What would you do if someone told you that you would never be able to do the one thing you love to do again?
Imagine being a lead singer, sitting down at a Baby Grand piano with the spotlights on you, in front of thousands of screaming fans in an amphitheater, ready to sing one of your biggest hits.
Now, imagine opening your mouth to sing, your voice cracking & breaking, suddenly not being able to hit the notes or match the melodies, . That is exactly what happened to Tom Keifer of Cinderella in 2006, who was onstage in Chicago at a piano , trying to sing “Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone)”.
He was told that he would never sing again.
If you’re a singer or musician, you play music until the day you die. You do it because you love it. Music is your life. If you’re in it for the right reasons, giving up isn’t an option. You find a way to fight through it and keep doing what you love,which is what Tom found the strength to do.
After numerous doctors visits and continued, daily therapy, his voice is once again solid and only getting better, which he has proved with this year’s release of his first solo record, appropriately titled The Way Life Goes , which has been 10 years in the making.
*You purchase The Way Life Goes here: itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-way-life-goes/id634693996
Tom Keifer, best known as the lead singer & guitarist for the blues based hard rock band, Cinderella, took the time for a phone interview to talk coffee, his solo album (The Way Life Goes), guitars, his worst onstage experience & the craziest bands that Cinderella toured with.
We are a coffee website, so I have to ask, Do you like coffee and if so what kind do you prefer? Yes, I love coffee. My poison of choice is the Starbucks, oh what’s it called? Now I’m drawing a blank… Verona! Starbucks Verona K- cups. We go through them by the dozen here. *laughs* I got one of those K- Cup machines & love it.
Awesome. So do you have a favorite cafe in Nashville? Um, I go to Starbucks. I like their coffee. I like the atmosphere. They play cool music in there and stuff and the breakfast sandwiches aren’t bad.
Speaking of Nashville, how do think that the music scene differs there than it did in Philadelphia in the 80s? Well, it’s two different eras you’re talking about , but I moved here because the scene you know when I was coming up in Philadelphia in the 80s, there was a few clubs that we played , but you know, there weren’t a lot of places that you could play where there was original music, so then, it was more about you put together a band , you were part of a band and you know, we just did everything we could to just bust outta there, you know? When I moved here,it was in the mid 90s when the wheels were kind of falling off of the whole 80s rock scene. The music scene was changing. Grunge was coming in & we lost our deal with Mercury, so we didn’t have an outlet for music anymore and we started drifting apart & I drifted down to Nashville here, cause at that point I was thinking about doing a solo record & I’d been writing with some people down here and the scene down here at that point was very different from the scene in Philly back when we started, I mean the music scene here is deep rooted for years and years and years and in a tradition of like you know, amazing songwriting and there’s a real artistry here to the songwriting and musicianship and it’s just an amazing town for inspiration in terms of playing and writing , you know? The talent level here is crazy. It was a good place to get a new start and to start sowing the seeds for a solo record, which obviously didn’t come until years later, but you know you gotta start somewhere .
What was the writing process like for The Way Life Goes? I know you worked with Savannah on that. Yeah. She co-wrote a lot of songs with me and I co-wrote with a lot of other people too. That was the part about the writing that was different from Cinderella because I pretty much wrote exclusively by myself with the exception of a couple of songwriters and writing with Eric with Cinderella, but on this record, I co-wrote with a lot of people. That’s one of the reasons I came to Nashville was because the writing is incredible here, but in terms of where the inspiration comes from and how the song begins, um that’s the same and I’ve always had a philosophy that I’m not going to force a song, I’m going to wait until real inspiration comes to me or the song finds me and you know , I don’t care if I don’t write a song for a year. I just never force it and there’s always that moment where you’re driving down the road or you’re flying on an airplane somewhere or walking down aisle 6 at Home Depot and this light bulb goes off in your head and you hear a lyric or an idea and a melody and you start to get an inspiration and then you grow it from there and usually when I hear that in my head, I’m just running for an instrument at that point. So you know, with this record I would take those ideas to a co-writer and we’d sit down and work on them together.So, the initial inspiration came from the same place, I just brought some extra people to collaborate on those thoughts.
