By Ray Shasho
Lou Gramm will forever be recognized as the golden voice of Foreigner. Not for the current imitation band led by its only original member Mick Jones, but recognized for fronting Foreigner, one of the most popular and successful rock ‘n’ roll bands in history.
Unfortunately, the music industry decided long ago that it was acceptable to market an existing trademark without its key players involved as long as someone in the band controlled the rights to the name. Believe it or not people still show up to watch a mock group playing all the bands greatest hits, and it’s really no different than watching a bar band playing a bunch of cover tunes. Co-founder and guitarist Mick Jones fell ill in 2011 missing several gigs while on tour. Jones assigned a replacement guitarist while he recuperated leaving the touring band without a single original member. The band of musicians calling themselves Foreigner is actually making more money per concert than the real band. If the key players are no longer in the band … change the name, then the rest of us won’t feel like we are being musically violated.
A perfect example of a band “doing the right thing” is Jefferson Starship.
With that said, Foreigner the band’s debut album in 1977 sold more than four million copies, and since its inception the group remains a mainstay on classic rock radio stations around the world. The album spawned the Top 20 hits “Feels Like The First Time,” “Cold As Ice,” and “Long, Long Way From Home.” Foreigner’s second album Double Vision surpassed their debut album by selling over five million copies and generated the hits “Hot Blooded,” “Double Vision,” and “Blue Morning, Blue Day.”
Head Games Foreigner’s third release in 1979 produced the hits “Dirty White Boy” and the title track, “Head Games.” The bands next album Foreigner 4 released in 1981, continued to churn out the hits with “Urgent,” “Juke Box Hero,” “Break It Up,” and one of Gramm’s most beautiful and heartfelt sung tunes, “Waiting For A Girl Like You.” Foreigner 4 was a #1 selling album.
Agent Provocateur released in 1984 spawned the hits, “That Was Yesterday” and their biggest contribution to date, “I Want to Know What Love Is” another Mick Jones composition impeccably sung by Lou Gramm. In ‘87 Foreigner released Inside Information adding several more hits to their repertoire, “Say You Will” and “I Don’t Want to Live Without You.”
Foreigner has sold over 50 million records worldwide.
Rochester native Lou Gramm released his first solo effort, Ready or Not in 1987. The critically-acclaimed album produced the hit, “Midnight Blue” (Peaked at #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100) his highest charting solo hit.
Displeased with the direction Jones was taking the band; Gramm left Foreigner to form Shadow King with an old bandmate, bassist Bruce Turgon from Black Sheep. The band also featured guitarist Vivian Campbell (Def Leopard) and drummer Kevin Valentine (Donnie Iris and the Cruisers, Cinderella). The band released their only album Shadow King in 1991.
Lou Gramm returned to Foreigner in 1992.
In 1997, Lou Gramm was diagnosed with a dangerous brain tumor called craniopharyngioma. After seeing several specialists, doctors told him that the tumor was inoperable. Miraculously, Gramm witnessed a segment on the television show 20/20 that reported about a doctor who performed a procedure on inoperable tumors using laser surgery. Gramm flew to Boston that very same week and was operated on immediately. The procedure lasted eighteen hours but saved the life of the legendary rocker, although the recovery would be long and arduous.
After the surgery, Gramm was administered steroids resulting in excessive weight gain, low stamina, and short and long term memory loss. During his recuperation faze, Gramm was still under contract and continued to work with Foreigner during a vigorous touring schedule until 2002.
The partnership between Gramm and Jones became distraught and finally ended.
Meanwhile, Gramm worked vigilantly to reclaim his former self before the surgery. In 2009, his new band The Lou Gramm Band released their self-titled first album to rave reviews. The album is one of the best Christian rock albums ever; it’s the heyday of Foreigner with a metaphysical directive.
The Lou Gramm Band features his brother Ben on drums, Don Mancuso on guitars, A.D. Zimmer on bass and Andy Knoll on keyboards. The band is currently on tour and arrives at The Youkey Theatre in Lakeland, Fl on November 17th. Lou Gramm will be performing his greatest hits from Foreigner. Tickets go on sale August 17th at 10a.m. Purchase tickets at www.thelakelandcenter.com
I caught up with Lou Gramm while preparing for various concert dates in Canada.
