Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer has had his share of bad luck: a partially paralyzed vocal cord and record label lawsuits threatened his musical career. Yet Keifer has overcome all these hardships. A vocalist who was once told he would never sing again has beaten the odds. Keifer has nurtured his voice back to health and continues to tour successfully with Cinderella, delighting fans the world over.
This month, Keifer launched a solo tour to support his debut solo album, The Way Life Goes. The Way Life Goes is a tribute to a mixture of solid rock and American roots music. Keifer always cherished American roots but living in Nashville only brought him closer to its center — and it shows on The Way Life Goes.
The following is an interview with Tom Keifer, discussing both the solo tour and album.
You must be excited about the solo album?
Tom Keifer: Yeah, man, it’s a new adventure. Definitely. It’s been a long time in the making. So it feels good to finally let it go.
It’s like a 10-year autobiography of sorts, isn’t it?
Keifer: My writing’s always been from life experience or observation. I’ve been through quite a bit of life over the period of time that this record was written and recorded and produced, so, yeah, it’s some real stuff.
Even the titles: “The Way Life Goes,” “Solid Ground” … they sound like personal reaffirmations.
Keifer: Well, you know, “Solid Ground” is certainly one, to me. It’s like the old saying about life’s a journey and not a destination. I think [it] applies to that song because I think all of us are looking for that thing that makes us feel like we’re whole or arrived or now we’re on easy street or life’s gonna be a breeze now. Life has its ups and downs and it keeps moving, and I don’t think the nature of life is to stand still. It’s something you have to keep up with. So that’s what that song’s about there.
[pullquote_right]I don’t think the nature of life is to stand still. It’s something you have to keep up with.[/pullquote_right]
Well, there’s a part in the lyrics of Solid Ground about the need to keep moving because the world is crumbling down.
Keifer: Yeah (laughs) sometimes it feels that way, you know. Keeping your head above water, right?
You’re a survivor. You’ve overcome personal struggles … like the title of the [solo] album says, that’s the way life goes, but it hard to overcome [problems] especially with vocal cords. I mean, how are you doing now?
Keifer: Very well. It’s something that will always be a daily — shall I say at this point — maintanence . But, you know, it’s very strong after what I’ve been through. It was a nuerological condition I was diagnosed with in the early ’90s, and I was told I was never gonna sing again because I had a partially paralyzed vocal cord. So to keep a very long story short as I possibly can, the way you can really overcome it is to retrain your voice. It’s not an exact science and it’s not easily done. Most singers that get this condition — they’re done. And I was done for quite a while. But I’ve continued to work with some of the best voice teachers in the country. I’ve worked with everybody, and I’m constantly trying to learn how to make that cord perform better and more consistently. And over the years it has gotten stronger and more consistent and the more consistent it gets, it really helps with my confidence walking onto a stage, because for a long time I didn’t have any. Because I would still continue to tour, and I would really have my ups and downs, you know, when I’d be out with Cinderella. A lot of nights I’d get up onstage and I really didn’t know what was gonna come out. But it’s more and more consistent, particularly in recent years — the last three or four years. I fell very fortunate to have found the way to continue doing what I love, and in some ways because of all the training the voice is stronger. Some areas of my voice are stronger than they were.
That’s very true. It seems as strong as it used to be,
Keifer: Yeah, on a good night or a good day, yeah. It is. Maybe a little bit stronger. And there are still those times where if I don’t thread the needle just right, everything starts firing wrong, and that’s why I have to stay on the therapy and the exercises every day to keep reminding it to stay in place (laughs).
Well, you’ve said you go through that several hours a day.
Keifer: Correct. Yes.
And that takes strong will power.
Keifer: Well, it’s taught me a lot of patience, I’ll tell you that. It’s like I said, it’s not an exact science, so you just stick with it every day, and experiment even.
It says a lot about you as an individual. Some people would not have that kind of will power.
Keifer: Well, I don’t know. I mean, like you said about the survivor thing: We’re all survivors. Life’s not easy. We all have our challenges and our difficult times. And this was certainly one of mine. And I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, so I had to stick with it. You know, I felt like I didn’t have a choice because when I’d consider other career options, none of it sounded very fun to me (laughs).
That could have been part of the drive right there.
Keifer: Certainly was. I think that’s what motivated me. Because I really love to sing. I’ve been singing since I was seven or eight-years old.
You’ve now developed a solid songwriting team with your wife, Savannah.
