The more things change for Tom Keifer, the more he appears to be on the gypsy road to permanent vocal recovery. For any fans of the Cinderella singer and guitarist worried that Keifer’s surgically repaired (multiple times) voice can’t possibly hold up these days, take a listen to the first time he opens his mouth on debut solo album The Way Life Goes, which releases today.
“YEAHHHHHHHHH-OW!” Keifer belts out on new single and video “Solid Ground” (click on box, below left).
Naturally, the true test comes over the long haul, especially on stage. That’s where Keifer will continue the second leg of his inaugural solo tour Sat. May 11 at Backstage Live (details at bottom). Former Ratt and Motley Crue replacement vocalist John Corabi, himself on a solo trek, provides support.
Keifer’s new record has a mixture of the rock, blues and ballad compositions Cinderella faithful have come to know him for throughout that group’s first three albums: Night Songs (1986), Long Cold Winter (1988) and Heartbreak Station (1990). However, Keifer’s 14-song effort with a 21st-century feel is no fairy-tale. Featuring the bluesy “Fools Paradise,” rockers “Solid Ground” and “Mood Elevator” and piano ballad “Thick And Thin,” Keifer’s debut independent effort took a decade to complete and is a welcome return to the scene for a musician who hadn’t put out any new material since 1994’s Still Climbing.
For the second time in three years, Keifer, 52, graced the San Antonio Metal Music Examiner with an exclusive interview by phone from his home in Nashville, Tenn. But more so than our conversation in 2010 (see link in blue below), this one tugged at the heart a little more for Keifer when he discussed everything that went into his solo effort:
Q: Did you do everything on the record, or did the guys in the “Solid Ground” video help out?
A: The guys from the video, that’s the touring band. The tracks were cut for this by session players here in Nashville, quite a few years ago, actually. This record’s been in the making for 10 years. I did not play everything. I did most of the guitars on the record, probably about 95 percent of the guitars. I had a few guest guitarists on the record. The rhythm section is the same guys on the record for every song. Greg Marlow played drums and Michael Rhodes played bass. So yeah, it was a group of guys that I was working with.
Q: Who are the guys in your touring band, and what can you tell me about their pedigrees?
A: Tony Higbee is the guitar player. He’s made a couple records with a local band here named Caprice. That’s a band that he’s toured around this area with. Paul Simmons is the drummer. He’s played with Black Oak Arkansas. And Bill Mercer on (bass). He has played with Ryan Adams. Paul Taylor on keyboards, who I’ve known for many years. He played guitar and keyboards with Winger but also played with Steve Perry, with Alice Cooper. He’s toured with a bunch of people.
My personal favorites are “Solid Ground,” “Mood Elevator” and “Babylon Life.” Is . . .
That song’s called “Babylon.” I don’t know why every interviewer I’ve talked to calls it “Babylon Life.”
Because that’s the way it’s listed on the link we received.
(Laughs) I was just curious about that.
Q: Is there one song on the record most meaningful to you and why?
A: No, I like them all for different reasons. The most personal one is probably “Thick And Thin.” I wrote that for Savannah, my wife, for when she was going through a difficult time. It’s just my way of saying that I’ll always be there for her. So that’s probably the one most personally meaning, one of the most personal songs I’ve ever written.
Q: Well, that’s a good segue, Tom, because I had read that your wife was involved in the making of the record, but I’m not sure how much. Can you break down what she contributed to the record, and what was it like to make a record with her as opposed to your normal bandmates?
A: She co-wrote a lot of the songs on the record and co-produced it with me and our friend Chuck Turner, who’s a producer engineer here in Nashville. She sang some background too, so she brought quite a bit to the record between writing and singing. We work together pretty well. We approach music and writing very much the same way, so it was pretty easy.
Q: Because the record was made more or less over a decade like you mentioned, how much adjusting or reworking of songs did you have to do toward the end of the process as opposed to from the start years ago?
A: There was a lot done every step of the way. It was a learning process as we went. We were working with Pro Tools, which I’d never made a record with Pro Tools. The options in there are endless. You could make a guitar sound like a kazoo if you want. Not that you should, and we probably tried that once and hit “undo,” but yeah, that was a whole new format from the recording format that, you know, you could really play around. First time I ever made a record where you could really affect and change arrangements after the fact, and you could move guitar parts and move things around. That was a lot of fun to learn that. Each step of the way, we were improving different things. Towards the end, it was more about the mixes. A lot of arrangement changes at the end, where earlier in the process, it was more about the performances and grooves. We really took our time with the record because there wasn’t any pressure from the label. We didn’t plan on taking 10 years, but when you don’t have somebody saying you’ve got a deadline, and you want the record to be as good as it can be, if you take a break from it for a few months and you come back and hear things you think can be better, you’re going to try and make them better. That was pretty much the process for 10 years. We work hard and play hard (laughs). I’d go on tour with Cinderella for a few months and get away from it. That’s just how we work, until it was finished.
Q: When we interviewed back in 2010, you spoke about what it was like making an album in, and living in, Nashville, and that was shortly after the floods. Can you tell me now just how different, and maybe even similar, the Nashville scene may be as opposed to being based in Philadelphia with Cinderella?
