Life isn’t always a fairy tale, even when you have a fairy tale name. Take for example the band Cinderella. Although very popular in the late 80’s and early 90’s, they paid their dues and to this day find obstacles in their path. But out on the road for the “Rock Never Stops” tour, Cinderella isn’t stopping either. Read on, in this exclusive interview with lead singer Tom Keifer:
WM: Hi Tom. So you’re on the tail end of the Rock Never Stops tour?
TK: Yeah, we’ve got about three weeks left. We go until the 28th of August.
WM: How have the shows been?
TK: They’ve been great. We’ve had really really great crowds. We’ve been out most of the summer, and we’re really having a good time.
WM: I’ve read recently that you’ve been having some throat problems that started in the 90’s, and continue to this day. As the tour goes on, is that something that you struggle with?
TK: Nah, I’m having a good tour vocally. The problem started early in the 90’s, and it’s a pretty long story. Long story short, I woke up one day and my voice was just gone. I couldn’t hit notes and I had no control over it. I flew around to a bunch of different specialists all over the country, and no one could figure out what was wrong. I didn’t have any nodes or any cysts, so they told me that I must have just forgotten how to sing. (laughs) I didn’t think that’s what happened. Finally a doctor diagnosed me with a neurological condition, which is like a paralysis of the left vocal cord. I had to teach myself how to sing all over again. We recorded our 4th record after a few years of therapy. I was able to record that record in pieces, a lot of punching and comping of vocals. We went out and did a short tour for that. Then the band broke up, and I continued working with vocal coaches. It’s just gotten stronger and stronger. We reformed in ’98 and it’s just getting better and better. I’m back 100% or better even.
WM: A brief history of Cinderella (inspiration)
TK: I think the inspiration came from playing in countless bars and cover bands, playing other peoples music. I just decided one day that that was not what I wanted to do anymore. I wanted to start something where I could do my own original music. The band was put together with that thought in mind, that we’re not going to do any covers, just our own stuff. My personal inspiration came from bands like the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, The Eagles, Humble Pie, Bad Company, Deep Purple, and all those great bands from the 70’s.
WM: How did you come up with the name Cinderella?
TK: We were actually sitting around watching TV one night, flipping through an HBO guide. We had been kicking around different names, and we saw the name Cinderella for the movie in the guide. It wasn’t the Disney version though, it was the porno version! (laughs) But that really didn’t have anything to do with us selecting the name, we just thought it was cool. In the early 80’s, most band names were very obvious to the sound of their music. If it was a heavy band, it was a very heavy name. So we were a hard rock band with a name that really didn’t sound like what we sounded like. I always thought that was cool with bands like Queen, Kiss, or Sweet. A light name describing something heavy. And it just kind of caught on.
WM: How did Jon Bon Jovi become a part of your Cinderella story?
TK: We had been shopping a record deal for a year or two with different lawyers and managers, and we had received a lot of rejection letters. We just hooked up with a new manager, Larry Nazer, and he was going around for the third time to all the major labels. He handed a tape in Derek Showman at PolyGram Records, who is the guy who signed Bon Jovi. Derek was riding the fence on it, and honestly I don’t blame him, because our demos were terrible. We were very green in the studio, so the demos weren’t a good representation. But Jon was in Philadelphia recording their second record, 7800 Degrees Fahrenheit. We were playing at a local club that we played almost every weekend, and he stopped in after the studio one night. He really liked the band, and he came back to the dressing room. We knew who he was, because Runaway was a hit off his 1st record. He just told use that he really liked the show, and that was it. Later that week, our manager said that Jon was at PolyGram and talked to Derek Showman about the band. Derek said he wasn’t crazy about the demos, and Jon told him to check us out live because we were a great live band. So Derek came down and saw us play, and signed us to a developmental deal for six months. We wrote some more songs, and recorded them in a studio, and then he finally signed us.
WM: How long were you a bar band before the contact came along?
TK: Hmm… about two or three years. Maybe even more.
WM: So it definitely wasn’t an overnight success.
TK: (laughs) Nothing ever really is. It all accumulates from the time you first pick up a guitar.
WM: How long have you been playing guitar?
TK: Since I was eight!
WM: Was it ever a goal of yours growing up to be a rock star?
TK: I think my goal when I first picked it up was to play music, and that continues to be my goal. Being a rock star is something that just comes along with being successful at playing music.
WM: All of your videos have been recently released for the first time on DVD, which you provided a commentary track for.
TK: That was a lot of fun to do, we were real involved with this package. We had two other greatest hits before this. The first one we were kind of involved in, the second one we weren’t involved in at all. This one we were involved with track selection, the DVD menus, re-mastering the tracks, and the commentaries. We’re real happy with how it turned out. To us this is the definitive collection.
WM: Was the DVD something you wanted to do personally, or was it something that the label came to you with?
TK: We’ve been wanting that for years. We felt like every other band from that era had a DVD out with their videos on it, and they finally decided they wanted to put it out. When they approached us about it, we were like ‘YES! Thank you!’
