The Ballbreaker Column


Foreigner is an English-American rock band, originally formed in New York City in 1976 by veteran English musician Mick Jones ex-Spooky Tooth and fellow Briton and ex-King Crimson member Ian McDonald along with American vocalist Lou Gramm.

Jones came up with the band’s name as he, McDonald and Dennis Elliott were British, while Gramm, Al Greenwood, and Ed Gagliardi were American. Their biggest hit single, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” topped the United Kingdom and the United States charts among others. They are one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time with worldwide sales of more than 80 million records, including 37.5 million records in the US.

Foreigner is not slowing down now or thinking about retirement. The band is embarking on another tour this year around the world and doing another 100 shows. They are also putting out Foreigner with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus their latest live release on April 27, 2018. I had the chance to catch up with Foreigner’s rhythm guitarist Tom Gimbel to talk about the latest live release upcoming summer tour with Whitesnake, and the band’s plans.

Angel Alamo: The band is putting out Foreigner with The 21st Century Orchestra & Chorus on April 27, 2018, and doing some tour dates behind the live album. How did the project to work with an orchestra come about?

Tom Gimbel: It’s a long process. We started off doing acoustic shows, and that went so well that (guitarist) Mick Jones our leader decided how we can take this to the next level? Let’s take it one more step, and you might know that we have had choirs on stage with us.

So, yeah, now we’ve got a bigger choir and a full orchestra. So, when you put all three of those elements together, it’s a special sort of hybrid sound, and it’s like massive. It’s like gothic. You know? It’s like something you would see in a movie… It sounds so good, Angel.

The music lends itself well to the orchestral kind of arrangements and the choir, and everything goes together. It makes for an exciting night. Of course, you got the rock band right there at the center. And, that holds it all together. We’ll do some regular rock stuff, and we’ll do some stuff with the choir and the orchestra. Maybe a couple of acoustic numbers, it’s like a three-part plan.

AA: So, that’s what you guys are going to be doing with the tour? With the orchestra?

TG: Certain dates I think we’re going to do that. I’m just not sure which ones, but yeah, we’ll be mixing those dates in throughout the summer. It’s great.

AA: As a musician, how challenging is it to work with an orchestra?

TG: It’s not a huge challenge because we are all on the same page, and the musicians share that common love of the art of music. So, we’re all naturally just connected. The only thing that’s a little different is following the conductor when you have an orchestra; there’s a conductor there. And, typically, we follow the drummer. You know, in a rock band, but when you’re going with the orchestra, you got to sort of keep an eye on the conductor. He’s setting the tempos, and the drummer getting that from him. So, I don’t know if you’ve seen any of them. He’s got like one eye on the conductor and two ears on the drummer. That gives us three points of reference so I got three chances of being in the right spot.

AA: You guys are going out on tour with Whitesnake. What can fans expect from this upcoming summer tour?

TG: Yeah, we’ll have Jason Bonham and his Led Zeppelin experience. He’s part of our family. He was actually in Foreigner for a few years in the early 2000’s so he’s a buddy his Led Zeppelin show is the best in the business besides Led Zeppelin. So, he’ll be there, and then, Whitesnake comes on. They’re just phenomenal regarding playing, and the songs have a lot… A Ton of fun.

And, Foreigner, we’re going to do our high energy show. Kelly Hansen, our singer, runs around, dances in the audience. He’ll do shots, kiss girls, do anything. Very unpredictable. Very unpredictable. We are going to play all the songs that people want to hear at a Foreigner show. That’s pretty much what you can expect. It’s going to be a triple bill and real, real good rock and roll values. Loud guitars.

AA: What was it like playing with Lou Graham last year?

TG: It’s great to see Lou again. I was lucky enough to work with Mick and Lou in the early 90’s, and so I got a chance to know Lou Graham over those ten years. The first ten years I was working with Foreigner was with Lou Graham. And these, last ten years, has been with Kelly Hansen. So, some of the most fun was to see Lou Graham and Kelly Hansen getting along so well because they are both phenomenal singing talents. It’s nice to see people at that level that can have so much in common and get along so well.

