bill bodkin goes down the gypsy road …
There’s overcoming adversity and then there’s kicking adversity’s ass with a steel toe boot.
Tom Keifer, the frontman for the popular ’80s hard rock outfit Cinderella, has laced up his boots.
With the band riding high off the success of their third record Heartbreak Station in 1990, the man with one of the most recognizable and unique singing styles of the halcyon days of hair metal and hard rock, noticed he was having issues with his voice. These issues turned out to be much worse than anyone could’ve predicted — he had paralysis of his left vocal chord. Most thought he would never get behind the mic to sing again.
Fast forward to 2013 — Keifer opens up his first solo record, The Way Life Goes, with an absolutely rip-roaring, devil may care, rebel yell that would shred the vocal chords of most singers. While to some this may be a cool opening track, you have to look at this roar as a moment of triumph and defiance, and of over a decade of hard work.
Tom Keifer is back ladies and gentlemen.
Keifer recently took time out of his schedule to talk with Pop-Break’s resident metal guy, Bill Bodkin, to talk about his road to vocal recovery, his new record which has been in the works for years, his family, and his upcoming show Friday May 31st at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J.
Pop-Break: This record has been in the works since the mid-90s … how does it feel to finally have it released, appreciated by your fans, and played on the radio?
Tom Keifer: It’s exciting, it’s a relief, it’s scary and it’s nerve-racking. (Laughs). Right now, I’m on the road supporting the record. It feels great because it took so long to get it out. And so far, so good in terms of the response.
PB: With the time spent working on the record there must have been different incarnations of the album. How has it evolved since you first came up with the idea?
TK: I think it came out the same way when I heard it in my head. It’s gotten to the point of where I envisioned it. What was cool about how long it took to make, was we had to take long breaks because of my voice, so we’d have months off and we’d be able to sit down and listen to the record and re-work it. I never had the luxury of doing that before. I’d go into the studio and listen to what we did and be able to say ‘I don’t think we hit the mark here’ or ‘This is close, we just need to work it a little more.’
PB: Can you talk about having your wife Savannah work on writing the songs with you? There’s that old saying that that husbands and wives shouldn’t work together — but obviously this wasn’t the case.
TK: She’s a multi-talented person. She’s a singer, a songwriter, a really great producer. She has a great ear for production, especially when it comes to harmony. She co-produced the record and also sang the backing vocals.
PB: You released the album on Merovee Records which is located right in our home state of New Jersey. Now, you’ve got a reputation, a legacy, cache if you will … you could’ve signed with anyone. Why this label?
TK: It’s interesting producing a record independently. There’s such a different dynamic when you’re shopping an artist that has no record to a label and no one will know the end result. [With my record] there’s a product, it’s finished, you know what it is and you can see who’s excited, who’s not, who’s response is mediocre. With Merovee and Jack Ponti [the label’s chief and an acclaimed and prolific songwriter] he was so over the top excited there was no way we could say no. Their level of commitment was heads above everyone else.
PB: Your vocal paralysis is well-documented, but on the record it sees like you never took any time off, as if you never missed a beat. How have you had to change your approach to singing?
TK: I had train and re-teach myself to sing because of the paralysis. It took many years and I definitely missed a lot of beats. (Laughs). I sought out countless speech pathologists, vocal teachers, etc. to get info and techniques to experiment and to trick my vocal chords into feeling like they were working right. Over the years my voice got stronger. I developed better vocal support. I’m thankful to have overcome that and daily maintenance really helps make it better.
PB: I read that sometimes your vocal exercises to prep for a show sometimes are longer than the shows you perform. Is this is a frustrating aspect of performing or a necessary evil that you just deal with?
TK: It is what is it. I do different kinds of extended warm-ups before the show and I do about 5 to 6 minutes of cool downs after the show so I won’t feel as tight the next day, just like if I was a runner or working out.
PB: Speaking of live performances — are you performing Cinderella tracks on this current tour or are you just keeping it to the new record?
TK: It’s going to be half and half. I thought about this a lot in February when we first were going to hit the road. There’s just no way I couldn’t do the Cinderella songs. I’m the singer and songwriter of those songs and people want to hear them. So we’re doing six new songs, seven classics, and one surprise cover tune. The Cinderella stuff is performed like you hear it on the record, although some I’ve had to reinvent vocally. But it’s going to be the high-energy rock ‘n’ roll like you heard on the albums. There’s also some acoustic songs — a sort of storyteller aspect to it.
PB: Our motto at Pop-Break is that we’re a “Pop culture break in your day.” What’s yours?
TK: My wife and I love movies. There’s some TV shows we get into like Revolution, Revenge and lately, Nashville. That’s how we unwind together. But the biggest way I decompress and leave it all behind is when I’m with my son. I spend every spare minute I have with him. He’s the greatest joy in our life. I love hanging out with him and throwing the football around. I’m completely taken away from everything.