A: Well, I first started coming here in the mid-’90s because Cinderella had broken up. Prior to that, I was a member of a band. Cinderella felt there wasn’t much need to go outside of that. So when we parted ways, the whole ’90s scene was changing, and I was going to do something different. The solo thing was what I wanted to do. I started writing with people here because there are some great songwriters here. The more I came here and worked, I started going to some of the sessions of the people that I was writing with. (Laughs) On every corner, there’s amazing musicians, amazing studios, amazing engineers, amazing songwriters. Just such a creative community, which really served as a big inspiration for me. At a time when it felt like the Cinderella thing had crumbled . . . fortunately we got back together and toured — constantly. And I’ve had a lot of success with that. But the old career felt a little shaky, and I was looking for something new, and this felt like a great inspiration. And it turns out it has been a really great inspiration. From the time I started working in 2002, 2003, when we started cutting tracks for this record, it was one of the most creative periods of my life in terms of songwriting. Seven years where it was just constantly writing.
Q: Given that the records that followed Night Songs are blues-based, was the heaviness and sound on Night Songs more of an accident per se from the sound you were trying to achieve all along, or was that the progression you were aiming for going forward?
A: I think it was a progression. I would describe Night Songs melodically and lyrically as blues-based as well. I just think production-wise, it was a little more flavor of the day. Much simpler instrumentation where it was just mainly guitars, bass and drums and vocals. All the guitar melodies and lyrics and vocal melodies are blues-based. The lyrics are about real things. You know, “Night Songs:” “Working this job ain’t payin’ the bills, sick and tired rat race taking my thrills. Kickin’ down a road, not a dollar in my pocket.” “Nobody’s Fool” is about falling out of love. So all the lyrics come from that place that my heroes dig up songs. Mainly Zeppelin, Stones. So I think what the band did was grow production-wise, and we tried to grow from that slick process that Night Songs had, starting out with more instrumentation on Long Cold Winter and Heartbreak Station. And some people perceive that as a change in style. Change in production style, but I think that the root of the music and the writing and the playing was always blues.
Q: How did you mentally get through all the vocal surgeries and grim doctor’s prognoses to be where you are today as an artist?
A: One day at a time (laughs). That was the diagnosis that no singer wants to hear. My voice just stopped working. Like, literally stopped working. I was told that I had a partially paralyzed vocal cord and that I would never sing again. And there’s no cure for it with any traditional kind of medicine or surgeries or anything. The only way you can win is to try and retrain the voice — which is not an exact science or an easy trick. Fortunately, I’ve had the benefit of working with some of the best speech pathologists and vocal coaches and teachers in the country. And a very long story short, since the diagnosis, I’ve been able to get enough just to do this tour. As the years go by, I’m constantly working with new people, reaching out and trying to learn more and more about technique. It’s gotten stronger and stronger over the years and more consistent. I thank God every day that I’ve been able to find a way to get around it. It hasn’t always been easy or fun. It’s a daily maintenance. At this point, it’s really strong now. But that’s a small price to pay to get it back.
Q: If it had turned out that you weren’t able to sing again, would you have continued as a full-time musician strictly as a guitarist? Or would you have said, “No, it’s gotta be all or nothing with me” and done something else?
A: Well, I think that’s why I continued working so hard at the voice because it really did feel like it needed to be all or nothing. From the time I was 8 years old, when I first started taking guitar lessons, I always said it was more singer/songwriter lessons because I had an acoustic guitar, and the teacher taught me how to strum the basic chords, and he would make me sing while I did it. My very first experience with learning music was doing both of those things at the same time. Whatever I wanted to learn, he would teach me. We did a lot of folk songs, and probably country songs. So that’s always been at the root of my music expression. It’s hard to say if I wasn’t able to get it back, but I do think that the desire to be able to do both of those things, and continue with both those things ’cause they feel like the same thing to me, I think is what really has kept me pushing to fix this problem that I have.
Q: I have a question from one of my social media readers: Michael from Edna, Texas, wants to know if you’ll be playing anything from the Still Climbing record on this tour?
A: Not on this tour, no.
Q: The last time we spoke in 2010, I asked you what it was like to be on the (1989) Moscow Music Peace Festival playing for all the Soviet Union fans during that period of time. This time, can you share your most memorable story or behind-the-scenes airplane story with the other artists?
A: Well, I don’t know what I shared with you the last time about it, but the one thing that I always say really stands out to me was the fact that we were told going in there that the government controlled what kind of music they listened to and what they were allowed to wear. They weren’t really allowed to have jeans and listen to rock music. What was amazing was that Lenin Stadium was full of about 100,000 rock fans — all in jeans — holding up all of our albums. Music finds its way in there. They get it all on the black market. It was cool to see no form of government can really suppress the human spirit and Rock N’ Roll attitude. They all got in there, they knew who all of us were, and they loved the music. To me, that’s what stood out the most. That’s all the more reason that it’s impressive that music was able to seep through in everyone.
Well, Tom, I really appreciate you taking the time. I really enjoy the record, and it’s always a pleasure to speak with you. I know it’s kind of double-edged to say that you’re back in a big way because maybe you don’t feel like you’re back because you’ve never really stopped working. But to a lot of the fans out there who missed you for a period of time, I know they’re going to be happy with this record. I wish you the best of luck with the album and the show here in a couple weeks. Thanks again.
Yeah, thank you. And great talking with you, and you have a great day.
- WHO: Tom Keifer with John Corabi and Straight Down
- WHEN: Sat., May 11 (doors 7 p.m.)
- WHERE: Backstage Live (1305 E. Houston St.)
- TICKETS: $17 in advance; $20 at the door. Buy here; more info here.
- VIP experience: Click here.
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