Tesla bassist Brian Wheat will release his autobiography, “Son of Milkman – My Crazy Life with Tesla,” on November 24th via Post Hill Press.
Brian offers readers a compelling, heartfelt, and honest look at the struggles he and the band faced in their career with addictions, health issues, their break-up, and the reunion. Not only is it a fascinating Rock & Roll book, but Brian shares his insights and philosophies about the music industry while exploring the music Tesla made. Preorders can be found here!
Correspondent Robert Cavuoto had a candid interview with Brian, where he gives a deep dive into his musical career, his Rock & Roll lifestyle, and insights into the great music Tesla has made.
I didn’t know the entire history of Tesla, so it was fascinating to read about all the ups and downs in the band’s career. You gave the readers an insightful and honest look at what was going on during the best and worst of times. Do you have any regrets for some of the things that you shared?
No, I don’t have regrets. I didn’t give any dirt away on anyone. It was simply about what went down. It was my view on how things happened and how I remembered them. Maybe someone else in the band will say it went down differently, and they are free to say what they want should they write a book.
I ask because some of the members may not want to share the stories about their drug and alcohol use.
When it comes to Rock & Roll books, that always a topic that’s discussed. We never spoke about it, and that is why I added it in the book. We all had our own share of problems with depression, anxiety, drugs, and bulimia. I felt that writing the book was a way to let it all out. I told the truth as I remember it.
You share that band being hardcore partiers back in the day, but the mainstream music fans had no idea what was going on within Tesla like what they knew about Motley Crue’s or Guns N Roses’ antics. How did you keep Tesla’s personal business out of the press?
Bands like Motley Crue or Guns N Roses got a lot more publicity than we did. Tesla didn’t have the sort of image where we were in all the magazines and on MTV all the time. We had a short period where we were on MTV a lot with Five Man Acoustical Jams, “Signs,” “Modern Day Cowboy,” and “Love Songs,” but I think we were viewed as an American Bad Company or a blues-based rock band. We didn’t have a high profile image. I think that is how we kept it down. We weren’t throwing TVs out of windows and shit like that, but we liked our drugs and our alcohol. I really don’t know how we avoided it, and I’m thankful we are all alive today. I guess it’s a blessing that we somehow avoided it.
I found it interesting that you were suffering from anxiety and depression, but you didn’t want to take a medicine, which was a medical necessity for those issues. Instead, you drank and took downers. Looking back, what was the thought process?
[Laughing] Are you calling me a hypocrite? [Laughing] I didn’t want to take drugs for anxiety and depression because I was already a drug addict. I had a short time where I dabbled in harder drugs like cocaine, but I was mucked up and depressed at the time. Unfortunately, that was my logic behind not wanting to take medicine for anxiety. If anything, the downers were contributing to the anxiety! Thank God because that is when I met Dr. Herschkopf, who was my psychiatrist. He helped me immensely to deal with my anxiety disorder. Later in my life, I started taking Paxil for anxiety. I guess it was my mindset at 27 when this all came crashing down on me. I know it sounds a bit funny, the book was in my voice, and I wanted to have people get a laugh out of it. Through therapy, I learned that alcohol and downs contributed to the anxiety, so now I don’t do that [laughing]. It was not the smartest thing in the world as I could have died. If I get on an airplane, I’ll take an Advair because I’m horrified of flying. I’m still glad I didn’t take the antidepressants at the time and went to therapy with Dr. Herschkopf; it was the best money I could have spent on my healthcare. The one thing I want people to take away from this book is that I had some shit I needed to deal with, which readers might not think a guy in a rock band has to deal with. I did it, and I’m not complaining. I came out of it okay!
Initially, the book’s title struck me as a possible tip of the hat to your father. After reading several chapters, I began to learn that was not the case. Your mother was very influential in your upbringing; why not use a title that honored her?
The old joke was, “Who’s your Dad? I think you’re the milkman’s kid!” In 1962 I was illegitimate and was the milkman’s kid. That is why I had such strong ties with my Mom. She caught a lot of shit for having me back then. She was called a whore by her family, and then disowned. All because she went out with the milkman, fell in love, got her pregnant, and then he flew the coop. That is why I named the book Son of a Milkman. To me, its humor; you have to laugh at it. I don’t go around crying “I was a poor bastard child.” Whatever curveballs life throws at you, you can overcome to try to be the best person you can be.
Does it feel cathartic to get it all out?
Yeah, it does. One of the things Dr. Herschkopf said to me in my years of therapy was I should write a book. It was a way to release all my inner demons. It was very therapeutic for me.
The lifestyle of a rock n roll artist is truly a tough one. People glamorize it in the press, but that’s not the case from the wear and tear on the body from touring, the stress on the mind regarding financial issues, and then the negative effect of drugs and alcohol on decision-making. If you had to do it over, would you have chosen the Rock & Roll lifestyle?
Absolutely! Everything has its price in life; nothing comes for free! I’ve had a great life. Sure, there have been some bad things that have happened, like with health issues. When I look at my life as a whole, I was a kid who grew up poor, listened to The Beatles “Revolver,” and wanted to be a Rock & Roll star like Paul McCartney. I achieved that goal and would absolutely do it all over again.