Keifer: Yeah, she’s a great writer and she co-wrote many of the songs on this record, and also co-produced the record with me and a friend of ours from Nashville named Chuck Turner who’s a very talented producer and engineer. So the three of us were thick as thieves working on this thing for the last nine or ten years (laughs).
Was she a songwriter before?
Keifer: Oh yeah. She’s a singer, songwriter, and an artist in her own right. She plays guitar and piano, and she was in Nashville, actually, before I was, and she worked on Music Row as a staff songwriter for a big publishing company for years and produced hundreds of demos for them for their pitch stuff. She’s one of the best songwriters that I know.
Did you find it easy to adjust from writing on your own to writing with another, specifically someone who is so close to you?
Keifer: It’s real easy to work with her, and just generally, because I wrote with other people on the record, you know. Yeah, I mean it was an easy transition. I mean, if you’re in the room with the right person and they have a similar approach to writing that you do, you know, I fell into that pretty naturally. I still write the same way in terms of where my inspiration comes from. And maybe, if I have an appointment to write with a co-writer, what I’m going to bring into that appointment is an inspiration that has maybe been rolling around in my head for a few weeks or a few months or even a year, something that really means something to me and that’s what I’m going to bring into that writing. So it’s the same approach to where I’m writing from. It’s just bringing someone else in to collaborate. You know, it’s a little bit of an adjustment but I started doing that in the mid-90s. The idea of a solo record, I started writing in the mid-90s and that’s when I really started co-writing with a lot of people, came to Nashville and worked with some really great writers. I really fell in love with this town and moved here because it’s such a creative community here.
It really is. It’s overlooked sometimes by rock musicians.
Keifer: All the guys on my record are Nashville session guys and they came up on Zeppelin, Bad Company … they love that. Most of them grew up around the same time I did, on the music of the late ’60s and ’70s.
And you always embraced American Roots music, with Cinderella, too. There were a lot of bands back at the time [late ’80s], in that scene — they were going more towards sugary pop songs and you guys stayed closer to the roots.
Keifer: Well, yeah, it’s what I grew up on. That’s what I love and you are what you eat. I grew up on the Stones and Zeppelin and Aerosmith and Janis Joplin and Bad Company and Rod Stewart and the Eagles and Joe Walsh and the James Gang. The list goes on and on of all the great musicians and bands from that era. And they were all inspired by American roots music. You know, blues and country and gospel. All about real stuff and soulful and a lot of feeling. That’s just the music I like and grew up on. That’s where I gotta write, play, and sing, so… I had some good teachers (laughs).
[pullquote_left]A lot of nights I’d get up onstage and I really didn’t know what was gonna come out.[/pullquote_left]
And speaking of co-writers, how did you hook up with Jim [Peterik] of Survivor?
Keifer: Jim’s a great writer, and not only Survivor but going back to the Ides of March. And he wrote “Vehicle” and sang that song, too, which was a classic. He’s a good friend of mine and he co-wrote songs on the record, “The Flower Song” being one of them.
You made a statement, kind of emphasizing that you don’t want the fans to think that the solo album will bring a break with Cinderella … meaning that Cinderella will be no more.
Keifer: Well, it’s not gonna be no more. Cinderella’s on a break now. We decided not to tour this year because we toured pretty hard for the last three years — and that opened a window of opportunity for me to release this record and go out and tour and support this. But I’m not leaving the band or anything. I love that band, you know. I was fortunate to be a part of it for all these years and it’s a big part of my life.
And you have strong fans. Back when the news broke about your vocal cords, there was lot of outpouring of support. You must see that wherever you go. And you’ve always given a lot back to the fans. You’ve always made time for them, and that’s not something all musicians do, you know.
Keifer: The fans are what give music life. And I appreciate that. And I feel fortunate to have fans. So you gotta show some gratitude for that, you know. That’s called good fortune and, like I said, it’s what brings it to life. Other than that it’s just a song somewhere that nobody’s hearing or enjoying.
Now, you’ve already did a small tour for the solo album.
Keifer: Yeah. In February we did about three weeks, really to get the solo band together and for me to get used to playing these songs live and give the fans a taste way in front of the release. And we took really small venues so it would be intimate because the show is kind of two-fold. It’s about 50/50, new songs on the solo album and a bunch of the old Cinderella favorites in the set, too. The set has got a good mixture of some high-energy, paint-peeling rock as well as a little acoustic section in the middle of about four songs. We actually do a stroytellers thing where we talk about how some of the songs were written. And people have been really enjoying that a lot. I’ve gotten good feedback from the fans on that. It’s a really good mix of both the kick-ass rock and some acoustic stuff.
