A lot of bands from the late ’70s can claim to be elder statesmen of that era’s rock ’n’ roll scene, but Foreigner puts many of them to shame.
The group was formed in 1976 by Mick Jones, formerly of the British rock band Spooky Tooth, and Ian McDonald, a founding member of influential prog rockers King Crimson. While the lineup has changed a number of times over the years, Foreigner has never quit performing.
Jones is still with the band, playing with a frequently revolving group of musicians and vocalists, and you can revisit all their hits when they stop at Northern Quest this Sunday, along with fellow genre stalwarts Styx and Loverboy.
Tom Gimbel, who has been playing guitar and saxophone with Foreigner since the mid-’90s, said that the lineup changes tend to “upset the apple cart for a little while. When you see that list of the 28 people who came and went,” he continued, referring to a lineup history on Wikipedia, “20 of them are drummers.” (Insert Spinal Tap joke here.)
But that ever-shifting nature of a touring band is to be expected – it’s actually part of Foreigner’s DNA at this point – and the nostalgia rock circuit is keeping the music relevant even if all the group’s original members aren’t present.
One of the few hard rock bands of the late ’70s that seamlessly transitioned into the glossy stadium pop of the ’80s (and became even more successful in the process), Foreigner’s fingerprints are all over classic rock radio: Such top 10 hits as “Feels Like the First Time,” “Hot Blooded,” “Cold as Ice,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and the No. 1 smash “I Want to Know What Love Is” have made them one of the highest-selling bands of all time.
The band’s early history is riddled with conflicts and artistic skirmishes, and it experienced a major setback when original vocalist Lou Gramm left to focus on a solo career in 2003 (he has since been replaced by vocalist Kelly Hansen). But Gimbel, who has been with Foreigner longer than anyone in the current lineup besides Jones, said they’ve learned to roll with the punches, even if the personnel changes aren’t always ideal.
“Each chapter was a good one – no better or worse, just different,” he said. “I have huge respect for anyone who has been in Foreigner, because they wouldn’t be there if Mick Jones didn’t think they were good enough to be there.”
Although there are no concrete plans for a new album of Foreigner material – their last release was in 2009, and Gimbel said Jones might have “something up his sleeve” – the band has a catalog that’s vast enough to keep their devotees satisfied.
“They’ve sort of grown up with us,” Gimbel said of the band’s fan base. “It’s a lot of the same people. We go city to city and the Foreigner fans come out, and it’s the same people I’ve been seeing for the last 20 years. It’s kind of cool, seeing old familiar faces and friends.”