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Q&A: Foreigner

With 10 multi-platinum albums and 16 top 30 hits, Foreigner is one of the most popular rock acts in the world with a formidable musical arsenal that continues to propel tours.

Donna Leahey
January 28, 2020

Depending on your age, 1976 might seem like prehistory, or it might seem like it was just a few years ago. To fans of rock ‘n’ roll, 1976 is a milestone. It’s the year that American vocalist Lou Gramm joined forces with Brits Mick Jones and Ian McDonald to form iconic rock band Foreigner. Their self-titled first album became an instant hit powered by singles like “Feels Like the First Time,” “Long, Long Way from Home,” and “Cold as Ice.” The hits continued with influential albums like Double Vision (1978), Head Games (1979), 4 (1981), Agent Provocateur (1984), and Inside Information (1987).

There have been some lineup changes, new music, and an orchestral recording, but through it all Foreigner just keeps rocking audiences with their powerful, energetic, classic sound and songs.

Guitarist Jones is the sole remaining member of the classic Foreigner lineup. Over the past couple of years, he’s been joined by Gramm and other classic-era members on brief occasions. The current incarnation features lead singer Kelly Hansen, bassist Jeff Pilson, drummer Chris Frazier, and multi-instrumentalist Tom Gimbel.

Gimbel (vocals and saxophone) has been with Foreigner since 1995. His sax wails through hits like “Urgent,” while his throaty vocals power through ballads like “I Want to Know What Love Is” or rockers like “Juke Box Hero.” His love for everything rock music was evident when he spoke with Preview 918 ahead of Foreigner’s Feb. 13 return to River Spirit Casino Resort.

Q. How many times do you think you’ve performed songs like “Urgent” and “Juke Box Hero”?
A. Somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000.

Q. How do you keep the songs full of energy playing them again and again?
A. I think the energy is written into the song. The fact that I’m in love with rock music, it’s always going to be good. It never gets old hitting those power chords in “Juke Box Hero.” It’s so much fun. Losing my mind on saxophone during “Urgent” is something I could do 10 times a day and be very happy. It never gets close to being old. It’s brand-new every time I do it.

Q. Why don’t more bands use a saxophone? It’s great for rock music.
A. Yeah, it’s on a lot of our records. A saxophone is always hanging around, lurking around the corner, and waiting to be set free.

Q. With great ballads and solid rock hits, do you have a favorite?
A. I don’t have a preference for fast or slower songs. I love the songs for what is inside them. You can learn from a song like “That Was Yesterday,” where the message is you have to move on, but don’t forget about the past. That’s a great message. “Waiting for a Girl Like You” is not really a slow song, per se; it’s more of a rhythm and blues song. It’s making my hips move just talking about it. I love both those songs with all my heart, and I love rock songs too. So, it’s equal. It’s a complete tie, to answer your question.

Q. Double Vision has been out over 40 years. What does that mean to Foreigner, to have those decades of music behind you?
A. I think years go by like months now. We used to measure time in years, and now we measure in decades. It’s incredible that much time has passed. I think if you’re a rock purist like me, it’ll never get old. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. I haven’t even seen an inkling of it. These songs resonate not just with me but with people. They were written in a way that withstood the test of time well. So, I think we’re good to go for the next 40 years.

Q. How much time do you spend on the road?
A. We do about a hundred shows a year, and for each show, you figure two days away from home, so that’s 200 days gone. That gives me 100 days to pick up the pieces, answer all the mail, and then go again. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and we’re delighted that people still want to rock with us.  

Q. Foreigner is involved in some pretty great philanthropy.
A. We work with the Shriners, and they work with children’s hospitals. They’ve been building children’s hospitals since the 1920s, so whatever we can do for the Shriners, we do.

We’re also working with the Grammy Foundation in its efforts to save music in public schools. So many schools are ditching music programs. It’s terrible because the kids didn’t do anything wrong. They just come in one day, and it’s like, “No more band. Turn in your trombone.” I think that’s a shame because it kept me out of trouble. I still got in a lot of trouble, but not as much as if I hadn’t had music in school. I couldn’t wait to go to music class. I think for a lot of kids, music fills a void in their lives. They have a sense of identity and something cool and fun to do in school.

We also like to have local choirs come onstage with us. School choirs submit a demo, and our publicist picks the best one in the area. The choir comes onstage with us for “I Want to Know What Love Is.” It’s cool because we donate to their music program; it’s kind of like giving them their first paying jobs. It’s fun seeing the looks on their faces, and hopefully, they can get the experience of being in front of a crowd.

Q. What’s next for Foreigner?
A. We played with an orchestra in Nashville for a few shows in January. Any time we’re playing with an orchestra, we love playing with all those textures.

We just finished doing a 10-show residency in Las Vegas at the Venetian Resort. This will be our year to get into the residency world. Everybody’s doing it, right?

We’re also going to Europe in May. We’re doing some big shows in London and all through Europe with Whitesnake and Europe. Do you get that? We’re going to Europe with Europe. We know those guys; they’re fun. Our drummer used to be in Whitesnake, so it’ll be like a family reunion. We’re psyched.

Paradise Cove | River Spirit Casino Resort
8330 Riverside Parkway | Tulsa
Feb. 13: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend