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When singer Lou Gramm left Foreigner for the second time four years ago, guitarist Mick Jones believed the band he founded would be relegated to the saddest of rock clichés.
“We just couldn’t carry on anymore,” Jones says by telephone from New York City. “The fact is we created this together and I have a great respect for that, but we couldn’t get along. I really didn’t know what I was going to do.”
A couple of jam sessions in Los Angeles with friend and drummer Jason Bonham (son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham) changed all that.
“I’ve known Jason since he was about 18,” Jones says. “He’s a huge fan of Foreigner and said he would love to join the band if I reformed it.”
So that’s what Jones did.Adding Bonham, bass guitarist Jeff Pilson (Dokken, Dio) and vocalist Kelly Hansen (Hurricane) to a lineup that also features longtime keyboardist Jeff Jacobs and rhythm guitarist/saxophonist Tom Gimbel, Foreigner has set out on a 115-date tour, which includes Saturday’s stop at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen.
“I had a little trepidation how this would be received without Lou,” Jones says. “But I feel good about it. Instead of Foreigner going out on a sour note, I’d like to bring a certain level of respect back to the band.”
Foreigner originally formed in 1976 when Jones, a British journeyman rocker (Nero and the Gladiators, Spooky Tooth and The Leslie West Band) and Ian McDonald (King Crimson) created the band with Lou Gramm, Dennis Elliot, Al Greenwood and Ed Gagliardi.
The band’s self-titled debut sold more than four million copies in the United States and featured such hits as “Feels Like the First Time,” “Cold as Ice” and “Long, Long Way From Home.” Subsequent albums included the hits “Hot Blooded,” “Double Vision,” “Head Games” and “Urgent.”
The first of several personnel changes began in 1980 when Gagliardi and Greenwood were dismissed and Rick Wills joined to play bass.After releasing “4” (“Jukebox Hero”), and “Agent Provocateur” (“I Want To Know What Love Is”), the band went on hiatus and Jones and Gramm turned to solo efforts. In 1987 Foreigner regrouped long enough to release “Inside Information,” (“Say You Will” and “I Don’t Want To Live Without You”). Then, the band dissolved. In 1990, Jones reformed Foreigner with vocalist Johnny Edwards, but by 1992, Gramm rejoined the band and produced their second greatest hits album, “The Very Best and Beyond.” Three years later, Foreigner released, “Mr. Moonlight,” to poor record sales.
“There was a time in the ’90s when I felt I may be throwing it in,” Jones says, “but if you can rediscover that passion, that can help you become energetic.”
Foreigner continued to tour throughout the United States until 2002. That’s when Gramm left Foreigner again to embark on his solo career, forming the Lou Gramm Band.
Jones (the only remaining original member of Foreigner) says he hesitated using the name when Bonham first asked him to reform the band.
“I guess it could have been my name with the band,” Jones says, “but my desire was to be in a band and not put any single name out front. By the same token, Foreigner’s a name I’ve devoted a great deal of my life to. As long as I could recapture the sound we had … we would continue.”Pilson, who had appeared alongside Bonham in the movie “Rockstar,” came on board immediately, but finding a singer to replace Gramm took a little longer.
“That was the major stumbling block,” Jones says. “I knew people would want to hear (Foreigner’s) songs even if it wasn’t a similar sounding voice, but I also knew I had to hit it right on the money.”
Then, Jones received a demo from Hansen singing a few classic Foreigner tracks.
“The songs immediately took on a new life,” Jones says. “He sang incredibly well, and made the decision easy.”
Throughout the summer tour, Jones and Co. have been playing classic Foreigner tracks (“Hot Blooded,” “Dirty White Boy,” “Urgent”) and a few that the original lineup rarely played live (“At War With the World,” “Say You Will” “Woman in Black”). They also often slip into Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” to honor Bonham’s father.”It’s been overwhelming, honestly,” Jones says. “I have to think of the early days to remember this kind of excitement. It’s really got a life of its own.”
Jones says that he’s writing new material and the band has plans to bring a portable studio on the road. They’ve already recorded a live album that’s available only at their concerts and expect to record in the studio as early as November.
“We might have new tracks coming out by the spring of next year,” Jones says.
If Jones sounds optimistic, it could be because there’s no in-fighting going on in Foreigner’s current incarnation.
“We all get on so well,” he says. “There’s a lot of smiles and laughing that goes on. It’s contagious in this natural way. I’m having so much fun again.”
Foreigner Tour Dates
Foreigner Tickets August 24 – Fraze Pavilion – Dayton OH
Foreigner Tickets September 7 – DTE Energy Music Center – Clarkston MI
Foreigner Tickets September 8 – Charter One Pavilion – Northerly Island Chicago IL
Foreigner Tickets September 22 – Chastain Park – Atlanta GA
Foreigner Tickets September 24 – Sound Advice Amphitheatre – West Palm Beach FL
Foreigner Tickets September 28 – Casino Rama – Rama ON
Foreigner Tickets September 30 – Trump Marina – Atlantic City NJ
Foreigner Tickets October 14 – Cerritos Center – Cerritos CA
Jeremy D. Bonfiglio/South Bend Tribune
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