WM: I was surprised to see a very natural looking Pamela Anderson in your video for “Shelter Me”. I think she looked better then than the Hollywood version of her.
TK: Yeah, she was an unknown when she made that video. It probably was one of her first acting jobs.
WM: And you also had Little Richard in there, it’s a great video..
TK: Yeah, that’s one of my favorites.
WM: You’ve been doing a lot of tours since Cinderella reunited in ’98 without any new music. Is there anything planned on the horizon?
TK: Well, not at the moment. And the reason for that is after we reformed we were signed to Sony Records. We signed the deal in ’98, and did a brief tour in theaters and clubs. Then we started the process of writing songs for the next record. That process continued until 2001, when the label finally signed off on the material, a budget and a producer. About a week after that happened, without getting into a lot of detail, we had a falling out with the label which ended up in a lawsuit. The record was never made, the lawsuit is still on going, and we’re tied up in courts as far as new Cinderella music. In the meantime, we’ve built our tour industry back up, and we’ve all been working on side projects. I have a solo record that’s coming out probably early next year. I’ve been working on it for the past couple of years.
WM: Will it be an independent release, or will you shop it to labels?
TK: Well, the record is finished and produced, and ready to deliver. Now I’m going to take it out to labels and try and find a home for it. That’s the process that I’ve started now.
WM: Do you play any of your new solo material out on the road?
TK: No, this tour is basically a greatest hits and favorite album tracks. There’s a lot of album tracks that weren’t singles that were really big live for us.
WM: Going back to the Sony album that was never released, did you ever end up recording any of them?
TK: We didn’t record any masters, but we recorded demos. Some of them I recorded for my solo album.
WM: The 60’s had Mick Jagger, the 70’s had Steven Tylor, and in my opinion the 80’s have you. You all seem like you’re cut from the same cloth, both in performance and even in appearance.
TK: Well, I take that as a major compliment. I just want to go on the record and say that you said that, I didn’t. (laughs) Both of them was obviously a big influence on me. I think that I listen to a lot of things that probably influenced them. Like old blues, gospel, and R&B records, I just love that whole sound. The early rock n roll stuff, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. It’s timeless, because it’s roots music. And real pure rock n roll is roots music on 12! Rock n roll is the culmination of all the American roots music. There’s a little bit of gospel, there’s a little bit of country, there’s a little bit of R&B, and there’s a lot of blues. That’s the music that I love, and that’s the music that I set out to write and play. That’s what Cinderella does, and I think we’ve gotten better at it with each record more from a production standpoint. People think we changed with each record, but I look at it as we grew. The first record was very blues based melodies and guitars licks. It was very basic production, and we grew our production more with instrumentation and adding instruments and stuff. Where we ended up with “Heartbreak Station” is where we wanted to be on the first record, but we were learning.
WM: Is there anything in your past catalog of music that you would revamp or change if you could?
TK: I’d like to remix “Long Cold Winter”. Not that I don’t like the mixes, because I think at the time they were great. But I’d love to hear that record dry, without all the effects and reverb. When I listen back on all the records, “Heartbreak Station” is the one that doesn’t sound dated and the reason is because there’s no dating effects on it. When you hear the bombastic reverb on a share drum, you go “THAT’S 80’s!”. (laughs) And I got really tired of that sound after the second record, and the sound of “Heartbreak Station” was very intentional. I remember walking into the studio, walking over the board, and grabbing the faders where the reverb returns were and just pulling them down. I’ve approached music that way ever since. Put a mic in front an amp or drum, and that’s it. That’s all you need.
WM: Looking down the road… once everything is resolved with Sony, do you see another Cinderella record at some point?
TK: I think it’s a possibility.
WM: And would it be more of a modern version of Cinderella, or back where you left off in the mid-90’s?
TK: I think it would be was what Cinderella does. I don’t think we would try to change in any way. We would just try to have better songs, and to sing better and play better. At least that’s what we’ve tried with each record we do. You always want to grab a little bit of some of the cutting edge technology or sound and use some of that on your record. And that’s cool, as long it’s done in a way that it works with the music.
WM: What are you personally listening to these days?
TK: There’s a very things that have come out in the past 5 or 6 years that I really like. I really enjoy Train. I think they’re a great band, they write great songs, and they make great records. A lot of Matchbox 20 stuff I really like. Macy Grey is really cool. Those are a few artists that really stood out to me in the past few years.
WM: Do you still listen to the older stuff, like the Stones?
TK: Yeah, I still listen to that. Honestly, I don’t listen to a lot of music in a recreational way. If I’m not on tour, I’m in the studio or I’m writing songs. So I’m listening to music all day long when I’m working. Once and awhile I’ll get a little time off, and I’ll feel like pulling out a record and listening to it.
WM: Anything to say to the Cinderella fans in Wisconsin who have supported you over the years?
TK: Man, what can I say? We appreciate all of you hanging in with us throughout the years and always coming out to see us. I can’t say how much it means to us.