JEFF LABAR INTERVIEW:
October 17, 2014
Jeff LaBar, best known for his guitar work in Cinderella, struck out on his own this fall with a new solo EP titled ‘One For The Road’. The album is true to LaBar’s hard rock roots and showcases his abilities as a vocalist as well as his trademark blazing bluesy solos. Sleaze Roxx spoke with Jeff about the new music, future plans, his move to Nashville and the insanity of working with producer Andy Johns.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘One For The Road’ has been receiving favorable reviews by Cinderella and non-Cinderella fans alike.
Jeff LaBar: I’m very pleased about that because I didn’t really know how the album would be received. When Rat Pak Records signed me I was told by the label that people were going to be surprised when they heard the songs. I think the thing that surprised a lot of people is the fact that I’m singing. I produced the music — I played everything on the record but drums. I did use co-writers on two songs, but the rest of the songs was all me. I think to make an actual true solo record you have to do most of it yourself. So there you have it.
Sleaze Roxx: You’re not particularly known for your singing abilities, people know you more for your guitar playing in Cinderella. I suppose the ‘easy’ thing to do would have been to write the songs and put a band together and get a singer. What inspired you to tackle vocals?
Jeff LaBar: I’ve been singing for as long as I’ve been playing guitar. I’ve been learning to play Beatles songs while at the same time learning the lyrics and singing along. I was always better at playing guitar, and as you know I’ve sang a lot of background vocals in Cinderella. I think I’ve been blessed to have been in bands that have had great singers. I always knew that I could sing. I wanted to see if I could do a record (laughs)! Who knows maybe now I can even do a tour?
Sleaze Roxx: How much background vocals did you do on the Cinderella albums? I know live you do a lot of them.
Jeff LaBar: I did a lot of them on ‘Night Songs’, I’d say that I did about half of them — Tom (Keifer) did a lot of the ‘gang’ vocals himself. On ‘Long Cold Winter’ I did a little less because Tom started doing all the background vocals as time went on. I think it was easier that way because Tom and the producer knew what the harmonies were and it was better that way. I think it was better for them to do it that way and keep recording rather than brining in Eric (Brittingham) and I to sing certain parts. I did sing a lot on the first record though.
Sleaze Roxx: The songs that made it on ‘One For The Road’, are they ideas that had been around for a while or are they completely new?
Jeff LaBar: Some have been around for a bit and some were ideas that I had back in the ’90s. Things that I had in the archives — some that were finished and there were some that weren’t. When I signed with Rat Pak they wanted an EP. They wanted initially five songs so I gave them five songs and they asked for two more! I could have given Rat Pak a full-length album but the label wanted seven songs and if people bought it then they’ll do another seven at a later time. I signed with Rat Pak for three years and I’m expected to release music for the next three years. The two additional songs that I submitted to the label were two acoustic interludes that were never intended to include lyrics or be more that interludes. I felt like I was cheating but the label loved them and they were included on ‘One For The Road’ as songs.
There are two songs on ‘One For The Road’ that I only had music — “Asking For A Beating” and “Nightmare On My Street” were only music. Once I started recording the music the night prior to recording vocals I said to my wife, “I’m going to record vocals for these songs in the morning and I don’t have any lyrics!” She replied, “You’d better get on it!” I pulled out my iPad and started writing and an hour and a half later I was done. People that have heard the songs say, “Oh, you must have been in a dark place when you wrote those lyrics!” I wasn’t, I was at home the night before recording vocals thinking of ideas and having a lot of fun writing them.
Sleaze Roxx: So is there more material in the can at this point?
Jeff LaBar: I haven’t recorded any material at this point. As I say, there is talk about doing another seven songs at a later time. I might do seven original songs and throw in a cover or two in addition to that. I have demoed some things but nothing beyond that at this point in time.
Sleaze Roxx: You’re now based out of Nashville aren’t you? What drew you there? I know when most people think of Nashville they think country music.
Jeff LaBar: In the late ’90s Fred (Coury) got in to the music business away from Cinderella — he bought a recording studio and he was the first to make the move to Nashville. Fred started working with not only country but rock artists as well. Little did we know at that time that basically all of L.A. was starting to move to Nashville. There are some great musicians here. I think they have some of the best recording studios here and some of the best songwriters around. There are a number of record labels and publishing companies that are based out of here now.
