The year is 1978. The leaders of Israel and Egypt meet and eventually arrive at an historic peace accord between the two nations. Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John (more on her later) is tearing up the box office. It is the year which saw three serving Popes. Led Zeppelin had made their last U.S. tour, John Bonham would die two years later. Keith Moon will pass away in September, soon after the release of Who Are You. The Beatles have long since disbanded, leaving just the Rolling Stones as a mostly intact member of the rock Quadrinity. It might be a time when one could make the argument that rock is dead, but there is a band that released their debut album this year. Van Halen put the proverbial paddles to the heart of rock and shocked it back into a viable rhythm. Van Halen erected the bridge on whose opposite shore would lie heavy metal. However, another band will release its sophomore effort this year. For another ten years they will do a good deal of the heavy lifting in carrying the torch for good old-fashioned rock n’ roll, Foreigner.
Screamer Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Lou Gramm, the original voice of Foreigner, to discuss, among other things a very special event to happen in early August. Gramm, Mick Jones, Dennis Elliott, Ian MacDonald, Al Greenwood and Ed Gagliardi came together in 1976. They released their debut record in 1977, entitled simply Foreigner. That record spawned several hits, Cold as Ice, Feels Like the First Time, Headknocker and Long, Long Way from Home. Upon its release, Foreigner was thrust almost instantly into the spotlight, and probably felt a lot of pressure to deliver a follow-up that would at least equal if not surpass its predecessor. Double Vision would be released in June of 1978, with the throbbing rock anthem Hot Blooded at the tip of the spear. Foreigner’s second release tied the bow on a package of two of the most enduring first couple releases in rock history. When asked if he had given any thoughts to any lasting legacy of the music when it was being created, Gramm had this to say, “Well, you know the band was formed to not be pigeonholed into a certain genre or style or songs of, you know, a certain time period. Part of us getting together was to make excellent songs and songs that stood the test of time. I think to a large degree what we achieved that.”
Individual members of the original Foreigner, including Gramm, have made one-off concert appearances with the current lineup over the last few years. There was even one occasion last fall when all the surviving members, including bassist Rick Wills performed a mini-set together. Wills replaced Gagliardi in 1979, who passed away in 2014. Foreigner announced a few weeks ago that they would include an all original member, ticketed reunion show as part of their show at Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, SD on August 4th. This reunion is part of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of Double Vision. Gramm related about playing Buffalo Chip specifically, “I’ve done that show before with my own band, and I really enjoyed it. When I heard that that show what was up or for being part of the reunion tour, I was excited, because I know it’s a wild and fun-filled show. So I mean, I heard that there was a possibility and I was all for it.” Regarding preparations for the reunion, Gramm said, “We had some days of practice in New York City before the show on Long Island. You know, we spent a good amount of time rehearsing and dusting off the songs, so it sounds like we’ve played it before [laughs].” He adds, “That went good you know, we had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun. And to my surprise. everybody in the original band, I think because the shows were on the horizon has been practicing like crazy and they sound just as good as they ever did.”
Regarding the preparations, Gramm was asked what memories were evoked by plugging in and rehearsing with the original members. “Well it certainly invoked good ones. You know, for some reason the band sounds tighter and actually rocks a little harder than I remember it back in the day.” Adding, “I think back in the day, as we were flying up the charts and were doing one show after the other after the other, between excitement and fatigue, I know there might have been something lost in the translation every once in a while. But given the circumstances of these shows–and apparently they don’t come along but every 40 years, you know, we’re stepping back a little bit and enjoying the circumstances and playing together as a band.” When asked if he is seeing things through rose-colored glasses at this point, he answers, “Yeah, and that that’s not a bad color to see things through at this point. You know, my view, you still gotta play your tail off, that doesn’t mean people are going to be cheering for you if you don’t sound good.”