Do you have a song on The Way Life Goes that sticks out to you as your favorite right now? Well, there’s one that sticks out as being different, maybe, where it maybe pushed the envelope more so than what I was maybe known with Cinderella & that would be the second track on the record. It’s called A Different Light. I would describe the rest of the record as being pretty close to the Cinderella , the same wheel house as with Cinderella , as with it being blues based and American roots based, cause that’s who all my heroes were growing up, the stones and Aerosmith and all that stuff, so for the most part, it’s a hard rock record. It has a lot of dynamics in terms of some acoustic stuff and ranging all the way into real hard drivin’ stuff. Different Light stands out as being a little bit more on the pop side, maybe represents some of the you know, more current bands that I listen to like Train or Imagine Dragons or that kinda thing.
So you said that The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith have inspired you musically. Who else has been a big influence on you throughout the years? Yeah, they were definitely some of the artists that I grew up on. There was also Janis Joplin and Rod Stewart and Bad Company and I mean, I came up in the 70’s , so there was an incredible amount of music then, you know? The rock of the late 60’s and 70’s where it was all just kind of exploding and happening for the first time so there was a lot of great music to learn from back then, you know?
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians & singers? My advice would be to be yourself and to play what’s truly in your heart and what feels right to you and express what’s inside of you. Don’t worry abut chasing trends or trying to look at the charts and figure out how to sound like those artists, just be yourself and if you can be yourself , and you know, prepare yourself in a way where you are as good at being yourself as you can be, in other words, have the work ethic to really develop your talent and what’s special about you and one day the trend’s going to be you and I think you’ve got a much better shot at doing that than trying to chase other people’s vibe or energy.
Do you have a favorite guitar that you own? Well, currently I do. It’s hard to pick, but I got a really, really cool Firebird a couple months back and it’s actually a reissue of one that I had years ago. I had a ’63. It was a red Firebird that I got rid of , I think in a guitar trade or something, you know? Heat of the moment. I call it the Firebird that got away, but I loved that guitar and for years, I’d see pictures of it & pictures of me after it, onstage and say , man, I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of that. So, just a couple months ago, I was in Guitar Center here in Nashville and there was a reissue of the exact same guitar hanging on the wall & I said I gotta have that, so I bought it and it actually turned out for the better because this reissue is probably better than the original one , so it’s currently my favorite.
What effects have you been using onstage lately? Really simple, you know? Rhythm is straight into the amp and I use very old, early 70’s Marshalls that have no master volume. You gotta crank them all the way up to get the crunch and the gain out of them , but nothing sounds like them, and then that’s for rhythm and if I want a clean sound, I just turn the volume down on the guitar & it cleans up real nice through those amps. For solos, I’ve got an overdrive pedal, uh , man, I got this cool one now, I can’t remember the name of it. I just got it for this tour this year. I think it’s called.. It’s a weird name, but I think it’s called a Timmy pedal and it’s one of those boutique, overdrive things & I like that & I like a little delay on my solos & I have this one. I think it’s called a Deep Blue delay pedal & that’s really all I use is a little overdrive & delay on my solos & the rhythm is pretty much straight into the amp.
During this tour, did you have a favorite song to play live?
Hmmm, let’s see. I always really, really loved singing Shelter Me. We were doing that one on the solo tour and I always like singing that one , so I’ll say that one.
You had a health scare concerning your vocal chords. Do you feel that that has made you stronger as a singer as you’ve been writing the record and going out and touring again?
I learned a lot from it. I was told I would never sing again in the early 90’s due to a partially paralyzed vocal chord and that’s a neurological condition that there’s no medical cure for, you know, they can’t give you a pill or a surgery to fix that and they said I was done. They said my only hope of being able to sing again would be to retrain it and work with speech pathologists and vocal coaches and hopefully find a way to train that chord to respond properly and that’s taken me years to do it, but I have overcome it. When I say overcome it, it’s still there, but I’ve managed to work up a routine from all the teachers that I’ve worked with to kinda get that chord in place & get it working properly, where I’m able to sing and do what I love to do , so that routine involves an hour and a half to two hours every day of vocal exercises , whether I’m on tour or not. When I’m on tour, my warm up is as long as the show, sometimes longer depending on how beat up it is from the night before, so even on a show day, I do about an hour and a half to two hours of warm ups and vocal chord stretching and things like that before the show and it’s just a bunch, well it sounds strange to most people, but it’s a bunch of weird noises and scales and stuff , but it works.
