Following the success of their self-titled 1977 debut album, Foreigner went on to record some of rock’s most enduring anthems, including “Hot Blooded,” “Juke Box Hero” and “Urgent,” not to mention the Number 1 hit, “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
Since then, they’ve become one of the best-selling bands of all time, with 10 multi-platinum albums and worldwide sales exceeding 75 million.
On May 19, Foreigner will celebrate their 40th anniversary with a new career-spanning compilation, 40, which features 40 hits from 40 years. The band also will embark on an extensive U.S. tour with Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience.
These days, Foreigner is Mick Jones (lead guitar), Kelly Hansen (lead vocals), Jeff Pilson (bass), Tom Gimbel (rhythm guitar/flute/saxophone), Michael Bluestein (keyboards), Bruce Watson (lead guitar) and Chris Frazier (drums).
I recently spoke with Jones about the band’s 40th-anniversary plans, his upcoming autobiography, gear and more.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Foreigner. When you look back now—with so much perspective—what thoughts come to mind?
It’s a real gift and has basically been two-thirds of my life. It’s been a passion for me and I’ve stuck with it through thick or thin. I’m very grateful for having the opportunity to have an experience like this and to be doing something that I really love. It’s outlasted any expectations.
What does the band have planned to celebrate the occasion?
It’s the 40th anniversary, so we have the Foreigner 40 album that’s coming May 19. We’ve also got my book coming out, which is my first autobiography where you’ll find out a bit more about me. Then we’ve got a huge American tour where we’re bringing along Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. We have a couple of the guys coming out to play with the band, including Rick Wills and Dennis Elliot. There’s also plans for Lou Gramm to come out and do a few shows. We hope to make it a celebration.
Kelly Hansen has been with the band on lead vocals for more than a decade. What’s it like having him with the band?
Kelly was the reason I felt confident to go ahead with this in the first place. Obviously, those were big shoes to fill, but Kelly is a go-getting front man and performer who carries the songs incredibly well and gives 150 percent every night. But that’s really the thing about the whole band—everyone is totally dedicated to what we’re doing. It’s a rare thing to find something where everyone is on the same page. There’s good feeling all around.
“Hot Blooded” has one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock history. Can you tell me how that song originated?
That was on the second album [Double Vision] and things were going so fast by that point. The album wasn’t even finished and we had just embarked on a whirlwind, international tour. “Hot Blooded” came out of a bit of a jam in the studio. I had the riff and it was one of those songs that happened really quickly. In those days, we all recorded together in the studio, and I remember one day being in there and my amp caught fire. There was all of this smoke coming out of the damn thing and I’m wondering what the hell just happened! I remember thinking, “Is this a message?” [laughs].
What was your writing process like with Lou Gramm in those days?
It always came in different ways. Sometimes we’d get together at my place or at Lou’s and spend an afternoon fleshing ideas out and little bits and pieces. Maybe it was a guitar riff or a chord progression—or even a title. I find working with titles is always a good way to go. It’s almost like writing the song backwards. Sometimes, Lou would start by playing these two-fingered piano pieces. He was always good at getting the vibe and then we’d work on it from there. Other times, I’d have a bunch of guitar riffs hanging around and we’d sift through those. But we always knew when we found something that had potential.
The 4 album really took the band to a whole new level. What was your experience like working with Mutt Lange [producer] on that record?
At the beginning, it was hell [laughs]. It took us a while to get balance. We both had very firm ideas of the general direction of what we wanted to do, so we often found ourselves at loggerheads. Gradually, we learned to respect each other by what we were able to do in the studio. The relationship mellowed out a lot more and we got to know each other better and share things on a more intimate level as people. It ended up elevating the band to another level and was probably the best production partnership we ever had. It was a lot of hard work and studio time, but the result was very satisfying.
Has your guitar setup changed much over there years?
Not really. It’s pretty much straight ahead. I use a few effect pedals, but nothing much else in the way of processing. Just the amp with the heads modified a little bit. I’ve tried the rack-mount stuff but I somehow can’t get the same feeling. So I go the old-fashioned way. On stage, I play my dark tobacco Les Paul and also have the Signature Custom model Gibson made for me about 10 years ago.
Of all the highlights of your career with Foreigner, what stands out to you as most memorable?
I think it was the first time we played Madison Square Garden and the celebration we had after that. It was overboard and crazy and was all done in the Rockefeller Center out on the ice. I remember we had a few hundred people there and everyone was drunk and skating and falling over [laughs]. But the dream of playing Madison Square Garden one day was always there, and that night brought it all home for me.
For more about the band, visit foreigneronline.com.
Foreigner 40th Anniversary Tour Dates
July 11 Lakeview Amphitheater Syracuse, NY
13 BB&T Pavilion Camden, NJ
14 Bethel Woods Center for the Arts Bethel, NY
15 Giant Center Hershey, PA
17 Blue Hills Bank Pavilion Boston, MA
18 Saratoga Performing Arts Center Saratoga Springs, NY
20 Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theatre Wantagh, NY
21 Darien Lake Amphitheater Darien Center, NY
22 PNC Banks Arts Center Holmdel, NJ
25 Jiffy Lube Live Bristow, VA
26 Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater Virginia Beach, VA
28 Ascend Amphitheater Nashville, TN
29 Chastain Park Amphitheatre Atlanta, GA
30 Oak Mountain Amphitheatre Pelham, AL
August 1 Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre West Palm Beach, FL
2 MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheater Tampa, FL
3 Daily's Place Jacksonville, FL
5 PNC Music Pavilion Charlotte, NC
6 Coastal Credit Union Music Park Raleigh, NC
8 Riverbend Music Center Cincinnati, OH
9 Huntington Bank Pavilion Chicago, IL
11 DTE Energy Music Theatre Clarkston, MI
12 KeyBank Pavilion Burgettstown, PA
13 Klipsch Music Center Noblesville, IN
15 Starlight Theatre Kansas City, MO
16 Hollywood Casino Amphitheater Maryland Heights, MO
18 Starplex Pavilion Dallas, TX
19 Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion The Woodlands, TX
20 austin360 Amphitheatre Austin, TX
23 Isleta Amphitheater Albuquerque, NM
24 Ak-Chin Pavilion Phoenix, AZ
26 USANA Amphitheater Salt Lake City, UT
27 The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Las Vegas, NV
29 Mattress Firm Amphitheater Chula Vista, CA
30 Greek Theatre Los Angeles, CA
September 1 Toyota Amphitheater Marysville, CA
2 Shoreline Amphitheater Mountain View, CA
4 Red Rocks Amphitheatre Morrison, CO
8 Sunlight Supply Amphitheatre Ridgefield, WA
9 White River Amphitheater Auburn, WA
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.