I recall at the time Eric, Tom and I were still living on the East Coast and Universal wanted us to release a ‘greatest hits’ collection and at that time when you released a collection like that they wanted us to add a new song or two to help promote the record. We ended up going to Nashville to record at Fred’s studio. It was just such a fun experience. Keep in mind that at that point we hadn’t played together in about three years. That trip to Nashville to record a new song spawned a new record deal, new management and a new tour and we were off and running again.
A year or two later Tom moved here, then Eric followed a year two later, I was the last one having moved here in 2004. I actually moved in with Eric for a about three years when I was working with Eric and his wife in her band Naked Beggars — the rest is history.
Sleaze Roxx: In 1986 Cinderella landed the opening slot on David Lee Roth’s ‘Eat ‘Em And Smile’ tour.
Jeff LaBar: Yeah, we were on tour with Loudness and David Lee Roth was looking at either us or Poison opening up for him on that tour. Neither Cinderella nor Poison had broken at that point — two weeks into that (Loudness) tour we got the (David Lee Roth) gig. I remember the guys in Poison were like, “We hate you!” I remember saying to them, “You just wait, 15 years from now we’ll be opening for you!” This did eventually happen.
That was an awesome experience — I recall that when we played my home town of Philadelphia we sold out two arena shows. If you think about it, that’s unheard of in 2014. We went from the Loudness tour playing in front of 3,000 to 4,000 people in theaters to playing in arenas to 15,000 people.
Sleaze Roxx: You worked with Andy Johns on the ‘Night Songs’ album. How’d you get in touch with him?
Jeff LaBar: When we were starting out the label would guide us toward people. We were given a selection of people that were available and their resume. Andy Johns’ name came up and we all knew he had engineered Led Zeppelin so I was sold right there. He had a part in their ‘Physical Graffiti ‘record which is my all-time favorite record. We were told that he was kind of eccentric but we felt we could deal with that, little did we know what kind of a tornado was going to hit us (laughs)! Andy Johns was an evil genius.
Sleaze Roxx: I was looking through the liner notes of ‘Night Songs’ and there’s some outside musicians that are featured on the album. There was even a guest guitarist used to so some solos.
Jeff LaBar: We stared recording with Andy Johns he liked to party — we did too. I remember him praising my guitar work at the beginning — he’s the guy that worked with Jimmy Page — and he said, “You’re one of the best rhythm guitarists I’ve ever worked with.” I could lay tracks down in one take. Andy was a bastard on drummers, he used a metronome and if they didn’t cut it in the studio they’d be gone. In fact the guy that got the gig when I was hired in Cinderella was let go shortly after we hit the studio. Andy got this guy named Jody Cortez, who Andy wanted us to hire, to join the band. The guy is fat and bald (laughs)!
Jody came in the day after we called him and I came into the drum room and played with him. I helped him learn the songs and walked him through things. Andy recorded me while I was in the drum room with Jody and he kept those tracks. Two months later we start to record guitar solos and Andy says, “Oh, my God you suck!” He starts making fun of me and starts beating me up (laughs)! I kid you not — he starts to swing at me! Keep in mind he’s a big guy, he was over six feet tall and over 200 pounds!
We’d take turns picking up Andy at his hotel to bring him to the studio. It was my turn to pick him up and he invites me to the hotel bar for a drink. He was already hammered by that point and we sit there talking. Andy looks at me and says, “I believe in you I know you can do it!” He was like a big drunk coach (laughs)! There’s a lot of stories about working with Andy Johns — even worse that I won’t get into here.
It wasn’t just me that he did that with. He did it to Tom too. Andy had just recorded an album with Pat Thrall and Glenn Hughes and I remember there was a point where Andy wanted to replace one of us with Pat Thrall and have him join the band (laughs)! We were like, “You don’t understand — this is the band!” Tom put his foot down he said, “No, no we’re not bringing in fucking Pat Thrall! Listen I have a friend Barry Bennedetta who can come in and help us out.” Barry had played in Waysted, which if you recall was Pete Way’s band, and they had just done some touring opening for Ozzy Osbourne. That’s how Barry wound up on the record playing a couple of solos.
Sleaze Roxx: There’s talk about Jon Bon Jovi discovering Cinderella and also that Gene Simmons had a part in that. Who was the person that was instrumental in getting the band signed?
