Jeff LaBar has been the lead guitarist for Cinderella, one of the biggest bands to come out of the MTV era, for over 27 years. With vocalist Tom Keifer currently taking some time for a solo project, he and band co-founder and bassist Eric Brittingham are also taking some time away from Cinderella for a great new band called Cheap Thrill. The band, which is rounded out by Brandon Gibbs (Gibbs Brothers) on vocals and drummer Cheney Brannon (Collective Soul) plays a wide variety of music including Cinderella hits and cover songs from the past and present. They will be out on the road all summer (tour dates below) and I recently had the chance to talk to Jeff about the new shows, his upcoming solo album and more, read on…
LRI: Thanks for taking some time out to talk to me Jeff, how have the shows been going and what has the fan response been like so far to the new project?
Jeff LaBar: 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, some 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.
LRI: You have always been one of my favorite guitarists so I am looking forward to finally hearing some new solo stuff from you. I heard (Cinderella drummer) Fred Coury was helping a bit in the studio, how is that coming along at this point?
Jeff: I’m about three songs into recording the record at this point. The way it started was, I’ve been threatening to do a solo album or years and at the end of last summer’s Cinderella tour my tour manager Larry Morand and my wife Debi called me on it. They said “Look, Tom’s solo album is coming out this spring, he’ll probably tour on it through the summer, now is the time Jeff. It’s time to get in the studio and start putting your money where your mouth is”. So, that’s what I’ve been doing, I’m about three songs in and Fred is not producing but he is mixing everything I do. I’m in Nashville and Fred’s in L.A. so I’m producing myself, singing and playing all the instruments. I am just getting guest drummers for the tracks. I am working with my engineer Ronnie Honeycutt here in Nashville and everything is going out to Fred to clean up and polish and make it sound good (laughs).
LRI: You’ve provided a lot of the crunch of Cinderella over the years, how much different do you think your solo album will sound to fans of the band?
Jeff: The first song I recorded could have been a Cinderella song I think but you know when you get guitar players putting out solo records, from what I’ve seen, they are very self-indulgent in terms of guitar playing or even sometimes, they’re instrumental records. Mine is self-indulgent in the sense that it will cover a lot of different types of music. The first song I did is called “No Strings” and like I said, it’s a rock song, it could be a Cinderella song. The second song I recorded is a total blues waltz/shuffle. The latest song I’ve done is almost like a Fleetwood Mac type ballad. I’ve also written a slow, chunky metal song, a blues slide song and a flat out metal burner, fast song so I think I am really trying to explore all of my different influences. It’s all me singing and playing everything but drums.
LRI: Do you enjoy singing?
Jeff: Absolutely, I’ve been singing all my life. Since I started playing guitar at the age of nine or ten I was also singing, sitting in my bedroom with Zeppelin and Beatles songbooks. I didn’t just learn how to play the songs I loved but I learned how to sing em too. I actually started out as a drummer and aspired to be a guitar player and then when I became a guitar player, I aspired to be a singer (laughs). I got the chance to do a lot of background vocals over the years in Cinderella but make no mistake I see myself and believe in myself as a singer.
LRI: The band you and Eric Brittingham are touring with this summer, Cheap Thrill is capable of doing both the acoustic and the electric thing. I have often wondered, of the classic Cinderella material do your personal tastes lean more towards the quiet, down home style stuff or the aggressive hard rock material?
Jeff: 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.
LRI: I would love to hear Cinderella play “Move Over” in the set. I shouldn’t admit it but as a kid I was completely ignorant of Janis Joplin’s version of the song but it was always one of my favorite songs recorded by Cinderella.
Jeff: REALLY?? You heard Cinderella do “Move Over” before you heard Janis do it?
Jeff: So did you go back and listen to Janis Joplin’s version of it ever? (laughs)
LRI: I did, I like it but I still always preferred Cinderella’s version and I still do 20 plus years later.
