The band formed in 1984 in Sacramento as City Kidd, and was renamed Tesla during the recording of their first album, 1986's Mechanical Resonance, on the advice of their manager that City Kidd was not a great name. The band derived their name, certain album and song titles, and some song content from events relating to Nikola Tesla, an inventor and electrical engineer born in the 19th century.
The band's original lineup consisted of lead vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarists Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch, bassist Brian Wheat, and drummer Troy Luccketta.
Tesla's music is often referred to as heavy metal, but is better described as hard rock with a bluesy feel. The band's lyrics also strayed from the themes popular in heavy metal, particularly in the 1980s at the beginning of their career. A further distinction from their contemporaries was their T-shirt-and-jeans image which was in strong contrast to Glam Metal bands of the time, which were characterized by big hair, leather pants, and flashy makeup. Also in the early days of their career, Tesla toured with David Lee Roth, Def Leppard, and Poison which incorrectly resulted in the band being categorized as a Glam metal band. The band's members resented this labelling.  Tesla has always been proud of the fact that their music has always been just guitars and drums, with an occasional piano from guitarist Hannon and/or bassist Wheat and occasional organ from Hannon, with no synthesizers or anything to distort their sound. Their albums always proudly proclaimed, "No Machines", referring to that fact. However, the band's 2004 album, Into the Now, does not include synthesized beats. Drummer Troy Luccketta cleverly designed his drum set to make it sound like synthesized beats, as seen on the Cuminatcha live 2008 DVD section on Troy's ge