It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years since Foreigner’s eponymous debut album.
The record—fueled by the hits “Long, Long Way From Home,” “Cold As Ice” and “Feels Like the First Time”—launched the band into worldwide stardom. It would be the first in a string of consecutive multi-platinum monster releases that included Double Vision, Head Games and 4.
Much of the credit for the band’s success can be attributed to Lou Gramm, whose songwriting skills and emphatic vocal performances played a monumental role in the band’s hook-laden formula. In fact, he and Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame by none other than Billy Joel.
Although he’s been out of the band for more than a decade, Gramm continues to write, record and tour the arsenal of Foreigner hits with his Lou Gramm band. And as Foreigner prepares to celebrate their 40th anniversary with a new tour this summer, there’s word that Gramm will once again be joining Jones at a yet-to-be-determined Foreigner show.
I recently spoke with Gramm and his guitarist, Michael Staertow, about Foreigner, Lou’s solo career, music, gear and more.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first Foreigner album. When you look back at that album now with so much perspective what thoughts come to mind?
GRAMM: Working with Mick [Jones] was a very creative situation, and I remember how much fun it was to write those songs and record them. Even when we weren’t at our most imaginative; instead of just putting everything away, we plugged along, putting down different ideas. Before long, we were right back swinging again. It was a very positive time.
Can you tell me the origin of the song, “Long, Long Way From Home”?
GRAMM: That was the very first song Mick and I wrote together. He would always play me cassette tapes with guitar riffs and told me that if one of them tweaked my ear to let him know and we’d work on it. I heard that great guitar riff that started the song and we began working on the verse and B section. The chorus was a little tough to crack but we did. Lyrically, it’s the story of me coming to New York City.
There’s been talk of you joining Foreigner for their 40th anniversary tour this summer for at least one show. Can you confirm this?
GRAMM: Yes. It’s being planned. Right now, we’re trying to pick the best night and venue. I’m not at liberty to say where it could be, but I can say it’s going to be a ton of fun.
Read the rest of my
Interview with Lou Gramm & Michael Staertow Here!
Following the success of their self-titled 1977 debut album, Foreigner went on to record some of rock’s most enduring anthems, including “Hot Blooded,” “Juke Box Hero” and “Urgent,” not to mention the Number 1 hit, “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
Since then, they’ve become one of the best-selling bands of all time, with 10 multi-platinum albums and worldwide sales exceeding 75 million.
On May 19, Foreigner will celebrate their 40th anniversary with a new career-spanning compilation, 40, which features 40 hits from 40 years. The band also will embark on an extensive U.S. tour with Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience.
These days, Foreigner is Mick Jones (lead guitar), Kelly Hansen (lead vocals), Jeff Pilson (bass), Tom Gimbel (rhythm guitar/flute/saxophone), Michael Bluestein (keyboards), Bruce Watson (lead guitar) and Chris Frazier (drums).
I recently spoke with Jones about the band’s 40th-anniversary plans, his upcoming autobiography, gear and more.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Foreigner. When you look back now—with so much perspective—what thoughts come to mind?
It’s a real gift and has basically been two-thirds of my life. It’s been a passion for me and I’ve stuck with it through thick or thin. I’m very grateful for having the opportunity to have an experience like this and to be doing something that I really love. It’s outlasted any expectations.
What does the band have planned to celebrate the occasion?
It’s the 40th anniversary, so we have the Foreigner 40 album that’s coming May 19. We’ve also got my book coming out, which is my first autobiography where you’ll find out a bit more about me. Then we’ve got a huge American tour where we’re bringing along Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. We have a couple of the guys coming out to play with the band, including Rick Wills and Dennis Elliot. There’s also plans for Lou Gramm to come out and do a few shows. We hope to make it a celebration.
Kelly Hansen has been with the band on lead vocals for more than a decade. What’s it like having him with the band?
Kelly was the reason I felt confident to go ahead with this in the first place. Obviously, those were big shoes to fill, but Kelly is a go-getting front man and performer who carries the songs incredibly well and gives 150 percent every night. But that’s really the thing about the whole band—everyone is totally dedicated to what we’re doing. It’s a rare thing to find something where everyone is on the same page. There’s good feeling all around.
Classic rock giants Foreigner may be responsible for some of rock’s most enduring anthems, with an arsenal of hits that include songs like “Cold As Ice” and “Juke Box Hero.” But on May 6th, the band will join forces with another legendary group, Styx to release the ultimate seasonal package— appropriately called “The Soundtrack of Summer”.
This new album collection features sixteen classic songs by both Foreigner and Styx as well as a brand new interpretation of one of classic rock’s most successful songs ever, “Hotel California”. Original songwriter and former Eagles guitarist Don Felder teams up with Foreigner and Styx for this very special collaboration as well as for a stunning new version of Foreigner’s massive hit, “I Want To Know What Love Is” (which will only be available as a limited edition vinyl disc and on iTunes).