A couple of months ago , you did some gigs with Halestorm , how was that?
Awesome! They are just, you know, a great band, and just some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They are my favorite rock band out there right now. I love their songs. I think they really stand out in the songwriting department and they certainly stand out in the vocal department. Lzzy Hale’s voice is, you know, one of the wonders of rock n roll right now in my opinion. She really sings. They’re great and we got to do a duet together, Lzzy & I. We did “Nobody’s Fool” together in their show and it was a lot of fun.
What’s your favorite song of theirs?
I love “Miss The Misery”. I mean , that’s just , just bad ass , straight up, but one of the things I really like about them is, and again, when people ask me how do I pick a favorite song on my own record, it’s hard to because there’s a lot of different kinds of songs and that’s one of the things to me that makes them stand out. When you listen to their records, there’s a lot of different kinds of songs, so on one hand I would say I really love “Break In” and I really like “In Your Room” , but I love “Miss The Misery” and “Mz. Hyde” too, and “Here’s to Us” kinda falls somewhere in the middle. It’s hard to pick a favorite there, it really is. I think they’re extremely talented & like I said, in the songwriting department and the dynamics department in terms of putting together a record. I just think they stand out in the crowd. They really do. They have lots of dynamics and great songs on their record. I guess I really didn’t answer your question, but I like a lot of their songs. *laughs*
What was the craziest band that Cinderella toured with in the 80’s ?
Hmmm. The craziest band that ever toured with Cinderella…. umm. You know, I don’t know. When you’ve been on the road as long as we have, things don’t seem as crazy anymore. People ask, Tell us crazy stories and there’s so much crazy stuff that’s gone on everyday.. I can tell you the most fun bands, because fun is fun & the people you enjoy being around you know? Some of the things that went on , well, those may seem crazy to other people, but on the road , it becomes old hat. I loved touring with Poison. We did a couple of tours with those guys and they are just like best friends and we always have a great time together. They’re really good people. Bon Jovi too, back in the day, you know? Just great people , great band & we had a blast on that tour, so there was crazy, fun stuff going on everyday.
Speaking of touring, What has been your best & worst onstage experiences?
It’s hard to pick a best, I mean there’s probably one that stands out, and that’s the Moscow Music Peace Festival. I still say to this day, that that was a very special show to be a part of. It was kind of like the Woodstock of the Soviet Union and we were over there before the wall came down and that was a pretty unprecedented gig that happened in Linen Stadium and that was something very special to be a part of and to this day, I’m very proud of being part of that and I think that any band that was there would say the same thing. Ummm, worst onstage moment was in 2006. The vocal problems I had, initially started in the early 90’s and I worked for years to get my voice back and I had a couple of set backs and injuries and had to have surgeries to repair it and I was just starting to get my voice to where I could tour & it was solid & I kinda got hit with a second round of it in 2005 and my voice started to go south again and we did a second tour in 2006, back to back and it was just getting worse and worse and I remember being onstage, it was in Chicago at a giant amphitheater called The World and we were out on tour with Poison and I sat down at the piano in the middle of the show to do “Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone)” and I couldn’t sing the song. It was just me , sitting there at a Baby Grand with all those spot lights on me and my voice was cracking and breaking and I couldn’t, couldn’t get up to the notes and that was probably the lowest point for me onstage & vocally. I debated that night, when I walked off stage , just leaving the tour & going home & resting or trying to figure it out. I decided to stay, cause it was our 20th year anniversary and the tour was a lot of fun other than the vocal problems I was having, so I went the next day to Target, cause we had a day off & all of our gear was on the truck. I said to my tour manager, You know, I want to stay out here, but I have to re-work some of the melodies on these songs, just bring them down a 3rd or a 4th or a 5th and just get them somewhere where I can sing them , talk them , whatever I gotta do to get through it. I’m going to get through this tour and I’ve never had to do that before. I’ve always been able to sing the melodies that were on the record. So, I said I need a guitar. So he took me to Target and I bought some little, cheap $60 electric guitar called a Lyon. *laughs* and I sat on the back of the bus that day off and I went through every song and I kinda transposed the melodies down and figured out a way to just get through the tour and you know, I got through it and the fans were very supportive, but I didn’t sound like the record, but I finished out the last 6 weeks of the tour or whatever and that began the process of rebuilding my voice for the 2nd time and I had another surgery and we were off the road for several years at that point, but I finally built it back and the last 3 or 4 years, it’s been really strong, so I think I’ve got it all behind me now. Sitting at that piano in Chicago that night was the lowest point.
