TESLA Bassist BRIAN WHEAT – “Just Because You’re In A Rock Band, Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Human”

December 22, 2020, 12 months ago

By Aaron Small

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TESLA Bassist BRIAN WHEAT – “Just Because You’re In A Rock Band, Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Human”

“It’s all pretty true as far as I can remember it. I tell people, this is how I remember it. Someone else might remember it a different way, but this is my memory of it,” says Tesla bassist Brian Wheat, talking about his tremendous new autobiography, Son Of A Milkman: My Crazy Life With Tesla, co-authored by Chris Epting, available now from Post Hill Press.

During the foreword, Def Leppard vocalist Joe Elliott describes Son Of A Milkman as, “an open and very honest book.” And he isn’t kidding. Revelations abound as Wheat shares explicit details from his early childhood up until modern day. The bassist discusses serious health issues, alcohol and drug use, as well as the inner workings of Tesla. Writing a memoir, “was just something I decided I wanted to do,” explains Brian. “That’s kind of how I live my whole life. I decide I want to do something, I set a goal and I try to achieve it. I set a goal – I’m going to write a book. So, I tried it, and I wrote a book! Jeff (Keith – Tesla vocalist) told me, ‘Write whatever you want, cause it’s all true.’”

According to Wheat, none of his Tesla bandmates have read Son Of A Milkman. If they do, their reactions could be cause for concern as – pardon the Mötley Crüe pun – but a lot of dirt is dished out on these pages. “Not really,” counters Brian. “I don’t dish any more dirt on them than I do myself. I say we all were getting fucked up. I don’t single any one guy out and go, this guy was getting all fucked up. We were all getting fucked up. I didn’t tell any of their deepest, darkest secrets. I knew there was a line not to cross.”

Admittedly, Wheat has had a lot of conflict with Tesla drummer Troy Luccketta over the years. From fistfights and nasty disagreements, to hurtful things being said. But Brian goes on to say, “Today we’re ok, I think we’ve both grown up.” “Yeah, and that’s the underlying tone with the whole thing. I may say something about Jeff, sending his wife to a (band) meeting in 1991, well that was thirty fucking years ago! That’s not the same Jeff today. All I’m saying is, this is how it was back then. This is what we were going through at that particular time. That doesn’t mean we still go through these things today. We’ve gone through all the bullshit, the bad and the ugly. No one was an angel in the band.”

Substance abuse is certainly chronicled within Son Of A Milkman. The level of drug activity and alcohol consumption may catch some readers off guard, as Tesla’s recreational habits didn’t make headlines in the ‘80s and ‘90s the way those of Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe did. Brian admits, “I didn’t do drugs until about 1993… then I became a drug addict.” Cocaine was on the recording budget for the Psychotic Supper album for goodness sake. “Yeah, well, it wasn’t listed as cocaine, but it was in there; miscellaneous. Look, we all did drugs. Some of us did more drugs than others. Some of us got over it and grew up, and some of us didn’t; and I’m not going to get into that. You know what I’m talking about. The key to it all is that we persevered through it all and we’re still standing 36 years later. And it’s not just a book on Tesla. It’s a book on Brian Wheat – my life and what it’s been. Tesla has been a big part of my life, so obviously there’s a lot of Tesla stuff in it. But there’s other stuff that has nothing to do with Tesla. My dogs, the fact that I was a bastard son of the milkman. All those stories.”

Hence the title of the book, Son Of A Milkman. Brian’s biological father was not his mother’s husband; he delivered 2% to the doorstep and well… Being the milkman’s son – Brian was put up for adoption for five days until his aunt talked his mother out of it. Furthermore, Brian’s mom was on welfare until he was 13 years old, all the while enduring mental breakdowns; that must have been incredibly difficult to live through. “It was. But I’m ok, it made me the guy I am today. Some people ask, ‘Why put it out there?’ Well, if you’re going to put a book out there, be honest. Otherwise, why even take the time to put a book out? If you’re just going to candy-coat the whole thing and try to make yourself look good – which I certainly didn’t try to do. I put all my vulnerabilities out there.”