Jeff LaBar: Our manager did that. We played the same club ever Saturday night and I think word got out and we drew some interest. We did things the right way — we recorded demos and he solicited them to record labels. It was because of that that the band drew label interest — this was even before I was in the band.
Gene Simmons came along because he was forming his own label — this was before I was in the band so I’m telling you what I heard. Gene wanted Cinderella to sign this ridiculous contract whereby they played his songs, he got the publishing, he’d produce the band and he’d act as the band’s manager — essentially he ‘owned’ the band. The band turned down Gene Simmons and they were very smart from the word go. When the band finally got sign the instrumental person was Jon Bon Jovi — again I wasn’t in the band yet. The story goes that Jon and Richie Sambora were recording their ‘7800 Fahrenheit ‘ record in Philadelphia when they caught Cinderella at a club. They got on the phone and called Derek Shulman, who signed them, and told him about Cinderella. Derek said to Jon, “I have their demo. They don’t sound so good.” Jon said, “You have to go see them live.” When Derek saw the band he met with Tom and Eric and said he’d sign both of them to a record contract but the other guitarists and drummer needed to go. I then went to audition for Cinderella — I was there the same day as Reggie Wu from Heaven’s Edge and Snake Sabo from Skid Row.
Sleaze Roxx: You went on to record your sophomore record with Andy Johns. Would you agree that on ‘Long Cold Winter’ you began to have some separation from your contemporaries?
Jeff LaBar: I think so, but not by design. I don’t think there was a conscious effort to separate ourselves, I think we were more ourselves and we played some gritty rock ‘n’ roll. It’s definitely bluesy and it sounds ‘older’ and we went back to our ’70s roots.
Sleaze Roxx: You brought in a couple different drummers on that record — Cozy Powell and Denny Carmassi. Based on what you said earlier I suppose it’s safe to assume that it had something to do with Andy Johns?
Jeff LaBar: (laughs) Yep! Again Andy’s brutality on drummers was notorious. So after we went through the first record and the Jody Cortez thing Tom went to L.A. to mix the record and Eric and I stayed back in Philly to audition drummers. I remember that Eric Singer was suggested by the record label, at the time he was playing with Lita Ford. I remember hearing that he was presented with the idea of playing with Cinderella he said, “Oh, no I’m not playing with a bunch of girls!” It was actually Eric Singer that referred Fred Coury. I had actually heard Fred’s work on the first Chastain album which he played on when he was like 20 years old — I though Fred was a fantastic drummer. I remember when I met Fred at the airport I had a cassette and asked him to sign it. Later on Fred told me, “Oh yeah, I knew I had the gig right then and there!” (laughs).
So we head into the studio to record ‘Long Cold Winter’ and Andy doesn’t like Fred’s drumming either. We were like, “We’re not going to fire another fucking drummer for you!” We kept trying to work with Fred and Andy just wasn’t having any of it. Andy looked to me and said, “Give me a list of drummers that you wish you could play with.” The first person that came to mind was Cozy Powell. It wasn’t but a few days later that Cozy Powell shows up in the studio! Once again I’m thrown into the room — this time with Cozy Powell. I cue him in on the changes and all that stuff. I was in awe that I was sitting there in a room with Cozy Powell teaching him the songs. After a while I started goofing on him saying stuff like, “Cozy can you pick it up a little, your foot is kind of lazy!” I turned into Andy Johns (laughs)! Cozy was great, but some stuff worked and some stuff didn’t.I was going insane and I needed to get out of there. My wife and I planned a vacation — we went to Hawaii or something for a week or two. When I got back they had recorded more tracks with Denny Carmassi — I wasn’t even there for that. I don’t think I even met him (laughs)! I know I didn’t play with him.
Sleaze Roxx: On the third record ‘Heartbreak Station’ you made a change, Andy Johns was out and John Jansen in.
Jeff LaBar: We needed to make that change — we couldn’t do that again (laughs)! Fred was frustrated and said, ‘If I don’t play on this record I’m out of the fucking band.” It was clear that we needed to do something different. I have to say that Fred played great on the record — it’s the first album with all four of us on it.
