Foreigner keeps moving with old hits, new lineup

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)July 8, 2014 

Foreigner, the rock band that sold 35 million albums from 1977-87 to make it one of the Top 50 best-selling acts of all time, has hit the road again this summer, continuing a touring schedule that hasn't slowed down since its heyday.

This time, the group has joined with Styx, which also had its heyday in the 1970s and '80s, in a tour called The Soundtrack of Summer.

What is it about Foreigner that gives it such a following, more than 25 years after its last Top 40 hit?

"You know, I think it's just great songs," says Jeff Pilson, a former member of Dokken and Dio who became Foreigner's bassist in 2004. "Timeless songs that resonate with people, and the songs that still mean something to people today.

"The power of a great song is pretty eternal, and I think we are beneficiaries of having great songs."

Foreigner unquestionably has great songs - nine that made the Top 10 in that decade, including the platinum hits "Double Vision," "Jukebox Hero" and the 1984 chart-topper "I Want to Know What Love Is," and the gold singles "Feels Like the First Time," "Hot Blooded" and "Cold as Ice."

The group has undergone multiple personnel changes that have left it with just one original member - guitarist Mick Jones, 69, whose health problems in recent years had kept him off the road for long stretches.

Original singer Lou Gramm left in 2003; current singer Kelly Hansen joined in 2005.

Pilson says Jones' health has improved and he tours with the band, though he doesn't play every show.

"His health is fine, he's all good," Pilson says. "It's just not recommended that he do all the shows. We have a little more grueling schedule, I think, than is necessary for him. But all is good, his health is great. He's in great spirits, he's playing great."

The nights Jones doesn't play, guitarist Bruce Watson fills in, and the nights Jones plays, "then we have three guitar players," Pilson says. "And we work out different little parts and we get to give you a little bit of some special stuff."

There have been 25 members in Foreigner's 38-year history. Pilson, who is the third longest-serving player, says he feels like "an old veteran."

The irony is that Pilson has been on just one Foreigner album, 2009's "Can't Slow Down," because that's the only disc of new material the band has released in 20 years. (It included one new song, "Save Me," on the 2011 acoustic collection "Acoustique.")

"It's funny how that isn't a huge deal for me, just because I know that so much of the legacy is from the music that we've done, that the band has done before I was in it," Pilson says. "But it was sure a joy to be part of a new Foreigner record and I'm looking forward to doing another one."

That next one may be coming soon. Pilson says Foreigner hopes to get back into the studio once the Soundtrack of Summer Tour is done.

"We've talked about it, yeah," he says. "Hopefully there will be some new music next year. That would be great."

For the tour, Foreigner and Styx repackaged many of their hits in a collection named for the tour, and even together recorded a version of The Eagles' "Hotel California" with former Eagles guitarist Don Felder, the show's opening act.

"I was kind of responsible for that," Pilson says. "So we have Don Felder, (Styx guitarist / vocalist) Tommy Shaw and Kelly Hansen trading off the lead vocals on it. And it starts off acoustically, but then by the end of the song it gets electric, and then you have Don Felder, Tommy Shaw and Mick Jones doing the solos."

Part of what has kept Foreigner from doing more new albums is the fact that it tours so much, Pilson says.

"We get asked about it a lot, so yeah, the interest is definitely there," he says. "It kind of comes down to, we tour so much of the year that to take the time to really make a Foreigner record - which, there's a high bar set for Foreigner records. So to do that, it's tricky. And that's why we're not even talking about it till after this Soundtrack of Summer Tour.

"The last record, we had to record a lot of it on the road; we'll probably have to do the same for this next one. But still - you don't want to let anything slide just because you're having to do it that way. And it's a little trickier - it takes a little more time, a little more care. But as long as the product ends up the same, we're happy."

Pilson says that also has prevented him from doing another project he's wanted to do: a reunion of T&N, the hard rock band that consists of the classic Dokken lineup, minus Don Dokken. He says he and Dokken led guitarist George Lynch "talk all the time - we're very, very good friends."

"We had originally hoped to write over (last) winter, but then things got really crazy in the Foreigner world, and we ended up getting all these opportunities. We ended up doing 'The Tonight Show,'" he says. He says Lynch also "is very busy" with his other hard rock band, KXM.

"So all these things came along that almost made it impossible to do a T&N thing," Pilson says. "So, yes, we're going to do it someday. I just don't know - we don't have an exact date."

Jones and Gramm, who had an acrimonious split, shared the stage together for the first time in a decade when, a year ago, they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Asked the relationship between Foreigner's founders these days, Pilson said, "I know that it was very formal when they saw each other - and Mick hadn't seen him in, I guess, a couple years. You know, they still have business from time to time, so it's not like they're complete strangers, but as far as I know, it's pretty friendly and all is good."

He says he wouldn't rule out Gramm singing with the band again.

"Ah, I don't think he'd ever be full time again, but you never know, he might come by and sing a song here and there," Pilson says. "You never know."

But he says the current lineup is the permanent Foreigner - the one that will play those hits for everyone this summer.

"We've taken this band some great places now," Pilson says. "You can feel what we've done, and the fact that at this point in our career we get to do this big, lovely, wonderful summer tour is great, and then we tour year-round - it's even more amazing."

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