The Soundtrack of Summer album will also coincide with a highly anticipated tour of the same name – featuring Foreigner and Styx with special guest Felder as the opening act!
I spoke with Foreigner guitarist and mult-instrumentalist Tom Gimbel about the Soundtrack of Summer, his early years touring with Aerosmith and how he got hooked up with Mick Jones and Foreigner!
What started this tour project idea and album?
Sometimes, management teams brainstorm about which combination of bands would work best during the summer. This one makes perfect sense – Foreigner, Styx and The Eagles [Don Felder] all go together so well. It’s something we like to call “traditional” rock music. Once we all decided that we were going to tour we thought, why not do a little bit of recording together to have something that would set the tone.
Tell me a little about the new version of Hotel California and the recording process.
The idea was to have each band involved on the song give their own little segment and then have everyone harmonize together. It’s all one big musical family. We were able to recreate so much by using a lot of the modern techniques of recording. Not having to wait for the tape to rewind was a really cool advantage! [laughs].
What are some of your own best summer memories?
When I was growing up I was a big fan of The Who. I remember listening to Quadrophenia and albums like that and just thinking “Wow! This is the kind of rock music that I want to get involved with!” Hearing it now really take me back to memories of being a kid. It was such a cool era of music.
Tell me a little about your days at Berklee College of Music.
When I went to Berklee it was primarily a jazz school. So it was a little too late for me to start learning jazz guitar. But I was more than happy to stay a rock guitarist while I was there and instead played the flute and saxophone. One of the things I learned while I was there was that if you wanted to get really good on your instrument, you had to spend a lot of hours practicing.
How did you get hooked up with Aerosmith?
While I was in Boston going to Berklee I was also performing in bands and hooked up with a guy named John Butcher. We made a few records on Capitol together and a lot of the people we worked with knew the guys in Aerosmith. That’s how I was recommended. It was a completely different world back in those days because someone had to actually give you their phone number. There was no Facebook or Internet back then.
Tell me how you got the gig with Foreigner.
That was another situation where someone recommended me. Kevin Williamson was a guy who worked at Atlantic Records and he was playing golf with Ricky Phillips, the bassist for Styx. Ricky’s a friend of mine and while the two of them were playing Kevin mentioned that Foreigner had an odd situation. They were in need of a guitar player who also played sax. That’s when Ricky said, “Hey, I know a guy who does that!” and he gave him my number. A few days later, Mick’s brother Kevin called me up and said “Let’s talk about Foreigner”; and I said “Yeah, let’s talk!” [laughs]! Playing guitar and sax was my dream come true.
Has there been any thought given on another new Foreigner album?
We did an album of all new material back in 2010 called “Can’t Slow Down”. Mick continues to write and is always collaborating with different people. I’m sure at some point there will be some new material. I’m not sure if it will be a whole album though. Maybe a two or three song package. We’ll have to wait and see but there will definitely be some new music.
You’ve been with the band for more than twenty years. What’s the experience like?
It’s been marvelous every step of the way. It’s a real pleasure to work with every one of these guys. This is one of those bands where everyone really respects and admires each others musicianship. We have monsters on every instrument. Mick sets a great example as our leader. He sets the tone. I look forward to playing with these guys every night.
Jeff Pilson is a busy man. In addition to his regular role as Foreigner’s bassist, he’s also been dividing his time with a host of other projects.
He’s working with other former Dokken members George Lynch and Mick Brown on the next T&N album, and he’s just finished producing the upcoming Kill Devil Hill album and Loveless Fascination, the first new Starship album featuring Mickey Thomas in almost 25 years.
Below, we discuss all the projects mentioned above and a whole lot more.
GUITAR WORLD: How did you get involved with Mickey Thomas’ new Starship project?
It started off from a songwriting angle. I was working with another producer on a project, and he ended up hearing a bunch of my songs. He also was working with Mickey Thomas at the time and said, “What would you think if I worked these songs with Mickey Thomas, who’s planning on doing another Starship record?” I loved Mickey and already had the songs available, so I said, “Sure, why not?” He started working with Mickey on the album, but things just didn’t work out. That’s when I got involved as the producer as well.
Hear the new Starship track “It’s Not The Same As Love” here
Former Foreigner vocalist Lou Gramm pulls no punches in his new autobiography, Juke Box Hero.
In the book, which was co-written with Scott Pitoniak, Gramm leads readers on a journey from his humble beginnings in Rochester, New York, to the biggest stages in the world. He recounts his stint with Black Sheep, plus the ups and downs of working with guitarist Mick Jones in the band that made him famous.
