"You're going to hell, you're going to hell!" blared a loudspeaker in front of a Corpus Christi, Tex., concert hall. A crusading religious group was picketing a show featuring Cinderella, the hot new heavy-metal band from Philadelphia.
"All that noise scared the hell out of me," Tom Keifer, Cinderella's lead singer, songwriter and guitarist, recalled with a laugh. He and the other members of the band--bassist Eric Brittingham, guitarist Jeff LeBar and drummer Fred Coury--confronted the protesters before the show.
"I wasn't going to put up with that crap," snapped Keifer, who said he's usually mild-mannered and non-combative. "I had never been picketed before. These preacher guys were out in front of our concert, going on and on, slandering rock 'n' roll and slandering us. We wanted to know what the problem was."
The crusaders explained that the problem was drugs. Apparently they figured Cinderella, like the heavy-metal band stereotype, was a quartet of druggies preaching the turn-on ethic in concert. "I said 'Wait a minute,' " Keifer recalled huffily. "I told them that we don't do drugs and that you won't find one lyric on any of my songs saying we do drugs or telling people to do drugs. You won't hear it on the albums and we don't do that kind of stuff on stage. I said, 'You're picketing the wrong concert. Go talk to some of those bands who are into that kind of stuff.' "
The argument raged on. A crowd gathered, gleefully watching the confrontation. "We threw some stuff at them that they didn't have answers for," Keifer said. "Our drummer Eric knows the Bible inside and out. He was running circles around these guys. A few hundred kids were standing around. When we'd make a good point, they would say, 'Yeah, what about that?' It was wild."
Keifer's pet peeve is heavy-metal haters who don't know anything about heavy metal: "They lump it all together because of their own ignorance. If it's heavy metal, then the band is into drugs and devil worship. And those people in Washington! What does Tipper Gore (a prominent advocate of 'clean' rock) know about rock 'n' roll? She doesn't understand the language. Those people should all mind their own business."
This is--pardon the expression--a Cinderella story.
Unknown a few months ago, this young (its members are all between 20 and 25), flashy, high-energy outfit is now the rage of the heavy-metal genre. Cinderella has already landed a plum assignment--opening shows for David Lee Roth.
The band has a hit album--"Night Songs," on PolyGram Records--on its first try. Released in June, the album is No. 22 on the Billboard magazine pop chart. Shortly, it will cross the half-million mark in copies sold.
What makes the success of "Night Songs" so impressive is that new heavy-metal bands rarely sell very well. In fact, even veteran heavy-metal bands aren't selling well these days.
One problem is that the genre has suffered from a lot of negative publicity. Several deaths and some concert riots have been associated with this screeching rock music that critics contend is a vile vehicle for devil worship and assorted evil messages. Radio, which was favorable to heavy metal a few years ago, largely ignores it now.
In this hostile atmosphere, how did "Night Songs" manage to capture a sizable audience? Keifer likes to think the music, which he writes, is so appealing because it's extremely well-written and well-performed.
That's true to an extent. If you're into heavy metal, Cinderella's music will most likely grab you. The sleek production job by Andy Johns is a plus. There are also some decent melodies that Keifer--a top-of-the-lungs shrieker--puts across as appealingly as possible. The word from heavy-metal addicts is that this band sounds like AC/DC used to--back about five years ago when AC/DC was the best in the genre. AC/DC is now a mere shadow of its former, muscular self, and Cinderella, to some degree, is filling that void.
Keifer doesn't mind Cinderella being compared to major metal bands but, when the AC/DC influence was mentioned, he claimed it wasn't quite accurate.
"I was really a big Humble Pie fan," he said. "That band was a big influence on me. People don't realize that AC/DC got its sound from Humble Pie. I probably got the sound more from Humble Pie than AC/DC."
This isn't hard-core, sinister metal but it's not angelic either. "Some of the songs are a bit sexually suggestive," Keifer admitted. "But they're not that bad. The stuff Prince sings is much worse."
Still, PolyGram was nervous enough about the lyrics to veto including a lyric sheet with the album. But the group isn't likely to get into trouble, since many of the lyrics are barely comprehensible. That's because when Keifer sings, he often sounds like he was trapped in a blast furnace.
Keifer, who's from the suburbs of Philadelphia, wanted to be a musician since he was 8. That's when he started playing guitar. His inspiration was a strange one: "When I was a kid, I used to watch the Monkees. They made me want to learn guitar."
Another inspiration--magician Doug Henning--sidetracked him into a magic career for a few years, but when he reached his late teens he went back to music. Keifer had extensive bar-band experience before forming Cinderella with bassist Eric Brittingham three years ago.
Finding the other members wasn't so easy. Guitarist Jeff LeBar joined when they signed with PolyGram in June of last year. Drummer Fred Coury was hired after the album was finished. Session drummer Jody Cortez played on all the album tracks while they were searching for a permanent drummer.
The weirdest thing about this band is its soft, frilly name, which doesn't fit. But, Keifer explained, that was their intention: "We found the name when we were looking through an HBO guide one day. We saw the movie 'Cinderella' listed and thought it would be a good name for us. We wanted something that didn't have any heavy-metal associations. Cinderella doesn't play what you'd expect a band called Cinderella to play. We like it that way."