If powerful prescription drugs like Ritalin or Adderall had been widely prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD, decades ago, John Tesh probably wouldn’t have had a career, he admits.
Growing up on Long Island, he was a self-proclaimed high school music geek. Naturally gifted, he was trained by instructors from New York’s fabled Juilliard School of Music.
He learned to love the trumpet and, for a time, hate the piano. To make sure he put in a full two hours of practice, his mom used the annoyingly incessant tick-tick-tick of an egg timer. When the timer went off, Tesh went outside to play.
But the piano led to more opportunities, including playing organ in a garage rock band called the Best of Both Worlds.
“Everyone was in a band back then,” Tesh says, pointing out another kid from out on the island Billy Joel, who was in a band called the Hassles.
Majors, minors (and music)
In college, Tesh focused on music and communications, where he learned how to report news for radio and television.
When he wasn’t in class or a recording studio, Tesh was a standout player on North Carolina State University’s varsity lacrosse and soccer teams.
So Tesh was well prepared for a number of potential vocations. He just didn’t know what he wanted to do.
“My dad used to say to me, ‘You need to pick something.’ And I said, ‘Okay, everything,’” Tesh recalls with a laugh during a recent early morning phone call from his Beverly Hills home.
Tesh really could do everything. His first TV gig was as a reporter and anchor in Nashville and other stations in the south. At 22, he became the youngest reporter at the CBS affiliate in New York.
A natural in front of the camera, he began covering sports. While he sometimes didn’t know much about the events he was reporting on, he still shined during events like the Tour de France bike race and Olympic gymnastics.
Still, music was never far away. A prolific composer, he’s perhaps best known for “Roundball Rock,” the theme song for “The NBA on NBC” for 12 years beginning in 1990. The song has been repurposed several times since then, including for the last two Summer Olympics.
‘The Big C’
Nearly two years ago, however, Tesh’s career was interrupted when he was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer.
Tesh wanted to make sure any treatment wouldn’t interrupt his podcast “Intelligence For Your Life” or the individual syndicated shows hosted by Tesh, his wife, actress Connie Sellecca, and Gib Gerard, Sellecca’s son from a previous marriage.
“When I first got the cancer diagnosis almost two years ago, I was afraid the (radio) stations were going to drop me,” Tesh, 64, explains. “Eventually (Sellecca) said, ‘Why don’t you be honest about this and (tell them) how you’re using your faith along with the medical treatments to get healed. You could really speak to people. It’s this thing where you open up and people can be touched by it in some manner.’ That was a lesson to me that I needed to let people watch this process.”
Tesh says his wife put her career on hold to care for him, just as she did in 1994 when their daughter, Prima, was born. Sellecca quit acting to become a full-time mom.
‘Just a head cold’
Despite the cancer treatments, Tesh is still touring with a show that includes many of his music career highlights, like songs from his touchstone 1995 singin’-in-the-rain concert during a downpour at Red Rocks amphitheater in Colorado.
Tesh and his band perform 9 p.m. Saturday, May 13, in The Grand at Golden Nugget Atlantic City.
“I’m in the middle of my second round of chemotherapy treatment now. They feel like they got it with surgery, and now they’re sort of ‘washing’ my microscopic cells and stuff (with the chemo),” he says candidly about his illness.
“But it’s a helluva journey. (I was) touring for six months, then on Monday I had chemo in Houston,” he adds. “And then I’m down for two days being very sick, as people who have been through that know. But it’s also a testimony of how to figure out what’s important in your life. I think I have license to tell those stories, and it’s fun to tell them with music.”
Tesh has also learned through personal experience that, no matter how lousy he feels after chemo, there are some cancer patients, especially children, who are in much worse shape.
“I think I have more empathy now than I’ve ever had in my life,” he says, for the first time lowering his voice just a little and sounding reflective. “(I’ve) met a lot of people with cancer, some as young as 6, who are 10 times worse than what I have. I have a head cold compared to some of these kids.”