From the diagnosis that nearly took his life to his solo career success and fascination for muscle cars, Gramm’s book is an honest portrayal of self-reflection from one of the greatest voices in rock history.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Gramm to discuss Juke Box Hero and get his thoughts on being inducted with Jones into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 13th.
You Can read my complete Guitar World interview with Lou by Clicking Here!
I’ve got some final words to say about this years Grammy Awards. Truth be told, I haven’t had much interest in watching them anymore.
Now you would think that as a musician The Grammy Awards would be something always on my agenda of things to watch. To see the best of the best get their due. But sadly, the ceremony, much like the AMA’s, CMA’s and any other “MA’s” I may have missed, seems to have become nothing more than just a lackluster showcase for the music industry to pat itself on the back instead of awarding real talent.
Don’t get me wrong, this year Adele easily deserved to sweep everything. She is a true diamond in a sea of the same old same. But outside of her obvious and most deserving win, every year the awards seems to turn more and more into something that can’t be taken seriously.
Consider the way Chris Brown was graciously accepted back onto the stage again and won a pair of awards after his most recent shenanigans. Or the way Dave Grohl of The Foo Fighters was blatantly cut off during his acceptance speech when he started telling the truth about how music should come from the heart and not a computer. And lets not forget the fact that a group of “old men” (The Beach Boys) schooled everyone who hit the stage before them with true vocal harmony.
But I’d really like to focus the meat of this blog on the list of artists from the “Rock Performance” and “Metal” categories. Because, you know me, it’s all about the Rock and Metal.
First, here’s a list of winners from thirty years ago:
Record of the Year: Rosanna: Toto Album of the Year: Toto IV Song of the Year: Always on My Mind: Willie Nelson Best New Artist: Men at Work Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female: Pat Benatar-“Shadows of the Night ” Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male: John Cougar Mellencamp -“Hurts So Good” Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal: Survivor-“Eye of the Tiger”
Best Rock Instrumental Performance: A Flock of Seagulls – “D.N.A.”
And now, here is a list of Grammy winners for 2012:
Record of the Year: “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele Album of the Year: “21,” Adele Song of the Year: “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth New Artist: Bon Iver Pop Solo Performance: “Someone Like You,” Adele Rock Song: “Walk,” Foo Fighters Rock Album: “Wasting Light,” Foo Fighters Rock Performance: “Walk,” Foo Fighters Hard Rock/Metal Performance: “White Limo,” Foo Fighters
Look at the variety of artists from three decades ago. All with hit songs and all deserving. Where is that variety today?
Please don’t misunderstand me, I love the Foo Fighters. Really, I do. But three different songs winning Grammy awards? And one Grammy for Best “Metal” performance? The Foo Fighters aren’t “Metal”.
It really upsets me that there seems to be a lack of true nominees in these categories whether by accident or deliberate intention. Every time you see the list of nominations you pretty much know who is going to win. And why is it that groups you’ve never heard of always seem to get a nod and bands that have Grammy history and new albums get ignored?
Consider artists like Journey, Foreigner and Night Ranger for example. Ok, I agree that it’s been years since any of them had songs that topped the charts. But all of these bands have released albums of brand new music, most of it very good and all within the time frame of nomination, but their body of work wasn’t even acknowledged by the academy.
Now I’m not saying any of these artists should win. Hardly. All I’m saying is that wouldn’t it be nice to at least recognize the efforts of bands that have stood the test of time and continue to deliver music for their fans? But instead, true musicianship gets over shadowed by the need for computer generated beats and auto-tuned vocal performances.
I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised though. I mean lets face it, this is the same awards show that gave the very first Grammy in the Hard Rock/Metal category to Jethro Tull instead of Metallica.
And don’t get me started on that whole Milli Vanilli incident.
The other day I finally got around to adding the $15 i-Tunes gift card I received for Christmas onto my i-Tunes account. I have to admit, although I do have a lot of songs in my playlist, most of which converted over from old CDs, I haven’t had much desire to purchase anything new as of late and hence my delay.
But with fifteen bucks beginning to burn a hole in my pocket I started perusing the list of what’s currently being classified as “hot” to see if anything struck my fancy. As expected, I began to become a bit discouraged.
Call me old (well, on second thought don’t) but I’m from an age where music and lyrics actually mean something. Having a robotic voice singing to a pre programmed beat and calling it music just doesn’t appeal to me.
And what’s with all these different versions of the same song? A song, and album for that matter, should always stand on it’s own. But yet I saw a listing of a current “hit” with no less than four different versions of the song to choose from: one done by the original artist, another a re-mix version with some rapper I never heard of, yet another version done for a Kidz Bop CD and finally one done by the cast of the TV show ‘Glee’… “This is Hot?” I asked myself. “More like cold. Cold as ice”.
