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Lou Gramm and Michael Staertow Talk Foreigner, Touring and Memorable Moments

Photo courtesy: Michael Staertow

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!

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Juke Box Hero: Lou Gramm Discusses New Autobiography and Foreigner

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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.

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You Can read my complete Guitar World interview with Lou by Clicking Here!

Inside Information

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”.

Hmmm.

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.

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