The music we have made – that is what it is all about!
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 rock and roll child, Cinderella.
Formed in Philadelphia in 1983 by singer-songwriter, keyboardist, and guitarist Tom Keifer and bassist Eric Brittingham, Cinderella is a modern day rock fable in the making. With only four commercial releases and numerous setbacks, Cinderella is still the beau of the head bangers ball twenty-seven years later. Compared to their peers, with more prolific outputs, constant touring, and less obstacles, Cinderella arrived, the crowd gasped in awe and the impression left has been a profound one.
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 80’s and early 90’s, but gave them that 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 and roll wand (in this case a 1950’s 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 is made of.. However at the center of this legend is a true hero- slaying musical dragons one by one with humor, style and class.
All Access Magazine (AAM): You were raised a bit on the blues, how did this ultimately influence you?
Tom Keifer: Well I was originally influenced second generation by players like Jimmy Page, the Stones, Janis Joplin…as I grew up in the 70’s –so there’s a lot of great music to be inspired by. I remember being about 17 or 18 and someone gave me BB King’s “Live at the Regal” and I remember listening to his guitar and thinking ”wow that kind of sounds like Jimmy Page” ..And then I realized no it’s the other way around! (laughing) Oh ok…they got it and you know I was just a kid when I heard those rock bands, and you don’t really realize where it comes from. So, I started digging and kinda wanted the opportunity to interpret it myself and from that point I got into all of the greats like Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters, whom I love, Johnny Winter is awesome…Elmore James and Son House…I just love all of that kind of music and I think it’s always good, if you’re initial impression is of someone else’s interpretation, that’s always going to stay with you.; but I think you have a deeper appreciation if you go back to what they listened to. And I think that it’s influenced me from a writing standpoint, in the melodies, but mostly in the lyrics. Most of the songs I write about are about life- good times and bad times, the ups and downs of life, which is what the roots music is usually about. So, I think all of that puts us in more of a blues rock category as opposed to a metal one. A lot of times we get lumped into that.
AAM: True. It has always seemed that you guys wanted wanted to be more Zep and the Stones…”Heartbreak Station” for example is incredibly stonesy, but it seemed like you and the band were forever getting lumped into 80s metal…are you ok with that? Did you feel shoehorned into the 80s glam scene when it seems you obviously always wanted to go in a more 70s bluesy direction?
Tom Keifer: You know I think it’s a shame when in any decade or generation the bands are all lumped into one thing—the 80’s aren’t the first time that has happened. I think there were other bands that were as unique as we were during the time. If you look at all of the different kinds of bands there were, the images were maybe similar b/c that was the sign of the times. Musically, vocally and style-wise between us and Guns and Roses, Poison and Motley Crue, Def Leppard…there’s a lot of different styles musically and sound wise and all of those bands had their own identity and sound from the music standpoint. So, I hate to see any band get..well, I prefer music be judged individually ,or band to band, but unfortunately people listen to music with their eyes and there was an image to the 80’s that I think made it easy to kind of lump it all together. There were a lot of great bands that were unique and had their own sounds umm, and in that respect I think it’s just something that happens. We certainly got a lot of really good reviews on our records and I never really felt like we were unfairly treated, I think that people took us for what we were. It is what it is.
AAM; Well Tom, you do have great hair…
Tom Keifer: Why thank you! (laughing) You know though I always thought the term hair metal was kind of funny because going back to the 60’s you know, they all had wild long hair, you know. I mean I’ve seen some really crazy pictures! I always laugh when I look back and see some of the stuff from the late 60’s. I saw a picture of Eric Clapton where he had a ‘fro, down to his shoulders…and I was like, “ok so we’re a hair band?” (laughing) Everyone has those pictures –like did I really do that? But, I think that the reason that the 80’s were tagged so hard was because of MTV…it was so accessible, and it was so in your face 24/7. The art was not only an audible art but a visual art as well. It was like the emphasis was placed on the imagery.
AAM: You and Cinderella completed their 20th anniversary tour with fellow rock veterans Poison a few years back….which was very successful…after a tremendous amount of setbacks with your voice, the band having to take a break at one point, etc what keeps you motivated when many would have given up?
Tom Keifer: I love to sing and I hate to make it that simple but I really do and I just couldn’t accept the fact that was it. Or that the tour we did in ‘06 with Poison was it. I always felt like it was still in there even though I could barely speak. I had trouble in the early 90’s, I had surgery and I worked with every vocal coach on the planet. And I was able to tour again. But its constant maintenance –what I have is partial paralysis of the left vocal cord. You have to constantly train it. It hit me in rehearsals for that 06 tour, I was thinking, man I can’t hit these notes and everything seemed upside down. And I flew out to the West Coast and saw a few doctors and was told that this paralysis had gotten worse, they weren’t sure because it’s not an exact science. So, I struggled through that tour and got through it the best I could because I just wasn’t going to miss that tour…but by the end of the tour it was pretty shot and I had to have another surgery. I knew what I had to do, retrain it and get it to work and what it’s going to be that is going to fix it this time and I went through about five coaches in’06.