We were a little concerned. Yeah, are there going to be any weird feelings? I think they like each other.  People get along, and it’s the whole thing. We’re kindred spirits because we are all bound together by the mutual love of music. Most people at this point in their lives, they love music with all their heart. That’s why you would dedicate your whole life to music. So, we’re all automatically on the same page. It works out well, and it was just so much fun to see Lou back in action with us. Especially surrounded by Mick Jones and those guys all know each other from back in the heyday of the 70’s and 80’s. So, it’s a treat, and it always is. And, I look forward to seeing him again soon.

AA: Can fans expect a new studio album from Foreigner?

TG: That’s a great question. I’m not really sure. Mick Jones as a songwriter, he’s always working on something. So, we just kind of have to wait and see if it comes out, how it comes out. How it will find its way. And, it’s really just a matter of time. I think he’s always working on something, and there has been some talk about Mick and Lou getting out some old songs that they never finished and possibly finishing those up and releasing them. But, it’s too soon to tell.

And, Mick is really the only one that knows. So, we’ll wait and see. I’m not sure about the whole studio album, Angel. Nowadays, bands will put out two or three songs or maybe just one song for a movie. In the old days, you had to put out an album. Now, you can just release, maybe a handful of songs. People are going to grab them off the internet one at a time anyway.

And, we don’t have all that pressure to do 13 songs on one album. It takes a long time to make 13 songs. So, maybe just who knows? Maybe just one, two or three might end up in an album or just released as singles. Never know, but we are certainly going to hope so. See what happens.

AA:  What are your favorite songs to play live?

TG: I like all the Foreigner songs to play live. They work really well in a live setting. I think maybe that’s the way they were constructed. Mick always put a lot of thought into the way he crafted these songs, so they lend themselves really well to a live setting. And, each song has something special that I love about it. So, aside from Virgin where I get to lose my mind on the saxophone, I would say they’re all favorites.

AA: What is the toughest part of being on the road?

TG: Early morning wake up call. That’s the only thing that bothers us. We love being on the road. We love every single part of it, but once in a while if the only flight that’s available is a morning flight and you got to set that alarm or have a wakeup call from the front desk, and it goes off at seven, and you didn’t go to sleep until six. Ouch. That hurts when you only sleep for an hour or two, and the alarm goes off. That’s the toughest part of being on the road from my point of view.

AA: Any bands out there that you would still like to play with?

TG: I’m not sure. We have done so many. Angel, we’ve played with Def Leppard and Journey and Styx and REO and Kid Rock. The list just goes on and on and on. Dewey Brothers, Peter Frampton You name it, we’ve played with them. So, I would say that that is something we feel very happy about. The opportunity to work and get to know some of those bands. Cheap Trick, what a treat it was to play with them. So, yeah, from a band standpoint, I’m not sure that there are any other acts that we’d love to tour with.

It really is different. Yeah, it really is different when you see something live. There’s an atmosphere. There’s a magic in the air. You just can’t duplicate. I thought for a while; if I get the biggest screen TV and the best surround system, it would be just like a concert. Not unless you can put ten thousand people in your house. That’s a big part of the atmosphere is all those people and the electricity in the air. There’s nothing that comes close, and the outdoor sound if it’s outdoors or even if it’s indoors. It’s that big PA and the stage and the excitement. It’s one of the best things that I have ever had the opportunity to be involved in.

AA: What are the band’s plans for after the summer tour?

TG: Usually, we do shows into the fall. A lot of shows are around the States I believe. I haven’t looked at the schedule, but I know we’re going to some wild places. Iceland. We’re going to Iceland for the first time. That’s one of the places I’ve never been.

