In July 2021, news of the former Cinderella guitarist, Jeff LaBar’s passing shook many metal fans across the world. The legendary musician joined Cinderella in 1985, replacing Michael Schermick, the band’s original guitarist, and stayed in the band until it ultimately broke up in 2017. He played on four albums with the band, and had also released two albums with his band-mate Eric Brittingham, as a member of Naked Beggars, along with a solo album entitled “One for the Road” (2014), which would end up being his last music project. Jeff passed away in his Nashville, Tennessee apartment on 14 July 2021, leaving behind his son Sebastian and wife Debinique. The cause of his death was initially unknown, but more details emerged in the following months, painting a full picture of the rock musician’s tragic passing.
Career beginnings and Cinderella
Born Jeffery Phillip LaBar on 18 March 1963, in Darby, Pennsylvania, he was of American and Japanese ancestry through his mother, June. He grew up in Upper Darby, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, where he received primary education. Young Jeff picked up guitar playing as a teenager, inspired by his older brother Jack.â
In 1985, Jeff joined the local glam metal band Cinderella, who were steadily rising to prominence at the time. The band was formed two years prior, consisting of frontman Tom Keifer, bassist Eric Brittingham, guitarist Michael Schermick, and drummer Tony Destra, with the latter two departing Cinderella in 1985 to form their own band called Britny Fox. Cinderella received first major recognition from the Kiss bass guitarist Gene Simmons, who tried to get them a deal with Kiss’ record label PolyGram, which the members of Cinderella ended up declining. However, after watching them perform in 1984, Jon Bon Jovi convinced the Mercury/Polygram Records executive Derek Shulman to sign Cinderella to his label, after extensive negotiations.
Cinderella released their debut album, “Night Songs” in August 1986, which became a huge success, launching the band into international stardom. Although the album initially only sold locally among existing fans of the band, at one point it was selling over 50,000 copies per week, and eventually achieved triple platinum status, and #3 on the Billboard chart. The band had also released a video compilation called “Night Songs”, which accompanied the eponymous album, and ensured their presence on MTV.
In the same year, Cinderella embarked on their first tour, along with the Mechanicsburg-based band Poison, as an opening to the Japanese heavy metal sensation Loudness, which played a big part in Cinderella’s early success. In the following years, Cinderella toured with bands such as Van Halen and Bon Jovi, and even went overseas, performing in the UK, Japan, Germany and Scandinavia.
Their second album “Long Cold Winter” (1988), marked a shift from typical glam metal, towards a blues-rock sound, and was followed by a 254-show world tour. In August 1989, they appeared alongside Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crew, the Scorpions and other metal acts at the Moscow Music Peace Festival, which marked the first time metal acts from outside of USSR were granted permission to perform in the capitol of the country.
Cinderella released their third studio album, “Heartbreak Station” in 1990, which leaned even more into the blues genre than their previous release. Unfortunately, the band’s success was hindered, as in the following year the lead singer Tom Keifer suffered a paresis of his vocal cords, which forced them to stop touring, and delay the release of their fourth album “Still Climbing”, which finally came out in 1994. Adding to the struggles Cinderella had at the time, in the early-mid 1990s, hair metal was being pushed away from the mainstream, in favor of grunge bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and their album was a commercial failure. Their label Mercury Records consequently dropped Cinderella, which pushed the band to go on an hiatus. In 1996, they released a compilation of their greatest hits, under the title “Once Upon A…”, and three years later a live album from one of their 1998 concerts, entitled “Live at the Key Club”.
In 2005, Cinderella headlined the VH1 Classic Rock Never Stops summer tour, followed by several smaller tours with bands such as RATT and Quit Riot. At the end of the decade, they discussed putting out new music, however, the issues with Tom’s vocal cords, and the fact that they were not signed to a label anymore obstructed their plans. The band performed together only sporadically, before Keifer came out in 2017, saying that there is no chance that they will reunite again, due to personal issues between band members.
Cinderella reached the height of their popularity during the late 1980s era of hair metal. The band’s music has been described as a mix of different genres, ranging from glam metal and heavy metal, to blues; their main musical influences were bands such as KISS, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. In 2015, VH1 channel named them the 10th best hair metal band of all time, while the magazine “LA Weekly” named them the 13th most influential hair metal band in their 2021 list. According to Tom Keifer’s official website, the band sold over 15 million albums worldwide, during their 34-year-long career.
Naked Beggars and solo career
During the mid-1990s hiatus, Jeff suffered financial losses, and had to support himself by running a pizza shop with his brother, and by doing construction work. In 1998, he and his Cinderella band-mate Eric Brittingham, formed a glam metal band Naked Beggars, which had released two moderately successful studio albums during their nine-year-long career.
In 2014, Jeff released his only solo album, “One for the Road”, which featured a classic heavy-metal sound. Up to that point, Jeff had been planning to release a solo project for a long time, but it was only after Keifer’s debut solo album “The Way Life Goes” came out in 2013, that Jeff started planning his own solo project. On the album, Jeff sang and played all the instruments himself, with the exception of drums, also handling all the songwriting. “Because I had been threatening to do it for so many years, the fact that I did it was a big accomplishment. It finally took my friends and loved ones to really encourage me to do it. I hope it makes an impact and that people enjoy it”, Jeff said in an interview he gave for the magazine “Guitar World”.
Jeff’s biggest musical influences though his early career were 1970s British rock bands, such as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, while he also enjoyed the psychedelic music of Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Genesis. In later years, he grew a liking to a heavier style of rock, particularly played by Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath.
Jeff had a particularly close relationship with his mother, June, who was his biggest inspiration in life. Partly due to Jeff’s Japanese heritage, Cinderella has a strong fanbase in Japan, which was very important to him, because that’s where his mother was born and raised. Whenever Jeff would perform in Japan, he would take his mother and extended family to his band’s shows.
After spending his whole life in Pennsylvania, Jeff moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 2004, where he purchased a home. Two years later, he married his long-term girlfriend Debinique Salazar. He had previously been married to his former Naked Beggars band-mate, Gaile LaBar-Bernthart with whom he has a son named Sebastian, who reportedly shares his father’s passion for music, and is now a lead guitarist in bands Tantric and Match22.
Aside from music, Jeff loved to cook, mainly dishes he learned from his mother. At one point, he even considered making a career in the field, and so went to culinary school.
He was also a big fan of the American Football team Philadelphia Eagles, never missing one of their games on TV.
Jeff was an animal lover too, and had several rescued cats.
Cause of death
Jeff LaBar passed away on 14 July 2021, at the age of 58; his unconscious body was reportedly found by his ex-wife Gaile, who went to his apartment to check on him after she was unable to reach him for several days. His son Sebastian announced Jeff’s death the following day, with the words ‘So I just got the call… -my father, my hero, my idol, passed away today. I’m currently at a loss for words. I love you pop’.
Before his passing, Jeff had admitted to having substance abuse problems, which caused a rift with his former band-mates from Cinderella. When interviewing for Another FN podcast in 2016, Jeff said: ‘I can only speculate, but I believe [the band’s break-up] is all my fault. (…)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 f**k?’ 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.’
Jeff further revealed that during the height of Cinderella’s popularity, he often abused not only alcohol, but also cocaine and heroin, and ended up admitting himself into rehab, which wasn’t publicized. ‘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. ‘, he continued.
This fed into rumors that Jeff’s passing could’ve been caused by issues related to previous drug and alcohol abuse, or even possibly a result of an overdose.
It’s also been speculated that Jeff had been suffering from depression after Cinderella’s break-up, launching rumors about him having taken his own life. The real cause of Jeff’s death hadn’t been announced to the public
In response to Jeff’s passing, his family issued a joint statement, calling for donations to the Grammy’s Musicares Financial and Addiction Recovery Assistance Program. Jeff’s surviving band-mates from Cinderella, Tom Kiefer, Eric Brittingham and Fred Coury also issued a statement saying ‘(…) Jeff’s memory and music will be with us forever. We all… band, family and management appreciate the overwhelming outpouring of love. Rest in Peace Jeff.’
Members of numerous other metal bands also showed support to Jeff’s family online, including Tony Harnell from Skid Row, Mark Slaughter of Slaughter, the entire line up of Scorpions and Tantric, among many others.
Radio personality Eddie Trunk also joined in, saying: ‘In the middle of a TV shoot and on a break, and just hearing now of Jeff LaBar passing away. Condolences to his family, friends and fans. Tragic sad news. Great guy who will be missed. RIP.’
Another amazing guitarist gone. R.I.P. Jeff Labar
Gonna crank up some Cinderella tonight! pic.twitter.com/JKJcdNua2e
— THIS DAY IN METAL (@ThisDayInMETAL) July 14, 2021
After nearly a year, in March 2022, Tom Keifer opened up about his relationship with Jeff, revealing that despite their strained relationship in the past ten years, he still had a lot of admiration for his late band-mate and that he was still processing the news of his death. Tom also talked about the immense support he received from Jeff when he was having issues with his vocal cords, which had made him unable to perform.
Later in the same year, Keifer performed Cinderella’s songs for the first time since Jeff’s death, at a small concert in Harrison, Ohio. Keifer and former Cinderella drummer Fred Coury had apparently discussed bringing Jeff’s son Sebastian into the band and performing as Cinderella, but the idea was scrapped for the time being.