AAM: Speaking of vocal coaches—you have high praises for the one you are working with now…what has that experience been like?
Tom Keifer: 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 have been working his technique for about a year now. He taught me things about air control, and how to take the pressure off of your vocal chords. I thank God every day that I found him, once he kind of got me on the track, it’s just staying with it, and working on it every day and seeing those little bits of progress, “it’s still in there, it’s still in there, it’s still in there, it’s coming”…(laughing) so you look for those little moments, like oh I got up to a C today! So you just gotta get through it.
AAM: Do you feel that the current coach you have has changed the course of your career?
Tom Keifer: I had never been trained professionally, until I first had this problem…the doctors had told me this condition is usually career ending, there’s no medicine for it and surgery won’t fix it, you have to teach yourself how to sing. I went through many, many coaches b/c it’s a very challenging thing to fix, and I went to a lot of good teachers but Ron Anderson was the guy and he was just the most thorough and best teacher I have ever been to and I would highly recommend him to anyone. (www.ronandersonvocals.com) Trust me if you’re having a voice problem go to Ron.
AAM: You are now in Nashville…tell our readers what the music scene is like there as it seems to be the Mecca for many rock acts lately?
Tom Keifer: Well, we moved here one member at a time. Fred was actually the first one to move here. He started a studio in the 90’s and he was recording and producing other acts and stuff. I had actually started to work when I still lived in the Northeast and I started working on my solo record back then. I was coming down here to write with people because there is just an amazing amount of songwriters here. The band had kind of gone its separate ways and the whole industry was changing and it was the first time I was without a band in years and South Jersey is not like a music Mecca you know….So I was coming here more and more, started checking out the scene, working with a lot of people, writing with people, seeing the quality of the session musicians, and the studios as well—and I was like, man this is where I want to be to make a record. I built a studio in my new house here and started working on my solo record but we got a record deal from Sony to put Cinderella back together. And a very long story short, that all ended up in a bunch of legal hassles, and the record never got made. But the great thing that came out of it was it really motivated me to write. I wrote a ton of material for that record that never ended up being recorded. I ended up using a lot of that stuff for my solo record which is finished actually. It has only taken me about five years! (laughing).
AAM: So, is the solo cd going to be out soon?
Tom Keifer: Not just yet, I actually just finished it last week with all of the final mixes, printed and it’s gotta be mastered and then probably sometime this summer we’ll take It around and find a home for it.
AAM: Without giving it all away, can you give us a little insight into the new record –is it an exodus from your work with the band? How do you craft a song?
Tom Keifer: You know, it’s always difficult for me to describe music—a lot of it sounds like Cinderella because I wrote most of those songs and I did a lot of the guitar work- my style is going to come through on this record pretty heavily. I like records that take you through dynamically whether it’s acoustic songs, the hard driving songs to ballads to mid tempo so it has a lot of dynamics in that sense, kind of like the way “Hard Cold Winter” and “Heartbreak Station” did, different styles that all work together you know and keep you interested as you go through—it’s not just the same songs for 13 songs. You know that goes back to me from in the 70’s listening to how the Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Eagles and how they made records..They did every style in the book. I’ve always appreciated that and liked those kinds of records and we as Cinderella grew with each record. “Night Songs” I think was a little more linear-all the same with the exception of the ballad. Whereas, with “Long Cold Winter”, we started stretching more and with “Heartbreak Station” we did as well. So, in that tradition it’s like that. There is some really hard driving stuff, heavier than even what Cinderella did and stuff that is more acoustic.
AAM: With the landscape changing in the music industry, bands are releasing more singles, the public wants instant gratification, etc. do you have any concerns of how that may impact you going forward?
Tom Keifer: It’s true that it’s changed and that the industry is just off and upside down-you can’t really worry about it too much, I mean I do have concerns because it is different than what I am used to- but we’re just going to figure it out. Because when I first got into the business that was also a different time than before- before we got our first record deal you were always told your whole life a record deal was impossible so is this any more impossible? <Laughing> Probably not! You just have to figure it out. Obviously, I have spent a lot of time on the record- we produced the record independently because we didn’t want a record company saying when something needed to be done, and how much money I had to spend, etc. because with the industry being so off by billions of dollars they don’t spend as much money on developing artists—they just don’t. I didn’t want someone telling me when something was done because that’s ridiculous at this stage in my career. A good friend of mind invested in it with me and the goal was work on a record until it was right and then we’ll go figure out where it belongs.
