Foreigner is a British-American hard rock band, originally formed in New York City in 1976 by veteran English musician Mick Jonesand fellow Briton and ex-King Crimson member Ian McDonald along with American vocalist Lou Gramm.
Jones came up with the band’s name as he, McDonald and Dennis Elliott were British, while Gramm, Al Greenwood and Ed Gagliardiwere American. Their biggest hit single, «I Want to Know What Love Is», topped the United Kingdom and United States Charts among others. They are one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time with worldwide sales of more than 80 million records, including 37.5 million albums in the US alone.
Beginnings and peak
Since its inception, Foreigner has been led by English musician Mick Jones (former member of Nero and the Gladiators, Johnny Hallyday’s band, Spooky Tooth, and The Leslie West Band). After the collapse of the Leslie West Band in 1976, Jones found himself stranded in New York City where West’s manager, Bud Prager, took him under his wing and encouraged Jones to continue his songwriting and rehearse a band of his own in some space Prager had near his New York office.
Jones got together with New York keyboardist Al Greenwood (who had just played with former Flash members Colin Carter and Mike Hough in a group called Storm), drummer Stan Williams and Louisiana bassist Jay Davis (later with Rod Stewart) and began jamming. Another friend, Stories singer Ian Lloyd, was brought in to sing but Jones decided the chemistry was not quite right and retained only Greenwood as he renewed his search for players. During a session for Ian Lloyd’s album, Jones met up with transplanted Englishman and ex-King Crimson member Ian McDonald and another session for Ian Hunter unearthed another fellow Brit in drummer Dennis Elliott. But after auditioning about forty or fifty singers, the right vocalist was becoming harder to come by until Jones dragged out an old Black Sheep album given to him backstage at a Spooky Tooth concert a few years prior by that group’s lead singer, Lou Gramm. Jones put in a call to Gramm, who was back in his hometown of Rochester, New York after Black Sheep’s break up, and sent him a plane ticket to New York City. Gramm proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle and Brooklyn, New York bassist Ed Gagliardi completed the new sextet.
A name, Trigger, was tentatively agreed to and was the name that appeared on their demo tape, but it was passed on by all the record companies it was delivered to. John Kalodner, a former journalist and radio programmer who was working in A&R at Atlantic Records, happened to spot a tape on Atlantic president Jerry L. Greenberg’s desk with the Trigger identification on it. Kalodner had just been to hear an outfit called Trigger and realized that this was not the same band. He convinced Greenberg that at least one of the songs on the tape could be a big hit and to look into signing this group immediately. Because the Trigger name was already taken, Jones came up with the Foreigner moniker from the fact that no matter what country they were in, three would be foreigners, because he, McDonald and Elliott were English, while Gramm, Greenwood and Gagliardi wereAmericans.
In November 1976, after six months of rehearsals, the newly named Foreigner started recording their debut album with producers John Sinclair and Gary Lyons at The Hit Factory but switched to Atlantic Recording Studios where they finished recording the basic tracks and completed the overdubs. The first attempt at mixing the album was done atSarm Studios, London. But, due to the band’s dissatisfaction with the results, the album was re-mixed back at Atlantic by Mick Jones and Jimmy Douglass. Bud Prager signed on as the group’s manager, a role he would continue in for the next 17 years.
The band’s debut, Foreigner, was released in March 1977 and sold more than four million copies in the United States, staying in the Top 20 for a year with such hits as «Feels Like the First Time», «Cold as Ice» and «Long, Long Way from Home».
By May 1977, Foreigner was already headlining theaters and had already scored a gold record for the first album. Not long afterwards, they were selling out U.S. basketball arenas and hockey rinks. But after a show at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas on May 6, 1977, drummer Elliott injured his hand, prompting the band to call in Ian Wallace(ex-King Crimson) to play alongside Elliott on some of the dates until the hand was healed.
After almost a year on the road, the band played before over two hundred thousand people at California Jam II on March 18, 1978 and during the following month, the band toured Europe, Japan and Australia for the first time.
Their second album, Double Vision (released in June 1978), co-produced by Keith Olsen, topped their previous, selling five million records and spawned hits in «Hot Blooded», the title track «Double Vision» and «Blue Morning, Blue Day».
