Foreigner celebrating its 40th
For veteran rock band Foreigner and guitarist Mick Jones — the group's founder and last remaining original member — 2017 carries more significance than some years.
It's the 40th anniversary of the popular group, and the occasion is being celebrated, not only with a summer tour of the U.S., which includes at stop Aug. 12 at KeyBank Pavilion in Burgettstown, but also a couple of other projects. One is a new two-CD anthology, “40,” which includes all of Foreigners hit singles as well as a pair of new tracks.
Then plans call for Jones' autobiography, “A Foreigner's Tale,” to be published in August. In a late June phone interview, Jones says it took some encouraging for him to tackle the book.
“I was being hounded, to tell you the truth, for awhile about putting stuff down (on paper),” he says. “People ..., especially the band guys, they knew most of my stories. ... I discovered a lot of people wanted to know a little bit more than they'd read in the press.”
Jones has a story with more than enough twists and turns, encounters with legendary musicians and times of triumph and drama to justify the book.
Now 72, the native of England got his music career off the ground in a country not exactly known for spawning global rock stars — France, where he landed a gig as a songwriter and touring guitarist for Johnny Hallyday, known as the “French Elvis.”
One of the highlights of this period came in 1964 when the popular Hallyday landed a prime support slot on tour with the Beatles, who were hitting the heights of Fab Four hysteria when they toured in France. A mishap at one of the first shows of a three-week tour opened the door for Jones to enter the Beatles' world on the tour.
“I had my guitar around my shoulders, and in those days they had one of those curtains that rises and drops,” Jones recalls. “And the curtain snagged on my guitar and pulled it down. It was the only guitar I had. I was cursing in English ... I was going crazy, you know. And John Lennon came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. He said ‘Hey lad, we didn't know you were English. Come up and have a drink with the guys afterwards.' And that was it. That began like a ‘Hard Day's Night' for me, hanging out with them all the time, running out of the backstage door, fans, the women, chicks going crazy, my first real taste of big-time rock.”
Several years later, Jones got to experience another bit of decent success when he joined the band Spooky Tooth in 1972. That band lasted only two more albums, and Jones then moved on to play guitar in the Leslie West Band. That group, though, also fell apart.
Jones didn't know what to do next, but as he pondered his options, he came up with some songs that prompted him to put together the original lineup of Foreigner, which in short order got signed by Atlantic Records.
The rest is history. The band's 1977 debut album took off and the group was able to string together five more hit albums until differences with singer/songwriting collaborator Lou Gramm led to his departure in 1990.
Jones and Gramm, though, mended fences and in 1992, Gramm rejoined Foreigner, which released a new studio album, “Mr. Moonlight,” in 1994. But in 1997, Gramm underwent major surgery to remove a brain tumor. Gramm returned to touring with Foreigner in 1998, but struggled with various effects from his surgery. Over time, tensions between Jones and the singer re-emerged, prompting Gramm to leave Foreigner for good in 2003.
Jones took some time off to decide whether to keep Foreigner going with a new singer, and in 2005, found a replacement in Kelly Hansen. Today's lineup also includes Thom Gimbel (guitar/sax), Jeff Pilson (bass), Michael Bluestein (keyboards), Bruce Watson (guitar) and Chris Frazier (drums). And after years of touring and one album that included a disc of new songs, 2009's “Can't Slow Down,” Jones feels Foreigner has regained much of its original stature and popularity.
The fact that Foreigner is headlining amphitheaters this summer (with Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience as openers), backs up the notion of the renewed popularity of today's band.
Alan Sculley is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.