Even in the preface, Brian admits to “struggling on a daily basis with general anxiety disorder, occasional depression, a bit of OCD, and a host of autoimmune diseases that can make life really tough sometimes.” He gets right into it, and that’s only the first of numerous epiphanies. Shocking may not be the right word, but it’s certainly surprising. “I didn’t want to be like, ‘I did all these drugs, I fucked all these chicks.’ I wanted people to take away from the book that, just because you’re in a rock band, doesn’t mean you’re not human, and you don’t deal with human problems and issues. Hopefully, the average person in the Midwest of America, or wherever, can relate to it. Somebody else who was the milkman’s kid can say, ‘I was the milkman’s son too.’”

Brian’s health struggles are a big part of this book, specifically Ulcerated Colitis, and later on Crohn’s Disease. “Colitis is a bitch,” declares the bassist. He characterizes it as shitting blood and horrendous cramps. This isn’t a take a Tylenol and you’ll feel better situation. “It can be a real motherfucker! Imagine being on tour and having to get up on stage. Then when people take pot shots at me cause of my weight, maybe if you took Prednisone for eight weeks straight you would know why I look all puffy. I just wanted to put it all out there; there’s more layers to the onion here than you’re actually seeing.”

So many layers, Brian was borderline Bulimic at one point, sticking his fingers down his throat to puke after eating a meal. “Yeah, that was a way of life for three or four years for me. But I overcame that like I did cocaine, I just stopped! That’s the weird thing about it. I didn’t go to meetings, I just stopped. With the cocaine, when I met my second wife Monique, she said, ‘If you want to date me, you’ve got to stop doing drugs.’ Ok, I just stopped.”

Now, Brian needs a colonoscopy every 18 months, due to the fact that his autoimmune deficiencies make him predisposed to cancers that effect the digestive system. “It’s kind of a joke now. I tell everyone I’m going to get the hose up the ol’ rooster there. I have to because my autoimmune puts me at a high risk for colon cancer. You’ve got to catch that shit early. I’m about due now, but the COVID thing kind of fucked it up. I’ve got to deal with that after the first of the year, go see the ol’ hose doctor again. I share in the book what my life’s like. If you’re interested, then here it is. I tried to do it with a little bit of humor, you’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself.”

It’s all very interesting, even the fact that Brian worked at McDonald’s as a teenager. “That was my only job man.” The free food that came with the job attributed to his initial weight gain. When asked for his thoughts on McDonald’s in 2020, Brian abruptly replied, “Fuck, I don’t know? I don’t even go there! I still think they have the best Diet Coke, and the best fries. But I hardly ever eat McDonald’s, quite honestly. I’m not a big fan of McDonald’s.” In 2004 a documentary titled Super Size Me was released, which followed Morgan Spurlock for 30 days, as he ate only at McDonald’s. “That was pretty scary,” comments Wheat. “But I imagine if you ate Taco Bell or Burger King in that same way, the same thing would happen. He just happened to pick McDonald’s. It’s all the same.”

Continuing to divulge previously unknown facts, Brian discusses the fact that in 2003 when Tesla got back together, the band followed Metallica’s footsteps and collectively saw a psychiatrist. “I was actually the one that brought up the idea. We had just got back together, and we were still having problems communicating with one another. We went in there, and he helped us to get it together to make Into The Now. I remember him telling us, ‘You guys keep spinning round and round and round, instead of your CD spinning round and round and round, it’s just you guys. It was actually very helpful at the time. We were trying to keep it together, and right after that album, we had some problems again. We were fucked up, and it was one of those efforts to try and keep the band together.”

There’s a section in Son Of A Milkman that deals with unreleased material, which is sure to excite Tesla fans. Brian talks about a five-disc box set comprised of three CDs and two DVDs, that was supposed to come out to commemorate Tesla’s 25th anniversary. Unfortunately, it’s still in limbo because the band and Universal Records couldn’t come to terms. “It’s kind of in the same place it was ten years ago, or however long it’s been since we talked about it last. We’ve still got to figure out a deal that works and is beneficial to both parties involved. But it’s all demos of the first three or four albums. There’s live stuff and video stuff, it would be great for a Tesla fan! If you’re a fan of the band you would love it cause it’s a bunch of stuff you’ve never seen or heard before. Hopefully, it’ll come out one day. It will eventually, who knows what’ll happen?”