We talked about the incredible rock ‘n’ roll days of Foreigner(great stories), transformation into Christianity, the surgery that saved his life, the debacle of the music industry, what happens when rock stars retire, and muscle cars.
Here’s my interview with singer, songwriter, musician, and legendary voice of Foreigner … LOU GRAMM.
Ray Shasho: Lou, thank you for being on the call today. How’s the weather in Canada?
Lou Gramm: “It’s beautiful like in the low 70s, low humidity and crystal clear skies.”
Ray Shasho: You’ve been down around the Tampa Bay area quite often over the years. You played The Club in Treasure Island most recently, and in 2007 performed at Ribfest in St. Pete with the Edgar Winter Band.
Lou Gramm: “I have twelve year old twins. Every year … my wife and I and the twins vacation in Destin.”
Ray Shasho: Do you take the twins on the road with you sometimes?
Lou Gramm: “Yea, sometimes over the summer or if they have a spring vacation or something like that they’ll come out for one show. They’ll come up and sing on stage with me too, they’ve sang, “Hot Blooded” and several other songs depending on what the show is.”
Ray Shasho: Lou, you look great and your voice sounds as good as ever. How are you taking care of yourself these days?
Lou Gramm: “I feel terrific and a lot of that weight from the steroids has come off now, so I feel a little lighter on my feet. There’s no exercise or dieting that will do anything to lose the weight you put on from steroids. I’ve been exercising for about twenty five years, but after the operation for a couple of years, they didn’t want me to do anything. Slowly, I started to get back into my regiment and I’m exercising with a trainer now five days a week. I’m on a pretty specific diet and just the good Lord. I was 145 pounds most of my adult life, and then a year after my operation I gained 100 pounds. I was throwing out everything that I couldn’t wear anymore.”
Ray Shasho: Did getting back on the road again after the surgery help with the rehabilitation process?
Lou Gramm: “It did … but the surgery was in March and in August I was in Japan. I don’t think that helped. My doctor told me that he didn’t want me to do much of anything for the first year. But Foreigner and the management had already booked shows and dammit … we were going to play them. And I have no memory of any of those things. When I came back, I had to write out just about all the lyrics to every song with a black marker and tape it on the floor. My long and short term memory was affected and simple versus that I’ve sung for many years just wouldn’t come to me, I had to glance at my notes.”
Ray Shasho: Lou, did you get any symptoms before the illness?
Lou Gramm: “I did but it wasn’t like months before I could see it coming. I got short and long term memory lapses, couldn’t remember my mom and dad’s telephone number that they’ve had for 23 years. I’d see people and know who they were but the name wouldn’t come to me. I was getting killer headaches periodically; I’d been clean and sober for almost five years when that happened so I knew it wasn’t hangover stuff. Then I had an MRI and they found a tumor in the center frontal lobe that was the size of a large egg and it had tentacles wrapped around my optical nerve and my pituitary. I saw a specialist at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York and he sent me to a brain tumor specialist in Manhattan that was supposed to be one of the best in the country, and they both sent me home and told me that the tumor was inoperable.”
“So I was pretty much starting to put my affairs in order. I just happened to be watching TV and there was a segment on 20/20 about Dr. Black at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who pioneered a new type of laser surgery and operated on tumors that were deemed inoperable. That was a Monday and at the end of the segment they gave his nurse receptionist’s phone number for his office, Tuesday morning about 8:00 I was on the phone, Wednesday I was flying to Boston, and Thursday at 5:30 in the morning I was on the operating table. They said if I waited any longer there could be irreparable damage. When they were wheeling me down to the operating room for my surgery, I was praying to God and I said Lord let your will be done, if you mean to take me … I’m ready. I was on the operating table for over eighteen hours. What they didn’t tell me was that the recovery would be long and arduous. That was in 1997. I didn’t start feeling like myself until 2004.”
Ray Shasho: Lou that’s an incredible story, there needs to be a book written about your experience.
Lou Gramm: “I’m at the end of chapters in writing the book. I’m actually doing it with a co-author.”
Ray Shasho: I heard an interview that you did that said you may be winding down your career. Is that true or are you thinking of jumpstarting it?
Lou Gramm: “I’m touring but only going out on weekends now. I don’t think that I’d want to do a bus tour for ten or twelve months. I’m 62 years old. I don’t think that I could do four or five shows a week and don’t think my voice has the flexibility of a young man anymore. I could still hit the notes but not every night …like when you do three or four in a row. I just want to make sure that when I perform people hear me at my best.”
