Founded in New York City in 1976, only a handful of bands have had the career longevity that rock band Foreigner has enjoyed.
The group behind classic rock radio staples such as “Feels Like The First Time,” “Cold As Ice,” “Hot Blooded” and “Jukebox Hero” has a total of 16 Top 30 hits to its credit. Sales of their records in America alone top the 35 million mark.
And though the group has undergone a couple of shifts in its lineup over the past 38 years, it remains a top live draw. The band’s 2011 tour with Journey broke records in many major markets, playing to hundreds of thousands of fans throughout the United States and Europe. Not coincidentally, Foreigner’s show at Casino New Brunswick this Friday night is sold out.
Foreigner multi-instrumentalist Tom Gimbel tells the Times & Transcript that he was a fan of the band before starting to play with the group in the early ’90s. Going from fan to band member has definitely given Tom a unique vantage point.
“I got a call asking if it was true that I played guitar, saxophone, keyboards and sang,” Tom laughs at the memory. “I had been playing with Aerosmith and so I sent them a videotape of me performing to help satisfy their musical curiosity. Then they wanted to know what I was like as a person so I went to dinner with Mick (Jones, Foreigner guitarist) where we got to know each other. I guess that I ended up passing the test because I was on the road with them a short while later.
“The fact was, it was exciting for me to be on stage with these guys because I liked them as a band. That blend of hard rocking riffs with bluesy vocals and great songwriting – it seemed like they had it all. To crossover from being a fan to being part of the touring personnel was completely natural.”
With a tour schedule that typically encompasses about 120 shows per year, Foreigner is a refined unit when it comes to the live arena.
“Once you factor in travel days on top of the shows, we’ve got a busy schedule,” Tom says. “ We definitely have breaks so that we can recharge but I think because we come from an era in music where live performances were so critical to a band’s success, it is what keeps driving us forward.”
As storied as Foreigner’s place in music history has been, the group has not been without its trials. One of the biggest shifts in Foreigner’s lineup took place in the first few years of this century. It was around the end of 2002 that original vocalist Lou Gramm left the band.
“In the late ’90s, Lou had undergone surgery to remove a brain tumour which some doctors had considered to be inoperable. He walked away from that but I truly believe that at that point, every day became a gift to him and so he left the band on his own terms. It was sad as we miss him and love him but ultimately, we had to respect his decision.”
Foreigner laid relatively low for a couple of years following Gramm’s departure as they contemplated what their next move would be.
“Mick took some time to think about what he wanted to do. He decided that he wanted to rock and so he got the band on the go again in 2004 with Jason Bonham on drums, Jeff Pilson on guitar and Kelly Hansen on vocals.”
Acknowledging that the role of vocalist is often the most volatile position any band needs to fill, Tom says that Kelly has had little difficulty living up to the expectations of his position in the band.
“The key element or main ingredient in any band is the vocalist,” Tom says. “I can’t tell you how lucky we feel to have found Kelly. He is a tremendous singer and a wonderful entertainer. He goes out and talks with the audience and really connects with them. And I think people appreciate that he is not this untouchable force. As a vocalist though, he knocks the ball out of the park every show. He is everything that a band could hope for in a member.”
Foreigner’s show this Friday night will have a distinct Moncton flavour. The group will welcome the Moncton High School choir to help perform the Foreigner classic hit “I Want To Know What Love Is.” To show their appreciation, Foreigner will be donating $500 to the choir.
Together with VH1’s Save The Music and The Grammy Foundation, Foreigner want to do their part to ensure that music is kept in schools everywhere.
“We really enjoy having a high school from every city involved to help raise awareness of how music is disappearing from the school system. It is often one of the first programs that are cut under tightened budgets. Music meant so much to me when I was growing up, I can’t imagine some students not being afforded the same opportunity that I was given to take music in school.”
When: Friday Feb. 14, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton