HE WROTE "NOBODY'S FOOL", "DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU GOT (TILL IT'S GONE)", AND A DOZEN OTHER HITS THAT CAN STILL BE HEARD ON AIRWAVES ACROSS THE COUNTRY. THIS SUMMER, CINDERELLA HITS THE ROAD FOR THE ROCK NEVER STOPS TOUR, AND THEIR SINGER, TOM KEIFER, IS FINISHING UP A LONG OVERDUE SOLO ALBUM. NIGHT WATCHMAN HAD AN EARLY MORNING CONVERSATION WITH TOM ABOUT BROKEN NOSES AND WHAT IT'S LIKE TO ALMOST LOSE ONE OF ROCK'S MOST DISTINCT VOICES.
Night Watchman: When you guys first came out I broke my best friendís nose doing the spinning guitar trick you made famous.
Tom Keifer: Oh, you did? That can be dangerous.
NW: Whatís the biggest accident youíve seen with all the guitars Cinderella has been flinging over the years?
TK: I remember one night Eric [Brittingham] was throwing his guitar and the strap came off, and it flew over the back of the amp line. I donít know if it hit anybody, but he was pretty surprised when it didnít come back around into his hands. It was just gone. That one kind of stands out.
NW: Well, itís great to see you guys are back. I hear youíre working on a solo album now?
TK: Yeah. Iíve been working on a record for the last couple years off and on in between tours and life and all that stuff. Iím in the mix process now. Iím mixing it with Michael Wagner here in Nashville, and hopefully Iíll have it out at the end of this year after the Cinderella tour.
NW: What direction is your solo work going compared to Cinderella?
TK: Itís hard rock, blues-influenced... kind of like Cinderellaís stuff.
NW: I know youíre doing the Rock Never Stops tour this summer with Ratt, Quiet Riot, and Firehouse, and youíve done similar tours with Poison before. What was it like to come back and reform the band?
TK: It was great. We had a little bit of time off after Still Climbing, our fourth record, and we kind of went our separate ways in the mid-Nineties. We left our label, Polygram, after Still Climbing; we were all working on different projects, and I had actually started working on a solo album at that time that I shelved. We just got back together in '98 and started touring again. It was cool to have a break from it, and then come back and get back on the road and be a band again.
NW: Were you surprised that there was still such a big audience?
TK: Yes and no. I think that the crowd was always there. In some ways, yes, because weíd been away from it so long, so I guess you wonder if itís still going to be the same. But then when you get up there and see that it is, youíre surprised, but itís like, "Oh, yeah. This is what we do." (laughs) It all fell together and felt like it always did.
NW: Did it make it easier to appreciate it the second time around? It seems like such a hectic schedule of touring and recording and touring again, that there isnít much time to reflect on anything in the middle of all that chaos.
TK: If anything, where weíre at now-- because itís not as hectic-- you get to appreciate it more. And, yeah, you get a little more time to reflect on how lucky you are to still get to do that. Back in the Eighties, everything was flying so fast... you had no time to think about anything. The tours were much longer then: a year and a half. Now we go out for the summer-- three or four months. Yeah, you do get more time to think about it and reflect on it and appreciate it more.
NW: Was it hard to get everyone back together when it came time to tour again?
TK: No, not at all. Actually, when we first got back together we had been offered a record deal from Sony. We signed that deal and did a tour in '98, and another one in 2000. That was with Poison. We did another tour with Poison in 2002. Throughout that whole period from '98 to about 2001 or 2002, we were working on the record for Sony, which ended up never coming together because we had a legal conflict with Sony. I wonít go into any more detail about that, but that was kind of a waste of time.
NW: So you guys have a lot of new stuff written? Are you still working on new Cinderella material?
TK: I put my focus into a solo record. Thatís what Iím working on now, and thatís where all my energies are going: recording. I havenít really thought about a Cinderella album at this point. Thatís not to say itís not a possibility, but thatís just not where weíre at right now. The whole thing with Sony was a real bummer. (laughs)
NW: Did that kill the momentum?
TK: Yeah. Thatís a good way of putting it. (laughs)
NW: Do you have a label set up for your solo album?
TK: No. Iíll be shopping that after Iím done mixing it.
NW: Cinderella seemed to be a rare exception in the Eighties rock scene, which was dominated by look and excess. Do you think that the bandís emphasis on writing good songs is one of the reasons that youíre still around and working in the business today?
