Frank Hannon of Tesla Goes Solo With ‘From One Place To Another’ (INTERVIEW)

Frank Hannon wasn’t planning to do a record. He was setting out to improve his voice, challenge it, explore it in different ways. But a record is what he eventually found himself in the midst of once his little personal project kept spiraling full-ahead.

That record, the first of three volumes, is called From One Place To Another and is set to release this Friday, January 26th. It’s a solo album but with a twist: the ten songs are all covers. From the Allman Brothers Band’s “Blue Sky” to The Church’s “Under The Milky Way,” Hannon, who spends the majority of his time writing songs and playing guitar in Tesla, has crafted a delightfully fun recording that will have you singing along from the opening track to the last.

Born and raised in California and attracted to music at a very young age, Hannon joined Tesla while still in his teens. Their debut, 1986’s Mechanical Resonance, spawned several hits with “Modern Day Cowboy” and “Little Suzi,” before 1989’s “Love Song,” off The Great Radio Controversy, sent them into the Top 10. An acoustic cover of “Signs” would have the same effect on the charts and making them a popular to-be-seen live act. Their eighth studio album, produced by Def Leppard’s Phil Collen, should hit airwaves sometime this year.

Hannon’s last big creative foray outside of Tesla was with his solo band on an album titled World Peace in 2014. Not one to sit still for very long, Hannon took the opportunities between Tesla shows and recording, to fine tune his skills. “What started as learning a few songs to sing turned into multiple albums of cover songs, tributes and collaborations with many inspirational artists,” he said when announcing the upcoming record. Special guests on this first volume include Blackberry Smoke’s Paul Jackson, the Nelson twins, Heart’s Roger Fisher, Ron Keel and his brother-in-law Duane Betts, son of Dickey.

Glide spoke with Hannon the day after he arrived back in a Florida port following the week-long Moody Blues Cruise where he performed his songs, sat in with other artists and got to do a bit of co-interviewing for Eddie Trunk’s radio show. “I got a great night’s sleep so I’m feeling excellent,” Hannon said with a laugh the morning we talked.

So you’re just coming off the Moody Blues Cruise. How was that?

That was fantastic. I was scheduled to play guitar and sing and I did one show and due to the weather they had to move people from the pool stage into the inside where I was scheduled to do my second show. So unfortunately, I didn’t get to play my second show but I did sit in with Randy Hansen on the pool stage and play some Jimi Hendrix with him. On top of that, I got to meet some amazing artists that are heroes of mine, like obviously, the Moody Blues and John Lodge. I was also a co-host on a radio show with Eddie Trunk and I got to interview Al Stewart, who is one of my favorite singers, you know, “The Year Of The Cat.” So it was amazing.

Were you singing songs off your new record or a little bit of everything?

Yeah, I played several of the covers from my new album – “Blue Sky” and “SunRise In Texas” and also “Under The Milky Way.” But I also played a lot of my stuff from my second solo album, which is more acoustic and is called Gypsy Highway. You know Tesla is not working right now so whenever Tesla is not working, I like to grow and expand my own musical fantasies. I love to learn and I’m on a quest to really learn and discover my singing voice. I feel very blessed to be healthy enough at my age now, I’m in my fifties, and to see guys like the Moody Blues and people on that cruise in their seventies, you know. John Lodge, the bass player, I asked him a question in the interview about solo stuff and he just said how much he loves to continue to perform and sing and keep growing. That’s what it’s all about. To continue to expand and grow is so inspiring to see a guy that age do it.

Are you going to be doing any more of these cruises coming up?

Tesla is doing Monsters Of Rock Cruise next month and I will also be performing an acoustic set on that as well.

Your new record sounds like everybody is having a good time, which is what we all like to hear in a record. Was it done with everybody in the studio together or did you have to do it the more modern way of sending files back and forth to each other?

Well, it’s a combination of all those things, to be honest. I started recording some things just by myself with an acoustic guitar and a metronome and vocals, a few years ago actually. For example, “Blue Sky.” The vocal that you hear on there is the vocal track that I recorded a few years ago as a scratch vocal. Then I just gradually started adding things to it myself and then I got together with my brother-in-law, Duane Betts, and Kelly, my drummer friend, and they came over together and the three of us played along to the original track I had done with the acoustic and the vocal. That added that live feeling of three guys jamming in a room, it added that element to something that was already recorded a few years ago. So it’s a combination of piecing it together and playing live.

