Frank Hannon is the kind of guitar player who not only speaks through his instrument and his music but most likely cannot even walk by a guitar without feeling the urge to play it. After decades of writing, recording and touring with his band Tesla it would be hard to fault him if he wanted to take some time off part of the year to wind down and decompress but that’s just not how he’s wired. In fact, The Frank Hannon Band is currently spending the winter months touring behind his latest solo release, ” Six String Soldiers”, performing many of the new songs, some classic Tesla tunes and a few other surprises. The next dates start January 11th on the west coast but keep your eyes peeled for more dates forthcoming and pick up their album which is start to finish great. Way back in 1989 Tesla had a song called “Did It For The Money” but it was always readily apparent that was one of the last things they would do, it’s always been about the pure rush of playing music. I talked with Frank about the old days, these days and much more. Read on…
Legendary Rock Interviews: Everyone is digging your latest album Frank. “Six String Soldiers” is your third solo effort right?
Frank Hannon: This is my third solo effort, yeah. My first was called “Guitars From Mars”, my second was more of an acoustic, introspective, storytelling kind of album where I did all the vocals, instruments and lyrics myself. That was “Gypsy Highway” which was a total self produced album. This latest album “Six String Soldiers” is a collaboration with some guys that I met from Albuquerque, New Mexico who had never made an album before, Mike Araiza who is our other guitarist and Jeff Sandoval our singer. I met Mike through a guitar battle that I judged down in Albuquerque. He won the guitar battle and was really great and sat in with Tesla at a show we were doing there. We hit it off and started writing and recording these songs. So, again, it’s something different. I’m kind of an artist who’s always trying to do new things, I don’t like to repeat myself. I like to explore different styles and different influences so each one of my records is different. This one’s much more hard rock. “Gypsy Highway” had banjos and dobro slide and was real personal lyrically where “Six String Soldiers” is really built around rock riffs and drums and my singer Jeff Sandoval’s voice, he has a really strong, rock and roll kind of voice.
LRI: I saw TESLA this past summer in Wisconsin and it was just as amazing as ever but what was really cool was you did a little spot mid-show on the acoustic playing one of the new tracks. You’re pretty used to transposing your stuff back and forth from acoustic to electric though aren’t you?
Frank: Well thank you, first of all. Yeah, I did that in my little acoustic segment there. I learned long ago that a decent song can be played in any fashion if the melody is good. You can play it on acoustic or you can play it on electric, bongos or no bongos. It’s really important to know that but they don’t teach that in guitar lessons when you first start out learning to play guitar. You can learn scales and chords and modes but they should have a whole section on songwriting and arranging really. Luckily, I was able to learn that at a really young age.
LRI: When you do a spot like that and play not only alone and exposed but also play new material that people aren’t aware of there’s always the chance that the crowd will take a beer and t-shirt break or tune out. Your material is not that far removed from Tesla’s though so the crowd seemed to really dig it. Was the reaction to your solo spot generally really positive most nights?
Frank: Yeah and I do take a risk doing that in that part of the Tesla set but so far so good. During the shows the audiences have really reacted great and I do go and read the stuff people put up on Facebook and stuff and for the most part people are really diggin my solo stuff, which I appreciate. I am one of the main songwriters in Tesla and I do write a lot of those tunes so that would make sense, like you said, that it’s not that far removed, especially on this latest album. Now my “Guitars From Mars” album is a little different, that one is ahhh, I went out to outer space there (laughs).
LRI: So you are going to be spending the entire winter promoting and touring “Six String Soldiers” then and Tesla is on hiatus for the most part?
Frank: Tesla doesn’t tour much in the winter anymore, we try to save Jeff Keith’s voice and rarely play so I am free to tour the whole winter. I really want to get out there and play with my band and as many other artists as possible, I really want to keep it guitar-focused and try to put together shows with a lot of really talented guitar players. I wanna meet new guys, new players and branch out. I wanna play some southern shows when it’s real cold and then maybe get up to Illinois/Wisconsin/Michigan and your area maybe when it warms up a little (laughs). Yeah.
LRI: You are a California boy. I remember the first time I saw Tesla like it was yesterday. You opened for David Lee Roth in 1986. They introduced you as Tulsa and Jeff Keith spent most of the night with his back turned to the crowd but still you were friggin great. You guys had been a band for quite some time but the whole major label and big arena tour thing was still a jump. Were you at all prepared or aware of what you were gonna be facing back then?
Frank: No, we weren’t aware of it at all. I always had the dream of making it in music and being a rock and roll performer onstage and living the “Frampton Comes Alive” experience of playing a concert, I’ve always had that dream but the steps that we took to make it were so sporadic you know? We were playing covers in bars for a long time and then we started writing originals and then we moved on to making demo tapes and then we met new people and then we went to L.A. We took all these steps that finally led us to being signed and having a record deal but it really never hit us and me personally, I was very young. I was eighteen years old and nineteen years old when we recorded “Mechanical Resonance” and you know, a teenager like that just has no clue. They’re not thinking about the future at all! So, to be honest with you, it’s all a haze and it all just happened in these steps that were so integral to making it but at the time, I was really not aware of them but more, in the moment. After the first record came out, we sat on our butts for about 6 months because there were no tours available for us to go out on and our manager wanted us to wait for an arena act to go out with. Prior to the David Lee Roth shows I was working picking up garbage at a construction site for about six months and then “Modern Day Cowboy” was getting some airplay on the radio and I got a call that we were to fly to New York in a week and open for David Lee Roth. That’s how that happened and then from that point forward we were on the road for about two years straight with Def Leppard, Alice Cooper, Poison. You name it we did it. It was just nonstop touring.
LRI: That whole stretch of Geffen years from making “Mechanical Resonance” to “Bust a Nut” must have felt like you were gasping for breath at times. You guys really were always out there working.
Frank: That whole time at Geffen, from 86 to 96 was an intense ten years. It was ten rock solid years of nonstop touring and recording, touring and recording, in and out, videos, interviews. We would take a day off from a tour to make a video. I remember on the “Gettin Better” video, we drove from Pittsburgh to Allentown, Pennsylvania all the way back to Pittsburgh to do a show. It was just crazy. It was a crazy schedule and it took a toll on our marriages and our lives and our band eventually. That’s why we broke up after ten years of it. We didn’t take a break, we should have. We should have just taken a break but instead we got all burned out and imploded instead. Now, since we got back together in 2000 it has been another twelve years and we’re getting ready to take another break with Tesla and do our own things for a while. I’ve got my thing but Brian does too and so does Dave and Troy and Jeff’s more of a homebody and has his family and kids but he has a country thing he’s chipping away at too.
LRI: As nice as that major label push might have been does it feel a little bit liberating to be able to do things on your own schedule now and set your own goals?
Frank: You know, now with computers and internet combined with just experience and age we are able to be totally self-contained. We record and produce our own records, we make our own album covers, videos, t-shirts, you name it, we’ve been doing it ourselves and it’s a whole new era then it was in the late-eighties, early nineties. Our age, our state of mind, everything is different than it was then but you know music just changed so drastically between the time when we came out and then Guns and Roses and then Nirvana and on and on. It’s to the point now where people who loved us then have kids of their own who get turned on to us, which is cool. Career wise, it’s almost like a second wind.
LRI: You have classic guitar hero guys like Dickey Betts and Rick Derringer on this album as special guests. Was it a trip to have guys like that playing on your album after growing up listening to them?
Frank: Oh most definitely. Especially Rick Derringer , Pat Travers and Dave Meniketti of Y&T were huge growing up. Like I said earlier,” Frampton Comes Alive”, all of those live albums were the thing that I just absolutely loved. When I would go to the record store and look through an artist’s albums, I would always go to their live album ahead of any studio albums they had. Aerosmith “Live Bootleg”, Ted Nugent, Double Gonzo Live, Rolling Stones “Get Yer YaYas Out” all of these classic, classic live albums from back then.
LRI: Speaking of classic 70s live rockers, I couldn’t help but notice you seem to have gone to the Rick Nielsen school of guitar pick flicking.
Frank: Well, it’s so funny you mention that. We’ve done several shows with Cheap Trick and that freakin guy nailed me in the forehead with a pick and I was watching him and he uses white picks that are kind of sparkly and when you throw out those white picks in the spotlight they flicker. So of course, the first thing I did when I ordered new picks was change them to pearl white because I thought that looked cool as hell (laughs). If you have a dark blue pick you can’t see the freakin thing when you throw it, so where’s the fun in that?
LRI: What about hard rock or metal albums, were you a big Randy Rhoads Tribute guy?
Frank: I was, definitely, yeah , yeah. I remember the day he died. I can picture it right now. I was in my driveway and some friends came pulling up in their car to tell us the news about it. I think “Diary Of A Madman” is a musical masterpiece, that composition. I had the opportunity to meet his mom, Delores Rhoads and sit down with her and play for her and tell her how much Randy was an influence on me. I mean, I remember going into the hair salon to try and get my hair cut like Randy Rhoads (laughs). You know that picture in Guitar World where he like has his hand on his chin and he’s wearing this purple shirt and has a Les Paul and his Jackson and he’s just kind of posing for the pic? I took that photo into Supercuts and asked for the Randy Rhoads haircut (laughs). He was a huge, huge influence. My “Love Song” intro was definitely influenced by his composition “Dee” and I played that for Delores when I met her. I played that little hammer-on pull-off lick in the middle of it which is straight out of “Crazy Train” and when I played it she lifted her eyebrows up and said “Nice!!” (laughs). That meant the world to me and she autographed my Les Paul and Randy’s brother Kelle Rhoads showed me around Musonia and was very nice.
LRI: Does it refresh you or recharge you as a player to work with guys who are new and green and maybe grew up on your music or looked up to you as a player?
Frank: Oh absolutely. Making “Six String Soldiers” was spontaneous and fun and the chemistry was just right from the get-go. I’ve worked with a lot of different people and written with a lot of different people, sometimes it just doesn’t work but with these guys and this band it works bigtime. It was simple and fun and everything you’d want as a musician and I think the album sounds that way too.