Jeff: Well, any song like that, the first band you hear do it is what you base your opinion of it off of. I will say we kept that cover pretty close to the original, I think you heard that when you went back and listened to Janis do it. A lot of remakes, some bands tend to want to put their own stamp on it, especially on that record you’re talking about which was “Stairway To Heaven, Highway To Hell”. On that record, all of the bands involved were covering music from artists who died from drug addiction or alcoholism and we knew a lot of the bands. We had heard a lot of the tracks from others going into it and we heard how other bands were really putting their own sound or style or stamp onto these classic songs. Most of the tracks truly sounded like the band who was performing it and they were just updating it to the current era. We didn’t want to do that at all, we tried deliberately to NOT update that song. We tried to go back in time, Tom and I pulled out old vintage guitars and old vintage amps to try and recreate the old sounds as opposed to updating. By that time, Tom and I were actively collecting vintage equipment anyway so I pulled out my ’59 Sunburst Les Paul and Tom pulled out some of his vintage gear. We pulled out all the oldest shit we had, I know that track has a ’57 Stratocaster and a ’59 Les Paul Sunburst on it for sure.
LRI: 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?
Jeff: 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 onstage 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, onstage 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 all the logistics and stuff like that that seems simple now but you just don’t know coming up. They taught me stuff that I still remember when I am out on the road today. I have to give Richie Sambora a ton of credit, and he probably doesn’t even know the effect he had on me when I was 22, 23 years old, other than the photo of me in the cowboy hat and the double necked acoustic (laughs).
LRI: I asked Tom for his thoughts on your producer the legendary Andy Johns who recently passed away. What memories do you have of working with Andy on “Night Songs”?
Jeff: Wow. Well, you gotta remember. We were very new, we got a record deal and we were so excited that we were going to get to make a record. We had to shop and look around for who wanted to work with us, who the label was suggesting and when Andy’s name came up it was like a lightbulb came on. We were like “Fuck….the guy who engineered ‘Physical Graffiti’” (laughs). That was enough for me, that album was the end all, be all, I consider it to be the best record ever made. That was all I had to hear. Getting to work with Andy was the best and the worst time in my life (laughs). It was the best experience of my life being able to realize my dreams in making a record and having it sell a shitload the way it did but at the same time, as a kid in the studio, Andy was a NIGHTMARE!! (laughs). He was like the evil genius, what ends up coming out of his madness is a work of art but going into it, he literally beat the shit out of me. He literally had me on the floor, and for the record, Andy Johns was a pretty big guy, he was like 6 foot 4 and 260 lbs at least and I was just this little, slight kid at the time and he used to physically put me on the ground and threaten to kick my ass if I didn’t play better on “Night Songs” (laughs). All that aside, he was the best coach, if I was on a football team he would have been Lombardi. He made me better guitar player, he made me a better songwriter, he made me a better singer and just made me a better artist in general and if he hadn’t he would have beat my ass. This is literal (laughs). It ended up doing very well for us and a lot of that was as a result of how hard Andy worked us.
LRI: You were on a label Mercury/Polygram that had a lot of big name artists but you quickly became a priority didn’t you?
Jeff: It was an amazing experience we had with “Night Songs”…we almost had a number one album as a result of it. At that time, Bon Jovi had the number one album on the charts and Cinderella had the number three album. We were projected to go to number two the following week and at that time a label actually had the power with Billboard to move spots. Mercury had the power to switch spots and bump us to number one if we went to number two and Bon Jovi stayed at number one. What happened was the fuckin Beastie Boys!! “Licensed To Ill” shot up to number one and knocked us both out of position! That is how close Cinderella came to having a number one album with Night Songs!
LRI: On the tour you’re doing with Cheap Thrill you are getting a chance to do meet and greets on a level you might not have been able to do on past Cinderella tours. Is that fun for the most part?
Jeff: It always ends up being fun. It does. I will be honest with you, I’m not always wanting to do them to begin with but I always end up having fun and I’m glad I did. I do get judged though and that’s hard. I get judged on Facebook, on Twitter, I read it when people are like “Oh, I met that guy, he was a fuckin asshole!” and it’s hard because they don’t seem to remember that we’re human and prone to the same life events and moods that they are. Maybe me and my wife were just fighting when you met me, maybe my dog just died or my son is going through some shit. I really have to remind myself to NOT be an asshole (laughs). I mean, I do understand it, signing autographs, taking photos, it’s part of what we do, I get that, my wife gets that but I have also had to learn to be an entertainer on and off the stage. I can’t show it if I’m having a bad day, because fans just remember that one minute you spend with them and they can sometimes judge you good, bad or otherwise based on that.
