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Legendary Rock Interviews: Q & A with Cinderella/Cheap Thrill lead guitarist Jeff LaBar
By John Parks
Jeff LaBar has been the lead guitarist for Cinderella, one of the biggest bands to come out of the MTV era, for more than 27 years. With vocalist Tom Keifer taking some time for a solo project (see the Q & A with Keifer from the June 5-11 issue), he and band co-founder and bassist Eric Brittingham are also taking some time away from the band for a great new band called Cheap Thrill.
Cheap Thrill is rounded out by Brandon Gibbs (Gibbs Brothers) on vocals and drummer Cheney Brannon (Collective Soul). The band plays a variety of music, including Cinderella hits and cover songs from the past and present.
Cheap Thrill will be at The Back Bar in Janesville, Wis., June 14 (www.thebackbar.com), and I recently had the chance to talk to Jeff about the new shows, his upcoming solo album and more.
Q: Thanks for taking some time out to talk to us, Jeff. How have the shows been going, and what has the fan response been like so far to the new project?
A: The fans have been awesome, it’s been nothing but positivity across the board. The fans have really been great to us, and it is mostly Cinderella fans coming out to see what Eric and I are up to. They want to see what we’re doing outside of Cinderella, because this is the first time in a few years that Cinderella isn’t out touring during the summer like we often have been. Brandon Gibbs is our singer and fearless leader, and he is fantastic. He is only 28 years old, but he has been doing this for half his lifetime. Eric and I may be the seasoned veterans and Cinderella guys, but Brandon is so talented, and he is really the focal point of Cheap Thrill. Make no mistake, when you see us, you will understand why I say he’s the star of the show. The best Eric and I can do is play and sing backgrounds for him the best we can do and bring some of that Cinderella material, and the fans are loving it. From the shows we have played so far, it seems the fans are really responding to Brandon’s personality and talent as a frontman. Some of the shows are acoustic, just the three of us. The one up in Janesville will be electric, with our drummer, Cheney Brannon, who is amazing as well. He’s actually playing on a track, which will be on my upcoming solo album.
Q: Cheap Thrill is capable of doing both the acoustic and the electric thing, and I have often wondered, of the classic Cinderella material, do your personal tastes lean more toward the quiet, down-home-style stuff, or the aggressive, hard-rock material?
A: I’m kind of both sides of the spectrum. Back in the early days of Cinderella, I was listening to Anthrax and Metallica, but I was also listening to Fleetwood Mac and Cat Stevens. I love both. If it’s gonna be rock music, I want it to be hard and heavy. If it’s gonna be heartfelt, quieter music, I want it to be soulful and direct. I don’t really have one particular preference with Cinderella. I have a LOT of preferences in Cinderella. The more we do, the more I wanna do musically. In terms of touring, I sometimes get tired of playing the same songs from the older material, which, first and foremost, means I would love to make a new record. Second of all, I would like to do something different in terms of how we present the classic stuff, like say, on the anniversary of a record, let’s do that whole record, beginning to end. I know a few bands who have done that, and that can be fun. Or, what I would also love to do is play a set where we play all the songs which we never play live, but I love. I wanna play songs like “Make Your Own Way” or “Sick For The Cure” or “Dead Man’s Road” or “Hard To Find The Words.” I could name all these songs like that, which I think are great and which I would love to attempt live.
Q: A lot of people’s first exposure to Cinderella came when you opened dates here on the Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet tour. Was that a pretty memorable tour looking back on it?
A: The Slippery When Wet tour was like rock and roll touring camp 101. Those guys taught me how to do it. Night Songs was our first record. When it first came out, Poison and Cinderella opened for Loudness. It was a bunch of kids, opening for some band that nobody really knew. We both knew we were gonna be bigger than Loudness based on that tour (laughs). I really don’t wanna sound pompous in saying that, because Loudness is one of my favorite bands, and incidentally, they were the best band out of all the bands on the Monsters of Rock cruise. I’m half Japanese, my mother is Japanese, and I was a big, big Loudness fan at the time, and I was thrilled to be out with them. But we could just tell we were gonna rise a bit more than they were. After that, both Poison and Cinderella were up for the first David Lee Roth tour, the “Eat Em And Smile” tour. We got that tour, and to make a long story short, it was incredible! It was one of the best experiences of my life, but I was still fending for myself out there on the road, trying to learn as I went. When we got the Bon Jovi tour, those guys literally helped us with everything. Not only did Jon Bon Jovi help us get signed and get a record deal, but Jon, Richie, David, Alec, Tico, all of them, are East Coast guys like us, and there’s, like, limited egos. I say limited because you have to have a certain amount of ego to perform on stage, but you know when to check it. You check the ego when you walk down the steps leading from the stage. I believe that’s the real difference between East Coast, and dare I say, West Coast guys. East Coast bands tend to check their ego when they leave the stage. When we walk down those steps, we’re just boys, we’re a bunch of goofy kids and there is not a problem getting along between us. Seriously, Richie Sambora and his guitar tech, Gary Douglas, who is sadly no longer with us, taught me how to be a touring guitarist, on stage and off. They were like, “This is how it works, Jeff,” because we were on tour with them for seven months, and it was so amazing because during that tour, they were getting bigger as we began getting bigger. On every tour that followed was easier as a result of the help they gave me … “put this gear here, put this here” … just stuff like that that seems simple, but you just don’t know coming up — stuff that I still remember them teaching me still when I am out on the road today.
From the June 12-18, 2013, issue