If you could go back in time, what advice with you gives your younger self?
I would have told myself to save a little more money, have more patience, and be kinder to people. There was a time when I was young; I was an asshole. I really think about that today at 57 years old. At 27, I was at the top of my game, and I seemed invincible. You think it is never going to end. One of the things that I discussed in the book is the band’s breakup and how it all fell apart. That was a humbling experience for me and the other guys in the band. That really taught me that there are certain things in life that you need to cherish and respect more. I could have been nicer to my ex-wife. That is one of my regrets. Today we made amends, and we best friends again.
Do you think your younger self would listen to that advice?
I don’t think so; you have to learn for yourself. Most people are hard-headed when they’re young. You haven’t seen life and everything it can throw at you.
Tesla started a musical revolution by playing acoustic shows. Do you think the band received the proper credit for that trend which every band followed?
Yeah, sure. People know. When the book of Tesla is written, it’s the one note that people will remember about us. I feel that we received the proper accolades for that. I’m really proud of it because it really showed that Tesla were good musicians. We are a good live band, and I pride myself on that; maybe we never had those huge selling records like “Appetite for Destruction,” Metallica’s “Black” album, or Def Leppard’s “Hysteria,“ but we were a really good live band which I want people to remember about us.
Performing with a symphony was another trend that hard rock bands did for a period, was there ever talk of Tesla doing that?
I don’t think the idea was never presented to us. I don’t know if we would have done it. I used to think that Jeff wouldn’t want to do it as he is a blue jeans and Rock & Roll guy. He doesn’t like choirs and symphonies. Jeff has opened up more to a lot of things in his older years, as we all have. I’m a Beatles freak, so I would like to make a “Sergeant Pepper” II. I think the rest of us would be keen to it. You know what; I’ll bring it up at the next band meeting. I think songs like “Paradise,” “Love Song,” and “What You Give,” as well as some of the ballads, would work nicely with an orchestra.
That will be one more thing to add to your “to-do” list.
I have to stay busy as I get bored very easily. I always have to be moving around. I’m not the type of guy that can sit on an island for a month. I would go fucking crazy, sitting there looking at the oceans for hours on end. I want to have things going on around me and have some kind of action. I thought I could do that when I lived in this little town of Baird, Texas, with a population of 1,000, but it was just too isolated. There weren’t too many things to do that would wake up my senses. Now I live in New York, and there are around 40,000 people.
In the book, you talked about later in your career that the band was selling fewer albums but making more money. You called yourself a “cottage industry,” what does that mean, and could you share the insight behind that theory’s success?
The term “cottage industry” referred to having more control of things in later years. We were managing ourselves, we had our own record label, and handling our own merchandise. Basically, we were doing everything, and that is where I came up with the term. When we were on “Geffen”, selling two million records at a time, and there were people who had their hands in the pot. We were getting a percentage of the pie from the record company. That’s why we weren’t making as much money as we were later. We are now seeing more money from the pie because we were doing more on our own.
Have you put any thought into your next book being a handbook for bands on avoiding some of the music industry’s pitfalls and achieving greater financial success?
Yeah, Chris Epting, who co-wrote this book with me, and I have talked about another book like that. I never thought this would even turn into a book, or anyone would have any interest in it. I started out telling my life story to two other writers, then gave those drafts to Chris, and he co-wrote the book with me from that point on. It was kind of a process. As I mentioned earlier, I tried to let go of the things I have internalized over the years. I would love to do another book on how bands can help themselves because I have a lot of experience with it and want to give back to younger bands. Like you asked before, if I could go back to my younger self and would I have taken the advice? Perhaps if someone else would have given me that advice, I might have taken it had I looked up to them. If there are people who look up to Tesla or me, maybe they will take it to heart. It’s a good idea.
We recently lost Pete Way and Eddie Van Halen; what did they mean to you?
Pete was good friends; I loved Pete. It was sad to lose him, Eddie, Neil Peart, and Paul Chapman of UFO. They were the generation before me, so it just goes to show you that we are getting older. The clock is running, and you need to leave behind something that people will remember you by. They all did. It was sad to see them all go. We knew Eddie was sick, as were all these rumors and no touring plans for Van Halen. I hope he was at peace as I hope the same for Pete. Pete had a lot of demons, but he was one of the sweetest human beings I had ever met.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, have you been working on any new songs for Tesla?
I have a small record label and management company, so I’ve been doing more producing. I’m interested in developing younger artists like we talk about earlier and giving back and offering advice. When I’m producing, I co-write songs with the band, so I have been writing, but not for Tesla. I write for the project at the time. I have my other band, Soulmotor, and we have a record coming out after the book is released. Once Tesla decides to make another record, we will start the writing process. That usually begins with Frank or me coming up with musical ideas then presenting them to Jeff. It goes through an evolution process, which is a bit time-consuming. When we come out of this pandemic, I think we will have a lot of new feelings to write about. I don’t know how we will approach the new record, but we will certainly do another.