Even through the drama of frustrating legal shenanigans, as well as a bout of ill health, former Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer has steadfastly maintained a supremely positive attitude towards life and his music career, which has culminated with the triumphant re-issue of a revamped version of his masterful 2013 debut album, and a rising reputation as one of the best live rock acts on the scene.
The Way Life Goes, could not have been a more prescient title for an album when it was first released in 2013 and remains emblematic of Keifer’s philosophy of rolling with the punches and making the most of the good things that life and music have to offer.
When it first came out, it was a bona fide hit, generating solid sales in both digital and physical platforms, garnering rave reviews and with a couple of singles getting good radio airplay – something that many artists who made their name during the hard rock Renaissance of the 1980s, can’t similarly lay claim to with their newer output.
But then a potentially heartbreaking and career-squelching scenario played out that brought things to a screeching halt. Some high-level legal battles saw the record removed from both physical shelves, but also from downloadable platforms. As a veteran of the music industry wars for more than three decades, Keifer simply soldiered on, touring relentlessly with his solo band, while also fighting to get his hold of the master tapes for the solo album. Eventually succeeding on that front, he then sought to re-release the record. But instead of simply putting it back out there, decided it needed a little more ‘oomph’ and had it remastered by industry veteran Richard Dodd (Kings of Leon, Jason Aldean), with a couple of very cool new studio tracks tacked on.
“We actually had thought about doing something like this when the record was first released back in 2013. It did really well out of the box. A couple of the singles did great at radio and fans were really receiving the music well and the reviews were great. But then we had an issue where the record was literally removed from the shelves. There was a legal or a business dealing that went down let’s say at the corporate level. There was a corporate shake-up that had nothing to do with me, or four our label for that matter, and the record got caught in the middle of this. So it was pulled and hadn’t been available for more than two years,” Kiefer said from his home in Nashville, where he lives with his wife Savannah and their family.
“We kept touring and reading online how people were saying how much they loved the new stuff, but that they couldn’t find it. Or even worse, people who bought the record saying that it had disappeared off their iTunes. Considering we spent nine or 10 years creating this album, writing and recording it, it was really hard to hear all this, especially after seeing how well it was doing from the initial release and then having it just disappear.
“We decided to lawyer up and went at the problem head on and got the masters returned and that happened at the beginning of 2017. We decided before we got a new distribution deal to go back to the idea of doing a deluxe edition and expanding it. I know it’s kind of unconventional to be releasing a deluxe version so many years after the initial release, but we ran into a pretty big roadblock.”
The new version features a scintillating cover of With A Little Help From My Friends, originally recorded by the Beatles and later a bluesier version was issued by Joe Cocker. As well, there is a duet with Lizzy Hale on the Cinderella hit power ballad Nobody’s Fool.
“With A Little Help From My Friends was a real obvious choice to record because it’s something that we created with the touring band [which also includes Savannah, as well as Tony Higbee, Billy Mercer, Paul Simmons, Paul Taylor and Kendra Chantelle] as our first creative collaboration. We had a great time creating this package and trying to make the bonus tracks and the things we added to it things that really made sense and were special to this project. They were something fans were asking for – studio versions of both of those songs, since we had been playing them live already,” he said, adding that while disappointed, he had become inured to the vicissitudes of the music business and didn’t let himself get too worked up over the legal hassle.
“We were in the throes of touring and getting the band established and building this new thing by going out on the road and booking a lot of shows. And when it comes down to it, it’s just life. I don’t think I have the time to stop and say ‘really?!?!’ I did take a moment to ask Savannah if we should just let the record go or try to get it back and get it back on the shelves. Because if we didn’t it would have slipped through the cracks to Neverland, so that’s what we did.
“Look, I went through this with Mercury Records, I went through it with Sony, and Savannah went through it here on Music Row in Nashville with deals that she had. You try not to let the business stuff interfere with your enthusiasm and your creativity. It’s just part of life as a recording artist. I just say, ‘okay, how do we fix it and how do we move on.’”
Another challenge that Keifer has dealt with throughout his career, but which made headlines in the fall of 2017 was his health. Before a show in Pittsburgh, he collapsed backstage and was rushed to hospital suffering from what turned out to be the fallout from extreme dehydration and exhaustion.
“I collapsed about 15 minutes before we were supposed to go on stage and I got hauled off to the emergency room and spent the night in hospital. It was a pretty scary night for me and for everyone on the bus. My wife and son were there as well as my band. Dehydration and exhaustion are things I have dealt with in the past because it’s a pretty high energy performance and everyone knows when you are playing in a sold out room there’s a lot of bodies in it and hot lights and it can get to you. So it’s not uncommon for me to get a little bit dehydrated or get heat exhaustion, but never to the extent that happened that night,” Keifer explained.
“It was in the middle of a run of about 10 to 12 shows and press days in New York as the deluxe edition was being released. It was just the perfect storm and then ‘boom.’ It was to a degree that I had never experienced before. By the time I was in the ambulance after they carried me off the bus, I was literally numb from the chest down – I couldn’t feel my body. I have had it as high as my knees before, but never from the chest down. All my muscles were going into spasm all over my body so it was not a fun experience. That night they gave me a lot of supplements and IV fluids but I have also had to have several treatments of UIV fluids since to kind of replenish and get everything back to where it should be.