Towards the end of the book, Brian looks ahead and asserts, “We (meaning Tesla) can go another ten years. But we need to put out records that will build a new audience.” That’s a steep mountain to climb. “Yeah, I mean, that’s what we were trying to do with Shock, and it obviously didn’t pan out. Great album. Had a blast making it, Phil (Collen – Def Leppard guitarist and producer) was fantastic. We thought we were going to grab some new fans, and we didn’t. It kind of went the opposite, I think we pissed off some of the older fans. But you can’t worry about that. As an artist, you don’t want to make the same record over and over and over. So, you try something different. Some people didn’t like it, some people loved it. But that’s the same with all our records. I think we’ll make records that we enjoy making, and hopefully the people dig ‘em. Whether or not we’ll pick up new fans, I don’t know? We do because we pick up our fans’ kids and grandkids; I see three generations of people at our shows. So, we do pick up new fans, but it’s a kid whose parents or grandparents like Tesla, and that’s really rewarding, it’s fun to see.”

Wheat is also fully aware of his own self-limitations. As he gets closer to 60 years of age, he states that his days, personally, of touring and living in a bus are coming to an end. “Does that mean the end of Tesla? Of course not. The band can easily go on without me.” That was a jaw-dropper. We’ve heard Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley say KISS can go on without them, but to hear that from Brian Wheat about Tesla was unexpected. “Look, I’m not going anywhere. I don’t plan on it. Unless they read my book, get mad at me, and throw me out of the band. There have been times, because of my health, I seriously contemplated stepping down. And they could go on without me. I don’t know if we could go on without Jeff or Frank (Hannon – guitarist), but they could go on without Brian Wheat. We’ve gone on without (guitarist) Tommy Skeoch. I’m not irreplaceable. I’m not that egotistical to think that I am. But I don’t plan on going anywhere. I’ve been feeling pretty good the last couple of years, my heath’s been better, and I’ve been making an effort to keep it better. With the stress being less in Tesla, that has a big part to play with my personal health. So, I’m not going anywhere dude.”

It’s hilarious that Tesla found Tommy’s replacement, Dave Rude, on MySpace cause “he looked cool.” That’s a snapshot in time right there. “That’s what Frank said! He said, ‘I found this guy, he looks cool as fuck.’ I went, yeah, he does. He came and he played, and he played great! Dave Rude is a great fuckin’ guitarist! I think Dave was a gift from God to the four of us. He was a shot in the arm, because at the time, we were having a real hard time. It could have went the other way. It could have been the end again. It’s been a pleasure working with Dave the past twelve, thirteen years. Great guy, I love him to death.”

Speaking of the end, at the end of Son Of A Milkman, the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is printed. Another unexpected element. Being completely honest, Brian reveals, “There have been times when I thought about ending it all, but I fight back because I believe in myself, and I believe in working hard.” Shedding additional light on a sensitive situation, Brian articulates: “To be crystal clear, what I was saying was, when I had this really, really bad depression last year, I could understand why someone would want to do it because it’s such a black hole. I did not contemplate killing myself. In no way, shape, or form. Let me clarify that. When Anthony Bourdain, Chris Cornell, and Chester Bennington killed themselves, I could never really understand why someone… how could it be so bad you’d want to kill yourself? I’d never experienced that bad a depression. But last summer, I did experience that bad a depression. At that point, it was like, now I understand how they could do this because it’s really overwhelming. And that was my whole thing. If you get to a point, you need to reach out to somebody. There’s a couple guys in the (Tesla road) crew that I hung with at that time when we were in Canada. They’re like my brothers these guys. I just hung out with them because I wanted to make sure I was with somebody. I didn’t want to be in a situation where… but I was never contemplating taking my life. It’s never got that bad. But I finally understood that it could get that bad. What would drive someone to do it? That’s the point I was trying to make.”

In 2021, Son Of A Milkman will be available as an audio book, read by Brian Wheat. “Yeah, I’m supposed to do it next month when I get to Texas for the winter. We’re going into Dallas and I’ll read for four or five days and put it together as an audio book, absolutely.” As for the rest of next year, “Everything is so up in the air! As soon as they give us the green light, we’re going to start playing shows again. That’s the first thing, foremost. I don’t know if people realize, but Tesla is how we make our living; it’s our job, being in a band. We’re unemployed right now, it’s a drag. We’re feeling the crunch of COVID just like everyone else. The first thing is we’ll get out and play shows again and see everybody. Then I imagine, hopefully, I’m sure there’s another record in there.”

(Photos courtesy of Mark Weiss and The Decade That Rocked)

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