Album number three, Head Games (September 1979), co-produced by Roy Thomas Baker, which was referred to by Gramm as their «grainiest» album, was also successful because of the thunderous «Dirty White Boy» and another title track hit «Head Games». For Head Games, bassist Ed Gagliardi was replaced by Englishman Rick Wills. In his autobiography, Juke Box Hero, Gramm explains why the band parted ways with Gagliardi: «He was a little headstrong and had his own ideas that weren’t always compatible with what we were trying to accomplish. Ed was obstinate at times, playing the song the way he wanted to play it rather than the way it was drawn up. Jones often had to stop sessions to get Ed back on track. After a while it became tiresome and slowed down the recording process.» Gramm went on to say that he was disappointed overall with Head Games and thought it sounded unfinished. It ended up selling about two million fewer than its predecessor.
In a 2015 interview with Classicrockrevisited, Gramm explains his thoughts about why Head Games sold less than the first two: «The big change in the band happened after Head Games and before Foreigner 4. We were really aware that Head Games didn’t sell nearly as much as the first album or Double Vision. Part of that was because of the cover. The song “Head Games” was banned by a lot of radio stations after the cover of the album came out. Today, that would not have even been a problem. But in the Bible Belt, the cover of the cute little girl in the boy’s bathroom erasing her number off the wall…..They didn’t see the humor in that. It wasn’t supposed to even be sexy. She was sexy….she was cute. It was just the time and the place of what she was doing that was supposed to leave the impression. She was erasing her phone number off the wall of the boys’ bathroom and that’s all it was. A big deal was made out of that and it really hurt our sales.»
In September 1980, co-founders Al Greenwood and Ian McDonald were sacked as Jones wished to have more control over the band and write most of the music (along with Gramm). In his book, Gramm goes on to talk about this difficult time: «The chemistry that made the band right in the beginning didn’t necessarily mean it would always be right. I think a pretty major communication lapse appeared and I don’t think anybody really knew what anybody was feeling—the deep, inner belief about the direction of the band and how we were progressing. We had reached a point where there was a lot of dissatisfaction».
In the liner notes for the 2000 release, Juke Box Heroes: The Foreigner Anthology, Jones went on to elaborate further: «Ian McDonald, whom I consider a great musician and multi-instrumentalist, began to focus more and more on guitar playing, while I believed his true talent lay more in the dimensional and creative imagery he gave the first two albums. Al Greenwood, our keyboard wiz and a very important part of the Foreigner sound at the beginning, had also started to focus more on songwriting. Although both their contributions to the band had been vital, a conflict was developing about the musical direction of the band. I just felt we needed to clarify it. So Lou, Rick, Dennis and I made the decision, and that’s when we went down to four.»
According to McDonald in an interview at the King Crimson website Elephant Talk, «Mick and Lou decided they wanted to be the focus of the band. Mick wanted to make it more apparent that it was his group, so he decided to make a smaller group. That was his decision. I wouldn’t have left – I loved the group, it was not my decision.» McDonald noted that there was much creative compromise working in the band and that he did more than he received credit for, much as he did in King Crimson. McDonald stated that he «had a lot to do with the making of those records and the arrangements and the creating of those songs, more than is probably apparent. I did a lot that went uncredited, which I was happy to do though. When you’re in a group you must contribute as much as you can. I was happy to do that. But as I said, it maybe didn’t appear that I was doing as much as I in fact was. I had a lot to do with that group… as well as… Mick Jones, obviously, and everyone else – I’m not trying to take all the credit, but I’m just saying that I was there, I was involved, and I loved it.»
The band was now stripped down to a quartet, with session players brought in as needed to record or tour (see below for complete list of members). Greenwood soon joined Gagliardi to form the AOR band Spys, with John Blanco, Billy Milne and John DiGaudio. The band released two albums, a self-titled debut, and the follow-up Behind Enemy Lines.
In the meantime, Foreigner began work on the next album at Electric Lady Studios in New York City with producer Robert John «Mutt» Lange. 4 (released in July 1981), contained the hits «Urgent» (which includes the famous Junior Walker sax solo), «Waiting for a Girl Like You», «Juke Box Hero» and «Break it Up». Before releasing albums of his own,Thomas Dolby played synthesizers on 4 (he contributed the signature synth sound on «Urgent» and played the intro to «Waiting for a Girl Like You»).
For their 1981–82 tour in support of 4, the group added Peter Reilich (keyboards, synthesizers, who had played with Gary Wright), former Peter Frampton band member Bob Mayo (keyboards, synthesizers, guitar, backing vocals) and Mark Rivera (sax, flute, keyboards, synthesizers, guitar, backing vocals). Mayo and Rivera had also appeared on the sessions for 4. Reilich was dropped in May 1982 but Mayo and Rivera continued with the band through 1988.