Wow. I’m so happy that you have been able to get through it and find ways to make it better and better.
Well, thank you.
What do you think that it takes for a band to make it now? I know it’s probably a little different than it was in the 80s when you guys started, but what would you say it takes for a band to really work their way up there?
Well, from a strategy standpoint, it’s a little different from when we were coming up, but I can kind of speak from both sides because of my solo record is like a new artist, so I’ve stood in both parts of time. So , the reason I approached my solo record with not having a label involved with it when we were producing is because what’s changed the industry the most is illegal downloading and streaming and this mentality that music is free. So, record companies and publishing companies are the people who develop artists and when they don’t have the money because their revenues are down by billions of dollars, literally, because only a fraction of music that’s out there right now is actually paid for and you know, record budgets and artist development budgets and stuff are just nothing. There’s zero and it’s one of the areas in the industry that’s been impacted the hardest, so pay attention out there, kids and listen. You know, when we were coming up, record companies had tons of money, so you could make a really crappy demo and they had A&R people who had ears and imaginations and they could listen to this crappy demo and say “man, we could make a real record with these people” and they would sign you based on that cruddy demo and bring you in and make sure you had the best producers and studio engineers and make a real record with you . That kind of opportunity is few and far between these days. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but in most instances, record companies are looking for a finished product. So, that’s why I decided to finish my record. It took 10 years and we spent a ton of our own money on it , but once you sign with a record company, they tell you when you’re done and I didn’t want anyone breathing down my back on this record, so I really have been in that position, um and that’s why I opted to say I’m going to take a finished record to labels, not go and try to get a deal and make a record with them because that means they’re gonna tell you when you’re done and I just think less and less is going into album budgets and artist development so I think, long story short, the strategy these days is to , more than ever, take something that’s finished, you know & fortunetly, today, with the technology and pro tools and stuff, people can make records in their closets, you know, if you have good ears. It’s all about the ears, always. A lot of people think it’s about equipment, but if someone is twirling those knobs that doesn’t have ears, then, it doesn’t matter how good the equipment is. So, I think that that’s , you know, the biggest way that the industry has changed & I think it’s changed how artists need to go about, you know, approaching record companies. I still think record companies are a great thing to have behind you if you have a great product finished or if you can get one that will help you develop that product, that’s just harder to find these days.
So, back to your album, I have one more question for you. What can fans that are more used to hearing your work with Cinderella expect from The Way Life Goes?
It isn’t really that different. I would describe the record as somewhere between Long, Cold Winter and Heartbreak Station, which I think were some of Cinderella’s better work. The style of music is hard rock that’s american roots inspired. There’s a lot of blues influence in it, a little bit of country and gospel. So it’s you know, the style of it’s the same. I mean , as a songwriter and a singer and a musician, every time you go into the studio, or you write a song, your hope or your wish is that you’ve written a better song and you’re going to perform it better, so hopefully I’ve managed to improve in those areas over the years and also producing, too. You always want it to be produced better and sound better, but the music style and writing is very similar. It’s hard to run from that sound because, you know I was such a big part of Cinderella’s sound , being the singer , the songwriter and I did a lot of the guitar work, so that’s a signature there, that’s on my solo record as well.
Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.
Thanks for having me.
You’re welcome. Have a great Christmas!
You too! Thank you very much.
*You can find more info on Tom, The Way Life Goes & Cinderella here:
*You can check out Tom’s newest music video for “The Flower Song” here:
*You can buy “The Way Life Goes” – Tom Keifer by clicking the link below*
*A Special thanks to Tom for taking the time to talk with us!*
*Photos courtesy of Doug Weber/ New Ocean Media*