Foreigner Biography

This AOR band derives its name from the fact that the original members were drawn from both sides of the Atlantic, and this mixture of influences is much in evidence in their recorded legacy. Mick Jones (27 December 1944, London, England; guitar, vocals) formed the band in 1976, having spent time in Nero And The Gladiators (two minor hits, ‘Entry Of The Gladiators’ and ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’, in 1961). The rest of the 60s were taken up working as a songwriter and musical director for French singer Johnny Halliday, alongside ex-Gladiator Tommy Brown, with whom Jones also recorded several singles and EPs. During the early 70s, he worked with ex-Spooky Tooth keyboard player Gary Wright in Wonderwheel, which led to Jones playing on three albums with the re-formed Spooky Tooth. Jones then worked with Leslie West and Ian Lloyd before taking a job as an A&R man, although he never actually signed anyone.

Prepared to make one final attempt on the music scene, Jones auditioned musicians, eventually forging a line-up that consisted of Ian McDonald (b. 25 June 1946, London, England; guitar, keyboards, horns, vocals, ex-King Crimson), Lou Gramm (b. Lou Grammatico, 2 May 1950, Rochester, New York, USA; vocals), who had played with Black Sheep in the early 70s, Dennis Elliott (b. 18 August 1950, Peckham, London, England; drums, ex-If), Al Greenwood (b. New York, USA; keyboards), and Edward Gagliardi (b. 13 February 1952, New York, USA; bass). In 1977 the band released Foreigner, and in a poll conducted by Rolling Stone magazine, emerged as top new artists. The album was an immediate success in America, climbing to number 4 in the Billboard chart. Jones and Gramm wrote most of the band’s material, including classic tracks such as ‘Feels Like The First Time’ (US number 4, March 1977) and ‘Cold As Ice’ (US number 6, July 1977). Despite playing at the Reading Rock Festival in England twice in the 70s, Foreigner had more consistent success in the USA, where ‘Hot Blooded’ (number 3, July 1978) and ‘Double Vision’ (number 2, September 1978) were both million-sellers. In 1979 Rick Wills (b. England; bass) replaced Gagliardi, having served a musical apprenticeship with King Crimson and Peter Frampton; Gagliardi reportedly ‘fell on the floor and passed out’ on being told the news. Head Games, meanwhile, proved most notable for its ‘exploitative’ sleeve design, which contrasted with the subtle brand of rock it contained.

In 1980 McDonald and Greenwood departed to form Spys, leading to the guest appearances of Thomas Dolby and Junior Walker on the following year’s US chart-topping 4, produced by Mutt Lange. The album also broke the band in the UK, reaching number 5 in July of that year. ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’ was the hit single lifted from the album, spending 10 weeks at number 2 in the US charts, and providing the group with their first UK Top 10 single. Although it was representative of the band’s highly musical approach, taking the form of a wistful yet melodious ballad, it pigeonholed the group as purveyors of the epic AOR song. This reputation was only endorsed in December 1984 by the release of ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’, which proved to be Foreigner’s greatest commercial success. It topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and featured the New Jersey Mass Choir backing Gramm’s plaintive vocal. Agent Provocateur, meanwhile, topped the UK album charts and reached number 4 in America.

In the mid-80s the members of Foreigner were engaged in solo projects, and the success of Gramm’s Ready Or Not in 1987 led to widespread speculation that Foreigner were about to disband. This was not the case, as Inside Information proved, though in other respects it was a poor record and a portent of things to come, despite containing the US Top 10 hit singles ‘Say You Will’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Live Without You’. In 1989, Gramm enjoyed success with another solo project, Long Hard Look, before officially leaving the band in May 1990 to form Shadow King. Jones refused to face the inevitable, and, amid much press sniping, recruited Johnny Edwards (ex-King Kobra) to provide vocals for Unusual Heat.

In 1992, both Jones and Gramm grasped the nettle and reunited, launching a re-formed Foreigner, though both Wills and Elliott were deemed surplus to requirements. The 1994 model boasted a line-up of Bruce Turgon (bass; a former colleague of Gramm in Black Sheep and Shadow King), Jeff Jacobs (keyboards, ex-Billy Joel circa Storm Front) and Mark Schulman (drums), in addition to Jones and Gramm. The band was back on the road during the early part of 1995 to promote Mr Moonlight. The album was only a moderate success, even though it was a typical Foreigner record. At their well-attended gigs, however, it was still ‘Cold As Ice’, ‘Urgent’ and ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ that received the biggest cheers. Gramm was successfully treated for a brain tumour before the band reconvened briefly in 1999. A more substantial reunion took place in 2002 for the band’s 25th anniversary tour, with Jones, Gramm, Jacobs and Turgon joined by Tom Gimbel (guitar) and Denny Carmassi (drums).

A new Foreigner line-up was announced in 2005 with Jones, Jacobs and Gimbel joined by Kelly Hansen (vocals; ex-Hurricane), Jason Bonham (drums) and Jeff Pilson (bass; ex-Dokken). Whether or not their legacy grows further, Foreigner will continue to epitomize better than most the classic sound of ‘adult orientated rock’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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