“The long and the short of it is it’s something that obviously is a risk for any high-energy singer or performer and I have learned a lot about, particularly after this last incident. I have been meeting with doctors and nutritionists and finding better ways to hydrate and stay cool. I have actually changed my stage gear. I am wearing running gear – a running jacket and pants that pulls the moisture away from you. So no more leather for me, although the jacket looks like leather interestingly, but it’s actually all designed to cool your body.”
Returning to the subject of the deluxe edition of The Way Life Goes, one of the excellent new features is a duet that Keifer has with one of the rising stars of hard rock/metal. A powerfully emotive take on the Cinderella classic Nobody’s Fool, sees Keifer sharing vocal duties with the incomparable Lizzy Hale of melodic metallers Halestorm.
“When I stared touring for The Way Life Goes back in 2013, we were asked to do some shows with them. And one thing led to another and she and I had talked on the phone before the tour about maybe doing a song together. I knew she was a big Cinderella fan and I said, ‘well, what do you think about doing Nobody’s Fool?’ And she said she thought it was a cool idea. So right on the phone that day we kind of arranged the vocal parts with her taking the first verse, me taking the second and singing the choruses together, with her taking the high part and I will take the low part. We just really talked through it and then sent a few texts back and forth talking about some of the guitar parts,” Keifer explained.
“The first night we had shows together we ran through it in rehearsal and it sounded amazing. The blend of our voices was immediately noticeable, and then we did it that first night and the crowd went nuts. We did it in the encore and we did it the next night in the encore and social media started lighting up with people saying we should do a studio recording. So when we were going through ideas for songs to record for the deluxe edition that one was a no brainer, because so many people were asking for studio versions. We also didn’t want to go back to the original sessions, which a lot of the deluxe editions do; you know ‘here are a couple of tracks that didn’t make the record the first time.’ We wanted to record something new but we didn’t want it to be new material. We wanted songs that kind of made sense with the record and were inspired by the record.
“And as for Lizzy herself, to me she is the best singer out there. She is just insanely good and it’s very inspiring to sing with her. She is incredible not only as a singer but also as a songwriter and guitarist. After meeting her at that first show we have been really great friends ever since. She has always cited me as one of her influences which, listening to her sing, is a real compliment because she sings better than I do. She has been an inspiration to me as well and has become an influence on me vocally because singing with her raises the bar for me. It’s just a good chemistry when we sing together – it’s very cool.”
Even with all the drama and frustration over the original release of The Way Life Goes, Keifer never stopped touring as he worked to establish himself and his backing band as an excellent and viable draw on the circuit.
“I know it was a little unconventional to be touring so much but we really have been going pretty much nonstop. But keep in mind, we were building something new. I think that any artist that leaves a successful band to do something on their own, like I have done, once you step into that territory you realize that you really are starting over and it’s not as easy as you thought maybe it would be. When the record was released in 2013 and I started touring with this band, that was obvious. So we stayed on the road even through all these legal problems when the record wasn’t available and the word of mouth and social media push has been getting bigger and bigger organically because we stayed on the road,” he said.
“During that building process we were, and continue to be, selective about the shows we take. We probably do on average around 50 shows a year, but they have to be something that we really want to do, and which will have a lot of impact. And it’s grown from the first year when we were playing very small clubs, and if they were half full, we were lucky, to now we’re top of the bill on a lot of festivals and fairs. We’re still playing the smaller rooms and theatres but now we’re selling them out. So it’s been really fun to build it all brand new with this band. We all have a really great chemistry onstage musically and offstage. And now in the studio, we found out when we recorded the new songs that the live energy and chemistry translated very well into the studio, which was really cool because that’s not always the case.”
Keifer said he always enjoys coming to Canada and is hoping to get back sometime in 2018. As for what fans should expect to see and hear, he said it’s going to be a Cinderella-heavy set with some songs from The Way Life Goes and a few surprises.
“The first year we shied away from the Cinderella stuff a little bit and maybe tried to separate ourselves. We did some, but we didn’t do a lot, and it was obvious that the fans wanted to hear it. And, honestly, I wrote the songs and I sang the songs and did most of the guitar work on those albums; they’re really a part of me so to not do that justice would be wrong. So when you come to see a show, you hear pretty much all the hits. If you’re coming to hear Cinderella songs, you’re not going to walk away disappointed, and we always try to throw in a deeper cut or two for the die-hards. This year, for instance, we’re opening the show with the title track from the [1994 album] Still Climbin’ which is one that you don’t hear that often. It wasn’t one of the bigger hits, but it’s a great track, especially live,” he said.
“But the set is mixed in with lots of stuff from The Way Life Goes, which we swap out all the time. On any given night, at our own shows where we’re headlining and have more time, we will be doing four or five cuts from the new record. Sometimes at the festivals when you have less time, we cut it back a little bit on the new stuff because it’s a little more of a general audience, so you want to be playing the most familiar stuff at those shows.
“And then there are the cover songs that we do, With a Little Help From My Friends being one of them that we have been doing since day one. We have done a couple of Rolling Stones covers that we made our own. We have done tributes to Prince and David Bowie in some of the encores, so it’s an interesting journey for this show between three elements: the cover songs that we do, the Cinderella stuff and The Way Life Goes. And it’s fun; it’s a big loud rock and roll show.”
For more information on Keifer, his band, The Way Life Goes and upcoming tour dates, visit http://www.tomkeifer.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.