Media Life: Tesla sound, image forged in Placer County

Before Tesla, there was City Kidd — and an Auburn connection
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at

. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.   


You could say that rock band Tesla’s sound and style is Made in Sacramento.

And that would ultimately elicit few arguments.

But it would only tell part of the story.

Back in the 1980s, before the million-selling albums and the sold-out concerts — in fact before Tesla was Tesla, an Auburn talent spotter and entrepreneur by the name of Steve Clausman took a bunch of teen rockers under his wing and instilled in them a work ethic that has indeed never let up 36 years later. The name of the band was City Kidd and it would become what we know now as Tesla.

This weekend, Tesla was back in their nearby home away from home, playing Thunder Valley Casino in the Lincoln area before embarking on more concert dates in California and beyond. The band has drafted Def Leppard guitarist and Tesla fan Phil Collen to produce a new album of originals, the soon-to-be-released “Shock.” And they’re coming off co-headlining gigs and supporting bills with the likes of the aforesaid Def Leppard, as well as REO Speedwagon and Styx.


Gopher’s Gulch Beginnings

Media Life is dialing the Time Tunnel back to 1982, when Clausman — a Foresthill resident and owner of an aftermarket auto parts business on Canal Street in North Auburn — was approached by the band at another of his enterprises, Sacramento night spot Gopher’s Gulch.

The future members of Tesla — then going by the moniker Earthshaker — had a cassette of polished songs that Clausman told them he couldn’t believe was the band’s. But he gave them a slot as an opening act that paid $25. The future Tesla came in and blew that room away.

It was 1982 and the band would become a tight five-piece that Clausmann would work hard in practice - sometimes eight hours a day — to groom for a major-label record contract and stardom.


Work Ethic Instilled

“He said you could do anything if you work hard enough,” bass player and original member Brian Wheat told Media Life after Clausman’s 2007 death.

Clausman’s band of young rockers — renamed City Kidd — would stake out a place in rock circles both in the Auburn area and Sacramento. By September 1983, they were in Heavenly Recording Studios in Sacramento with legendary guitar player Ronnie Montrose making a four-song demo tape. A video followed, with live performance footage at the much-storied Oasis in Sacramento.

By early 1984, the still-named City Kidd was ready to go overseas, with dates in Guam and Japan over 23 weeks. Vocalist Jeff keith had moved to Georgetown by then. Wheat was living in Foresthill.

By the mid-1980s, the newly renamed Tesla had secured a record deal and were moving into national touring from regional fame, never to look back.

Clausie Talent Agency’s managerial roll was over. Sort of.


Connection Stayed

Clausman, band members say, never lost touch, always providing pointers until days before his death.

It’s one of those stories of Placer County and Auburn that is little-known and rarely told but well worth remembering.

And when someone says Tesla is a Sacramento band, Placer County can claim a piece of their past — courtesy of a hard-driving manager who helped send the City Kidd kids on their way to stardom.

Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.