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The Catalyst interview: Tesla’s Frank Hannon

Bill DeYoung



Frank Hannon and Gibson's "Frank Hannon Signature Series Love Dove" acoustic. The guitar-maker's CEO played Hannon's acoustic intro to Tesla's "Love Song" at his wedding. Photo: Gibson Guitars.

There’s something remarkably unpretentious about Frank Hannon, the longtime (more than 40 years and counting) lead guitarist for the hard rock band Tesla.

Four decades of road work, platinum-selling records and global fan adulation, Hannon is still down-to-earth, self-deprecating and unfailingly honest.

The band’s January run of Florida dates concludes with performances Tuesday and Wednesday at Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Event Center. As testament to the enduring popularity of the one-time “hair metal” group, both nights, at press time, were nearly sold out.

Tesla today (Frank Hannon, far left). Publicity photo.

Although Tesla began in northern California, back in the early 1980s, these days the 57-year-old Hannon calls Sarasota County home. For the past 23 years, he’s been married to Christy Betts, whose father is Allman Brothers Band guitar legend Dickey Betts. The Hannons live near Christy’s dad.

Like his father-in-law, Hannon experiments with different styles of music in his solo work. His 2023 single “Fool’s Delight” was a countryish slice of Americana, and February will see the release of a Hannon cover of Gary Wright’s 1970s hit “Love is Alive,” which features him playing Moog synthesizer and other instruments.

“I’m looking forward to putting that out there for fun,” Hannon chuckles. “Anything I put out now is for fun – a creative, artistic thing. I’m not trying to be some frickin’ famous Mister Taylor Swift or nothin.’”


St. Pete Catalyst: When you and Christy got together, do you think the fact that her father is a famous, always-touring guitar player helped her connect with you and what you’re all about?

Frank Hannon: Her dad being a guitarist definitely helps her to understand, and helps us to get along, in the sense of compatibility, for sure. But beyond that, our personalities are very compatible. And after both of us going through rough relationships in our past, where you’re not compatible, I think we were at a point in our lives where we knew what that compatibility felt like … and it was brand new to us. And we’ve been together ever since. And it’s been wonderful. She’s a great person.

I wasn’t a huge fan at the time, but I’ve really come to love and appreciate the Allman Brothers’ music. And I actually have performed with Devon Allman and Duane Betts, recently in an Allman Family Revival tour, and I just had the time of my life. For a guitar player, it’s a dream to play that music.

That was a creative experience that I’ll never forget. Like, they handed me a guitar solo in ‘Dreams,’ where I had 10 minutes of just improvising. I thought I was pretty decent guitar player that could improvise, but man, I learned quick that I got some learnin’ to do!


Another thing you have in common with your father-in-law is the ability to bounce between heavy, blues-based electric riffing and acoustic music, even country music.

My earliest roots were Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. My stepdad was a really big fan of that. And then, Creedence Clearwater … as a young kid in the ‘70s, when I started playing music, I was exposed to a lot of different things. And I love every style of music.

I’m always dabbling and learning. That’s the other thing about music: You never stop learning. There’s always something to learn. Even now, I’m learning new tunings on a lap steel. It never ends, learning a love of music. And so, with Tesla I’ve incorporated all kinds of elements into the genre of what we are. I guess it’s hard rock, I don’t know, rock ‘n’ roll? Metal? We got some metal in there too.

When you listen to Tesla, I’m the guy that throws in all the different bell pepper, mushroom, sausage elements on the pizza. Like if you hear some country twang in there, it’s usually me tossing in a B-bender.


Tesla’s 1990 album Five Man Acoustical Jam was unique – here was a heavy band re-making a bunch of their most popular songs as acoustic numbers. Plus some cool covers. Somebody once said that, with that album, Tesla invented MTV Unplugged.

I’ve heard those claims, and it’s crazy that we do get credit for that. And I just think it was the timing, late ‘80s and early ‘90s, music was changing drastically. We were at the forefront of playing acoustically, but it was really by accident. When we visited radio stations, out of convenience we would bring an acoustic guitar.

One time, we got offered a gig in San Francisco, and all of our equipment was on the east coast. So in order to do this one-time awards show called the Bammies, the only way we could do it was to sit on some stools and play acoustically. And people really responded to it.

We would experiment with our songs and kind of tailor them to that format, you know? Like ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ became more of a bolero-sounding song. ‘Comin’ Atcha Live’ we turned into a kind of ‘Truckin’’ Grateful Dead shuffle. It was a lot of fun, and it was different.

And we were challenged by our manager. We were like ‘Man, this is gonna be boring,’ and he was like ‘Well, maybe you’re not good enough to do it.’ So we said ‘Screw you, we can definitely play acoustic.’ So we took on the challenge and we did it – and I think it’s almost at the forefront of the change from glam metal to grunge. It was in between that. Because it required a realness that was definitely needed in music at the time.


Do you guys do an acoustic set in your shows now?

Once in a while we do, and in fact I want to do that more. We just started our January run, and for now we’re basically keeping it to our basic format set, because we gotta ease into it, y’know?

We’re old now, so we’re like the two bulls on the top of the hill, looking down at the herd – we’re not going to just run right into stuff!

We will definitely be putting some acoustic stuff in, like ‘Paradise.’ And we always play ‘Signs,’ obviously. We have another album called Reel to Real that we’re going to touch on, where we did ‘Thank You.’ And sometimes we play ‘Thank You’ acoustically. We’re definitely going to be changing our set up a lot.


In 2020, Gibson created a signature acoustic guitar, the Frank Hannon “Love Dove.” That must’ve been kind of nice, getting your name on a guitar …

Oh yeah, that was a dream come true. Again, it was an accident. It was a matter of timing – everything that happens, magically, in music, I’ve discovered usually is an accident. And usually a matter of timing.

Someone introduced me to Cesar Gueikian, who is the CEO of Gibson Guitars. And it turned out that he and his wife had played the acoustic guitar intro to ‘Love Song’ at their wedding. They were really nice, and really loving toward me because of that and the connection.

I had just recently been looking for my original ’76 Sunburst Dove that I used back in the day, and it’s missing! I can’t find it. It’s in a Hard Rock Café, I think, in Seoul, Korea, hangin’ on a wall.

I asked them if they would build me another one, and they took it a step further – they built 50 of them, and put my ‘Love Dove’ signature on it.


After so many trips around the sun, who is the average Tesla fan today?

Well, there’s the diehards … but we’re seeing grandchildren now. It blows me away, some of the songs like ‘What You Give’ and ‘Love Song,’ and even ‘Hang Tough’ and ‘Modern Day Cowboy,’ I’m just glad that we wrote those songs, and Jeff Keith, our lead singer, wrote lyrics that were from his heart. They’ve stood the test of time. And I’m glad we’re able to sell tickets still.

Despite album sales and record stores being a thing of the past and all of that, there’s nothing that will ever take away a live concert, being in the room with a live performance. And we are one hundred percent live; we don’t roll any tapes or any pre-recorded bullshit.

We may sound a little rough and raw, but (laughing) it is what it is!

Click here for Seminole Hard Rock Event Center ticket availability.



  1. Avatar

    J’Anne Lundquist

    January 22, 2024at8:20 pm

    Great interview Frank! I love reading about you guys & what you have in mind for everyone! Keep Rockin! 🤘♥️🎸

  2. Avatar

    Debi Wilson

    January 17, 2024at8:30 pm

    Awesome interview Frank!! Hang Tough is my ring tone. Love you guys!!! ❤️

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