Thursday, August 03, 2006

An altered Foreigner set to play

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Lou Gramm's vocals are an important component of Foreigner's classic sound, but is the singer integral to the future of the band?

That is a question you may want to ponder as Foreigner prepares to perform at the Upper Peninsula State Fair.

Mick Jones, the driving force behind Foreigner's hit-filled career, will bring his latest incarnation of the band to Escanaba Thursday, Aug. 17.

Like virtually every band from the era, Foreigner has had some personnel changes. In fact, the band has gone through numerous drummers and has twice as many former members as current ones.

Take Jason Bonham, for example. He didn't replace his famous father in Led Zeppelin, but he has landed a gig drumming for Foreigner. Bassist Jeff Pilson no longer plunks out the rhythm for hard rock band Dokken, but he now has found a job with Foreigner, too.

Concert-goers will certainly recognize the lead guitar work of Jones, the sole remaining founding member. The 61-year-old Jones is the rock upon which Foreigner is built.

As a teenager in Britain he worked in a record store and later honed his skills as a member of Spooky Tooth. By 1976, he founded Foreigner as the decade's arena rock acts began to take off.

You remember their hits. "Feels Like the First Time," "Cold as Ice," "Hot Blooded" and "Double Vision" were all early home runs.

The catchy "Urgent" with the memorable Jr. Walker sax solo came in 1981 as did "Waiting For a Girl Like You."

They hit their apex with the number one smash "I Want to Know What Love Is." Released in late 1984, the ballad spent an astonishing 21 weeks on the Billboard Top Singles chart. "Say You Will" and "I Don't Want to Live Without You" followed.

While the singles were commanding FM radio, their albums were equally dominant.

Jones kept the listening public interested by tweaking their sound with different producers as they recorded popular albums like "Head Games," "4" and "Agent Provocateur."

Foreigner enjoyed unparalleled success for more than a decade, but by 1991 Jones asked Gramm to leave the band despite the fact the singer was one-half the songwriting team which produced 22 hit singles.

Gramm was replaced by one-time King Kobra singer Johnny Edwards who performed lead vocals on the "Unusual Heat" album. The New York-born Gramm returned in 1992 before departing again in 2003 for a solo career.

Now, Foreigner is on a national tour with strong personnel, but missing its trademark lead singer who is currently on a national tour of his own.

Consequently, Gramm's former duties will be performed by wailer Kelly Hansen, from a modestly successful outfit called Hurricane.

The new line-up has released a compact disc entitled "Extended Versions" which was recorded live at Texas Station in Las Vegas on Nov. 26, 2005. It consists of ten tracks including a medley of "Juke Box Hero" and Zeppelin's classic "Whole Lotta Love."

Certainly the talented players in Foreigner, including keyboardist Jeff Jacobs and rhythm guitarist Thom Gimbel, put on a good show. They've got the experience and Jones would settle for nothing less than giving patrons an evening of top notch entertainment for their money. And, without a doubt, Jones deserves to continue to make a living for his 30 years fronting Foreigner. After all, it's his baby.

But, because many people judge live performances by the integrity of the lead vocals, some fans may be disappointed in a Foreigner show without Gramm, who sang all their hits. Others may not care or even prefer Hansen. You'll have to decide for yourself.

1 comment:

Bud Lemire said...

Hi Steve,
I was at the Foreigner concert at Escanaba's Fair this year and I can say that Foreigner's new lead vocalist Kelly Hansen did really well, as did the other members that were in the line up.

They may not have had as big of an audience as they may have wanted, and I think maybe it was the missing Lou Gramm that lead to this. Yet, I thought they did a great job without him and was glad I went. I wished more would have known this ahead of time too, for they missed a great concert.
As one guy said after the show, from one of the stands, "he sounded as good as he did way back when."
Now if Foreigner does want a crowd at their concerts, they need to have some new hit songs. I'm not sure Kelly and the band want to live on old hits, although it might work, because they are good songs.
But the question the world ready for Foreigner? Will they fit in with today's music? I hope they can make a go of it. As for me, I will always be a fan of Foreigner.