re making me think about some things that I really do need to think about for sure.
Was Marc Ferrari in Y&T or only in Keel?
No, just in Keel and I don’t know if you know the story but we played in Los Angeles at the Country Club, I think it was, with Keel, opening for Keel the night that Teresa Ensenat saw us and was going to sign us to Geffen. And you know what’s funny? I almost want to mention Carmine Appice as well as one of my heroes and Carmine was at our show that night. I remember he was there with some of the guys hanging out. He’s a friend of mine, great guy, and one of my drum heroes for sure.
You have known the Leppard guys for a long time. Who was the first one you met?
It would have been Phil and Steve, I think. Or was it Phil and Rick. My memory doesn’t serve me well, does it (laughs). No, it was Phil and Steve. We were playing in Amsterdam, and this was before we got on the Hysteria tour, but they came down and we jammed and we did “Rock Of Ages.” I remember that night and it’s ironic that here we are now all these years later with Phil.
How much longer are you going to be on this tour?
Today is the first show and we go to October 8th
Tell us about when you met the other guys in Tesla
I was coming off the Eric Martin Band. Eric and I did a record together called Sucker for a Pretty Face. We were managed by Herbie Herbert, who managed Journey. We lived in the Bay Area and we used to rehearse in the Journey warehouse, we had that close relationship with them at the time, which was really awesome. And when that band broke up, I got a phone call from Duane Hitchings, who was over at Eddie Money’s house. I was in San Leandro and he was in Oakland and he wanted to play me a demo and it was City Kidd, which became Tesla. He asked me to come check out the band and I went down and checked them out and I liked the band. Once I started watching Jeff, I realized he had captured my attention all night and I thought, hmm, that’s interesting. And I went back and seen them again and that was it, I was good, I was sold, I was a fan.
So Tesla never became an LA band
Are you happy about that?
Absolutely. We don’t fit into that scene down there, period. Tesla is just not a band that fits in that scene. We’re just not that guy and I’m not that guy and we’re not that band. We just do what we do.
So what do you want to do in the future?
Well, I think I’m settling down now in Nashville. I’ve got ten acres out there. I have a 501C3 non-profit foundation called A-Song4Wellness (www.asong4wellness.org) and I’ll be doing lots of fundraisers and awareness for that. It’s all about ph and alkalinity and how disease can’t survive in that world and us taking care of ourselves so we don’t have to remain sick. A lot of wonderful information for everybody. So I will be plugged in with that. I’ll be doing lots of drum festivals, clinics. I aspire to get some books out. I aspire to continue to learn more about what it is that I’m doing, play with other people, record, do Tesla as long as I can, first and foremost, and just enjoy life and be there for my family and my grandkids.
So many rock musicians seem to be moving to Nashville, like Tom Keifer and Brad Whitford.
I played with Brad. There’s a record coming out.
Are you on the new Derek St Holmes record with him?
Yeah, I did the record with them and I went out with them in November. I’m not going to be on their tour cause I’m doing this but Sandy Gennaro [Pat Travers Band] will be playing drums. Sandy is a dear friend of mine and a great drummer. So I was privileged and had the pleasure of doing that last year.
What is Brad like in the studio?
Beautiful, easy, simple, fun
Not a taskmaster?
God no. I did the record and he’ll tell you, I went in Monday morning and I was done Tuesday night and I didn’t even know I was recording a record. He’ll tell you all about it. It’s a great story. But Brad is truly a perfect gentleman, a true pleasure to be around, very sincere and genuine, heartfelt and it’s all about the music, all about doing things for the right reasons.
I didn’t realize you had worked with Keith Emerson
Yeah, we did a record a couple of years ago, the Three Fates Project it was called and we did it in Germany with the orchestra, a seven piece orchestra, and it’s an incredible piece of work. And we had all these shows scheduled for last week [Emerson passed away on March 10 of this year]. So anyway, coming up May 28, there’s a nice tribute concert at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles [with Jordan Rudess of Dream Theatre, Steve Lukather of Toto, etc]. Marc Bonilla is the music director and I did his records and that’s how I ended up over there. Just another piece of my history.
So you’ve really been out there a lot more than maybe people realize
Yeah, I’ve done a few dozen records over the last couple of years that nobody knows about and I haven’t really talked much about them. But I’m going to put a website together and start sharing some of this information. I did Doris Day’s last record. It was kind of a freak situation through a friend of mine who was working with the producer. It’s called My Heart and I played on a couple of tracks on that. I’m not on the whole record. Then I did a Freda Payne record. I don’t know if you remember her back in the day but she had a hit with “Band Of Gold.” I did a record with her and that was in 2001, Come See About Me. I’ve been really fortunate. Then I’ve been doing a bunch of country stuff so I’ve been doing a lot of playing and enjoying life.
Original Article: Glide Magazine