Ray Shasho: I have a tough time accepting this, and I’m probably in denial, but we’re all witnessing the final years for all the great rock ‘n’ roll legends. In five years or so, many of them will probably retire. What are your plans for retirement?
Lou Gramm: “I have a studio in my hometown of Rochester, New York and I want to stay in the business, writing songs for other artists and producing. I want to spend more time with my family and really put more time into my hobby which is 60s and 70s muscle cars.”
Ray Shasho: Awesome hobby man, do you restore and collect them?
Lou Gramm: “I try to find the ones that are in real good shape, not do-over’s, I like to find them original and the way they were, like somebody that took real good care of a car. And that’s basically what all my cars are and I just fix the little things … set them up with some rally wheels and big tires, and then drive over to what we call cruise nights. That’s where at a certain restaurant or whatever on a certain night, these guys with muscle cars and classic cars meet, there could be a couple hundred of them, and they’re cooking hots & hamburgers and just hanging out.”
“But I have a ’65 Olds 442 with 47,000 original miles on it, a ’68 Camaro 396/ 375 Super Sport black on black with 18,000 original miles on it, I have a ’67 Chevelle 396/350 automatic with air and I bought that one in Lakeland, Florida. I also have a 1987 Buick Turbo-T and I bought that brand new. About three years ago I sold five cars, my collection was much bigger but it was getting to be too much for me to keep them all maintained. So I sold off the five and kept my favorites. I took the money from the cars that I sold and put it in my kid’s college fund.”
Ray Shasho: I could talk about muscle cars all day, but back to music. (Laughing) I really enjoyed your latest release, The Lou Gramm Band –CD (Released 2009). I think it’s one of the best Christian rock albums that I’ve ever heard. It’s the heyday of Foreigner with a metaphysical directive. Are you planning on releasing another album?
Lou Gramm: “I’m very proud of that album; unfortunately we signed with an independent label and found out months later that because the album wasn’t in the record stores and at radio stations, that it was a one-man operation. But I would like to take my time and put out one more album, maybe a nontraditional album. I’m just now starting to work on songs.”
Ray Shasho: I talked with a lot of artists who still carry a grudge against record companies from back in the 60s and 70s. They’d say things like they ripped us off or they were tyrants etc. My feeling is maybe they did do some unscrupulous acts back in the day, but they also promoted the hell of them and made them all rock stars. There aren’t many people that will do that today; you’re basically on your own.
Lou Gramm: “There is nowhere to go with a new album. You have these classic rock stations where you here Journey and Foreigner, then the oldies stations where you’d here groups like Dion & the Belmonts, and then you have rock radio where you hear only the new bands. What I can’t figure out is at what point do they put you into the classic rock category, because once you’re there, there’s nowhere to go with your new album. Rock radio won’t play it and even classic rock radio won’t play it because they’ll only play your old hits. So you could have a great new album out but you’ve got nowhere to go with it.”
Ray Shasho: When Ronnie Montrose was coming to town back in October, I had finished doing an interview with him and his wife Leighsa asked me to recommend a good radio station to set up an interview. I told her I would ask around for her. No one around Tampa wanted to do it, so I contacted a classic rock station in Fort Myers. They told me that they didn’t play Montrose music and turned down the offer. Just about every classic rock station plays The Edgar Winter Group (Ronnie was the original guitarist). Hmmm, I wonder if they’re regretting that decision now.
Lou Gramm: “Wow … that’s crazy. When we’d do interviews on classic rock radio, we’ll go up there and they’ll play some of the older big hits, and we’ll ask beforehand if they would play one of our new songs. They’d say, “Sure no problem okay.” So we’d talk for fifteen or twenty minutes about the good old days and the concert that was coming up, then they’d play about 15 seconds of the new song and quickly fade it out and say… “Well thanks for coming in today.” They’d play like half of verse and fade it out … just horrible.”
Ray Shasho: Lou when did you become a born again Christian?
