Foreigner is without a doubt one of the classic bands of rock and roll. They’ve ruled the airwaves for decades, from their initial debut in the ‘70s to the classic rock stations of today. Songs such as “I Want To Know What Love Is,” “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” “Cold As Ice,” “Feels Like The First Time,” and “Juke Box Hero,” are just some of the ones that anybody who has spent time within earshot of a radio will know.
The group is consistently in the Top 15 at classic rock radio, and as a result of the numerous songs that get airplay, Foreigner gets more airplay than current and future Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers such as Tom Petty, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Def Leppard, and U2. And their latest release, Feels Like The First Time, which came out this past fall, entered the Top 50 on the charts at the same time their previous release, Extended Versions II, re-entered the chart, so they became the first classic rock act to have two albums on the chart at the same time in over twenty years.
In addition, Foreigner songs have invaded the consciousness of the music world with songs in movies and TV shows ranging from Happy Feet 2, The Chipmunks, and Sex And The City 2, to Dancing With The Stars, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and the Ellen DeGeneres Show. They’ve also been in radio and TV commercials for Coors Light, Bosch, Stouffers, Motorola and Volkswagen, and video games such as DJ Hero, Guitar Hero 6 and Rock Band 3.
Feels Like The First Time is actually a three-disc set, and includes a CD of acoustic versions of their biggest hits, a CD of newly recorded versions of the songs along with one new one, and a live CD.
“What it is, is a triple disc set, one live from Chicago, one disc of the current line-up re-doing the classic tunes, and one disc doing acoustic versions of the songs,” explains Kelly Hansen, the lead vocalist. “We had some live acoustic broadcasts in Germany, and we just got this response that was surprising, and we realized this is really popular, everyone likes the idea. We did a few experimental shows in Canada all acoustic, and we said, ‘we really need record these shows this way.’”
The current line-up is a powerhouse, with Mick Jones, the guitarist and songwriter, leading the way. Bassist Jeff Pilson was in Dokken, while drummer Mark Schulman has performed with Sheryl Crow, Velvet Revolver, Stevie Nicks, Billy Idol, and Cher, among others. He also was a member of Foreigner back in the ‘90s. Keyboard player Michael Bluestein was formerly with Boz Scaggs and Enrique Iglesias, and was in the house band on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Tom Gimbel plays sax and keys, and was with the band throughout the ‘90s.
“Lou left in 2002,” Kelly recalls, about original lead vocalist Lou Gramm. “Mick took some time off to reacquaint himself with his wife and family. Doing this takes 24/7 of your life, so it was important for him to take that time. Then he thought, ‘What am I doing?’ He really wanted to go out and play, and everyone told him he needed to do that, including Jason Bonham. Jason said, ‘you have to get out and play, the songs are timeless.’ They did a charity show out in California. I was in my own career crisis, and they got in touch with me, kind of alluding to a new Mick Jones project. It sounded interesting. They had been dormant for a few years, and they were just getting back on track. They’d been looking all over for people, and they were coming to L.A. to rehearse. What I found out later, they had a round table meeting and called some friends. And then they called and said, ‘can you start rehearsing tomorrow?’ It started out right out of the gate, like out of a rocket.”
It’s always a tough task to become the frontman for a legendary group, especially when it’s one that you used to listen to. “I was a fan,” says Kelly. “I was very well aware of their releases, and I always looked forward to their new releases. I liked the quality of the songs and the production.”
Kelly’s influences lean toward great R&B vocalists such as Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, as well as a lot ‘60s and ’70s pop radio. He mainly heard whatever his mother had on the car radio, or the one stereo they had in the house. “We’re talking 100 years ago,” he laughs. “I remember one time when I was young I called a radio station and requested a song, and they said, ‘that’s not the kind of song we play.’ I guess I was influenced by TV commercials as well in those days, because I can remember all those jingles.”
Hansen first came to prominence in the critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful band Hurricane. But he has more than found his voice in bringing the classic Foreigner songs to the masses. “There’s never been a time when anybody has dictated how I sing,” he says. “To go out and do a bunch of riffing on these songs would be like, ‘look how great I am,’ and that’s not what the songs are about. I always stick to the melody. A lot of singers go out and don’t do the melody, but I like to go out and hear the songs that I heard on the radio. When you start to make the song unrecognizable, that’s not what I like. I’m fortunate enough to be in a band that has great songs, and that’s what I’m about. Mick and I had a lot of discussions right at the beginning; I told him I needed to sing the songs the way I hear them on the radio.”
And he is more than up to task, as I saw at the PNC Bank Arts Center this past summer when the band came through with Journey and Night Ranger. Not only does he nail the songs vocally, but he’s also an extremely dynamic frontman, getting the crowd involved and even venturing out into the audience during the show. If you have a chance to catch Foreigner at the upcoming area dates, I promise you, you won’t be disappointed!
You can catch Foreigner at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood on Tuesday, Feb. 14. They will also play at Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank on Wednesday, Feb. 15. For more information, go to foreigneronline.com.