Their next album, Agent Provocateur, co-produced by Alex Sadkin, was released successfully in December 1984 and gave them their first and only No. 1 hit in 1985 (in the US, UK, Australia, Norway, Sweden, etc.), «I Want to Know What Love Is», a gospel-inspired ballad backed by Jennifer Holliday and the New Jersey Mass Choir. The song was their biggest US hit. «That Was Yesterday» was the next single from the album in early 1985 and proved to be another sizable hit.
During their 1985 summer/fall tour, Foreigner appeared at the very first Farm Aid on September 22 in Champaign, Illinois.
In between his Foreigner commitments, Jones also started a side career as a producer for such as albums as Van Halen’s 5150 (1986) and Billy Joel’s Storm Front (1989).
In December 1987, Foreigner released Inside Information, spawning hits such as «Say You Will» and «I Don’t Want to Live Without You».
On May 14, 1988, the band headlined Atlantic Records’ 40th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden, culminating with «I Want to Know What Love Is», in which the likes ofPhil Collins, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Roberta Flack and other Atlantic artists joined in, singing in the choir.
Later during the summer, the band went back on the road, but the touring for Inside Information was limited to Europe, Japan and Australia. For this tour, Rivera and Mayo were not available, so Larry Oakes (guitar, keyboards, synthesizers, backing vocals) and Lou Cortelezzi (sax) augmented the quartet of Gramm, Jones, Elliott and Wills.
Lou Gramm’s departure
In the late 1980s, Jones and Gramm each put out solo efforts on Atlantic. Gramm released Ready or Not in February 1987 and shortly after its release, rehearsals for Foreigner’s next album had started but ground to a halt as Lou’s status with the group was uncertain. But after the promotion and concert dates for Lou’s album were finished, cooler heads prevailed and Lou rejoined Foreigner in the studio for Inside Information, which was out at the end of 1987. Jones had Mick Jones in August 1989, then Gramm followed with his second solo release, Long Hard Look (October 1989), and decided to leave the group in May 1990 while preparing to tour behind Long Hard Look as the opener for Steve Miller Band. After finishing this tour, Gramm went on to form the short-lived band Shadow King, which put out one self-titled album on Atlantic in October 1991.
In June 1990, Jones brought in a new lead vocalist, Johnny Edwards (formerly of the bands Buster Brown, Montrose, King Kobra, Northrup and Wild Horses). Edwards made his first live appearance with Foreigner at the Long Island club Stephen Talkhouse on August 15, 1990, where he, Jones, Dennis Elliott and Rick Wills appeared, joined by special guests Terry Thomas (on guitar, who produced their next album) and Eddie Mack on harmonica.
The new edition of Foreigner released the album Unusual Heat in June 1991. This was at the time their worst selling album and only climbed as high as No. 117 on the Billboard 200, although «Lowdown and Dirty» was a minor mainstream rock hit, reaching No. 4 on that chart.
In July 1991, the new lineup of Foreigner played some European dates then made its official US debut on August 9 performing on the second night of a Billy Joel benefit concert at Deep Hollow Ranch in Montauk, New York to raise funds for the preservation of Montauk Point Lighthouse.
For their 1991 tour, Jeff Jacobs, who had played in Joel’s band, was brought in as the new keyboardist and Mark Rivera returned. But during the fall leg of this tour, Elliott decided to leave the group. Larry Aberman was then recruited as a temporary replacement until Mark Schulman arrived in 1992 to hold down the drum throne for the next three years. Scott Gilman (guitar, sax, flute) joined the touring band in 1992 and Thom Gimbel took over from Gilman and Rivera in late 1992 after they departed. When Gimbel went toAerosmith in 1993, Gilman returned to handle the guitar/sax/flute duties until Gimbel came back permanently in the spring of 1995.
During the Los Angeles riots in late April 1992, inside the confines of the Sunset Marquis hotel in West Hollywood, where Mick Jones had gone to meet with Lou Gramm, they both ended up sequestered due to a city curfew. They decided to use their time together putting a two-year feud to rest and resurrecting their partnership. «I flew to Los Angeles, during the riots,» says Gramm. «We got flown to John Wayne Airport instead of LAX because they were shooting at the planes. Mick and I were holed up in the Sunset Marquis in L.A., with armed security guards walking around on the roof. It was a little weird, to say the least.»
Gramm ended up rejoining Foreigner (bringing along his Shadow King bandmate bassist Bruce Turgon) and co-produced the band’s second greatest hits album, The Very Best … and Beyond (September 1992), which included three new songs.
