Tom Keifer says it was KISS bassist Gene Simmons who first discovered Cinderella, not Jon Bon Jovi.
Big Music Geek — I’ll be the first to admit that when I was initially approached regarding worshiping at the First Holy Church Of Cinderella via a Junior High classmate circa Long Cold Winter (1988), I was more than a little apprehensive. This was, after all, a ‘serious’ Glam Metal group and I, not knowing any better, had spent the vast majority of my adolescence deeply immersed amid the battle-scarred offerings of my parents record collection (most notably Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Billy Joel and Elton John). Despite this–or perhaps in part because of it–I was able to set my more than considerable misgivings aside and wholeheartedly embraced the group with a previously unparalleled enthusiasm. Now, twenty-six woefully long years later, my love affair with the group continues unabated with the release of the ingenious solo debut The Way Life Goes from frontman Tom Keifer…
Gene Simmons of KISS with Tom Keifer
Todd: How has The Way Life goes been received by most Cinderella fans? Has the response been truly positive?
Tom: “From what I can see, very well. I’m online now; I have Social Media. On my Facebook and Twitter, I get a lot of feedback. Everything I’ve seen has been really positive. I don’t see much negative. There’s always one or two in the bunch. …You can’t please everybody, but the overwhelming response has been really, really positive.”
Todd: What type of set list have you been working with? While it’s obvious you have a new release to support, I would assume you’re also tethered to a portion of the Cinderella catalog. Has it been hard to find a true balance?
Tom: “It’s about fifty percent solo and fifty percent Cinderella. We were doing about fourteen songs last year on the road and I would say about seven off them were from new record, which is a fair amount of new material. …And of course the other half were all Cinderella favorites, if you want to call them that. It’s interesting because the songs sit alongside each other really well live, so it’s a nice blend of the Cinderella stuff and my new stuff. …My solo band plays both really well. They’re all Nashville guys, so we’re talking about that incredible musicianship again. They’ve really nailed the new stuff and the Cinderella stuff as well. …I love those songs. I love playing them live. You’ll never hear from me that I’m going to go do a tour without any of the hits (laughs). That would be boring for everybody. I just love the feeling of walking onstage and playing a song that’s like an old friend to both you and the fans. And you share that moment and everybody sings it with you. There’s just nothing quite like that. I’ll never get tired of that. …I could sing “Coming Home”, “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)”, “Nobody’s Fool” and “Shake Me” forever. I really love playing all those songs.”
Todd: At this point, what condition if your voice in? If I recall correctly, you had several issues with polyps on your vocal cords. Did the surgeries you were forced to undergo ultimately repair the damages you had suffered?
Tom: It’s in good shape. And it wasn’t polyps. I was actually diagnosed with a partially paralyzed vocal cord. It’s a neurological condition and I was told I would never sing again. As a result of that, from all the straining, I had all kinds of stuff that to be surgically removed. Hemorrhages and stuff that I call collateral damage because the paralysis leaves you so weak that you have to really strain. …Long story short, the only cure or hope of beating the odds of never singing again is you’ve got to try and retrain your vocal cords. I’ve been doing that for years. It’s not an exact science and it’s been real up and down. A real battle and struggle. I’ve had a total of six surgeries to repair the collateral damage. In recent years, I’ve worked with every coach on the planet and I finally found this guy named Ron Anderson about four or five years ago who really, really put it all together for me. I’ve been working his technique along with a few other new teachers and it’s really taken my voice to a solid place. It’s been great. It’s been very strong during the last three Cinderella tours and it was really strong on my solo tour last year. I’ve got my fingers crossed that it’s back to stay. It’s been a lot of work. …It’s an hour and a half to two hours per day, whether I’m on tour or not, of therapy and voice exercises, but it’s been so worth it.”
Todd: Is the method you are using similar to the Bel-Canto methods taught by (Helix frontman) Brian Vollmer?
Tom: “Yes. I believe that’s what it’s called. It’s what they teach opera singers. …I think I can testify that I had about one of the worst things that can happen to a singer. With vocal cord paralysis, most people are done. I got the right coach and it still took me a really long time to get to the right place. Like I said, it’s not an exact science. With the last coach that I went to, we kind of pulled it all together. It was really an accumulation of the different things that I learned from everybody that eventually lined up and made sense. I think people can overcome anything. …If I was able to overcome that, there truly is hope for anyone who is having vocal issues.”
Todd: What made Heartbreak Station so different from the first two Cinderella records? Was it the Productions?
Tom: “Mainly, it was in the sonics of it. The Production was much more raw than the first two. We weren’t quadruple-tracking guitars and there wasn’t a lot of reverb and that kind of stuff. It was very, the soundscape on that, from the stereo aspect, you actually can feel players as opposed to it just being like a wall. I’ve tried to do that way once I figured it out. …It’s almost as if you can visualize the bands when you Produce things that way.”
Todd: Looking back, how would you describe the group’s Still Climbing (1994) era? Considering the successes of Night Songs (1986) and Long Cold Winter, it really seemed that the record had been lost in the shuffle if it all.