Then I had a portable digital 8-track recorder that I bought and that enabled me to put batteries in this thing and go visit people. When I was in Nashville, I went over to the Nelson twins’ house and had dinner and they made spaghetti for me and afterwards we recorded “Garden Party” on 8-track live in the bedroom at their house. Then I brought it home and mixed it. So to answer your question how I managed it, I have no freaking idea (laughs).

Do you like this kind of chaos, to do something like this the way you did it?

You know, chaos comes with spontaneity and chaos comes with the artistic moment; there is a lot of chaos in that sometimes. But then you have to take all that chaos and end up structuring it into an organized piece of work. I love structure and I love chaos. You just have to figure out how to coordinate it and collect it and put it all together into something structured and that is a whole other art form that I’m still trying to learn (laughs). The fact that I called you on time today is a miracle because I’m usually late on these freaking calls (laughs). But I’ve just done a whirlwind of shows. I flew to San Diego, I flew to Austin, Texas, and then I flew to Miami and got on a ship and now I’m in Sarasota, Florida. It’s a constant whirlwind of change.

When did you get this itch to do a covers record?

It all just kind of fell together. I didn’t start off with any intention of releasing a covers record. The project started really for me, not out of boredom but to just record my acoustic in my studio and learn a song and try to sing it and be satisfied with my singing. That was the embryo of why I started doing it. So I’d pick one of my favorite songs that I had been playing in a club, cause when I sing live at a show, it’s a lot of fun and I don’t second-guess it. But when I record my voice, I have always struggled with being satisfied. So I decided to record these songs with an acoustic guitar and record my voice and it started off as that.

Then when I started playing it for my friends, like Brian Wheat from Tesla, he said, “You should make a covers album and release that.” So I got a lot of support from the guys in Tesla and people that would hear it gave me ideas on how to expand it. It was Brian Wheat’s idea to go over and record with the Nelsons. So my friends encouraged me to do it.

It’s nice to see that you’re doing some more modern covers – like Blackberry Smoke’s “SunRise In Texas” and Lukas Nelson’s “Four Letter Word” – instead of just the classics. Most artists tend to go way back and not so much bring in the newer songs.

Thank you, I’m glad you spotted that. I’m a fan of Blackberry Smoke and I’m a fan of Lukas Nelson, a huge fan of Lukas Nelson, of his writing. He’s got a song called “Don’t Lose Your Mind” that I really love. I might even do that down the road. You know, the concept of From One Place To Another and taking it to a different place and touching on the newer artists that I think are great, it just kind of happened. Most covers albums, you’re right, only feature like old Led Zeppelin songs or something (laughs).

You and Ron Keel go really far back

Yeah, one of the first shows we did as a showcase with Tesla was opening for Keel. I want to say in this interview that that version is very special to me, “Joy To The World,” because we were in South Dakota and we just happened to be on a day off in Sioux Falls and that’s where Ron lives. So I called Ron and said, “Hey, what are you doing?” and he said, “Well, Renee just got out of surgery. She’s been battling breast cancer and she just got out of surgery yesterday and we’re trying to get her home.” I was like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to bother you.” And he goes, “No, you know what, actually she’d love to see you.” So him and Renee came and picked me up and I told them about my project and I had the little portable recorder with me. And Renee was in great spirits, despite her just getting out of breast cancer surgery. So we went over to the house and we had some lunch and then we started strumming on guitars and I said, “Hey, let’s do ‘Joy To The World.’” We did it and it was real spontaneous and Renee was smiling and dancing. Just really the energy of that track on that album was all about love and just getting together in a hard time.

How is Renee doing?

She’s doing much better. I think she might have had to go back in for some follow-ups but her spirits are great.

Tell us about covering a song by The Church, “Under The Milky Way.”

