Mick Jones Has Unreleased Foreigner Songs He’d Like to Finish With Lou Gramm: Exclusive Interview
Looking across the 40-year history of Foreigner, the creative partnership that Mick Jones and Lou Gramm shared is one that's had quite a few twists and turns.
When the band released Classic Hits Live in 1993, there was a lot to celebrate. Guitarist Jones and singer Gramm had resumed their working relationship after a break of several years, a period when Jones brought in singer Johnny Edwards for 1991’s Unusual Heat album. That same year, Gramm released an album with Shadow King, a collaboration with future Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell.
Neither project gained much traction, and Gramm and Jones got back together to record a few new songs for a Foreigner compilation, The Very Best and Beyond, issued in late 1992 to coincide with the pair heading back out on the road as Foreigner for the first time since the end of the ‘80s. The revitalized band sounded great as it moved its way through expected hits (“Head Games,” “Double Vision”) and deeper cuts (“Women,” “Fool for You Anyway”).
Jones built a Foreigner lineup around new singer Kelly Hansen, bassist Jeff Pilson (from Dokken) and longtime friend Jason Bonham on drums in the early '00s after Gramm made another exit. That band (without Bonham, who exited at the end of the decade) has toured nearly nonstop since coming together in 2004. All the hard road work finally paid off last year as the group mounted its first headlining tour of amphitheaters in years, with Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience adding additional support.
Celebrating 40 years, Jones extended an invitation for the surviving former members of the band -- including Gramm -- to make guest appearances at selected dates along the way. “It’s really nice and great," Jones tells UCR. "It sort of completes the circle almost. It’s a great feeling and the fans love it. We love it. It’s amazing -- Kelly and Lou Gramm hit it off like a house on fire. They love it. I was holding my breath for a minute there, because in other conditions, it could be a touchy subject. But it hasn’t been at all -- it’s been the opposite.”
Band members referred to the expanded stage lineup as "Super Foreigner," Pilson tells UCR. "We went out there and did 10 songs, and then they came up and did five songs," he says. "It was just so wonderful seeing the audience reaction. For the encores, all 12 of us got onstage together and it was just so much fun." Comparing the shows to a “wild high school party gone awry,” Pilson says listening to Gramm sing those classic songs made "the hairs on the back of my neck stand up like no one else does. It was so fun being able to be part of that."
Jones says Gramm and the other former members of the band will continue to make appearances during this year’s Foreigner tour stops. Just like last year, they'll show up as surprise guests when their schedules line up. “It's not a constant thing," he says. "We’re just at the moment, just doing here and there.”
Two shows that were filmed in Michigan last year featuring both lineups are now being edited for a future release. Jones also says there's a possibility he'll work with Gramm again to finish some previously unreleased material that’s in the vault. “There’s about 10 or 12 [tracks], which I’ve been listening to,” he says. “I don’t quite know when we’re going to have a chance to do that, but it wouldn’t be before the fall. I’m aware that they’re there, but I think we have to concentrate on one thing at a time. You know, otherwise the projects … it’s not good to be thinking of three or four different things at once.”
Jones is now prepping for the release of Foreigner With the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, a new live recording that will be issued on CD, digital audio and double vinyl on April 18, with a special CD and DVD combo version available at Walmart in the U.S. and Canada. "We did a deal with the local opera house," Jones explains. "They were really excited about doing it, and they said they could provide a 60-piece orchestra and however many choir [members] we needed. It just seemed that this was a good time to take advantage of that and launch into it.”
Working with Dave Eggar and Chuck Palmer to develop the symphonic arrangements, Jones had a specific vision for the project. “What I wanted it to be above all was not to actually feature the orchestra on every little part -- I think that would have been over the top,” he says. “The orchestra has spaces, and it’s there subtly sometimes and sometimes it’s more brash. That’s really how I think the album will strike people. It’s a good balance between the two: the band and the orchestra and the choir.”
Foreigner will follow the release of the live album with a short series of orchestral dates before heading back outdoors this summer, anchoring a tour that will also include Whitesnake and a return visit from Bonham, now touring as Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening. “I never worked with David [Coverdale] before," Jones says. "We never toured -- I think we did a couple of things in Germany where Whitesnake are still fairly big. But I know him personally. He’s a funny guy -- he’s a real laugh -- and he’s in good shape, so I think it’s going to be pretty exciting.”
Jones, who looked back on his own history in the 2017 book, A Foreigner’s Tale, says there’s no end in sight to all this. “I ain’t stoppin’ yet, I’ll tell you that,” he laughs. “As long as I feel good and it’s not painful to get up onstage, I take those things one day at a time.”