Discussing the potential set list for the reunion show, Gramm replies, “We talked and talked about it and there are certain songs that the newer Foreigner does, songs that they’re doing so we’re focusing the set mostly on songs from Double Vision, because that’s the album that’s marking the 40 year anniversary. So we’re doing a bunch of different things, but we’re zeroing in on the Double Vision album.” Regarding any unexpected numbers that may be included, he responds, “Well, no one’s told me yet, but, I’m ready for anything [laughs] Mick can toss the ball to us, and I think we’d be ready to play just about anything.” Further prodded on his personal preparation, and what he is doing to prevent having the dream where he is on stage in his underwear and has forgotten the lyrics, Gramm asserts, “Yeah! Oh, yeah. As soon as I know what with the list is I’m on it. I’m listening to live shows that are recorded and listening to the studio album. Just to re-familiarize myself with not only the words, but the phrasing and the attitude I was wearing, you know?”
The discussion switches gears, and the topic transitions to Foreigner’s only number one single. It might be surprising, that the band’s only number one single is I Want to Know What Love Is. Gramm confirms this. Prompted for his thoughts on a bona fide rock n’ roll band having its only number one hit being a cross-genre appeal ballad, Gramm humbly replies, “You know, if you have a number one song, you should just be grateful that it’s number one. And I don’t, I don’t really delineate between being a ballad and being a rocker. It is still the same band playing it. It just happened to be at a time that we were in, where those type of songs were climbing up the charts all the way. We had, I think two or three number twos in our career and you know, I’m just as proud of them. I think that number one is the ultimate, but I think if you could, in the rock arena of the past 25 or 30 years or so, if you get into the top ten, you’re doin’ damn good.” He further explains, “Waiting for a girl, (Waiting for a Girl Like You) which was another ballad, we were number two for eight straight weeks. Do you know who kept us out? The interviewer replies, “No.” Gramm, “Let’s Get Physical, (by Olivia Newton John).” Gramm conveys the song by singing one line of the chorus of that song, “Let’s get physical, physical,” to which the interviewer gets to do a once in a lifetime, one-word duet with Lou Gramm, by singing along to the second “physical”. The interviewer and Gramm share a laugh and he continues, “She was number one for eight weeks, we were number two. Then she dropped to number two and us to number three. Yeah, I was like, oh, finally she’s not number one anymore. You know now hopefully we’ll get up there. She went to two, we went to three.”
On Foreigner’s not being inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, when so many of their contemporaries have already been included, Gramm was very frank. “I think when they were inducting bands from our genre and we were conspicuously absent, I was thinking a lot of things, you know? And I was wondering if there was some sort of a personal problem with somebody who votes bands in or out and, or if there was just someone that didn’t like us for a particular reason, and was going to make sure that we never got in.” He goes on to say, “I don’t know what the reason is, because it is supposed to take that on a strictly, the merit of and the authenticity of the songs that were written, while they were in their prime. I mean, I do think we belong there and I hope we do get in there some day, but I’m not losing any sleep over it. I think that it’s even past the point now where the people, the fans who see bands come in and get inducted they think it’s ridiculous that we’re not in.” While not ascribing any obsession with being inducted, and asking if that would be sort of a nice little cherry on the cake, he states humbly, “It sure would and you know as time goes by I don’t stew on it, but I think more and more, like the hell with it, you know?”
With the clock winding down on the allotted time, the query was posed as to what doors this reunion might open for future reunion shows. Gramm’s response is cautiously enthusiastic. “I don’t know. I mean, the few shows that we’ve done together, I’ve enjoyed them. It brought back some terrific memories, I think it must have sounded good, given the reaction of the audience. I don’t know if this is going to lead to the original band touring anymore, I think it’s a little pointless to record another album at this point. I don’t know what it could lead to or maybe we’ll just leave it at this.” Gramm seems very open to possibilities when asked if the ball is in Jones’ court for further reunions, “Well, I think the initiation of it would be in Mick’s court, but I’m not sure anybody in the original band would be up for touring the way we used to tour.” Maybe a Vegas residency is in store for the original Foreigner. For the record, Gramm offered no insight on that thought.
The singer proffers one last thought to the fans. “Whatever feelings and animosity may have existed, I want everyone to know that we are playing this show with a clean slate and having fun.” Here’s hoping that this particular reunion is a smashing success for both the original members and the current version of Foreigner. Potential future reunions would certainly be a treat for Foreigner fans. One may suspect that it would be a treat for the original members as well.