LRI: But if I show up clutching my “Night Songs” or import “Heartbreak Station” vinyl, you’ll sign it? (laughs)
Jeff: Of course! I have all that stuff too by the way, every variation of everything ever released by Cinderella. I do love the format though, I grew up on it and I’m a huge vinyl collector. I have all of our stuff of course but just tons of records in general, I have tons of it in plastic and in record boxes so they don’t get warped. I haven’t collected in a while but I have quite the collection amassed over the years, even though it’s nothing compared to my older brother jack who is still a huge record collector and also is who started me on playing guitar. Jack is a crazy record collector and makes trips to England just to buy records! I think on my first trip to England I really went crazy buying vinyl, buying as much cool vinyl as I could. I believe my goal at that moment was to buy every single version of the song “Mistreated” by every single artist, Rainbow, Deep Purple, Whitesnake…(laughs). Every version of that incestous relationship between Richie Blackmore, Ronnie James Dio, and Deep Purple. I think I wound up with like 12 versions of it (laughs).
LRI: I think everyone is really excited to see Tom doing his thing, see you and Eric doing your thing and doing something different with Cheap Thrill but it inevitably leads back to the question, will Cinderella get back in a studio and make a new album at some point?
Jeff: I would so love to do that. I’ve talked to Tom about that many times about it, a little more recently. I told him I would love to do another Cinderella record, I’ve been wanting to do another Cinderella record for so long and I think I’ve mentioned it before and I think people know that much of Tom’s solo record actually started out as Cinderella demos. It is what it is and over the years the climate just hasn’t lent itself to putting out new music. Basically, it’s become a situation where you’re better off getting together and throwing a song on iTunes and I’m of the opinion with Cinderella like “Ok, well, let’s do that”. I’m even considering doing that with the solo material I’m recording, maybe not formally releasing a full length, just put out a song every month or two on iTunes. Maybe at the end of the year, put it all together on a compilation. I’m still trying to figure out the record business just like everyone else.
LRI: Before I let you go, I wanna ask you a bit more about the Cheap Thrill shows. You’re playing a wide variety of cover songs and some of the Cinderella songs people know and love. Is that variety keeping things interesting on a night to night basis?
Jeff: Yes, It’s fun and it’s an interesting challenge in terms of playing and singing a lot of the cover material. The Cinderella stuff is all stuff I know like the back of my hand, literally, so this venture that I’ve taken on with Cheap Thrill is really something new and different. Our singer Brandon has been doing his show like this for about ten years plus, Eric joined him in doing it for the past five years but I’m new to it all. So, I’m still trying to get better with the acoustic and electric acts that we’re doing with Cheap Thrill. It’s different for me and I still have plenty of room to grow as does the band. I look forward to writing and recording together with Brandon. It’s full steam ahead right now because we are absolutely looking to keep it up. Like I said, I’m new to this but we are getting better nightly and look to eventually getting together and writing and releasing something.
Cheap Thrill Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/CHEAP-THRILL/334893636634093?fref=ts
June 7 CEDAR RIVER LANDING, CEDAR RAPIDS, IA, 9PM CHEAP THRILL featuring Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham & Jeff LaBar
June 8 RIVERSIDE CASINO, RIVERSIDE, IA, Time TBA CHEAP THRILL featuring Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham & Jeff LaBar
June 13 STEAMBOAT DAYS, BURLINGTON, IA 8 pm, CHEAP THRILL LIVE w/HINDER featuring Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham, Jeff LaBar and Cheney Brannon.
June 14 THE BACK BAR, JANESVILLE, WI 8pm CHEAP THRILL LIVE with Eric, Jeff, Brandon and Cheney Brannon (Collective Soul)
June 15 PHATHEADZ BAR, GREEN BAY, WI Doors open @ 7pm CHEAP THRILL LIVE with Eric, Jeff, Brandon and Cheney Brannon
June 16 PRIME TIME TAP, JONESVILLE, IL 9pm, CHEAP THRILL featuring Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham, Jeff LaBar and Cheney Brannon.
