Foreigner's Mick Jones talks about reuniting with Lou Gramm, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and more
Days after sharing the stage with his old Foreigner bandmates for the first time in 37 years, Mick Jones already sounded a bit wistful.
“It was a great moment,” Jones said by phone on a day off tour from his home in New York. “We’ve been talking about it for a while, trying to figure it out. I thought it would be nice to celebrate the 40th anniversary with something special like that, and we were able to pull it together.”
Indeed, Foreigner’s July 20 performance with original singer Lou Gramm, keyboardist Alan Greenwood and guitarist Ian McDonald was something fans have been looking forward to for ages. For Jones, the group’s lead guitarist, mastermind and sole founding member since its inception in 1977, the possibility of even a partial reunion was always in the cards for Foreigner’s 40th anniversary tour, which hits Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Wednesday.
“It’s just way above our expectations,” he said of the tour. “People have been flocking to the shows, and playing to a tremendous amount of people — it was looking good, but not quite this good. It’s really great to be playing mostly sellouts where we’re appearing. It feels like the old days a bit.”
Hugely popular but rarely acclaimed in their heyday, time has been kind to Foreigner. Peers like Journey, Cheap Trick and Electric Light Orchestra have recently been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and with a greatest hits lineup that can fill an entire set — Hot Blooded, Double Vision, Juke Box Hero, Cold as Ice, the list goes on — there could soon be a drumbeat for Foreigner to follow.
Jones would be a well-qualified inductee. His vast career in rock also includes producing (Billy Joel’s Storm Front, Van Halen’s 5150), songwriting (Eric Clapton’s Bad Love, Ozzy Osbourne’s Dreamer) and leading a family of musicians (his stepchildren include Mark and Samantha Ronson). But at 72, for now, he’s totally focused on Foreigner.
“I’m feeling pretty energized, to tell you the truth,” he said. “Seeing this tour on paper was a bit daunting, but we’ve already done a quarter of the shows and I’m feeling good, keeping well, eating sensible, eating healthy, and working out. I get a workout on stage every night, and I feel really good.”
Before hitting Tampa, Jones talked about reuniting Foreigner, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and more.
Your last show was here a couple of years ago with Kid Rock. How was it touring with our future U.S. senator?
It was a lot of fun. In a way, it played to our advantage with this tour. We opened our market up a little bit, because in reality, a lot of those Kid Rock fans are also Foreigner fans, and I think we widened our reach a bit with that. And it was a fun tour to do, Kid Rock is a great guy to work with. Whatever his political leanings are (laughs), he’s a real pro, and a really cool guy, and it’s a lot of fun, so I give him a bit of credit for having reminded people that probably hadn’t seen us for a while of what we were up to, and how good this band sounds.
You just played with Lou, Ian and Al a few nights ago. How’d it come about? Walk me through it.
The chemistry between everybody was insane. It was so cool. Everybody was obviously a bit nervous. Al and Ian, it had been a long time since they’d played in that sort of venue. And then everybody just meshed together. It was a very emotional moment for me when I brought Lou onto the stage, and he sang great, he sang his ass off, and the crowd were seriously into it, too. We’re going to be doing a few more of these appearances this year, and film it, actually, in October. And it leaves the future open for all kinds of things. But it’s nice to know that once in a while we can revert back to that and show people the origin of the band, almost.
Do you know when and where it’s going to happen again? Will it happen in Tampa?
There’s a good chance that Dennis Elliott will be at the Tampa show, our original drummer. And we’re just putting in a handful of dates this year where we’ll appear with pretty much almost the whole band. We’re going to do a show in Michigan I think that we’ll film and feature all the players.
It’s a tricky thing, because you have a pretty great band behind you right now. You have to play peacemaker in a lot of different ways, not the least of which is, you have to convince fans that the band they’re seeing on tour right now is a legitimate version of Foreginer, even if it’s not the original version. Has that been difficult?
