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Biographies: Foreigner

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Reviewer: Sarg


MICK JONES: Guitar / Piano / Background Vocals
LOU GRAMM: Lead Vocals / Background Vocals
BRUCE TURGON: Bass Guitar Background Vocals
JEFF JACOBS: Piano / Organ / Keyboards / Vocals
THOM GIMBEL: Sax/ Guitar

During the Los Angeles riots in the spring of 1992, while one war was breaking out in the streets of America's largest city, another war was ending. Inside the confines of the Sunset Marquis hotel in downtown LA, singer Lou Gramm and guitarist Mick Jones were sequestered due to a city curfew. They decided to use their time together putting a two year feud to rest and resurrecting their platinum act, Foreigner.

"I flew to Los Angeles, during the riots," says Gramm. "We got flown to John Wayne airport instead of LAX because they were shooting at the planes. Mick and I were holed up in the Sunset Marquis in LA, with armed security guards walking around on the roof. It was a little weird, to say the least."

Gramm, a soft-spoken, but hard rockin' vocalist from Rochester, NY and Jones, a British guitarist who has also established himself as a producer for the likes of Billy Joel, Van Halen, Bad Company and others, decided to bury the hatchet and revive one of the world's best loved rock'n'roll bands.

"When Lou and I met in Los Angeles that's what it was all about, " says Mick Jones. " We had to see if we could put the rough patch beyond us and talk things out. Which, fortunately, we did."
Today, Foreigner is back again, this time with a leaner line-up and slightly harder edge to its music. Six years after their LA peace talks, several tours, and the release of a greatest hits, live album and a new album of studio recordings entitled Mr. Moonlight, Foreigner is going stronger than ever, despite a life threatening illness that afflicted singer Lou Gramm a day before the band was leaving for its 1997 tour of Japan.

The American tour marks the return to public life of lead singer Lou Gramm, who has spent the last year recuperating in Upstate New York after the removal of a benign brain tumor. Lou was diagnosed in April 1997, with the tumor, just one day before the band was set to leave for a tour of Japan.

The tumor was removed by surgery, which was followed by a year of rehabilitation at his home and a concentrated period of radiation treatment at Boston's Brigham & Woman's Hospital, under the care of Dr. Peter Black earlier this year.

"My tumor was non-cancerous," says Lou, "but it was certainly life threatening. It was growing adjacent to my optic nerve in the base of my brain and it was blocking the signals my brain was sending out to my body. I was losing my memory, getting headaches and seeing with double vision. Fortunately, everything turned out OK, and I'm back to work with the band. I'm very grateful to the Lord, my wife and family, and all my friends, who got me through this difficult time."

Born and raised in England, Mick Jones began his musical career as the "24th guitar player" in a unit known as Nero and the Gladiators. He wrote songs and played sessions for French pop idol Johnny Halliday and recorded with such artists as George Harrison and Peter Frampton. Jones formed Wonderwheel with Gary Wright and they eventually reformed noted U.K. band, Spooky Tooth. In 1974, he moved to New York; Spooky Tooth broke up, and Jones went on to serve as A&R rep for a British record company. He assembled Foreigner in 1976.

Mick Jones had dreamed of forming his own unique synthesis of rock, progressive and R&B elements since his days touring as a support act for the Beatles, whose luminous energy literally moved the young Englishman to tears. He joined forces with ex-King Crimson hornsman Ian McDonald and a soulful vocalist named Lou Gramm, ace British drummer Dennis Elliot (formerly with If and Ian Hunter), and New Yorkers Al Greenwood (keyboards) and Ed Gagliardi (bass) .

Lou Gramm was born and raised in Rochester, New York. He formed the group Black Sheep in 1971, initially handling both vocals and drums. Black Sheep released two albums in the mid-70's and these discs attracted the attention of Mick Jones who invited Gramm to try out for a new (as yet unnamed) band he was forming in 1976. Gramm became a founding member of the band that was eventually named Foreigner. The tape of Lou Gramm's very first audition served as a demo which helped the group make the connection to Atlantic Records,

The Gramm/Jones writing chemistry clicked immediately. The driving "Cold As Ice" became the first of their hybrid collaborations.