Lou Gramm: “Foreigner had reached a peak of success and all the trappings of success were part of our lives … including long tours, alcohol and drugs, all that stuff. One particular day, I had a nightmarish night and just knew that I didn’t want that to be part of my life anymore. I just fell on my knees and asked the Lord to get me out of this Hell. So basically I gave my heart to the Lord and called a good friend of mine who escorted me to Minneapolis and spent thirty days at Hazelden. It’s a wonderful and spiritual place, a place to get a real education about the beguiles of drug and alcohol addiction, and I’ve got over twenty years of sobriety.”
Ray Shasho: Lou, do you have a good road story from your Foreigner days?
Lou Gramm: “We had just played a show in West Virginia and the next show was in Michigan or something like that. We had a long-long ride so right after the show we got on our bus and we were driving all night. Somewhere around two or three in the morning, we pulled off the highway into this gas station that had a 7- Eleven attached to it. While the bus driver was filling up the tank, most of us got off and went inside the 7-Eleven for some snacks and refreshments. Mick was asleep in his bunk and he had a curtain across his bunk. We all came back on the bus and the tour manager Kevin, which was Mick’s younger brother, did a head count and the curtain was still closed across Mick’s bunk, so he assumed he was in there and then off we went.”
“We drove another four and half hours and were only about an hour and a half from our destination when Kevin Jones the tour manager got a call from his mother in England. It turned out, while we were walking back to the bus, Mick had gone out of his bunk, pulled the curtain across it, got out the door and walked behind the bus … we were walking in front of the bus. So we had taken off and were already four and half hours down the highway, Mick was still in the 7-Eleven with no money, no cell phone, in sandals, sweatpants and a hoodie, and he ended up calling his mother collect in England and told her what happened. Then she called Kevin.”
“The guy that worked behind the 7-Eleven counter would tell everyone that walked in, “Hey, do you know who this is …its Mick Jones from Foreigner and his bandmates left him here without any money. Mick tried to get the guy at 7-Eleven to give him some money to put in the pay phone and promised when he came back he’d pay him back double, even give him a hundred dollars but the guy didn’t believe him.”
“So, it was really an eight hour juncture that Mick was just hanging around in a 7-Eleven with no money and doing nothing. When we finally picked him up, he got on the bus and gave us all dirty looks, got back into his bunk and drew the curtains. Then we turned around and didn’t head for the hotel, we went straight to the gig and had about a half an hour to get dressed and get on stage.”
Ray Shasho: Do you still talk with Mick Jones at all?
Lou Gramm: “No, we left on really bad terms.”
Ray Shasho: I still have a hard time understanding how a group can continue using the trademark when there’s only one original member in the band.
Lou Gramm: “He owns the name. Last July they discovered that he had a tumor in his throat and also discovered that he had a major artery blocked to his heart. So he came off the road, they removed the tumor and did the bypass. Meanwhile the band got a substitute guitar player, has kept on playing all the way into December, and they’re playing again, they call themselves Foreigner and he hasn’t been with them in a year. And they’re making almost twice the money that we did per show.”
“A friend of mine went to see them in Las Vegas and they came on stage and people were cheering. He did see a few people stand up, get out of their seats, and leave because they knew it wasn’t Foreigner, but the rest of the crowd had no idea or didn’t care.”
“I watched on one of the cable channels, the new Foreigner play a couple songs and then they’d cut to an interview … and the new singer, well guess he’s not new anymore, he’s been with them for ten years now, is talking with the interviewer about his memories when they wrote, “Juke Box Hero” together … can you believe that?”
Ray Shasho: Hopefully people will learn to do their homework when conducting an interview or purchasing tickets to a concert these days. Lou thank you so much for being on the call today but more importantly for all the incredible music that you’ve given to us over the years. We’re all looking forward to your concert at The Lakeland Center on November 17th.
Lou Gramm: “Thanks Ray I enjoyed it, look forward to chatting with you again soon.”
Lou Gramm, the original frontman for Foreigner performs on November 17th at the Youkey Theatre in Lakeland, Fl. Tickets go on sale August 17th at 10a.m. Purchase tickets at www.thelakelandcenter.com
Lou Gramm official website http://www.lou-gramm.com/
Order The Lou Gramm Band’s latest CD at amazon.com -I give it (5) stars! I think it’s one of the best Christian rock albums that I’ve ever heard. It’s the heyday of Foreigner with a metaphysical directive.
Special thanks to Jerrod Wilkins of Gold Mountain Entertainment
Official website www.gmemusic.com
Contact classic rock music reporter Ray Shasho at firstname.lastname@example.org
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