We’ll go to South America. It really is a global act, so I’m going to guess we’ll be using our passports quite a bit. And, so, that will probably happen after the summer. So, yeah, we are just going to keep traveling. We usually do that up until about Thanksgiving, and then we break for the holidays. Everybody gets to take some time with their families through Thanksgiving, December and Christmas and New Year’s. We take some time off to recharge our batteries, and then, we’ll be at it again. They’re already booking shows for 2019. There is no end in sight.

AA: What was the first instrument that you ever started playing.

TG: For me it was drums. I was one of those kids that was always banging on pots and pans. The dashboard of the car when you’re little and your parents drive you around. I was just playing drum solos on the dashboard of the car, so they dropped me off at a drum school. Just crazy kid thinks he’s a drummer, and I had my first drum lesson. And the teacher said, “Hey, not bad for a six-year-old. It’s ridiculous.” So, I started lessons at a very young age. That’s been my life ever since.

AA: Wow, that’s a shocker. I thought you were going to say the saxophone.

TG: Yeah, I got into all the instruments after that which worked out well because rhythm and drums, it’s all sort of the root of music. You start with rhythm, and you go from there so. After that, I got into the guitar and the keyboards and flute and the sax and the cousin of the flute. So, they were related, and I just had a blast every time I picked up a new instrument I was like, “Ooo, I love this. I want to play it.” So, it just kept going. It was really cool.

AA: What advice would you give to any young musicians that are starting out?

TG: Yes, I think that people that are learning music need to listen to the stuff that they love. Usually, people get interested because they hear something that makes them motivated, and in my case, it was probably the Beatles or Creed Credence Clearwater even Motown. So, whatever that music is that you love, listen to it over and over and over. Let it get inside your soul, and then start singing along with it, playing along with it. If you’re playing an instrument, try to play along with your favorite albums and favorite music if you can. And, you’ll get little bits and pieces like how does he do that? I’ll stop the record and think how does he do that? And, I’ll figure it out on my sax. Oh, that’s how that goes. So, I really think that a lot of the best musicians in the world learned to be proficient by playing along with records

And, that’s my advice for folks that want to be musicians. You got to listen to a ton and then, try to play along with those same records. Even if it means dancing around in front of the mirror if you want to be a singer. Kids today are not shy about this. They dance around pretending they’re singing into a microphone. You can just… Sets you free. You just lose yourself. And, I always recommend that even it if it’s kind of embarrassing. Don’t be afraid, and kids really, they’re not that shy anymore. We used to be shy. Oh, I don’t sing. Remember guys that would stare at their shoes in church while everyone sings, and they kind of mumble along, nobody really wanted to sing.

But nowadays, kids aren’t shy about it. So, that’s the good news. So, I would just say embrace it. Listen to your favorite records as much as you can. Discover music that you like and listen. So much of music is listening. That’s how it gets inside your soul. It buries itself in there and then, when you want to plan in your own fashion that same material will find its way out.

AA: What are the best thing and the worst thing about social media for a musician?

TG: Well, when I think of social media, I’m thinking in terms of people being able to say, “I discovered this music. Check it out.” Here’s what I’m listening to on Pandora or Spotify, whatever format they’re finding this stuff. They can share it. That’s the best part of social media being able to share music. In the old days, you had to have a record or a radio. There was no way to hear music if you didn’t have it. Nowadays, you can just click and hear the greatest stuff imaginable. So, to me, that’s the best part of this explosion.

I would say the worst part or one of the downsides is that people are connecting more with their machines and not people. In the old days, literally, my friends and I would get together and listen to music. We would get records, record players and put them on and listen to music together. Nowadays, it’s somebody with their headphones. They could be anywhere by themselves. And, so, I would like it more if people spent more time with other people.

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By Angel Alamo

Angel Alamo was born and raised in Camden NJ he has been doing journalism for 8 years. Angel hosts the movers and shakers TV show and on the road with Angel Alamo.