Tom: “It was a hard record to make because at the end of the Heartbreak Station tour, I got hit with the paralysis. I knew we had to make another record immediately. The record company was down our throats. I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t sing at all. So I would describe it with one word: dark. I was trying to write songs for a voice that wasn’t there. …It was weird because they’d say ‘You’re never going to sing again, but if you are going to sing, you have to completely retrain your voice’. So I started that process and I’m thinking ‘Okay, what voice am I going to end up with?’ I was basically trying to write songs for a voice that I don’t know what the voice is yet. It was just a weird time, man. …Eventually, we had the songs and it was time to go. We put off the record for almost three years while I was struggling with my voice. And then, when we finally got in, we had to record those vocals very differently from what we did on the three records. I’d walk in behind the mic and just sing the song top to bottom on four or five tracks and then we’d comp it… I couldn’t do that on Still Climbing. We had to really kind of go one line at a time and really piece all of the vocals together because I was in such a bad place.”
Todd: With your voice being so damaged, how much touring did you ultimately do in support of Still Climbing?
Tom: “Not much, my friend. A couple months, really. My voice was shot. I had enough to get up there and go, but on that tour, I came down with a really bad case of bronchitis and pneumonia on top of the vocal issues I already had. It was tough. The whole scene was changing then anyway, so there wasn’t as much of a demand. The record wasn’t very successful and the tour then followed suit, so we weren’t out there that long on that one.”
Todd: After the departure of (drummer) Fred Coury, how did everyone become interested with Kevin Valentine?
Tom: “We ended up using (drummer) Kenny Aronoff (Chickenfoot, John Fogerty, John Mellencamp) on that record. He was just amazing. The bottom line is that the drums came out really great. Actually, Fred said he thought it was the best drumming on any Cinderella record. …Kevin had actually joined the band. When we got into the studio, (Producer) Andy Johns is very good with drummers and Kevin, unfortunately, was not working out in the studio. So at that point, we brought in Kenny to cut it and then after the record was done, we were back to searching for a new drummer again. That’s when we found Ray Brinker, who came from the band Barefoot Servants. I don’t know if you remember him. …He has also played with (Classic Rock vocalist) Pat Benatar, so he’s an amazing drummer. He’s actually the one who toured with us on that tour. …He’s a great guy.”
Todd: Am I correct in understanding that after being singed to Portrait Records by (A&R legend) John Kalodner, the group recorded an album? What is the status of these recordings? Will they be ever fully released?
Tom: “Actually, it never was finished. We were in the demo stage and the deal blew up. We ended up in court with a lawsuit. No record was actually ever recorded. We wrote a lot of stuff and demoed a lot of stuff and we were getting ready to hire a Producer. …I won’t get into details, but we ended up having a falling out with Sony and a lawsuit incurred. We were tied up legally for quite a few years. In those situations, you have recording restrictions, so we couldn’t record as a group for a while. That’s when I started my solo record. (Bassist) Eric (Brittingham) and (guitarist) Jeff (LaBar) did their solo stuff and everybody kind of drifted apart. In terms of the recording aspect, we were still touring together pretty heavily back then. That’s really all we wanted to do. We just wanted to be a band and play music because the deal was so ugly. Once you get into the lawsuit thing with courts and judges, you’re pretty much screwed. It’s probably why we haven’t signed another record deal since. And honestly, it’s why I Produced my record without a label involved. Normally, you would take demos to a label, sign a deal, and then let them pay for, fund, and Produce the record for you. I didn’t want to deal with any of that, so when I started The Way Life Goes, it was Produced without a label involved. We used our own money, did it on our own time and money because we just wanted to have a finished product. We always had the idea that if it ever got finished that we would take it to a label for distribution and marketing because that’s not something I wanted to do. When it was finished, we actually found a great home with Merovee Records. …They’re such a great label. They’re independent. They’ve had this really incredible faith in the record and in me and put everything into it. They’ve done a great job and I’m very grateful that I found them in that situation.”
Todd: Throughout your career, there have been countless rumors in regards to (Bon Jovi frontman) Jon Bon Jovi having ‘discovered’ Cinderella while playing at the Empire Rock Club in Philadelphia. Is this story entirely true?
Tom: “Actually, I’m going to set the record straight because something came up online about this recently. Jon is credited with discovering the band. Or in other words, his interest in the band actually led to a record deal. But if you went back a couple years before that, (Kiss bassist/vocalist) Gene Simmons was actually the guy who first took an interest in the band. …His interest did not lead to a deal for one reason or another. He took it to some labels and he actually did take it to Polygram (Records), but they just weren’t interested. He did take an interest in the band, so I guess in terms of discovery, you really could credit Gene even though both Gene and Jon showed an interest in the band. …Jon’s interest did eventually lead to a deal, but that was pulling teeth, too. He told his A&R guy they were chumming about us and said ‘You’ve got to go down and see them’. He came down and he still wasn’t convinced. He wanted to hear more material and sign us to a six-month development deal. It’s not easy to get a record deal. …Gene Simmons and Jon Bon Jovi can be singing your praises all day long and it doesn’t mean you’re going to get a deal. Gene was the first to take an interest and then a couple years later, Jon wandered into that club and went to his A&R guy. We finally won him over and he signed us to a full deal, but that was a bit of a process too. I’m grateful to both Gene and Jon for the interest they took in the band.”
Thanks to Todd Newton. Please read the full interview on Big Music Geek