"Frank and I lived maybe a mile apart," Wheat said. "We grew up in a little bit of a rough neighborhood when we were kids and we went to the same schools."
Wheat was only 15 when he first heard 13-year-old Hannon playing Jimi Hendrix cover tunes.
"I thought he was amazing. He was really young but he was better than the guys I was playing with at the time who were 21," Wheat recalled in an interview last week.
Hannon and Wheat joined forces right away, forming a band called Earthshaker, and stayed together through a number of band incarnations until hooking up with singer Jeff Keith, drummer Troy Luccketta, and guitarist Tommy Skeoch to form City Kidd in 1985.
That group soon changed its name to Tesla, after the eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla, and was signed by Geffen Records.
Tesla, which will be in concert Saturday night at the Omni, broke into the big time in 1989 with the album "The Great Radio Controversy," selling more than 2 million copies and producing the hits "Love Song" and "The Way It Is."
The group showed its versatility the following year with "Five Man Acoustical Jam," a live acoustic recording of its hard-rock hits as well as covers of the band members' favorite classics by such groups as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. That CD was widely credited as a major inspiration for MTV's popular "Unplugged" concert series.
Skeoch, battling drug problems, was ousted from Tesla in 1995 and the group broke up the next year. A brief reunion in 2000 led to a full-fledged Tesla revival that has been rocking steady ever since, although Skeoch was replaced by guitarist Dave Rude in 2007.
Wheat, who turns 46 today, is known for his thundering bass notes, but is quick to credit the melodic magic of the Beatles, particularly Paul McCartney, as his musical role models.
"McCartney's the best - him and Jimmy Page. But McCartney's the ultimate. He's one of a kind and I think he's proven his legacy," he said.
Away from the spotlight, Wheat loves to cook, works out regularly, enjoys kayaking and bicycling, and travels as often as he can to Tuscany.
"People enjoy my risotto a lot. I'm also good with meats, soups, and paella," he said of his cooking skills. "I used to be a pretty good baker too. There was a time when I was really into baking oatmeal cookies."
For now, however, Wheat will be cooking up bass lines for Tesla as the group travels the country on its Forever More tour. He said the band will be working on new material next year with plans for a new CD in 2011.
Tesla will be in concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Omni, 2567 West Bancroft St. Tickets are $24, available at all Ticketmaster outlets. Information: 419-535-6664 or omnimidwest.com.
Contact David Yonke at
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