The career path of the Philadelphia/southern New Jersey heavy metal act Cinderella seems to have been stolen right out of a rock and roll fairy tale. The bar band was discovered by Jon Bon Jovi (when he was at the height of his own popularity with his hard rock band, Bon Jovi), and Cinderella’s 1986 debut, Night Songs, would sell 30 million copies worldwide within a three-year span—without a hit single. This was a first in rock music history. “More than anything, Cinderella was the right band at the right time,” wrote Newsday critic John Milford. He called the band “an ’80s version of Aero-smith that arrived just in front of a flood of acts (from Guns N’ Roses to Metallica) [who] subsequently combined to give hard rock and/or heavy metal immense commercial clout.”
The actual origins of Cinderella are somewhat murky. It is certain, however, that vocalist and guitarist Tom Keifer played in a number of cover bands up and down the East Coast bar circuit, and for a time he was so destitute he slept in his Plymouth Duster, ate boxed grits, and pilfered from a cornfield in the area. By 1985
Members include Eric Brittingham, bass; Fred Coury, drums; Tom Keifer (born c. 1962), vocals, guitar; and Jeff LaBar, guitar.
Group formed in Philadelphia, early 1980s; signed with PolyGram/Mercury, c. 1985, and released debut album, Night Songs, 1986.
Addresses: Management —Entertainment Services Unlimited, Evesham & Kresson Roads, Voorhees, NJ 08043.
he had settled in Philadelphia and was working with fellow aspiring musician Eric Brittingham. The two delivered film to developing outlets during the day and rehearsed and gigged together by night. In order to break out of the go-nowhere bar scene of Philadelphia and South Jersey, Keifer and Brittingham knew they would have to come up with original material, not just perform endless covers of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath tunes like their competition. Slowly they built up a repertoire of original material; eventually they became the house band at a bar called the Galaxy in South Jersey. They also ventured often into Philadelphia to play at a club called the Empire.
One night in 1985, Cinderella found themselves playing at a bar where Jon Bon Jovi was in the audience. The singer liked what he heard and told this to the person at PolyGram Records who had kickstarted Bon Jovi’s career. The rocker urged label representative Derek Shulman to search for the demo tape that Cinderella had sent PolyGram. Shulman located it in the New York office, gave it a listen, and soon PolyGram approached Cinderella with contract in hand—but with one stipulation. The label didn’t like the band’s drummer and guitarist, forcing Keifer and Brittingham to can them. Drummer Fred Coury and guitarist Jeff LaBar signed on as replacements and Cinderella headed into the studio.
The result was Cinderella’s debut album, Night Songs, released in 1986. A collection of power-chord rockers with a few ballads sandwiched in between, the rapid success of the record surprised almost everyone. Cinderella seemed to have entered the fray just as musical tastes were taking a new direction, reflected in the heavy metal mass-marketed to teens via MTV. A video of the track “Shake Me” introduced the band to legions of young fans, who in turn bought the album in droves. The relatively unknown band also managed to get airplay on album-oriented rock stations. Keifer and his bandmates did their part to spur sales with record store appearances and radio interviews. The results were apparent—at one point Night Songs was selling 50,000 to 60,000 copies a week.
“Cinderella is a straightforward hard-rock band, the most unfashionable genre in rock-and-roll,” wrote Chicago Tribune writer Ken Tucker as Night Songs held court on the charts. “Cinderella’s tunes are more melodic than most hard-rock material—and unlike many such outfits, lead singer Keifer actually sings well, with range and expression—but the music has the volume and aggressiveness that the young, predominantly teenage hard-rock audience craves.” Cinderella was paired with established metal acts such as Bon Jovi, AC/DC, and David Lee Roth, hitting the road steadily for much of the year following their debut in order to build up a loyal fan base.
