Media Life: Tesla founder recalls rock band's Auburn connection

Clausman keyed early City Kidd success; Auburn Karfluki fest sets lineup
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Steve Clausman's connection to the early success of Sacramento rock band Tesla has never been in doubt. Clausman, who owned an after-market auto parts business in Auburn and lived for many years in Foresthill, took the band under his wing and helped get it a major recording contract. But bass player Brian Wheat was gracious enough to take time before going onstage during the recent tribute to Clausman at Pistol Pete's in Auburn to provide the details of that connection only he would know. Wheat recalled that he'd formed a band in South Sacramento with Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon called Earthshaker. Wheat was 18 and Hannon was just 14. They were playing keggers and were being told they had the musical chops to move up to the club scene. Clausman, lived in Foresthill but also co-owned a Sacramento club, called Gopher's Gulch. So the soon-to-be City Kidd members approached Clausman with a home-made tape of their music. At the time, Clausman was managing the band Ian Shelter and offering live music at Gopher's Gulch. As Wheat recalled, Clausman listened to the tape and said that he didn't believe it was the band. After some convincing, the club owner said to show up the next night as the opening act. The pay would be $25 a night. The future Tesla went in and blew the room away. It was 1982 and the band would evolve over the next two years under Clausman's management into a tight five piece that was known then as City Kidd. Rehearsals were often at Clausman's Canal Street business in Auburn. Singer Jeff Keith would join a year after that first meeting at Gopher's Gulch. Eight-hour rehearsals were common under Clausman, who had a managerial style that stressed hard work and professionalism. "He said you could do anything if you work hard enough," Wheat said. "We though he was a drill sergeant." Eventually, band members would balk at that tight control particularly when it came to creating their own sound. They would move up on the next rung on the music ladder without him but never lose contact with Clausman. CONTACT KEPT UP Wheat said he would rarely have a day when the two wouldn't be on the phone. Their final phone call was last Dec. 28, two days before Clausman would die after a lengthy illness. "He was like a baseball scout providing us with the tools we needed," Wheat said. "And we never lost touch." Steve Clausman's son Brian, now living in Newport Beach, said the family was thankful for the tribute, which also featured Foresthill's Barking at Flies and Auburn's Incredible Torpedos. Money raised is going to Foresthill Divide school music programs. Brian said Tesla was always a subject of pride for Clausman because of the success they would eventually achieve, starting in the late 1980s with songs like "Signs" and "Love Song" and multi-platinum albums "The Great Radio Controversy" and "Psychotic Supper." Brian added that while music was a part of Clausman's world, it was a small portion of his life. That included pioneering the importing of aftermarket auto parts from China, Japan, Italy and Australia through his Auburn shop, then shipping them around the world. Auto racing was another important part of Clausman's life. He competed at Laguna Seca on the coast, near Monterey and won the cross-country Cannonball Run race. The elder Clausman did things with a certain degree of elan. When Tesla members were having a hard time making it to practices, he supplied them all with Datsun B-210s so there would be no more excuses, Brian said. "He always made a quarter look like a dollar," he said. KARFLUKI BACK The third edition of Auburn's own eclectic Celtic-centric festival is set. Karfluki Fest sets up the amps for two days in May headlined by Celtic-folkrock kingpins Tempest, with plenty of help from Cajun-groovemeister Tom Rigney & Flambeau, the Gypsy strains of Fishtank Ensemble, the Latin-World fusion band Incendio, Those Darn Accordions, the traditional Anderson Family Bluegrass Band and local act Plasterkatz. Tempest and founder Lief Sorbye know how to throw a fest. Along with the music, festival-goers will be entertained by a virtual cornucopia of novelty acts, including jugglers, magicians, fire eaters and pipers. Karfluki Fest takes place rain or shine on May 3 and May 4 at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn. Tickets for one day or the full two days are available online at and at the Live Music Center at (707) 448-1511. And the term Karfluki? It's a tune in the Tempest repertoire with a made-up title that translates to something like "big fun" or "off the wall." The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at, or (530) 852-0232