by Joshua Maloni
Mick Jones credits good timing and good luck for his ability to maintain Foreigner through three decades and several line-up changes. But the truth is, the British guitar legend, who says he "cut his teeth" with Led Zeppelin alums John Bonham and John Paul Jones, has maintained the ‘80s supergroup through determination and talent.
Case in point: When former lead singer Lou Gramm parted ways with Foreigner in 2003, Jones meticulously auditioned frontmen in Los Angeles, eventually hooking up with Kelley Hansen. Jones, realizing the significance of his band's songs, and discovering a second generation of 18, 19 and 20-something aged fans, was resolute in finding a way to continue on without the singing voice, and perhaps face, of the band.
"Those songs have stood the test of time," he said last week during a phone interview. "At the moment, we're getting a lot of new, young fans to the shows. We're getting 18-to-25-year-old kids, who know the music; they know the lyrics to the songs. They're really, really into it."
"There was a quality that I wanted to preserve," he said.
His goal was to build a better band around the core of himself, keyboardist Jeff Jacobs and rhythm guitarist/saxophonist Thom Gimbel. He recruited Jeff Pilson to play bass and John Bonham's son, Jason, to play drums.
"They form this engine, which is like really powerful," Jones said of the new additions. "It's like a performance car -- it just goes; you just get swept up with it."
The final piece was Hansen, who has a similar vocal style to Gramm, but stronger pipes.
"It's magical, almost," Jones said of Hansen. "After two songs, I knew we had received a gift, and the whole band was unanimous right on the spot," he said of the singer's tryout.
"It's so inspiring to me, at this point, that I can get so excited about the band," he said. "It's really fantastic."
In creating a "Super Foreigner," if you will, Jones' set-up long-term goals: To tour in the summer and fall of 2005; to create a new album to be released in the spring of 2006; and to subsequently go on a world tour bringing his band "back to a level we deserve," he said.
So far, Jones' plan has worked: He couldn't be happier about his new bandmates. "This band to me, is definitely the most exciting version of Foreigner that's ever been on stage," he says. And fans have warmed up to the new lineup. "It's been overwhelming -- the acceptance."
Foreigner headlines a show at Artpark on Aug. 9, as part of the "Tuesday in the Park" concert series. Like Michael McDonald last month, Foreigner is expected to shatter previous attendance marks and draw in a crowd somewhere in the 15,000-17,000 range.
"Wow, that's really a great feeling," Jones said. "That kind of thing means a lot to me. I'm certainly ready to respond to the challenge of that, too.
"It really is a challenge to come and really make people really rock the joint, as they say.
"It's a really inspiring kind thing to hear -- that's what we're out there to do."
Of the area, Jones knows its full of true-blue music fans.
"They know how to rock," he said of Western New Yorkers. "They know football, and they know rock."
... While Lou Gramm plays Buffalo
by Joshua Maloni
Ironically enough, former Foreigner frontman Lou Gramm performed this week as part of Buffalo Place Inc.'s "Thursday at the Square" concert series. That show was announced in mid-July after headliner Ian Hunter pulled out with an injury.
While "Thursday," now in its 19th season, has been heralded the premier Western New York summer series, Artpark's "Tuesday in the Park" show has rapidly risen over the course of two years to rival "Thursday" in numbers and quality band acquisition. As such, the decision to bring in Gramm left some people in northern Niagara County scratching their heads.
Was it coincidence or was it strategy?
"It's interesting to me," Buffalo Place Manger of Marketing Steven Joseph said of the timing. "We don't acknowledge Artpark as competition. ... It's a complement to the area. ... It's not a concert series on Thursday night in downtown Buffalo."
In other words, the shows have nothing to do with each other, save acts singing some of the same songs.
Joseph said Buffalo Place has been in communication with Gramm's management since 2003. Back then, he was supposed to play the company's annual "Rocks the Harbor" "Thursday" spin-off. However, that outdoor show was scrapped due to high winds and the recommendation of the Buffalo Coast Guard branch.
As it turns out, the management representing Ian Hunter also represents Gramm. When Hunter canceled, Joseph said Buffalo Place scanned the roster of potential artists before settling on Gramm.
Foreigner's Mick Jones was surprised to learn his former bandmate would be playing so close to Foreigner's date.
"Really?" he said last week. "I guess it's going to be a big test for us -- it's his home ground," Jones said of the former Lou Grammatico, a Rochester native.
Gramm was unavailable for comment. It's expected that his show, like Foreigner's, will feature many of the band's common hit songs, including "I've Been Waiting For a Girl Like You," "I Want to Know What Love Is," "Hot Blooded" and "Urgent." Gramm also had solo success in the 1980s with songs like "Midnight Blue" and "Just Between You and Me," which he will likely perform.
"I wish him well," Jones said. "He and I had a different vision."
Jones describes the new Foreigner show as having more improv and "there are times that we stretch out like a band should." Of course, several hit songs will be played, but there's also some surprises as well as a tribute to drummer Jason Bonham's father: Led Zeppelin's John Bonham.