AAM: This cd has been one of the most talked about and anticipated solo releases in quite some time. Your fans are anxiously awaiting its debut.
Tom Keifer: Well, good — good, I know Cinderella has been so fortunate to have such a great fan base and amazing fans over the years that just keep us going.
AAM: As a lead singer… What is the hardest part of your role?
Tom Keifer: Well for my part, <laughing> it’s called a debilitating vocal condition! That hasn’t made it real easy! Even before that hit me, in 1991, I had toured since 1986 so I wasn’t dealing with that in the early part of my career, my voice was very healthy then…but I’d say the hardest part is, you have to take care of yourself. I really like to sing and sing well and I feel that if people are paying money to see Cinderella, I should sing to the best of my ability. So being out partying night after night takes its toll. It takes a little discipline if you really want to be at the top of your game every night so you really have to take care of yourself especially if you have that kind of responsibility.
AAM: You’ve amassed quite a collection of vintage guitars, especially back when they were often overlooked and pointy headstocks were all the rage, have you kept the whole collection? What are your favorites?
Tom Keifer: Yeah, I still have quite a few guitars. When I moved to Nashville, I turned a bunch of them into a studio..Because I had a vision of the kind of studio I wanted to build so some of mine that were just sitting in the case ….well I bought a bunch of gear and built this room here. But I still have a bunch of them. I kept my old Telecaster, it’s actually a Nocaster– it’s like a 1950 that I still love and a ’59 Sunburst, my double neck, like the Jimmy Page one, and a cool old National Steel dobro, I got a really cool lap Steel—it’s the best sounding instrument that I own-it’s the one I play on “Heartbreak Station”, it’s like from the 1920’s –this thing just sounds insane. So, yeah I still have all of my favorites and the ones I played on the records – and I still take those out live because I like to have the same sounds that were on the records.
AAM: In addition to owning a fine collection of guitars you, yourself are a fine guitar player as well..Who has influenced you and how do you feel you have grown as a player?
Tom Keifer: That’s really hard because I have been influenced by others as simple as Elmore James to Michael Schenker who is more technical but technical with a lot of feel. I really loved his style and everything in between from Keith Richards to Jimmy Page I really think there are a lot of different influences that affect how I play. I would have to say my favorite is Keith Richards! He’s the coolest and the Stones are my favorite band—they are just so bad ass.
AAM: Speaking of legends didn’t Cinderella work a bit with John Paul Jones as an arranger on “Heartbreak Station”? What was that like, what did you learn from Jones?
Tom Keifer: It was great—He came in and arranged—as I had demos for “Heartbreak Station” and “Winds of Change” and I heard and wanted strings and not like with a keyboard but with an orchestra and Andy Johnson told us when we were doing “Long Cold Winter” –“if you ever do strings you must get John Paul Jones” and that was kind of always in the back of my mind. We hired him and Andy was right. He was just great. He took some simple melodies I had on the demos and just slammed them out of the park, did the instrumentation and arranged them and added to them. What was cool was he kept the original melodic themes I had and just turned it into an orchestra to go behind the songs. I’ll never forget it. It was something we always wanted to do in the studio and we rolled into The Power Station in NY –That is where we were cutting the album and there was an entire orchestra sitting there and John Paul Jones conducted them. It was indeed very cool.
AAM: In many ways as talented as he is, he’s almost underrated don’t you think?
Tom Keifer: Oh he is so, so talented!
AAM: Finally, what are you most proud of, and what is left on your career to-do list?
Tom Keifer: You know I guess I am most proud of the music we have made –that is what it is all about. I think we really on- “Heartbreak Station”- we really pulled all of the elements together. We were so green when we did “Night Songs”, and we learned so much between then and “Heartbreak Station”, I think probably “Heartbreak Station” was what we would have liked to make for our first record but we didn’t know how.
Capturing music in the studio is just so much different than just going out and playing it live. It truly is an art trying to figure out how to make those records feel the way you want them too. A microphone sings very differently than when you are standing in a room.
On my to do list? Just to make more of it!
AAM: Tom- thanks for your time, your voice and your music—we will see you on stage this summer!
Tom Keifer- Thanks so much!
For more info on Tom and Cinderella and the band’s current tour schedule go to: www.cinderella.net
For more info on Ron Anderson, master vocal coach, go to: www.ronandersonvocals.com
Special thanks to Sky and Tim at Union Entertainment Group and the fans that contributed THEIR questions to Tom – most notably Dan Goldstein and Benjy Johnson.