CINDERELLA frontman Tom Keifer says that he was “not prepared” for last year’s passing of the band’s guitarist, Jeff LaBar. Jeff was found dead by his wife, Debinique Salazar-LaBar, on July 14, 2021 inside his apartment in Nashville. He was 58 years old.
During an appearance on this past Tuesday’s (March 29) episode of SiriusXM‘s “Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk”, Keifer discussed LaBar‘s passing for the first time, saying (as transcribed by SOUNDERGROUND.NET): “I’ve gotta tell you, you’re never really ready for that kind of loss; you’re not prepared to hear that kind of thing. And everyone is still trying to grieve and process it. It’s an emotional topic. Jeff was just such a passionate, amazing person, musician, human. He had a huge heart. And it was a tough one, man. It still is, for everybody.”
Tom continued: “Jeff and I had a really good relationship throughout out career. Obviously, in bands there’s times when you have differences; that’s part of being in a band. It’s true what people say about bands — that they’re like a family, but, honestly, it’s like that and even more intense, because there’s so many different facets that inform the dynamics between bands; everything from business to creativity and everything in between. But despite any differences that we’ve had over the years, and the band in general, as I’ve always said, we’ve never aired anything like that.
“Jeff and I had a great relationship,” Keifer repeated. “I loved Jeff — I really did — and have so many great memories of our journey together. He was amazing, and not just what he contributed to the music. Jeff had such a great sense of humor, and some of my favorite memories with Jeff are just kind of cutting up together on the bus. We were both big movie fans and could quote pretty much all our favorite movies. And we’d sit in the front lounge and quote ‘Arthur’ and ‘The Big Lebowski’ and ‘Caddyshack’. He was just a really passionate, really fun guy to be around, and obviously, an amazing performer. He was a huge part of CINDERELLA.
“Like I said, you’re never ready for that. And everyone is really honestly… I’m in touch with Eric [Brittingham, bass] and Fred [Coury, drums] regularly — everybody close to him — and we’re still trying to process it. We really are.”
When host Eddie Trunk noted that CINDERELLA fans were very supportive immediately after LaBar‘s passing, Tom said: “That’s all I saw online — was really, really positive, because he projected that. He was a good soul and a good friend to me. Obviously, when you’re in a band, you try to hold each other up. And anything that Jeff was going through in his life I would try to have his back on, and he did the same for me. Especially when I had my voice challenges,” referencing his early ’90s battle with vocal cord paresis, a neurological condition on the left side of his voice box that almost put an end to Keifer‘s career, “he was really supportive. There was a point where I was just at an all-time low before I met [vocal coach] Ron Anderson. And I was so self-conscious about my voice that I didn’t want anyone in the rehearsal room when I was trying to work through it. And I asked Jeff if he would just come in and play guitar and let me sing, ’cause there was so much brain power [required] just trying to work through the vocal issues that I couldn’t even play the guitar and sing at the same time. And he came every day. It was just me and him, and he just played the guitar and I sang the songs. And he heard a lot of really bad things come out of my mouth [laughs], and he would just always look at me and say, ‘You’re doing great.’ And I always tried to return and have his back on… He had his challenges too.”
With his voice cracking with emotion, Keifer continued: “We had a good relationship. We really did. I loved him, and I know in my heart he loved me. And in the end, that’s what’s most important. And I have great memories of him and they’re forever in my heart. And I cherish them.”
Although CINDERELLA hasn’t released a new studio album since 1994’s “Still Climbing”, the band started playing sporadic shows again in 2010 but has been largely inactive for the last few years while Keifer focused on his solo career.
Back in 2016, LaBar accepted blame for CINDERELLA‘s prolonged period of inactivity, explaining that his “drinking problem” caused a rift between him and his bandmates. He told “Another FN Podcast With Izzy Presley”: “I can only speculate, but I believe it’s all my fault. It’s no secret that I’ve had a drinking problem. And it showed its ugly face on one of those [cruises that CINDERELLA played]. I guess that’s what caused a rift… When I fell out on one of those cruise ships in front of everybody — like, basically O.D.’d — that’s when the band, and mostly Tom, took notice and was, like, ‘What the fuck?'”
Asked if he was sober at the time of the interview, LaBar said: “No, I’m not. Which is the problem. Which is probably the problem. Like I said, I can only speculate, because I don’t talk to the other guys anymore. I talk to Fred every now and then. Eric [Brittingham, bass] lives 20 minutes from me. We haven’t talked lately, but Eric and I have been the most consistent of all my bandmates throughout the past 32 years. It’s just Tom and I that don’t talk anymore. And I can only speculate that he’s very disappointed and doesn’t wanna see me die. He doesn’t wanna witness me dying.”
LaBar went on to say that the touring lifestyle “fed [his] appetite for partying… all the way back to the ’80s.” He explained: “I have a history. It’s not just these past issues. I have a history of drinking and cocaine… In the ’80s, it was cocaine abuse. In the ’90s, it was heroin. I went through every cliché phase that a rock star could go through. It just wasn’t highly publicized. I was arrested, I went through rehab, I did all the things MÖTLEY CRÜE did. I just didn’t publicize it. I was MÖTLEY CRÜE and GUNS N’ ROSES all wrapped into one. As a band, we tried to hide our dirty laundry, and most of our dirty laundry was me. We didn’t try to hide it; we just didn’t publicize it. We just didn’t tell people. ‘Oh, yeah, Jeff‘s in rehab. Jeff‘s in jail. Jeff‘s in… whatever.’ We just didn’t publicize it. We actually kept it to ourselves. It was our family. It was our family business, and that’s how we treated it.”
Despite the fact that he hadn’t spoken to Keifer for a couple of years prior to the “Another FN Podcast With Izzy Presley” interview, LaBar said that he didn’t hold a grudge against his longtime friend and bandmate. “I understand why he doesn’t return my calls, and I don’t blame him,” he said. “I understand. And hey, you know, he’s been the major talent of CINDERELLA all this time, and he deserves to be solo. Not deserves to be solo, but, you know, it was inevitable for him to go solo. He’s just one of those guys — lead singer, main songwriter. It’s inevitable that he should go solo and basically dump [laughs], dump the dead weight.”