The self-titled debut album was released in 1977. Foreigner went on to cross the quadruple platinum sales mark. During its two year run on the national charts, the hits kept coming, beginning with "Feels Like The First Time" and continuing with "Cold As Ice" and "Long, Long Way From Home." At the end of 1977, Foreigner walked away with the #1 spot in every major consumer and trade publication.

The next year they road tested the verse and chorus of "Hot Blooded" before a few hundred thousand close friends at the Cal Jam II Festival. Their enthusiastic response to the crunch and grind of this worthy successor to the "Honky Tonk Women" / "All Right Now" tradition assured its place on the next album, Double Vision.

Double Vision, was released in 1978. Shipping platinum, it surpassed its predecessor with more than five million albums sold in the U.S, alone. It remained in the Top Ten for six months and became the #1-selling rock 'n' roll album of the year. Two gold-selling singles were released from Double Vision -- "Hot Blooded" and the album title track.

Foreigner released their third album, Head Games, in 1979. Again, it was a multi-platinum success, producing the hit singles, "Dirty White Boy" and "Head Games." Foreigner then went back to basics with Head Games , which Gramm refers to as their "grainiest" effort. It also marked the band's first personnel change, when Rick Wills (ex-Peter Frampton and Roxy Music, among many others) became Foreigner's new bassist.

But the band knew a quantum leap was needed. With the help of producer Mutt Lange and synth-texturalist Thomas Dolby, they entered their second "fertile" period with 4, which found the band streamlined to the quartet of Jones, Gramm, Elliot and Wills. The album was highlighted by the pulsating roar of "Jukebox Hero" and the churning, futuristic hyper-funk of "Urgent" which included the critically acclaimed soaring sax solo of Junior Walker.

1984 marked the release of their next album of new material, Agent Provocateur which debuted one of Foreigner's most enduring and remarkable ballads. Mick Jones went through a period of earnest soul-searching about his life and relationships that resulted in the words and music to the magnificent "I Want to Know What Love Is", which Gramm drives home with heartfelt intensity.

Sting, who had snubbed Foreigner early on, halted the recording of his Blue Turtles album one afternoon to find out just who had created this irresistible cry from the heart.Bringing the energy of rock face to face with the emotional/spiritual power of gospel, the single featured the extraordinary talents of Jennifer Holiday and the New Jersey Mass Choir. This #1 single was also the subject of Foreigner's first full-scale video production.

In 1985, Foreigner also embarked on a nine-month world tour. Wrapping up two years of virtual non-stop activity, they took a break in 1986. During this hiatus, Mick Jones co-produced Van Halen's smash, 5150 album and served executive producer of the re-formed Bad Company's Fame and Fortune project. Lou Gramm also released his debut solo album, Ready Or Not, in 1987, which featured the hit single, "Midnight Blue."

In 1987 Foreigner returned to the studio to record Inside Information , marking the first album to be produced solely by Mick Jones. The album delivered two hits for the group, "Say You Will" and "I Don't Want To Live Without You"

By then, the band shifted its musical focus from uptempo rockers to more commercial "power ballads." His solo album yielded a Top 10 hit, but Gramm was not able to actively tour as a solo act because of the continual demands of Foreigner. When Gramm saw this change in direction, and the restrictions on his own career, problems within the group began.

"I had felt the creative equity had diminished as we went along," says Gramm. "It was very open in the beginning for the first three or four albums. But at one point, I felt my input diminishing, I felt my ideas weren't good enough. It was a confidence shaking. I questioned my own validity, and at the same time I was losing interest in the direction of the music of the band. It was going some place that I didn't want to go...and I was powerless to do anything about it. "

"Even if the rest of the band had fought harder to keep the band's music harder, there was no arguing with the success of the ballads. Wherever the bread was buttered, people were content to be of that frame of mind...me, aside. There was no rockin' the boat."

The rockin' the boat came when Gramm' s solo career was perceived as a threat to the band. He and Jones began arguing and, in 1989, Gramm left the group to form another band called Shadow King.

Foreigner, in turn, replaced Gramm with an unknown singer and carried on. Neither band, however, saw much commercial success and both groups broke up in 1991.

