Cinderella frontman dishes on ’80s hair metal, the blues and why he lives in Nashville
Once upon a time there lived an unhappy young girl. Her mother was dead and her father had married a widow with two daughters. Her stepmother didn’t like her one little bit … whoa wait… wrong Cinderella! If there ever was a true rock-and-roll fairy tale complete with heroes, triumphs and gold that turns into platinum, you have it in the story of Philly’s own wild child, Cinderella. The band.
Formed in Philadelphia in 1983 by singer-songwriter, keyboardist and guitarist Tom Keifer and bassist Eric Brittingham, Cinderella is a modern-day rock fable. With only four commercial releases and numerous setbacks, Cinderella is still the beau of the headbangers ball 27 years later. Compared to their peers, with more prolific outputs, constant touring and fewer obstacles, Cinderella arrived, the crowd gasped in awe and the impression left has been profound.
Anchoring Cinderella are the extraordinary and rare vocals of Keifer who, as a male version of Janis Joplin, has channeled the blues into Cinderella’s incomparable style and sound that not only made them stand out amongst the banquet of glam and metal acts of the ’80s and early ’90s, but gave them that most coveted of all prizes in the music business: longevity. Despite more than one hiatus, a condensed output and what some would call tragedy, the band has survived and is back in the game with a new summer tour and a revitalized Keifer waving his rock-androll wand (in this case a 1950s Nocaster) among the masses.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Tom from his home in Nashville and we discussed the past, present and future of Cinderella which is the stuff dreams, fantasies and the occasional nightmare. However at the center of this legend is a true hero- slaying musical dragons one by one with humor, style and class.
Y!W: You were raised a bit on the blues. How did this ultimatelyinfl uence you?Tom Keifer: Well I was originally infl uenced second generationby players like Jimmy Page, the Stones, Janis Joplin… asI grew up in the ’70s — so there’s a lot of great music to beinspired by. I remember being about 17 or 18 and someonegave me BB King’s Live at the Regal and I remember listeningto his guitar and thinking, ”Wow that kind of sounds likeJimmy Page,” And then I realized, no it’s the other way around!(laughing) You know, I was just a kid when I heard those rockbands, and you don’t really realize where it comes from. So Istarted digging and kinda wanted the opportunity to interpret itmyself and from that point I got into all of the greats like RobertJohnson and Muddy Waters, whom I love. Johnny Winter isawesome… Elmore James and Son House… I just love all ofthat kind of music and I think it’s always good, if you’re initialimpression is of someone else’s interpretation, that’s alwaysgoing to stay with you. But I think you have a deeper appreciationif you go back to what they listened to. And I think that it’sinfl uenced me from a writing standpoint, in the melodies, butmostly in the lyrics. Most of the songs I write about are aboutlife — good times and bad times, the ups and downs of life,which is what the roots music is usually about. So I think all ofthat puts us in more of a blues-rock category as opposed to ametal one. A lot of times we get lumped into that.
Y!W: True. It has always seemed that you guys wantedwanted to be more Zep and the Stones. “Heartbreak Station”for example is incredibly Stones-y, but it seemed like you andthe band were forever getting lumped into ’80s metal. Are youokay with that? Did you feel shoehorned into the ’80s glamscene when it seems you obviously always wanted to go in amore ’70s bluesy direction?TK: You know I think it’s a shame when in any decade orgeneration the bands are all lumped into one thing — the ’80saren’t the fi rst time that has happened. I think there wereother bands that were as unique as we were duringthe time. If you look at all of the different kindsof bands there were, the images were maybesimilar because that was the sign of thetimes. Musically, vocally and style-wisebetween us and Guns and Roses, Poisonand M’tley Cr’e, Def Leppard… there’s alot of different styles musically and soundwise and all of those bands had their ownidentity and sound from the music standpoint.So I hate to see any band get… well, I prefermusic be judged individually, or band to band, butunfortunately people listen to music with their eyes andthere was an image to the ’80s that I think made it easy to kindof lump it all together. There were a lot of great bands that wereunique and had their own sounds, and in that respect I thinkit’s just something that happens. We certainly got a lot of reallygood reviews on our records and I never really felt like we wereunfairly treated, I think that people took us for what we were. Itis what it is.Y!W: Well Tom, you do have great hair.TK: Why thank you! (laughing) You know though I alwaysthought the term “hair metal” was kind of funny because goingback to the ’60s you know, they all had wild long hair, youknow. I mean I’ve seen some really crazy pictures! I alwayslaugh when I look back and see some of the stuff from the late’60s. I saw a picture of Eric Clapton where he had a ’fro, downto his shoulders… and I was like, “Okay so we’re a hair band?”(laughing) Everyone has those pictures — like, did I really dothat? But I think that the reason that the ’80s were tagged sohard was because of MTV. It was so accessible, and it was so inyour face 24/7. The art was not only an audible art but a visualart as well. It was like the emphasis was placed on the imagery.Y!W: You and Cinderella completed their 20th anniversarytour with fellow rock veterans Poison a few years back, whichwas very successful, after a tremendous amount of setbackswith your voice, the band having to take a break at one point,etc what keeps you motivated when many would have givenup?TK: I love to sing and I hate to make it that simple but Ireally do and I just couldn’t accept the fact that was it. Or thatthe tour we did in ’06 with Poison was it. I always felt like itwas still in there even though I could barely speak. I had troublein the early ’90s; I had surgery and I worked with every vocalcoach on the planet. And I was able to tour again. But its constantmaintenance — what I have is partial paralysis of the leftvocal cord. You have to constantly train it. It hit me in rehearsalsfor that ’06 tour, I was thinking, “Man I can’t hit these notes,”and everything seemed upside down. And I fl ew out to the WestCoast and saw a few doctors and was told that this paralysis hadgotten worse. They weren’t sure because it’s not an exact science.So I struggled through that tour and got through it the bestI could because I just wasn’t going to miss that tour… but bythe end of the tour it was pretty shot and I had to have anothersurgery. I knew what I had to do, retrain it and get it to work andwhat it’s going to be that is going to fi x it this time and I wentthrough about fi ve coaches in ’06.Y!W: Speaking of vocal coaches — you have high praisesfor the one you are working with now. What has that experiencebeen like?TK: The last one I found was just a little over a year ago,and he taught me things no one has ever taught me and I havebeen working his technique for about a year now. He taught methings about air control, and how to take the pressure off of yourvocal chords. I thank God every day that I found him. Once hekind of got me on the track, it’s just staying with it and workingon it every day and seeing those little bits of progress… so youlook for those little moments, like, “Oh I got up to a C today!”So you just gotta get through it.Read the rest of the interview at the YES! Weekly Blog, www.yesweeklyblog.blogspot.com