[pullquote_right]The fans are what give music life. And I appreciate that.[/pullquote_right]
Do you do some of the old Cinderella songs differently?
Keifer: One or two of them are a little different and we’ve got “Shelter Me” and “Coming Home” and “Gypsy Road” and “Sick for the Cure” is in the set and they’re just like the record, you know. We’re just blasting those out, so … And there’s a couple others that have a little twist on them. I don’t want to give too much away.
The general reaction from the fans is good then?
Keifer: Yeah, we had a blast. Everything that I’ve seen from the fans online’s been really positive and all the reviews seem pretty good. We’re having fun. And that seems to be reflecting out there with what I’ve read, too. That’s a good feeling when you know you are doing something that people are digging (laughs).
So what will the tour look like now?
Keifer: We’re doing more of the same. Same kind of venues, same kind of show. And work our way east, kind of through the south, and then pickup what we didn’t do in February, because February was mainly the northeast and a little it of the midwest. So, we’re going to pick up where we left off and do another leg there, take the show that we were doing back in February with some new places.
Now that your older, is touring more of a grind?
Keifer: Yes and no. I love it. It’s my favorite part. My favorite aspect of the business is playing live music and being on the road. It’s always been a grind. I mean, you know, all the traveling and the show’s very physical. So sometimes I think it is more of a grind but then I think back to when I was in my twenties and, man, I think how it kicked my ass back then, too (laughs). I don’t know. It’s a pretty high energy show and it’s very physical and my style of singing… I’m usually pretty wiped when I walk off the stage, now and back then. Sometimes I think it’s better now in some ways (laughs). Maybe I know how to take care of myself a little bit better, I don’t know.
The payoff’s great no matter what the grind.
Keifer: That’s the thing. It’s worth whatever you have to go through to do it. All the work that you’ve put into making that record and then when you finally get into rehearsal and pre-production for a tour and figure out how to recreate those tracks live that you spent so much time on, and you just get them all kicking ass and feeling good, and then get up onstage and you can finally just let it go because that’s just such a pure moment onstage. It’s not like in the recording studio where it’s like, ‘Okay, can you do that ten more times?’ That’s what I love about live, like, this is it. It is what it is. However you perform that song that night, that’s it. You can’t change it. You can’t go back. It is what it is. It’s the moment.
Have you thought about taping this solo tour for an album or DVD?
Keifer: Oh, I don’t know. We’ll see. I haven’t thought about that, really. It’s a unique show. In some ways it’s not that far removed from what I’ve done with Cinderella in the past. It’s still me. I still perform the same way I’ve always done. Probably the biggest difference is the storytelling thing. I mean, I’ve done sitdown acoustic stuff with Cinderella in the middle of a show. But probably the most different aspect is … you know, I don’t talk that much onstage. And the storytelling part during the acoustic thing is something that’s pretty unique to this tour in particular. It just seemed appropriate. I’m just letting a little more of myself go, here on the solo thing.
Do you see yourself continuing to write songs solo?
Keifer: Well, I’m always gonna be writing songs and recording. I mean, at the moment right now, I just let go of this one. And for most of the time while we’re producing this record, I usually don’t write when I’m working on a record. It’s like two different phases for me.
Do you write while you’re on tour?
Keifer: Yeah, a lot of ideas some to me on tour. Certainly with Cinderella. The second and third record were written on prior tours because we were living so fast then we kind of had to do that. But, you know, we’ll see. Obviously I’ll always be writing songs. Eventually I”ll be putting that hat on and getting back into writing. I haven’t written in a awhile because I”ve been focused on producing this record, which took a long time, so I gotta kind of get back into that water again. But right now I’m just glad to let this one out and we’re gonna take it day by day.
And obviously the fans are always wondering if there will be a Cinderella record soon.
Keifer: Well, you know, we never say never. It’s not for any lack of desire on our part. We actually had a failed attempt on that about ten years ago and it ended up in a lawsuit in courts and it was pretty ugly. We really haven’t had a situation come up that really felt like the right one since then. And maybe that’s because we felt a little burn after that one, I don’t know. I mean, that’s when I started producing this record — when we were tied up in all that. And I produced this record independently of a label. Which, obviously, being on the tail end of that catastrophe, I didn’t really want to deal with a label or lawyers or anything. I just wanted to make some music. So that’s what I did.