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Foreigner no stranger to lineup changes

| Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Courtesy FOREIGNER
Foreigner

For a band that has sold 80 million records — and has many, many songs that you probably know by heart (whether you want to or not) — Foreigner has kind of a peculiar problem.

“There was a time when Foreigner was kind of a faceless band,” says singer Kelly Hansen, the third singer for the band since its inception in 1976.

The fluidity of the lineup was part of the problem. Aside from founder Mick Jones, lots of musicians have come and gone, including the band's best-known vocalist, Lou Gramm, and drummer Jason Bonham, son of Led Zeppelin's legendary percussion master John Bonham.

That means it gets tricky putting specific faces with their many hits — “Hot Blooded,” “Feels Like the First Time,” “Cold as Ice,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” and so on.

“When someone comes to a Foreigner show, they'll say ‘I didn't know Foreigner did all those songs.' People know the songs, but didn't always know it was us,” Hansen says.

Foreigner will be performing at the Carnegie Library Music Hall in Munhall on May 24. Hansen joined the band in 2005, and is still much less well-known than his predecessors. But he had the pipes, the pedigree and the presence of mind to apply for the job before he even knew it was open.

Hansen had been frontman for the moderately successful hard-rock band Hurricane, which disbanded in 1991. Then, he worked as a studio musician/session singer for acts like Slash's Snakepit and Don Dokken, among others.

“At the time (2004-05), I was not happy with where my career was going,” Hansen says. “I felt like ... I needed to take the initiative.”

After reading about a charity event that Mick Jones had done near in California, Hansen got in touch with Jones' management.

“It became clear that they were getting ready for something. ... We kept the dialogue going. They sent me a CD of their five biggest hits without vocals. I wisely asked to go in the first day. That's a good idea — when (bands doing auditions) see someone they like, they sometimes stop looking. They called me when I got home — ‘We start rehearsing tomorrow.' Getting off the phone, I realized my life was going to change a lot.”

Hansen says he isn't trying to fill the shoes of Lou Gramm, or anyone else.

“I brought my own shoes,” he says.

“You can't predict what the fans want. Some fans don't want anything but the classic set. Others will want something new. We did do a new album in 2009, ‘Can't Slow Down.' It made the Top 30. I'm very proud of the work we did on that. I think it makes people see the validity (of adding me).”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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