With his second solo album, the Sunset Strip survivor cements his staying power
There are a limited number of rather predictable scenarios for dudes who fronted hard rocking bands in the 1980s.
One, the band is still going strong and the frontperson is still in the front, i.e., Def Leppard. Two, the band has continued, albeit without the frontperson, i.e., Skid Row. Three, the frontperson has deceased, such as Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot.
Cinderella’s powerhouse frontperson, Tom Keifer, falls into none of these categories. Keifer has just released his second solo album, Rise, which comes six years after his debut, The Way Life Goes. Within the first month, Rise has gained quite a few Billboard chart positions. Among these, Top 20 in Hard Rock Album Sales, Rock Album Sales, Independent Albums, Internet Albums and Top 50 in Top Current Album and Top Album Sales.
These numbers are a pleasant surprise considering Cinderella’s first two albums, Night Songs and Long Cold Winter, fell squarely in the meaty part of the timestamped, hair metal ‘80s. This is not to say that those albums were not stellar or that Keifer is not a superior musician and songwriter, but having a solo album doing this well over 30 years after the heyday is not expected. Even less expected considering Keifer’s well documented vocal issues, which started as far back as Cinderella’s most timeless album, 1990’s Heartbreak Station.
VIDEO: Cinderella live on the Heartbreak Station Tour 1991
The automatic assumption for Keifer’s condition is that it is due to his style of no-holds-barred singing. This is not, in fact, the case. Keifer gives an in-depth explanation of his vocal situation in his SiriusXM’s Volume West interview with Yahoo Entertainment’s music editor, Lyndsey Parker. In the interview Keifer says he was diagnosed with the partial paralysis, or paresis, of his left vocal chord. To regain his ability to sing, he trained with an opera teacher and continues to practice the exercises he learned from those sessions. He warms up for an hour before each performance and cools down after.
“On a good day, for any rock ‘n’ roll singer, you’re always at risk of injuring yourself,” Keifer tells Rock & Roll Globe from his home in Nashville, where he has lived since 1997. “Vocals chords are very small instruments and a lot of pressure is put on them. There’s more stress on my voice because there’s an inherent weakness due to the paresis. That’s an anxiety I carry with me quite a bit.
“The condition that caused the problem to begin with is still with me,” he continues. “It’s a neurological thing so it’s not curable. I try to take really good care of myself, my overall health as well as what I need to do to keep the vocal chords and that whole apparatus in shape. It’s all equally as important.”
Keifer is on an extensive tour supporting Rise since mid-summer.. There is no indication of any vocal weakness in his balls out performances. He is accompanied by #keiferband, a group of musicians who have been with him since 2013, including his wife and co-songwriter, Savannah Snow. The seven-piece rips through selections that satisfy both the Cinderella fans who aren’t going to leave without hearing “Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone)” and “Gypsy Road,” as well as shredding through Keifer’s crafted solo material. Keifer himself brings the kind of performance that he would if he were playing to a sold-out arena, no matter what size the venue.
“I’ve always been of a mindset that when I walk on stage I want to give my best and my all to the audience, to the fans,” says Keifer. “Even going back to the early tours with Cinderella, I was always stone cold sober on stage. I enjoy what I do too much. The high is walking on that stage knowing that you’re performing at your best level. That’s the kick for me, knowing that you can walk off stage and say, ‘I did my best, and that’s what I gave the audience.’”
It is a sight to watch Keifer belt out songs at the top of his prowess while at the same time annihilating on the guitar. This not often seen combination is one that is a part of his repertoire since the guitar lessons from his young youth. Says Keifer, “Some songs, the rhythm guitar is playing something that’s in a very different rhythm or cadence than the vocal. It gets tricky and you have to woodshed it in your bones. Some songs are easy because the rhythm guitar goes with the groove of the vocal.
“When you’re recording,” he continues, “you’re just trying to get on tape what you hear in your head. There’s almost always a point where you think, ‘How am I going to play this stuff live?’ Particularly for me because, at times, I’m doing this counterpoint rhythm guitar part which is very different than the vocal. Then sometimes I just put the guitar down and front because it’s might be little easier to just sing that one song.”
Keifer has come a long way with #keiferband, all of whom perform on Rise. They came together as the touring band for The Way Life Goes at a time when Keifer says they were facing individual personal challenges. The band was a tonic for each member, making them a stronger unit, which at this point, is as tight as you can get.
“The wheels had been falling off of Cinderella for a number of years,” says Keifer. “I was at a place in my life where I wanted to continue to make music but I was looking for something new, a shot in the arm. The release of The Way Life Goes and this band forming was that thing for me. It felt like starting over.
“Part of that starting over was literally starting over. When we began supporting The Way Life Goes, we were in really small clubs and they weren’t very full. People didn’t know what to expect with me being on my own. The reason we toured for six plus years with this band was to spread the word out about who the band is and what to expect in the show. It makes you hungry again. It was exciting. I needed that inspiration.”
Recording Rise with #keiferband—rather than the session musicians on The Way Life Goes, makes a massive difference in what’s heard on the album. The chemistry, both musically and personally, is felt in the energetic, live approach that is noticeable on Rise. Keifer, along with Snow and #keiferband’s live engineer, Kyle O’Connor, helmed the production duties. The former two are familiar with this role as they did the same for The Way Life Goes (alongside Chuck Turner). The latter is very familiar with the exact sound they’re going for as he’s been mixing the front of house sound for a number of years. O’Connor can determine whether they’re getting what they’re going for, and direct them if they’re not quite there yet.
VIDEO: #keiferband “Rise”
The songs always start with lyrics first. They move to their rough form with melody, chord progressions and a big guitar hook Keifer has already written into the song. At this point, they move to the studio and bring the band in, all of whom add their own flavors. This process has been the same for Keifer from the start of his professional career. On the surface the polka-dotted videos for “Shake Me” or “Nobody’s Fool” or “Somebody Save Me” clouded the blues-driven core of Cinderella. This started coming to the surface on Long Cold Winter and became the focus of Heartbreak Station.
VIDEO: Cinderella Shakes Japan 1987 — Full concert
“The shift in the sound had more to do with production and engineering than anything else, “says Keifer. “The ‘80s production overall was a lot of effects and certainly our first two records had a lot of that sound. With Heartbreak Station, even starting with the demos, when I was recording those in my home studio, I started turning down all the effects and started going for a rawer, drier sound. The big difference is that it’s not heavily overdubbed. The guitars are not quadrupled and drowning in reverb. It’s very in-your-face and much more like the rock records that I grew up on in the ‘70s.
“The slick ‘80s sound is not something that I intentionally went for in the music I was writing. When we started recording in the early ‘80s, we were very green. A producer was hired and all we knew was what we were hearing coming out of the speakers sounded far better than anything we’d done on our own. But it definitely had that flavor of the day production. I’m not knocking those records because I think Andy Johns did a great job on them. But as you grow as an artist, you start to realize what you like and don’t like and we shifted away from the slicker, effected sound on Heartbreak. Of the Cinderella records, it’s probably my favorite in terms of the sound and production. When we started shooting toward the drier sound, that was coming right around the corner with the ‘90s artists. In a way we were, in terms of where we were headed with our record, right on the curb of that.”
Whether it’s the ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s, or the ‘10s, Keifer’s songwriting remains consistent, its impact, permanent.
VIDEO: Tom Keifer Band at the Beacon 8/8/19 full show