Not really. The current band, with the exception of our drummer Chris Frazier, has pretty much been together for the best part of 10 years. And I think we’ve done enough touring and we’ve had enough exposure for people to know the current band as well. Bringing Lou on, and Ian and Al, was juts a bonus for them. The crowd went crazy. And I think they understand that this is not a permanent thing; it’s just, we have something to celebrate with the 40 years, and we thought we’d do something a little different, and get back together in the spirit of peace and harmony and a good time.
Journey got in the same room with Steve Perry this year for their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Does their induction give you any hope for Foreigner?
I think there was some doubt whether Foreigner could be represented properly in the Hall of Fame. I don’t know what the politics are, but I think (the counter-argument is) partly because there are so few original members that would appear. But this is definitely a step towards proving that we can present the whole band if necessary. That’s not a problem for us. And it sure would be nice to be nominated. I feel that we definitely deserve to be in there. So fingers crossed, we’ll see what happens, but whatever — if they don’t, we’ll just carry on doing what we do, and just carry on rebuilding the band to give it some legitimate prestige. That’s kind of what we’re achieving now.
When you get to a big round number like the 40th anniversary, which is a big reason for the band getting back on stage together, is there a part of you that feels like there just isn’t much time left? Like it’s now or never?
No it’s just really developed over the past months. We were trying to think of something to do to add a special feeling to the occasion. And I don’t really think like that — if I’m going to be here next year or not, it’s not really paramount in my thoughts. It felt natural; it felt like it was a good time that we’re going to do this, as we talk about it every few years. We’d give it a whirl. But it happens to be a very successful whirl, and something that we can repeat and do in other venues if necessary.
And for me, it’s a bit redeeming that I can bring my power back from the beginning and show them that Foreigner lives on, as it were, and tell them how much I appreciate what they did in the begninning, and the times we had that were very special, and what we achieved and everything. It’s a great way of being able to sit with them and talk about the past and just be so thankful that they can be a part of this. It’s just a great feeling, and we’re very happy. There was no bad blood or anything, or any kind of negative vibe. It was just really incredibly warm and enjoyable.
You’re out on the road with Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham. You worked with Jimmy Page early on, but did you know Led Zeppelin? Did you know Jason as a kid growing up?
I met Jason down on vacation in Ibiza. My manager was the head of Atlantic Records in Europe for many ears, and he was very close with Led Zeppelin, and I remember Jason was staying with him. We happened to be down there, and we met up. Jason was a huge Foreigner fan, and he was riffing all the riffs. It was really his idea for me to put Foreigner back together again. He was really gung-ho. He started pestering me, actually, at one point, and he said, ‘Man, what are you thinking? There’s so many people out there that want to hear the music again.’ He was an influence on me making the final decision to do it. He’s like my naughty nephew. (laughs)
You haven’t done much producing lately. Is that something that interests you anymore?
I don’t really dig spending so much time in studios. I spent so much time during the beginning and all through the end of the ’70s, the ’80s, and even the ’90s, and I just got burned out with the studio. I haven’t had any big desire to get back in and produce anybody, but you never know. I’m open. If something really special came along, I probably would consider it.
I’ve been so dedicated with what we’ve been doing to bring this band back, this stupid slog, it’s been 10 years. It just didn’t happen at this level overnight. When I first decided to put it together, we were playing clubs, sometimes funky clubs, and deep down, I thought, ‘Well, this is a bit of a slog.’ I wasn’t quite sure if we were going to manage to stay in it. But we hunkered down and fought our way through it. The energy and the spirit of the guys in the band — (singer) Kelly Hansen has just been like a rock, and he’s 100 percent on it all the time. He looks after his voice immaculately, and he’s just such a force. Everybody in the band are completely dedicated, and it’s a fun band to be in. There’s no sour faces or problems; it’s just magical. I don’t know how it happened, but I couldn’t have wished for a better combination of players.
-- Jay Cridlin