Again, I wanted to challenge myself to sing. First of all, I just love that melody and those lyrics and the vibe of that song. It has always been one of my favorites. It’s a completely different register and I was challenging myself to find my voice in that register. When I went to record the vocal, it took me a while to find the spot that I could feel that it was right. Like the opening line where he says, (singing) “Sometimes when this place gets kind of empty.” When he says that, I wanted to feel that, like it was empty where I was standing, know what I mean. So that one was a challenge and I’m very happy with the way it came out. It’s one of my favorite melodies.

I’m assuming you didn’t have to arm-twist Duane to play on here

(laughs) The timing of it worked out perfectly. He came up from LA and he played on several songs and he’s going to be on the next one, Volume II. I’m doing a remake of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones and he plays amazing guitar on that.

When will that be coming out?

We’re going to release these volumes every two months and there are three volumes, ten songs each. It’s a total of thirty songs and I’ve got twenty of them recorded. The Volume II is ready to go and now that I’ve been on the Moody Blues Cruise and I’ve met some new people there, I’m hoping to get some of them to join me on my Volume III.

So the next one will come out in March?

It’ll be the end of March

Tell us about playing banjo on “Blue Sky”

That was a last minute idea that I had, cause I had an acoustic guitar solo that was an intro and something about it was bothering me and I was mixing the song and at the last minute, I just thought, you know, this little banjo lick that I play would sound good on there. And I put it on there and it was one take. Instantly, it just felt like, oh wow, this is the icing! It’s like when you’re making a cake and you put a little dab of like blue frosting on the top of it or something. That’s what that was.

What made you want to ever learn banjo?

I just loved the sound of it. I love producing and recording as much as I do performing live. So as a producer you have to kind of fiddle with all the instruments and know how to put them together, kind of like a puzzle. You need to know how to use different colors. I’ve always dabbled with instruments. I play flute a little bit. I do a flute solo on one of my albums on a song called “The Hills Of California.” If you ever get bored, look that one up (laughs). I do a flute solo on that.

So I fiddle around with other instruments. Some of them come natural and easy and some of them are very difficult. For example, the fiddle, that is a hard one; violin is extremely difficult. But I don’t need to mess with that (laughs). One of my favorite instruments to play is B3 organ. I love playing that. And my all-time favorite instrument to play, honestly, is bass guitar. I played almost all the bass on this record.

What else did you play on it?

Piano, organ, B3 organ, bass, percussion, drums and mostly lead vocal; and obviously acoustic guitar and lead guitar. But lead vocal was my main focus on this project.

Are you happy with your vocals now? Do you like your voice?

I’m getting happier (laughs). I’m not completely happy but I’m feeling a little bit more confident and I’m learning some new tricks, like you have to breathe (laughs). That’s imperative. You have to inhale between words and that’s a new trick I am learning.

When you brought these guitar players in, like Duane Betts and Paul Jackson, did you already know what parts you wanted them to play?

I did and when I saw Paul in Atlanta, Georgia, I had an idea. I was definitely going to do a boogie, a kind of Skynyrd-ish song, and I was down between “Gimme Back My Bullets” or “Call Me The Breeze” and “Call Me The Breeze” is so much more fun. So I knew that he would play on that. But in the future, I’ve got some artists that I am going to have jam and I have no idea what we’re going to do for Volume III. Randy Hansen, who does a Jimi Hendrix tribute, I’m not sure what we’re going to do so that one is still up in the air.

I wanted to ask you about the title track off your World Peace album because those lyrics seem very poignant in today’s world.

Thanks a lot. You know, that record didn’t really get a whole lot of attention but once in a while someone notices it and I appreciate that. Actually, it was going to be “World Peace” with a question mark, like when is it going to happen? I didn’t put the question mark on the cover of the artwork but that’s the idea, it’s a question. When is it going to be? And that is influenced a lot by Roger Fisher from Heart. If you get a chance, check out Roger Fisher’s new solo stuff. It’s called “One Vision” and my song is influenced a lot by Roger Fisher and his ideas of world peace and unity and one tribe and stuff like that. So check out Roger Fisher for sure.

And what is the rest of your year looking like?

Tesla is going to release a record in June and I’m putting some more dates together and continuing to do what we do.

Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough & Marc Lacatell

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