We knew we needed new blood because we couldn’t go through that again and we knew we needed a change. We selected John Jansen because he has just worked with Faster Pussycat who had just released ‘Wake Me When Its Over’ and we really liked what he did for them on that album. John was the opposite of Andy he was more of a ‘clipboard’ kind of guy that had us tune every few minutes.
Sleaze Roxx: And for that tour you guys also teamed up with David Lee Roth — this time co-headlining.
Jeff LaBar: That’s right! We shared all the expenses — full lighting, full sound and everything. Though it was a co-headlining tour we agreed to go on first every night. It’s Dave — we can’t have him go on first!
Sleaze Roxx: Record sales started to get kind of ‘soft’ for rock bands at that point.
Jeff LaBar: Yeah they did. I remember when we first started that tour we went out on our own. I think we started the tour in Boise, Idaho with something like thirteen trucks and six tour buses. I think at that time the only band that had a bigger show than us was Motley Crue. We brought our own stage that had hydraulics, scissor lifts, pryo and all these lighting rigs. It was awesome but we couldn’t do stuff like that for very long.
Sleaze Roxx: Then came the ‘Still Climbing’ album which I suppose we can refer to as the forgotten or overlooked Cinderella record.
Jeff LaBar: That’s my favorite Cinderella record because I’m not sick of playing songs off of it. I think first you must have heard it before you can forget it — nobody bought it. By the time that was released it was all about Nirvana and bands like that. It was also around the time of the book titled ‘Hitmen’, which dealt with ‘payola’ and corruption in the music business. I knew all about that but I didn’t know that it was illegal. We had independent promoters who would bring out radio people and they’d schmooze them by giving them ‘gifts’ to help push bands and to help get them played on the radio. I remember shortly after that book was released everyone at Polygram was fired, from the president all the way down. This all took place during the recording of ‘Still Climbing’. The people that came on board afterward didn’t know us and we weren’t a priority and things just went south from there.
Sleaze Roxx: Cinderella covered Janis Joplin’s “Move Over” for the ‘Stairway To Heaven/Highway To Hell’ compilation. That was a pleasant surprise and out of the box as most bands featured on the record went with predictable covers. How did you guys pick that particular song rather than a safe choice?
Jeff LaBar: Yeah that was part of Doc McGhee’s sentence — that record was part of his ‘community service’ (laughs). Actually, I don’t know how involved he was with the record but it was tied in with the ‘Moscow Music Peace Festival’ which he did organize. I guess between those two things he paid his debt to society — or did we all pay it for him (laughs)?
So as you know, the covers selected were by an artist that had died due to substance abuse. I think Janis Joplin was a natural choice for Tom because I think they have a similar style. Tom doesn’t do covers often — he’s done some Rolling Stones on occasion so I think we could have done a Stones cover. When Tom picked “Move Over” I thought it was a brilliant idea. I would have never picked that one out of all the Janis Joplin songs. That turned out amazing thinking back now. I think that’s probably the best vocal performance Tom’s ever done.
Sleaze Roxx: What was that plane ride to Moscow like? I think it’s safe to say that many involved were loaded on the way there and on the way back — that must have been madness? Ironically the reason that you were all booked to play the gig was for alcohol and drug awareness.
Jeff LaBar: (laughs hysterically) What makes you say that?!
Sleaze Roxx: I mean look at the list — Motley Crue, who claimed to have been completely sober, Ozzy Osbourne, Skid Row, Zakk Wylde? I mean Bon Jovi must have been the most low-key out of the bunch!
Jeff LaBar: (laughs) You couldn’t be more wrong! I can tell you Motley was in fact sober at that time. Motley Crue were in fact the only sober ones. Bon Jovi like their substances — I want to be clear that I’m not talking about Jon, but the rest of the band. Alec John Such was sitting in front of me on the plane and Ozzy and Sharon were across the aisle from me — it was a zoo. It was a fucked up zoo! Everyone was out of their minds, including me (laughs)!
The ‘young bucks’ on the plane were the Skid Row guys. Sebastian Bach was loud and climbing on things like a fucking monkey. Ozzy was like, “Sharon I’m gonna kill him! I’m gonna fucking kill him if he doesn’t shut the fuck up!” Sharon looks at him saying, “Oh Ozzy, here have another valium.” It was great, Geezer Butler was in Ozzy’s band at the time — Geezer was on the plane, I don’t think he knew it though! I’m going to get into so much trouble (laughs)!