In the summer of 1988 Cinderella released their sophomore effort, Long Cold Winter. It generally recreated the successful formula of the debut, but with a bit more of a bluesy feel injected into it. In less than half a year the record had sold 25 million copies globally. More extensive touring followed, and by 1989 the group was headlining near-sell-out shows. Cinderella had reached the apex of heavy-metal stardom. Getting equipment from venue to venue required six trucks and an enormous crew. The band’s live show included a fake snowfall, which drifted down for the rendition of Long Cold Winter’s title track; at the onset of another number, Keifer and the grand piano he was playing were gently lowered onstage. Billboard writer Scott Brodeur saw the show in Philadelphia, noting some technical flaws in the overall production. Yet Brodeur declared that the band “was able to overcome those awkward moments,” and “on crunchy rockers like … ’Nobody’s Fool, ’ Keifer’s wheeze-till-ya-bleed vocals and blues-based guitar runs cut through sharply.”
Cinderella took a break after the Long Cold Winter dates. Keifer constructed a 24-track home studio and spent months experimenting with it. This sharpened his production skills, and by the time Cinderella went into the studio to record their third album, Keifer had already laid down the backbone of Heartbreak Station. The record marked a departure for the band, one that seemed to aim for pure hard rock, with much less of the metal thunder. Keifer even augmented his electric guitar with a series of instruments that included mandolin, slide guitar, mandocello, and dobro. He also utilized his extensive collection of vintage electric guitars for the recording sessions.
The title track from Heartbreak Station was produced with the help of one of Cinderella’s idols, former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. He arranged and conducted a 30-piece orchestra for the cut, and “Jones’ touch [invested] a dramatic tension reminiscent of his former band,” wrote Peter Cronin in Musician. With this record, “eagerness to grow as a band and increased studio savvy helped Cinderella strip away several layers of pretense,” Cronin opined, going so far as to compare the song “Heartbreak Station” to the classic 1969 Rolling Stones tune “Love in Vain.” John Leland of Newsday also remarked on the change of direction for the band. “After years of playing bland, generic litemetal fluff… the group sounds revitalized by its turn toward generic bluesy boogie,“he wrote. Leland went on to call the album “all twang and pedal steel guitar and lofty American myth.” Heartbreak Station, he concluded, “is rigidly formal, but the forms are right, and Cinderella plays them with the conviction of the young.”
Cinderella’s new sound appealed to an audience that was also maturing, as evidenced by declining heavy metal sales. After only a few weeks, the album had entered Billboard’s pop Top 20 and the first single, “Shelter Me,” climbed quickly, despite the critical disparagement that frequently met the band. “I can pick up a snooty magazine and read a review written by one guy,” Keifer told Cronin in Musician. “That’s one person. Who cares? We’re the ones that have to be happy with what we’re playing.” Unfortunately, by 1994 the band’s fan base had begun to decline in earnest. The band released Still Climbing, another slice of the more bluesy side of rock and roll, but it received little attention. Hair bands, as Cinderella and its ilk were called, had all but fallen out of fashion. The emergence of the heavy “grunge” sound spearheaded in Seattle had rung the genre’s death knell at the decade’s dawn.
By the mid-1990s little had been heard from Cinderella; reports intimated that they had broken up and that Keifer was planning to pursue a solo career. To his credit, Keifer had always seemed ready to stretch the boundaries of the style in which Cinderella worked. “I don’t ever want to come out with an album that people press play and say, ’Oh, that again,’” Keifer had told Billboard writer Elianne Halbersberg in 1991. “I want to always grow and maintain the attitude and energy that they like about us in the first place. It’s real important to me that we not repeat ourselves, but always move on. The bands I loved—Zeppelin, the Stones—never stood in one place. I hope we always keep people pleasantly surprised.”
On Mercury/PolyGram Records
Night Songs, 1986.
Long Cold Winter, 1988.
Heartbreak Station, 1991.
Still Climbing, 1994.
Amusement Business, March 25, 1989.
Billboard, May 20, 1989; January 26, 1991.
Chicago Tribune, October 16, 1986.
Entertainment Weekly, December 2, 1994.
Los Angeles Times, April 29, 1989.
Musician, February 1991; March 1991.
Newsday (Long Island, NY), April 28, 1989; December 16, 1990.
People, March 4, 1991.
Cin·der·el·la / ˌsindəˈrelə/ a fairy tale character who is exploited as a servant but enabled by a fairy godmother to attend a royal ball. She captivates Prince Charming but has to flee at midnight, leaving the prince to identify her by the glass slipper that she leaves behind. ∎ [as n.] a person or thing of unrecognized or disregarded merit or beauty.