Foreigner // “40” & A Foreigner’s Tale

For veteran rock band Foreigner and guitarist Mick Jones – the group’s founder and last remaining original member – 2017 carries more significance than some years.

 

It’s the 40th anniversary of the popular group, and the occasion is being celebrated, not only with a summer tour of the states, but a couple of projects. One is a new two-CD anthology, “40,” which includes all of Foreigners hit singles as well as a pair of new tracks.

 

Then plans call for Jones’ autobiography, “A Foreigner’s Tale,” to be published in August.  In a late June phone interview, Jones said it took some encouraging for him to tackle the latter project.

 

“I was being hounded, to tell you the truth, for awhile about putting stuff down (on paper),” he said. “People heard all of my, especially the band guys, they knew most of my stories and I was kind of, not coerced, I discovered a lot of people wanted to know a little bit more than they’d read in the press.”

 

Jones has a story with more than enough twists and turns, encounters with legendary musicians and times of triumph and drama to justify the book, and he touched on some of the notable events during this interview.

 

Now 72, the native of England got his music career off the ground in a country not exactly known for spawning global rock stars – France, where he landed a gig as a songwriter and touring guitarist for Johnny Hallyday, known as the “French Elvis.”

 

One of the highlights of this period came in 1964 when the popular Hallyday landed a prime support slot on tour with the Beatles, who were hitting the heights of Fab Four hysteria when they toured in France. A mishap on one of the first shows of a three-week tour opened the door for Jones to enter the Beatles’ world on the tour.

 

“We would come on stage and then the Beatles would follow us, as the headliner, obviously,” Jones recalled. “I had my guitar around my shoulders, and in those days they had one of those curtains that rises and drops. It was a real sort of musical place. And the curtain snagged on my guitar and pulled it down. It was the only guitar I had. I was cursing in English, ‘f***’ and ‘s***,’ I was going crazy, you know. And John Lennon came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. He said ‘Hey lad, we didn’t know you were English. Come up and have a drink with the guys afterwards.’  And that was it. That began like a ‘Hard Day’s Night’ for me, hanging out with them all the time, running out of the backstage door, fans, the women, chicks going crazy, my first real taste of big-time rock.”

 

Several years later, Jones got to experience another bit of decent success when he joined the band Spooky Tooth in 1972. That band lasted only two more albums, and Jones then moved on to play guitar in the Leslie West Band. That group, though, also fell apart, leaving Jones wondering what to do next.

 

As he pondered his options, Jones would take time to “noodle around” on his guitar. Songs started coming and Jones realized he had the makings of an album. With some financial assistance and encouragement from his manager, Bud Prager, he put together the original lineup of Foreigner and got signed by Atlantic Records.

 

Soon after the band’s self-titled debut arrived in March 1977, the album took off behind the lead single “Feels Like the First Time.” Within months, Foreigner was headlining arenas, as “Cold As Ice” and “Long, Long Way from Home” became follow-up hits.

 

It was a heady — and magical – time for the group, Jones said, but the period came with challenges.

 

“It was like being in a whirlwind,” Jones said. “Luckily, I had had some experience before and was ready (for it). But two or three of the guys were really pretty green. So it took awhile for it to settle in, and eventually personnel changes (were needed). We were kind of doing our growing up in public in a way. There was a lot of pressure, a lot of pressure to follow and not just have the one (hit) album or one single. That’s what we set about to do.” Foreigner was able to build on its success, first with the 1978 album “Double Vision” and then 1979’s “Head Games” and 1981’s “4,” each of which delivered hit singles while becoming multi-platinum hits. But by the time of “4,” Jones, drummer Dennis Elliott and lead singer/songwriting collaborator Lou Gramm were the only original members left in Foreigner.

 

Gramm stayed on board until 1990, recording the band’s biggest hit, “I Want To Know What Love Is,” along the way before multiple issues resulted in the departure of the popular singer. Jones said Gramm’s desire for Foreigner to stay true to its hard rocking beginnings was a key sticking point. “I saw the band being able to not just be stuck in one direction. I felt that the musicianship and the songwriter, I could see a wider kind of audience,” Jones said “As much as I loved the rock element, I was also interested in expanding the horizons. And that’s where the main difference started, on the second or third album, let’s say. And then there were a few problems when Lou suddenly wanted to do a solo album (1987’s “Ready or Not,” followed in 19989 by “Long Hard Look”) and that was basically the crunch. So I took that sort of very personally. I had really helped, in my estimation, Lou and his phrasing and singing. We worked on it feverishly. So I felt let down.”

 

Jones and Gramm, though, mended fences and in 1992, Gramm rejoined the band, which went on to release a new studio album, “Mr. Moonlight,” in 1994. But any chances of regaining Foreigner’s original success dissipated in 1997 when Gramm underwent major surgery to remove a brain tumor. Gramm returned to touring with Foreigner in 1998, but struggled with various effects from his surgery. Over time tensions between Jones and the singer re-emerged, prompting Gramm to leave Foreigner for good in 2003.

 

Jones took some time off to decide whether to keep Foreigner going with a new singer, and in 2005, found a replacement in Kelly Hansen. Today’s lineup also includes guitarist/sax player Thom Gimbel, who had joined Foreigner in 1999, bassist Jeff Pilson (formerly of Dokken), who joined ahead of Hansen, and three more recent recruits – Michael Bluestein (keyboards), Bruce Watson (guitar) and Chris Frazier (drums). And after years of touring and one album that included a disc of new songs, 2009’s “Can’t Slow Down,” Jones feels Foreigner has regained much of its original stature and popularity.

 

The fact that Foreigner is headlining amphitheaters this summer (with Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience as openers), backs up the notion of the renewed popularity of today’s band.

 

And Foreigner is extending its 40th anniversary celebration to the tour with a few special trips down memory lane.

 

Jones in recent years has reconciled with Gramm, and he said the vocalist was slated to appear with Foreigner at its July 20 show at the New York City area venue, Jones Beach Theater, while multi-instrumentalist Ian MacDonald and keyboardist Al Greenwood also have guest appearances planned during the tour.

 

“I have to say everybody is really looking forward to it, the newer members and the old guys, the older members,” Jones said. “Everybody is sort of really looking forward to it, so that’s good. Time has healed a lot, so onwards and upwards.”

 

 

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