Tesla: Five Man Acoustical Jam

Five Man Acoustical Jam is Tesla’s Live album, a blast from the past! This live album showcases the fun and lively side of the hard rock band.

Tesla: Five Man Acoustical Jam

Tesla was a hard rock band that emerged during the height of the glam metal era. Despite their sounds not fitting into the glam metal/hairband, they made efforts to improve their image to fit the trend. Their first two albums, Mechanical Resonance (1986) and The Great Radio Controversy (1989), were both highly successful, selling millions of copies in the US alone.

However, their biggest selling record was their acoustic live recording, Five Man Acoustical Jam (1990), MTV Unplugged had already been airing since the end of 1989, a year before Five Man Acoustic Jam was released in 1990. 

Nonetheless, the album became a huge hit, even earning praise from legendary guitarist Jimmy Page. It also sparked a trend of “unplugged” performances that would continue for years to come.

Acoustic rock songs have been around for a while, Led Zeppelin III album is packed with acoustics, and Poison released an acoustic ballad “Every Rose Has its Thorn” while Guns N’ Roses also had their own acoustic moment in Lies, Lies, Lies

But nothing compares to the praise that Tesla’s “Five Man Acoustic Jam” received from legendary guitarist Jimmy Page! Bassist Brian Wheat was thrilled to hear that his band’s live acoustic album impressed the rock icon. While it wasn’t the first acoustic album ever, Jimmy Page Love It, and that’s pretty special.

I’ve never really checked if Five Man Acoustical Jam is really the first live acoustic album, but when Jimmy Page praises it that much, it must be something special. I wonder what made this album such a success. Was it the classic songs they re-recorded or were their original songs just perfect for an acoustic style?

The way they make it

Tesla didn’t plan on releasing a live or acoustic album at first, but circumstances led them to do so. Despite selling over a million copies of their first two albums, they were still facing financial struggles. It’s unclear why, but some say it may have been due to their contract with Geffen and the large capital Geffen issued before they became successful. They also toured with Mötley Crüe on the Dr. Feelgood Tour as an opening act, but when they have time, their manager let them perform live to make some extra cash, 

On 17th March 1990, Tesla unexpectedly ended up playing their song “Love Song” acoustically at the Bay Area Music Awards because their equipment was still in the truck. Their performance impressed their manager, Peter Mensch, who saw potential in their acoustic abilities. He encouraged them to continue playing acoustically and even arranged for them to play a small club show using minimal equipment.

After that, Tesla began practicing together and exploring new songs to play. They not only practiced their own songs but also old classic rock songs that each member selected as their favourite. When Tesla started practicing acoustically.

Each member picked their favourite classic rock song to include in their setlist. Frank Hannon went for The Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’” and mixed it into their own song “Cumin’ Atcha Live”. Tommy Skeoch chose the Rolling Stones’s “Mother’s Little Helper”, while Troy Luccketta selected CCR’s “Lodi” – a tribute to his hometown in California. Brian Wheat’s favourite band is The Beatles, so he picked “We Can Work It Out” for the setlist and Jeff Keith pick Five Man Electical Band 1971’s hit “Signs”  

After their first acoustic show at Slim in San Francisco, which was before their tour with Mötley Crüe, Brian Wheat had the idea to capture their acoustic performance on video as a souvenir. So, Tesla decided to record their show at the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia on 2 July 1990.

Back in the day, who would have thought that recording a live performance would lead to an album? Not even the band themselves! But then, WAAF a radio station in Boston played Tesla’s “Signs” during their acoustic set and the listeners went nuts for it. It was in the top 5 most requested songs! 

Cliff Bernstein, being the savvy manager that he is, took it to Geffen and pitched the idea of an acoustic EP. The band listened to their recordings and opinions were split – Jeff and Brian were all for it, while Tommy and Frank weren’t sure about the sound quality. But Brian argued that even Aerosmith’s Live Bootleg album didn’t have great sound quality, yet it still sold like hotcakes because it had emotions. So why not take the risk and put it out there, right?

Geffen wanted to fix some parts of Tesla’s acoustic recording because it wasn’t perfect. But Tesla said no way! They didn’t want to fake it and make it seem like they were perfect when they weren’t. However, they did run into a little problem when they realized that there was no bass sound in the recording. So, Brian Wheat had to step up and re-record the bass. But he didn’t want it to sound too perfect, so he used the bass that was played during the live performance and recorded it as if it were still live. After all, nobody’s perfect, and that’s what makes live music so special!

Released 13 November 1990, the album reached No. 12 and “Signs” reached No. 10.

My thought

The inclusion of acoustic elements in Tesla’s music can be attributed to their roots in hard rock with a strong blues influence. One of their most notable ballads, “Love Song,” showcased their ability to incorporate acoustic instrumentation into their sound. The ballad gained significant popularity during a time when power ballads were prevalent. As a result, Tesla’s album “The Great Radio Controversy” received attention from a wide range of music fans.

Upon listening to the acoustic versions of their songs, I think they had successfully blended the acoustic and rock elements together. Even songs like “Modern Day Cowboy,” which had a distinct electric guitar sound, incorporated acoustic pop elements seamlessly without feeling out of place. Similarly, “Getting Better” was originally heavy rock, but the band found a way to adjust it to acoustic while still maintaining the same mood. The result was heavy rock music adapted to acoustic, but still retaining its original style in a different way.

Their fundamentals are good, with the funds from their own music being adapted into acoustics. There are still old classic songs mixed into the right power ratio. Therefore, in this album there are songs that Tesla fans know well. And there are songs that general rock fans know. The classic rock picks “Lodi,” “Mother’s Little Helper,” “Weekan Work It Out,” and so on all respect the original.

Their fundamentals are good, Tesla decision to adapt their own music into an acoustic format showcases their solid musical foundation. careful balance of power and acoustic elements. This album provides a mix of familiar songs that Tesla fans know well and classic rock songs that the wider rock audience is familiar with. such as “Lodi,” “Mother’s Little Helper,” and “We Can Work It Out” shows a respectful homage to the original artists and their music.

But the most fun part is how stress-free their performance is. Maybe because they didn’t plan on making an album out of it, they seemed relaxed while playing. They even had funny chats between songs, and there was some humor in “Tommies Down Home,” which made the atmosphere more lighthearted. The audience was also in a great mood.

While they were not the first to do an acoustic live album, their unique blend of hard rock and acoustic elements made them stand out from the crowd. The success of the album proved that rock bands could successfully transition to an acoustic sound without losing their edge. For those interested in listening to acoustic music, this album is a must-listen. It showcases Tesla’s versatility as a band and highlights their musical prowess.

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