I typed “Foreigner’ into the search box and suddenly there she was again. The black and white album cover of the lady with one eye: Inside Information
I didn’t want to see the date it was released. I knew it was a long time ago. Ok, twenty-five years if you really must know. An album that sold 1.6 million copies worldwide and one that also has some history with me and suddenly I started to remember. This was just one example of an entire album that related to me.
It was a typical Friday night two dozen summers ago. High school was over and college had been delayed temporarily for me due a lack of funds. I was still living at home and spent most of my days working 9-5 for minimum wage in the receiving department of the local supermarket trying to save money and start my music education journey at community college.
Say you will. Say you won’t. Make up your mind tonight.
Once the whistle sounded that Friday night it was time to jump into my orange 1974 Ford Torino and meet my fellow musician buds Nathan and Ronnie for a night of debauchery. At least that’s what we called it. I suppose that in some countries ‘debauchery’ is still defined as hanging out at a miniature golf place making plans to become rock stars and then having cheese fries and coffee at the local diner. It worked for us.
I still don’t remember how the Inside Information cassette got into my possession. I figure it must have been one of the twelve cassettes I initially chose for a penny from Columbia House as part of my initial membership. A membership that I never completed. But that tape was the soundtrack to my life for months in the summer of 1988.
I don’t wanna live without you ~ live without your love.
The funny thing about cassettes is, it’s almost impossible to skip a song on one of them. Unless you have the patience and where withal to meticulously fast forward or rewind you were pretty much stuck having to listen to the entire album in order. Suffice to say, I had neither of those qualities so I got to know every track personally from “Heart Turns To Stone” all the way through to “A Night To Remember“.
With windows rolled down we drove up Northampton street (or “The Strip” as it was called) to the echoes of Lou Gramm singing about teen angst and young love blaring from my Kenwood stereo system. Passers by would glance at us strangely when we’d stop for traffic lights but that didn’t bother us. It was a magical time. This was freedom and we were Counting Every Minute of it that we had. And we weren’t just listening to your every day Richard Marx or Michael Bolton tune. On the contrary, this was raw, pure unfiltered rock at its finest. And the words that Lou sang defined what we had in store for the evening:
I feel mean tonight ~ One-eyed jacks and aces
Read ’em and weep tonight ~I’m gonna let all hell break loose.
For the next several hours me and my homies did just that: raised hell cruising the strip and visiting the V-7 miniature golf range. I was feeling particularly lucky that night and my play proved it. Much to Nathans chagrin I sank three hole-in-one shots that night, including one through the dreaded windmill. But during my hat trick run I noticed that Ronnie seemed to be a bit distant and I’d soon discover why.
It was on the drive to the diner that Ronnie began insisting on wanting to listen to “True” by Spandau Ballet to help heal his heart of a high school love gone wrong. Ronnie was the first of our trio to be in a serious relationship that had gone sour. Right now he wanted consolation but Nathan and I wanted nothing to do with it. A Spandau Ballet cassette would never be seen in my record collection let alone in my car. “Those days are over man and you screwed up”, I told him. How ironic it was that the words to “Heart Turns To Stone” began to play to remind Ronnie of the mistake he made:
When she was with you, all along ~ Behind you, right or wrong
She tried to hold on, hold on ~ But you went too far, and she’s gone
To this day I still have no idea what the hell it was he did that went too far and ruined the relationship. The song just seemed to fit the moment and we all got a good laugh out of it.
Eventually we ended up in the diner counting pennies in our pockets to pay for coffee and french fries covered in cheese. Even though it was well after midnight just knowing that we had no where to go and nothing to do in the morning was comforting. We could easily have stayed there all night discussing women, music and songwriting and how all three were going to be a huge part of our lives as soon as we became rocks stars. But it soon became apparent that bed was calling.
Before getting back into the car for the final drive home Nathan decided to begin singing ‘Heartache Tonight’ by the Eagles right there in the parking lot:
“Somebody’s gonna hurt some one…. before the night is through.”
Which was soon accompanied by Ronnie and I in full three part-harmony: “Somebody’s gonna come undone… there’s nothing we can do”…
Perhaps it was a good thing it was midnight and no one was around for it might have been the most horrific version ever done. But late nights and copious amounts of caffeine and cheese have a tendency to throw you off key while singing A cappella. Yeah, that was my story and I’m sticking to it.
So, two dozen years after that night to remember, Inside Information was added to my i-Tunes playlist. An album I loved but had completely forgotten about. And although the V-7 has been closed for years to golfing I think one of these nights I’m going to give Ronnie and Nathan a call.
We’ll take a ride up The Strip in my 2010 Toyota Rav-4 blasting Foreigner again and seeing if the magic is still there.