Guitarist Mick Jones is bringing Foreigner back to the stage this summer with a new lineup. Joining Jones — the band’s only original member — are drummer Jason Bonham, keyboardist Jeff Jacobs, bassist Jeff Pilson, saxophonist/guitarist Tom Gimbel and vocalist Kelly Hansen, who replaces Lou Gramm.
“We weren’t on the same page,” Jones says of the split with Gramm. “We weren’t really communicating. I think we really tried hard to save it, but it got to the point when we both realized that to go on would be detrimental for both of us.”
This isn’t the first time Jones has replaced Gramm. When the singer initially left the band in 1989, Jones brought in Johnny Edwards for the 1991 album, Unusual Heat. Gramm returned the next year and remained with the group until 2003.
The last couple of years have been a struggle for both Gramm, who had a benign brain tumor successfully removed in 1997, and Jones. “I had family problems and a lot to cope with,” says the guitarist, “and I didn’t even know whether I wanted to carry on with music.”
After a two-year break, Jones gradually returned to songwriting. Last year, he assembled a version of Foreigner for an impromptu charity show in California. “Suddenly, I got a new lease in life,” says Jones. “There was a chance that I could do this honorably and feel right about it inside.”
Determined to find a new permanent frontman, Jones had his work cut out for him. “Lou is a tremendously hard act to follow,” he says, “and I certainly didn’t want a guy who was a Lou clone. Eventually I heard a tape of Kelly Hansen, and, boy, it really got me. He sings the songs so well, I think people don’t even register the difference.”
Between 1977 and 1988, the group had a string of multi-platinum albums and hit songs, such as “Cold as Ice,” “Urgent,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and the Number One single “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Foreigner’s recognizable mix of arena rock and pop hooks has been influential to new acts such as Brit glam outfit the Darkness, who met Jones at their New York show. “They voted ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ the best song of all time,” remembers Jones. “A lot of the younger bands I’ve met have come up through playing Foreigner in bars!”
Jones views the summer shows as a warm-up for work later this year on a possible new Foreigner album and the world tour planned for 2006. And while Jones won’t close the door on working with Gramm again (“Our association will always be very special”) he’s thrilled with his new lineup. “I haven’t had this much fun in years,” Jones beams with pride. “I feel twenty years younger.”