The meeting two regroup came about as the result of an effort by Atlantic Records, Foreigner's then-label, who were eager to see the two main members of the group reunite when a European release of their greatest hits sold nearly 700,000 copies in 1991.

"They asked me if I would be interested in either working on some tracks that we had in the can that would be included in a U.S. released Best Of compilation, or possibly, writing some new tracks..... with no strings attached. And I figured it would be something interesting, to see how it goes."

It was a real interesting premise for a discussion," adds Gramm. "It was like a couple secret agents meeting behind enemy lines. We talked about old times, we talked about why things had gone astray. The direction of the band, and creative input. We both had a lot of things to say, but we didn't talk at each other...we listened. And a lot of things were understood. We had two years without being in each other's face to talk about how things had been different if we had handled it different. Maybe that time apart was the best for us. We had a chance to try things that we normally wouldn't have done."

"It was just like talking to a brother or a friend again," recollects Gramm. "It was less getting down to business and more talking about old times." Jones concurs. "I was upset about the split -- we both were -- I think we've realized that the partnership we had between us is one of those rare things. We both felt that we had some unfinished business together.

That ineffable chemistry drew them back together to create the three new tracks Foreigner...The Very best And Beyond, released in 1992. Instead of tired retreads, these tunes are recognizable Foreigner and yet vibrantly grounded in the present moment. "With Heaven On Our Side" a track that further refined the intricacies of the ballad form, as Lou's ever maturing voice explored its lower registers. "Prisoner of Love" which had the textural feeling of "progressive" Foreigner, and "Soul Doctor" simply the hottest rocker they'd recorded with Mick's Beatlesque riffing and modern voicings on guitar, up to that point.

They went back on the road, had a blast and sold out everywhere and decided it was time get the band back in the studio
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, in 1994, Foreigner proved what a great rock and roll band can do with a few years downtime and some creative reassessment. Plunging back into the rock arena with
Mr. Moonlight, the band's first album reuniting guitarist Mick Jones and vocalist Lou Gramm since 1987, Foreigner kicked into the Nineties with unleashed abandon and ferocity-- and what may well be their strongest album ever in a long line of multi-platinum smashes.

Mr. Moonlight became the first step in solidifying that unfinished business. For this album, they decided to bring fresh blood into the band and came up with a formidable lineup of backing musicians. Bass player Bruce Turgon who had worked with Gramm for years on solo projects and was a member of Gramm's early band, Black Sheep. Also on board: keyboardist Jeff Jacobs who worked with Jones when he was producing Bill Joel's award winning multiplatinum Stormfront album.

One of the high points of Mr. Moonlight for Jones ("a childhood fantasy come true") was having the chance to work with Duanne Eddy in Nashville on the song "Until The End of Time." "I think the last time something like that happened was when Junior Walker played on "Urgent", says Jones. "It turned out to be a beautiful song."

The band was just about to leave for a tour of Japan in the spring of 1997, when Gramm was diagnosed with his brain tumor.

After surviving a dangerous operation, Gramm spent a year recuperating, although he never stopped working with Mick Jones on songwriting for the new album.

Upon completion of a 1999 summer tour with Journey, Foreigner will resume work on the new studio album, which many insiders feel will be their strongest since Foreigner IV.
"It's the beginning again," says Jones, who created the band in 1976, "and we're focusing on what we want to achieve in this decade."

Twenty Two years since the phenomenal "arrival" of Foreigner, the group has maintained a standard of musical quality and a level of popular approval of equally enviable proportions. Their unprecedented string of hits have become rock classics. While forging an unmistakable "Foreigner sound," they have also taken risks and weathered changes that would have fatally undermined most top-ranked units.
Listeners around the world have endorsed the band's progress with outstanding sales -- a global total currently well in excess of 30 million records. Their sold-out concerts continue to be testimony to their stature as one of the best live rock bands in the business.

Now, in 1999, Foreigner has emerged stronger than ever.

"There's still a market there for Foreigner," says Jones. "There's people who grew up with us and I think there's a respect from the young people who know we've been true to our roots. If people remain genuine, they'll survive. And we plan on doing that."

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Written and/or edited from existing bios by Bruce Pilato. 1998 & 1999

© 2014 Madison Ross Media Group