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Q&A: Foreigner

The latest incarnation of Mick Jones’ Foreigner, with former headbanger Kelly Hansen on vocals, is still “Hot Blooded,” displaying a youthful energy that drives 40 years of hits.

Donna Leahey
March 28, 2018

When British rocker Mick Jones teamed with American Lou Gramm to form the band Foreigner more than 40 years ago, they set in motion a rock ‘n’ roll juggernaut that became one of the best-selling bands with worldwide sales of more than 80 million records.

Foreigner’s self-titled debut was issued in 1977 and became an immediate hit on the strength of the singles “Feels Like the First Time,” “Long, Long Way from Home,” and “Cold as Ice.” Over the next decade, the hits continued to pour out on the strength of albums like Double Vision, Head Games, 4, Agent Provocateur and Inside Information before Gramm left the band.

Attempting to mend bridges, Jones and Gramm re-teamed for 1994’s Mr. Moonlight, which failed to return the group to the top of the charts. Foreigner remained a popular concert draw, but the band’s future was thrust into doubt in 1997 when Gramm was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Following a recovery, the band continued to tour until Gramm left again in 2003 and was replaced by former Hurricane singer Kelly Hansen in 2005.

With their 40th anniversary tour behind them, an orchestral live recording, Foreigner with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, set for release April 27, and their “Juke Box Heroes” tour with Whitesnake and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening starting June 15, Foreigner will be performing at Paradise Cove this month.

The current lineup consists of Jones, Hansen, Thom Gimbel (guitar, saxophone), Jeff Pilson (bass), Michael Bluestein (keyboards), Bruce Watson (guitar) and Chris Frazier (drums).

In advance of the show, we talked to Gimbel who has been with the band since 1995.

Q: You were a touring musician with Aerosmith (1989-95) when you got the call from Foreigner.

A: I got a phone call from Mick Jones’ brother, Kevin. He asked if it was true that I played guitar, sax, keyboards, flute, and did a lot of singing. I told him he had called the right number. They had seen some clips of me playing with Aerosmith and were looking for a guy like me [to join the band]. Mick Jones actually said to me, “We realize you can play, but it’d be nice to get to know each other a little bit. Why don’t we go to dinner?” I went to dinner with Mick Jones and Lou Gramm. And that was my audition.

I was lucky. I got to spend 10 years with Mick and Lou and then with Mick and Kelly. It’s been the best 23 years imaginable.

Q: What happened with Gramm and Foreigner?

A: By 2003, Lou just didn’t want to tour anymore. Mick took some time and decided to reform the band. And that’s when Jason Bonham [son of late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham] came in. And we found Kelly Hansen and it’s just been a rocket ship ever since. People just love Kelly and they always have. He sings so well and he talks to the audience like they’re his friends. He’s a real personal guy. That translates and people have always accepted him from the beginning.

Q: What should fans expect when you guys come to town?

A: I’m not sure, but it’ll be Foreigner. Typically, our shows have all the songs people want to hear. We don’t leave anything out. Mick Jones, Foreigner, and Lou Gramm created a list of songs, so many hits, that if you were to write them down you’d have a full night right there, maybe even more. We like to tease Mick Jones that it’s a nice problem to have. They’re such gifted songwriters. That’s why they’re in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. That’s the basis of everything. People come to these concerts and they love the songs. Hopefully they don’t mind the band.

Q: What’s changed about music and touring in your 23 years with Foreigner?

A: There are a few changes, but a lot of the elements remain constant. The changes are mostly on the bus. You can stay in touch with your friends and family. We had a guy helping his daughter do her homework over Skype. That was something you couldn’t do before.

When you got on that bus, it was like leaving Earth. Maybe, if you were lucky, you’d have a VCR and you could watch Die Hard or Trading Places. That was what used to be on a tour bus. There were no telephones. There was nothing. It’s a little bit easier to tour now.

Aside from that, the live concert thing is still kind of the way it was. That’s part of the beauty, I think. It’s still the audience, the band, the music, and the lights. There’s nothing like a live concert. Just can’t replace the energy and the feeling. It’s pretty  magical. We feel really fortunate to be in a business where we can bring a good time.

That’s what we’re hoping to do. People just forget about life for an hour or two and have a good time and celebrate this music, maybe relive some old memories, and maybe create some new ones. That’s the business we’re in and we feel very fortunate.

Q: What’s the story behind the upcoming orchestra album?

A: We recorded that in Lucerne, Switzerland, with a huge orchestra and a huge choir. We recorded it and we got a DVD put together. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, but Foreigner music lends itself really well to orchestral arrangements. We’re excited about that. We’re going to do a few shows this year with the orchestra and choir. We mix it up. It’s a night with an orchestra and a night with a choir and a rock band.

Q: Do you find that the orchestral arrangement changes the feel of the songs?

A: No. When we do it, it just happens naturally. We did some acoustic shows. We weren’t sure what would happen and people loved it.

Q: Foreigner often brings school choirs onstage. What’s that about?

A: We’re trying to bring awareness to music programs that are being taken away from some schools. It’s such a shame. So that’s why we do that. We make a donation to the choir and to the music program.

Having music in school is what kept me out of jail. I don’t know what would have happened to me without it. Music gives many of these kids something to be excited about, a sense of belonging with a school band or a school choir.

There are pages and pages of benefits that kids get from being in music programs. We’re just trying to let people know that we care about that.

Paradise Cove | River Spirit Casino Resort
8330 Riverside Pkwy. | Tulsa
April 26: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend