Big-hair band. Glam rock. Pop metal. These were the labels that your everyday teased-hair, mascara-wearing, spandex-clad rockers had to contend with in that Twilight Zone of rock 'n' roll: the mid-1980s.
They ignited TV (thanks to the still-young age of music videos), they filled concert halls and, in many instances, soared up the pop charts. And the succession of bands that adopted such a modus operandi lined up like dominoes: Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Poison, Twisted Sister and so forth.
Some cleaned up (Bon Jovi), some toughened up (Mötley Crüe) and a lot simply faded away with the '80s.
There was one band out of Philadelphia that quietly stuck to its guns as it loudly rocked the house. Its name was Cinderella, and on Monday, it returns to Lexington for its first performance in close to two decades, its hit-making mid-'80s lineup intact.
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For Jeff LaBar, Cinderella's long standing lead guitarist, celebrating the 25th anniversary this summer of Cinderella's hit debut album, Night Songs, is a little surreal but not entirely unexpected.
"If you interviewed me back in the '80s and asked me, 'Now that you have a hit record out, now that you made it, what would your goal be?,' I would say my goal would be to still be doing this, to be in a supergroup like Aerosmith, 25 years from now.'
"I don't know if the 'supergroup' tag applies. But we're still all the same guys doing the same thing 25 years later."
Well, I didn't interview LaBar in the '80s. But I did speak with Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer before a March 1987 performance the band gave at Rupp Arena when it opened for Bon Jovi. Here is what he had to say then about yet another label that was being tossed at Cinderella: heavy metal.
"Yeah, everyone does kind of stick us in that category," he said. "We're really more of a rock 'n' roll band. We have a heavy sound that is somewhat blues-influenced. But it's all rock 'n' roll."
Nearly a quarter of a century later, LaBar concurs.
"The funny thing is that at the time, what we did was actually called rock 'n' roll. All of these terms you hear about came later. 'Hair metal' and 'glam' — we didn't get called any of that at the time. We were a rock band.
"I guess we could have been labeled heavy metal. But then Metallica and Anthrax came out, and it was like, 'Now, that's heavy metal.' We were a hard-rock band. So, no, I don't care for the 'hair metal' label. I don't care for any of the labels that came out later. But I accept them."
It was one of the biggest of the big-hair bands, a young Bon Jovi, that helped Cinderella find its way. Leader Jon Bon Jovi was a rising star when he first caught a show by the then-unknown Philly band.
"He saw us in a club a few years back in Philadelphia," Keifer said in 1987. "He liked the band a lot. Basically, he went back to PolyGram Records (Bon Jovi's label at the time), told them about our band and then helped set up some showcases for the label guys to come down and see us."
By the time the two bands played Rupp that spring, each was riding the success of breakthrough recordings: Bon Jovi with Slippery When Wet (its third album) and Cinderella with Night Songs.
The cover photo of the latter had Keifer, LaBar, bassist Eric Brittingham and drummer Fred Coury in full glammed-out regalia, but subsequent albums, including 1988's Long Cold Winter and 1990's Heartbreak Station, shifted the music more to the blues while maintaining a pop-friendly, guitar- dominated base.
"I grew up mostly on the British rock of the '70s," LaBar, 48, said. "I grew up on (Led) Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and even some of the keyboard-dominant bands like Genesis and Yes. Me and Tom grew up about five minutes from each other, although we didn't know each other as kids. He comes more from the music of the (Rolling) Stones, Kiss and Alice Cooper.
"So people talk about '80s bands and the genres Cinderella comes from. Well, it was these bluesier bands from the '70s like Zeppelin that we set out to be like. We got labeled as glam because everyone kept referring to the cover of the first album. By the second record, we stopped teasing our hair and stopped wearing makeup and spandex."
What doesn't irk LaBar are the many '80s bands with which Cinderella is commonly associated. The reason is simple: The members of those groups are his pals. But that hardly means the guitarist thinks Cinderella — be it 1988 or 2011 — can't stand out from the pack.
"Obviously, we get lumped in with the Mötley Crües, the Poisons, the Bon Jovis and even bands like Warrant and Firehouse. And that's great. They're all friends of mine. I just think we're still a little bit different."