In October 1994, Foreigner released what was supposed to be a comeback album, Mr. Moonlight, in Japan. This album was not released in the US until February 1995 but fared even worse than Unusual Heat, although the ballad «Until the End of Time» was a minor hit, reaching No. 42 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In January 1995, Ron Wikso (who had played in The Storm with former Journey members Gregg Rolie and Ross Valory) took over percussion duties from Mark Schulman and Brian Tichy succeeded Wikso in 1998 before Schulman would return in 2000.
In 1997, Gramm underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. The medications he was prescribed caused considerable weight gain and affected his singing voice. By 1998, the band was back on the road but Gramm was visibly struggling and it would take him several years to get back to the point where he felt comfortable on stage.
In the summer of 1999, Foreigner went on tour as the opening act for Journey and the following summer, Jeff Jacobs had to leave the road for a short time during the band’s 2000 summer tour while his wife was giving birth to their child. Keyboardist John Purdell (who had been co-producer of the new tracks on their 1992 album The Very Best of… and Beyond) stepped in to sub for Jacobs until he was able to return.
In 2001, the Warner Music Group selected Foreigner and 4 to be among the first group of albums from their catalog to be remastered, enhanced and released in the new DVD Audio format.
In 2002, the 25th Anniversary Year brought affirmation of the enduring respect for Foreigner recordings with Rhino Entertainment reissuing the 1977 to 1981 multi-platinum albums in special enhanced formats. Foreigner, Double Vision, Head Games and 4 received the attention of Rhino’s staff with new photos, liner notes and bonus tracks of previously unreleased material. New greatest hits albums were also produced in the US and in Europe. The U.S. version reached No. 80 on the Billboard 200 Album chart.
For the group’s 25th Anniversary Tour in 2002, they were joined by former Heart and Montrose beat keeper Denny Carmassi.
In late October/early November, then December, of 2002, Gramm and Jones played in Belgium and Germany at the annual Night of the Proms festival. It was the last time that the two would play together until June 2013. Gramm would leave the group in early 2003. Jones stated that he and Gramm split, because they weren’t communicating: «I think we really tried hard to save it, but it got to the point when we both realized that to go on would be detrimental for both of us.»
Jones, the founder and only remaining original member of Foreigner, decided to take some time off before looking to form a new lineup in 2004. On July 25, 2004, in Santa Barbara, California at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort, Jones appeared at a benefit show for Muscular Dystrophy with a brand new version of Foreigner that included: Jeff Jacobs, Thom Gimbel, former Dokken bass player Jeff Pilson, future Black Country Communion drummer Jason Bonham (son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham and leader of Bonham) and Bonham singer Chaz West. West was front man for that show only and was eventually replaced by former Hurricane singer Kelly Hansen, who had sent the band an audition tape and was invited aboard in March 2005, making his debut with the group on March 11 at Boulder Station in Las Vegas. During their 2005 spring tour, Chaz West briefly continued with the band as a special guest, playing rhythm guitar.
Their 2005 BMG album, Extended Versions, featured the new line-up playing all their classic hits live in concert in one of the most «studio like, clean sounding» live album recordings produced.
Foreigner joined Def Leppard along with Styx on tour in 2007. They also toured extensively in their own right in 2007 – the thirtieth anniversary of the release of their debut.
In late 2007, keyboardist Jeff Jacobs left Foreigner after 16 years and was replaced, first by Paul Mirkovich then by Michael Bluestein (in 2008). And in 2008, Bonham also parted ways with Foreigner. Bryan Head was then brought in to fill the drum chair. But his tenure was short and he also departed to be replaced by the returning Tichy.
The band released a greatest hits anthology on July 15, 2008, titled No End in Sight: The Very Best of Foreigner. The anthology included all of their greatest hits plus some new live recordings and a new studio track, «Too Late», which was their first new song release since the 1994 album Mr. Moonlight and the first recorded output of the new lineup. «Too Late» was released as a single on June 17, 2008.
Foreigner released a new album on October 2, 2009, titled Can’t Slow Down. It was one of several recent classic rock releases (AC/DC, The Eagles, Journey and Kiss being four others) to be released exclusively through the Wal-Mart stores chain in the US, while in Europe the album was released by earMUSIC (a label part of the Edel group), charting top 20 in Germany (16) and Top 30 in Switzerland.
In early 2010, Foreigner teamed up with Styx and Kansas for the United in Rock Tour.
On May 4, 2010, it was announced that Brian Tichy’s replacement as drummer would be Jason Sutter.
On May 22, 2010, Foreigner played a show at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Whitesnake guitar player Doug Aldrich subbed for Jones for this show, leaving the band with no original members for this date.
