Monday , July 23, 2018 - 5:15 AM
Foreigner may have notched some of its biggest hits with sleek, polished ballads, but at its core the band’s sound is defined by founder Mick Jones’ driving rhythm guitar riffs.
So, while two of the band’s biggest hits may be the keyboard- and synthesizer-infused tunes “I Want to Know What Love Is” and “Waiting For a Girl Like You,” which both hit No. 1 on the U.S. Mainstream chart, the songs that really pushed the needle for Foreigner’s rock following were guitar-based. Think “Hot Blooded,” “Double Vision” and “Dirty White Boy.”
Foreigner’s introduction to the airwaves in March of 1977, in fact, was the catchy and crunchy guitar opening to “Feels Like the First Time,” the band’s debut single. The group’s third single — “Long Long Way From Home,” which kicked off Side II of Foreigner’s eponymous debut album — was based on another scorching guitar riff, one that still remains an absolute favorite among the band’s longtime followers.
It’s been more than 40 years since Jones wrote those two compelling guitar riffs. So when I got the chance to interview him in advance of next Wednesday’s show at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City, I wondered whether he remembered where he was at the time and the circumstances surrounding their creation.
“Well, I know where I was, I was in New York,” Jones said. “I was just about to start putting the band together and (‘Feels Like the First Time’) was the first song that came up, the first song I came up with the idea for, and it was the song that was to predict whether the music I was writing was going to be for a solo project or a band. And it ended up, as we well know, that it was for a band.”
The band featured three Englishmen and three Americans, hence the name Foreigner, and that dynamic played into the lyrical theme for “Long Long Way From Home.”
“I was getting by, just about, in New York, it was 1977,” Jones said. “It was a bit more of a dangerous city than it is these days, definitely. ‘Long Way From Home’ was really a lot to do with all of us being sequestered in New York, you know, just pounding away at the songs and auditioning gaps in the lineup. And it was just a great, anticipatory time, but obviously not knowing what would lie ahead. As corny as it sounds, ‘Feels Like the First Time’ was the first time I felt that way about something I’d created. And it really set the tone for the albums to come.”
The albums that were to come, of course, were hugely successful. The band went on to record 10 multi-platinum albums, which spawned 16 Top 30 hits and sold more than 80 million copies worldwide. As the band’s 1981 hit implied, Foreigner had indeed become “Juke Box Heroes.”
Foreigner’s current production — a 29-city jaunt across North America — is titled the “Juke Box Heroes Tour” and also features Whitesnake and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening. According to Jones, the entire night’s worth of music is really resonating with rock fans.
“It really is a very strong show,” Jones said Monday in a phone call from Chicago, where the band was enjoying an off day. “And people have been coming out in hordes to see this show. It’s remarkable. It just really feels like the ’70s and ’80s again out there. You’ve got a lot of kids and teenagers, and a whole big wide audience. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a powerful evening. I think it makes people remember what made these bands and this music special. So all around, it’s a really, really great evening.”
Foreigner has undergone myriad lineup changes throughout the band’s history — to the point where Jones is the only original remaining member. After original vocalist Lou Gramm finally left the band in early 2003, Jones took some time off before regrouping a couple years later with an entirely new lineup behind lead singer Kelly Hansen, former Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson, and multi-instrumentalist Tom Gimbel, among others.
Jones suffered from some health issues beginning in 2011, eventually resulting in heart surgery in 2012. Since then, the band’s policy has been that Jones performs when he is feeling up to it, and sits shows out as needed. He has missed most of the band’s Utah dates in the interim — but he was on hand for last summer’s show at USANA Amphitheatre.
Jones said his health currently is pretty great.
“Yeah, I’m, (knock on) wood, doing well, and I’ve managed to do every show on this tour so far,” Jones said. “I think I’m doing really well, so hopefully I won’t have to miss many more.”
For its 40th-anniversary celebration last year, all surviving original Foreigner members rejoined the band for a few select unannounced shows. In a new twist, the band recently announced in advance it will be doing another reunion show — this one coming on Aug. 4 in Sturgis, South Dakota. The show will feature original members Gramm, keyboardist Al Greenwood, multi-instrumentalist Ian MacDonald and drummer Dennis Elliott, along with longtime bassist Rick Wills, who will all join the current band in one big Foreigner-palooza.
“We’ll be rehearsing for a couple of days before the show and we’ll probably add a few, I don’t know whether they will be different songs or not, but we’ll try and give it some personality,” Jones said. “It’s a one-off thing. So we just go out there and have a lot of fun. The old members love it. Lou and our present singer, Kelly Hansen, get along like a house on fire. So it’s something really to look forward to.”
In many respects, it’s a unique thing when current and former members of a big-time band can put egos aside and work together to celebrate their shared legacy. In Foreigner, you had some people who were fired — others who left under some acrimony — sharing a stage with people who have replaced them and worked hard to keep the band’s legacy going.
Jones said these shows started out initially with just Elliott and Wills joining in, but it gradually turned into the full original band participating. Of special note is the partnership between the two lead vocalists.
“In the end, both Lou and Kelly really respect each other’s vocal ability,” Jones said. “You know, they push each other on. It’s great to see it, I’m so happy. Because what Lou and I did together, it’s a separate entity in a way, but to be able to look back and to see actually how much we did achieve together, I think it’s been really great for that recognition.”
IF YOU GO
What: "Juke Box Heroes Tour," with Foreigner, Whitesnake, and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 26
Where: USANA Amphitheatre, 5150 Upper Ridge Road, West Valley City
Tickets: $29.50-$350, available through Smith’s Tix (800-888-TIXX, smithstix.com)
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