June 20 TAILGATE TAVERN AND GRILL, Parker CO 9pm, CHEAP THRILL featuring Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham, Jeff LaBar and Troy Patrick Farrell
June 21 THE CONTINENTAL ROOM & LOUNGE, Denver, CO 9pm CHEAP THRILL featuring Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham, Jeff LaBar and Troy Patrick Farrell
June 22 CHEERS PUB, Northglenn, CO 9pm, CHEAP THRILL, featuring Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham, Jeff LaBar and Troy Patrick Farrell
June 25 SIDELINES, Ashland City, TN 6pm Brandon Gibbs solo unplugged
June 29 SIDELINES, Ashland City, TN 6pm Brandon Gibbs solo unplugged
July 3 PARTY IN THE PARK, Cin. OH Time TBA -CHEAP THRILL opening for WAYLAND
July 12 QUAIL HOLLOW GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB – Wesley Chapel, Florida CHEAP THRILL Acoustic show
July 17 TEQUILA’S BAR AND GRILL, Columbus, Ohio CHEAP THRILL with Brandon Gibbs,
Eric Brittingham, Jeff LaBar and Cheney Brannon
July 18 THIRSTY WHALE, Columbus, OH 9pm CHEAP THRILL with Brandon Gibbs,
Eric Brittingham, Jeff LaBar and Cheney Brannon
July 20 LIONS HEAD, ONTARIO, CANADA, -Time TBA CHEAP THRILL featuring Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham, Jeff LaBar & Cheney Brannon
July 24 BRAUNS CONCERT COVE, Akron, NY – Time TBA With Mike Tramp, Legendary frontman for White Lion and Freak of Nature. CHEAP THRILL featuring – Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham, Jeff LaBar and Cheney Brannon Time TBA
July 25 THE UNDERGROUND, Sandusky, Ohio- CHEAP THRILL headlining. Ticket info coming soon.
July 26 BRAUNS CONCERT COVE, Akron, NY – Time TBA GREAT WHITE and CHEAP THRILL featuring Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham, Jeff LaBar and Cheney Brannon
July 27 BRAUNS CONCERT COVE, Akron, NY, Time TBA JACKYL, THE FLAUNT GIRLS and CHEAP THRILL featuring Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham, Jeff LaBar and Cheney Brannon
August 3 RIVERFEST, Ottawa, IL Time TBA CHEAP THRILL HEADLINES with Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham and Jeff LaBar of Cinderella and Cheney Brannon (Collective Soul) on drums
August 10 TAP HOUSE CONCERT VENUE, Akron, OH 9pm CHEAP THRILL full band with Brandon Gibbs ,Eric Brittingham and Jeff LaBar of Cinderella and Cheney Brannon (Collective Soul) on drums
August 17 LTREYNS, Keokuk,IA CHEAP THRILL full band with Brandon, Eric Brittingham and Jeff LaBar of Cinderella and Cheney Brannon (Collective Soul) on drums.
August 23 KC LIVE, Power and Light District 9:3pm CHEAP THRILL full band with Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham/Jeff LaBar of Cinderella and Cheney Brannon (Collective Soul
August 31 Private Party, Burlington, IA Brandon Gibbs Band
Sept. 13 CEDAR RIVER LANDING, Cedar Rapids, IA THE DIRTIES with Brandon Gibbs/Eric Brittingham of Cheap Thrill and HAZE LEE FINN of Cheese Pizza
Sept. 14 THE ALIBI, Ottawa,IL THE DIRTIES with Brandon Gibbs/Eric Brittingham of Cheap Thrill and HAZE LEE FINN of Cheese Pizza
Sept. 19 MARTINI’S ON THE ROCKS, Rock Island, IL THE DIRTIES with Brandon Gibbs/Eric Brittingham of Cheap Thrill and HAZE LEE FINN of Cheese Pizza
Sept. 20 HOOK PUB, Clinton, IA THE DIRTIES with Brandon Gibbs/Eric Brittingham of Cheap Thrill and HAZE LEE FINN of Cheese Pizza
Sept. 21 PRIME TIME TAP, Jonesville, Ill THE DIRTIES with Brandon Gibbs/Eric Brittingham of Cheap Thrill and HAZE LEE FINN of Cheese Pizza
Nov. 20-23 MSC CRUISE MIAMI, NASSUA AND A PRIVATE ISLAND, CHEAP THRILL featuring Brandon Gibbs, Eric Brittingham and Jeff LaBar
Dec 1 California, Brandon special appearance with John Force Racing Team