Jason Sutter’s time with the band was short as he left by 2011. Mark Schulman then returned to Foreigner for his third go-round as drummer.
On February 20, 2011, the band played for the first time in Bangalore city in India along with sitar player Niladri Kumar.
In June 2011, Foreigner (again along with Styx) supported Journey on their UK tour. After this, they joined up with Journey and Night Ranger on a triple bill summer/fall tour of the US. For some dates of this tour, Journey drummer Deen Castronovo filled in for Foreigner’s drummer Mark Schulman when he was not available.
From August 19 – September 10, 2011, Night Ranger guitarist Joel Hoekstra did double duty playing for NR as well as subbing for Jones, who had taken ill. Right after this, guitarist Bruce Watson (ex-Rod Stewart) was brought in as Jones’ stand-in for the tour’s remaining dates and continued to tour with the group when they hit the road again in February 2012 after Jones underwent aortoiliac bypass surgery in Miami.
In May 2012, after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, Bluestein was forced to take a leave of absence from the band. His stand in on keyboards was Ollie Marland. Bluestein was able to return to the group in August 2012 and Tichy once again rejoined in the interim until his schedule with Whitesnake called him away. In September 2012, the man Tichy replaced in Whitesnake, Chris Frazier, became Foreigner’s new percussionist.
On August 31, 2012, after over a year away, Jones returned to the concert stage at Atlanta’s Chastain Park. Guitarist Watson, in the meantime, stayed on until Jones was able to return to full health. At this very same show, keyboardist Derek Hilland (ex-Iron Butterfly, Whitesnake and Rick Springfield) came on board to sub for Bluestein for the group’s late summer/fall tour dates and again during the winter/spring of 2013 until Bluestein was able to return.
On January 9, 2013, the band’s original drummer, Dennis Elliott, joined Foreigner on stage at the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood, Florida to play on «Hot Blooded».
In addition to touring small clubs and venues, the band frequently is engaged for private parties and conventions, including playing at SeaWorld in Orlando for an IBM Rational Conference (June 6, 2012), at the Gaylord convention center in Washington, DC for the Teradata Partners 2012 conference (October 25, 2012) and at SAP’s Field Kickoff Meeting in Las Vegas (January 23, 2013).
On June 13, 2013, at the 44th Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame Award Ceremony, Jones and Gramm were officially inducted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Billy Joel was on hand to induct Jones and Gramm, singing snippets of Foreigner’s hits in his introduction speech. Jones said he was proud as the honor makes his work «legit». The duo then took stage one more time and, along with Thom Gimbel and the house band, performed «Juke Box Hero» and «I Want to Know What Love Is» with Anthony Morgan’s Inspirational Choir of Harlem – a performance that brought the entire audience to its feet.
In 2014, Foreigner teamed up with Styx and former Eagles guitarist Don Felder for the Soundtrack of Summer Tour.
Original bassist Ed Gagliardi died on May 11, 2014, aged 62, after an eight-year battle with cancer. Although discussions of an original member reunion had been proposed, the original band had not performed together since 1979.
On June 18, 2014, Foreigner teamed up with the Brockton High School concert choir at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in Boston, MA. They performed one of their greatest hits: I Want To Know What Love Is.
On January 12, 2015, in Sarasota, Florida, Foreigner were joined on stage by original drummer Dennis Elliott and former bassist Rick Wills to play «Hot Blooded».
Jones has missed numerous performances in recent years, due to health. The band has thus consisted entirely of replacement musicians, none of whom performed on the original versions of any of songs in the band’s live repertoire.
In Hartford, Connecticut on June 24, 2015, Foreigner began a summer tour as the opening act for Kid Rock.
Foreigner appeared on the «Today Show» on February 11th, 2016 along with the choir from Our Lady of Mercy Academy to promote their Acoustic Tour and the release of their new album, «In Concert. Unplugged».
In a (recent) 2016 interview Jones talked about a possible 40th year (band) anniversary (reunion) tour with members of the Head Games album: «It’s quite possible. We’ve actually been talking about it. I’m not at a point where I can say it’s definitely gonna happen, but we’re all working on trying to make it happen. It’s kind of exciting. And hopefully it’ll be feasible and possible to pull it off next year.» as Jones continues: «Lou (Gramm) and I have communicated and we’ve kept up a sort of loose communication as I have actually also with Ian McDonald, Al Greenwood, Dennis Elliott and (former bass player) Rick Wills. We’re at the early stages, but we’re trying to put something together to commemorate (it’s scary when I say it) 40 years.»