Text by Linda Claycamp, Illustrations by Stan Shaw
In the mid-’70s, UPS students Peter Grignon and David Hill started jamming together on campus, developing a sound that would evolve into the Nik Tesla band. Although Pete and Dave were members of rival fraternities, SAE and Kappa Sigma, their prior friendship through grade school and junior high precluded any competitive tension between Greek chapters. Pete’s bass and Dave’s rhythm guitar, teamed with Drew Pilant on drums and a buddy from junior high, Brian Bell, playing the double-neck guitar, made for a potent and enduring sound. Drew also performed in the campus band Smoldering Remains with Charlie Phelps ’82 and Edgar Elliott ’82.
Nik Tesla, named for Nikloa Tesla, the inventor of a device that made electrical power transmission possible, performed its first gig at a campus fraternity party. The group expanded to venues such as the fieldhouse, block parties, and local taverns, including the Brick (now the Unicorn Tavern) and the Stomping Grounds in Fife. Original music was mixed with covers of top-10 rock and roll songs from the ’50s through the early ’80s. The group disbanded in 1982.
After a 17-year respite, Nik Tesla reorganized, albeit without Drew Pilant. Drew went on to earn a Ph.D. and is now a research physical scientist in North Carolina for the Environmental Protection Agency. Drew has continued performing, most recently in a reggae/R&B project called Cry On Cue. The reformed Nik Tesla band includes original UPS members Dave Hill and Pete Grignon, plus several other members. They continue their “chronology of rock ‘n’ roll” repertoire around Tacoma at private parties and some larger functions, such as the Fourth of July Freedom Fair. They have the distinct honor of performing as the house band for Bob’s Java Jive (the tavern that’s shaped like a coffee pot, on South Tacoma Way).
Pete Grignon is currently the senior vice president for the finance department of the United Way of Pierce County. Dave Hill became a part-time student and completed his studies in 1994. For several years, Dave had a radio show on KUPS that explored the idea of the transition from blues music into early rock music, during which he would play a song from a classic rock band such as Led Zeppelin, and then compare it to a similar-sounding blues song from decades earlier. Dave now serves as Nik Tesla publicist and manager, as well as vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and writer for the band.