TK: I think it always comes down to music. If a band is going to have longevity, it comes down to the music. So, hopefully, thatís why weíre still around. I would like to think that it is.
NW: There seems to be a resurgence of the Eighties rock scene. There are websites like Metal Sludge and all kinds of specials on VH1 celebrating the era and the music. It seems like that feeling is coming back into the music again, as well. Have you noticed that?
TK: The biggest barometer I have to judge that is when we go out on the road and it seems like business as usual. Itís good when weíre out there touring. So I guess, in a sense, it is. Does that make sense?
TK: Thatís the way I can tell if the band is popular or not; when we go on tour. (laughs) "Are there people there?" "Yeah." "Okay, I guess weíre still popular." (laughs)
NW: How do you feel about bands that go on tour that only have one original member left, and everyone else is a hired gun? Would you have ever considered doing Cinderella without the other guys?
TK: Nah. Iím not saying thereís anything wrong with it. I think everyoneís got to do what theyíve got to do. But I donít think thatís anything we would ever do. I think we all feel that the band is what it is; the sum of the parts is the whole picture.
NW: I read somewhere that you had some vocal problems that required surgery?
TK: It was a paralysis of one of my vocal chords that set in on me in the early Nineties. You canít really operate on paralysis; itís therapy that you have to go through. I basically had to learn to sing again, and it took years to do that. Because the process had a weakness it was injuring my voice a lot, causing hemorrhages and other problems, and that's what had to be operated on. So Iíve had about four or five different surgeries. Not to deal with the paralysis directly; that was being dealt with through therapy and working with vocal coaches and speech therapists to train my vocal chords to work again. It was not a pleasant experience. (laughs) It took a long time, and I feel like Iím out of the woods now, but itís still something I have to keep up on to be able to sing.
NW: Did that happen in the midst of a tour?
TK: It was towards the very end of the Heartbreak Station tour.
NW: That must have been very scary.
TK: Yeah. Itís the worst thing Iíve ever been through-- it literally took years. They didnít even diagnose the problem at first. That was the most frustrating part; I was going to specialists all over the country, but they were missing it. They were just telling me that there was nothing wrong with my voice, and I just needed vocal lessons because I just forgot how to sing. And I'm like, "Overnight?"
TK: Because it literally happened like that. So that was kind of frustrating. I finally went to a specialist who ran a different kind of test, and he said, "Oh, I see whatís going on." Thatís when he said, "You may never sing again. And if you are able to sing again, or sing as well as you used to, itís going to come down to a lot of work, because itís not just something that I can operate on or give you a pill to fix." It was hard getting through; I probably had about two or three weeks left on that tour, and I just got through however I could. I changed some melodies and stayed out of areas that were a problem for me, and I spent the next three years going to see every specialist in the country. Thatís why there was a delay between Heartbreak Station and Still Climbing. Heartbreak Station came out in '90, and Still Climbing didnít come out until '94, and that was the entire reason. And even still with all the work I did, when we did Still Climbing it was still really hard to sing. I had to do a lot more work in the studio, as far as going line by line, a lot of punching in, comping-- much more than Iím used to doing. But we got it done. Since then, Iíve worked with more coaches and put in many, many more hours. At this point, my voice is probably better than it was before I had the problem. I guess everything happens for a reason, because I probably never would have gone to a vocal coach or worked on my voice if this hadnít have happened. I learned a lot of things, and I think itís helped my voice in some ways.
NW: Were you self-taught before?
TK: Yeah. I just listened to records when I was a kid, and I'd imitate singers I liked. Out of that, you develop your own style.
NW: So it was nice to go back and learn some more of the theory?
TK: Yeah. I think Iíve got a fuller range now, so that was the good part that came out of it.
NW: Youíre getting ready to go out on the road again. Are there any songs you hate playing at this point?
TK: No, I donít ever feel that. The crowd makes it new every night for me, anyway. I guess everybody views it differently, but it just feels new every night for me.
NW: I saw you guys a few times in '89 and '91, and you always put on a great show, so Iím looking forward to seeing the tour this summer.
TK: Aw, thanks.
NW: I've got to ask just one last question that has nothing to do with anything else weíve discussed, but we ask everyone this question.
TK: Okay. (laughs)
TK: (long pause, to his wife) Whereís our dog? Yeah, I think they do. Yeah, I would say dogs have lips, donít they? Yeah, he does. Our dog does.
NW: What kind of dog is he?
TK: Heís half-lab and half-corgi, and he does for sure. I was going to check, but Iím pretty sure he does.