Lou Gramm the original voice of Foreigner will be playing at The Center for the Arts at GlenOak High School in Canton on Saturday, August 27th.
The Song Writers Hall of Fame inductee recently spoke with NEO Music Scene to talk about his illustrious career and his upcoming appearance in Canton.
Greg Drugan: Hello Lou, it’s great to speak with you today.
Lou Gramm: Thanks!
GD: Congratulations on your induction into the Song Writers Hall of Fame! You’ve written some amazing songs over the years.
LG: Thank you so much! It was a great honor for me.
GD: I heard that there may be some uncompleted Foreigner songs that you and Mick have worked on; is there any chance that they may be completed and released?
LG: I wouldn’t put a time span on it. But we have talked about it and we both agree that it would be good to finish something that we’ve started. They’re good song ideas and I think at some point, we are going to get to them.
GD: Super! Fans will be excited to hear that. The big question on everyone’s mind is: are there any plans for a Foreigner reunion to celebrate the bands 40th anniversary?
LG: There’s been talk about it and there continues to be talk about it. We’re just throwing around possibilities but at some point I’m hoping that something concrete develops.
GD: Let’s go back in your career; when did you know that you wanted to be a singer?
LG: I started out as a drummer and I would sing background and harmonies to my singer in the band when I was 15. At some point, I thought my voice was getting pretty good and I got a whole song to sing. I was singing while I was drumming. Then a couple of years later, I was singing almost all the songs and drumming at the same time which was exhausting. We actually started looking for a singer so I could drum and sing background, but we ended up finding a good drummer. So I ended up moving to the front.
GD: That was a great choice to switch. Besides the drums, do you play any other instruments?
LG: I can play keyboards a little bit; enough to write songs. But my playing isn’t anywhere close to play on stage.
GD: Who were some of your early musical influences growing up?
LG: Definitely the Beatles. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin there are quite a few. A lot of them are R&B style and then there is the Beatles. They really captured my imagination from the first song that I heard.
GD: Do you remember the first record that you bought? I have to tell you that mine was Double Vision when I was a kid.
LG: Wow, is that right? Mine was The Kingsmen “Louie Louie.”
GD: That’s a good one. You were in another band before you joined Foreigner. How long was the audition process to become Foreigner’s lead singer?
LG: It was a couple hours singing in a studio to the musical tracks that had already been laid down. Mick would sing me the melody while we were listening to the music. Then I wrote down the words that he had and went out to the studio and sang to the completed music track in my audition.
So I sang three or four songs and at the end of the day, they asked me if I could stay a day or two extra. I said I could and I ended up going to Mick’s apartment and we wrote “Long Way from Home.” Then they asked me if I could stay a couple more days. I said “Look, I only brought a change of clothes for a couple of days; I’m completely out of clothes. Am I in?” They said definitely! Then the process started of me moving into New York City.
GD: Foreigner’s first album is one of the best debut albums of all time; did you realize that it was going to be successful when you made it?
LG: I knew the musicianship was excellent. We had terrific production. Mick and I worked on most of the songs, although he did have some of the songs written. I thought it was really good, straight-ahead rock that was missing from the charts because at that time it was still disco dominated. I had high hopes, let’s put it that way!
GD: To write “Long Way from Home” right out of the gate is phenomenal.
LG: We had a record company in Atlantic Records that believed in us. We had a killer promotion staff. We were always doing radio interviews on the phone and in person. We were doing concerts and flying or driving to the cities to do radio shows to boost ticket sales. We opened for the Doobie Brothers on our first tour.
GD: Many song writers have said that most hit songs don’t take that long to write, that often times they just come to them. Do you find that to be the case on some of the songs that you’ve written?
LG: Yeah, I would say that some of them fit that bill exactly. Then there are others that are a non-stop battle; for instance “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Although we had the pertinent parts to it done after a couple of weeks, the arrangement and other things in the song took another six to eight weeks before we thought the song had a personality for us to record it.
GD: You had tremendous success with the first five Foreigner albums, all of them were multi-platinum. What made you decided to release a solo album in 1987?
LG: To be honest, I felt that Foreigner was leaning quite a bit on the ballads. On Foreigner 4, the last single was “Waiting for a Girl” which was a hit and I was proud of. Then the next album had “I Want to Know What Love Is” which was even huger, if there is such a word. And the next album was “I Don’t Want to Live without You” and that was a big hit. Radio and the record company would listen to the demos for our next album and they would skip right over the rock stuff and say “Where’s the ballad?” I was trying to remind everybody that we made our name as a rock group and we are getting way far away from that. I could see that we were losing some of our live audience when we toured. We were sold out all the time now it’s 3/4 full. Fans used to say “Foreigner- oh they’ve gone soft.” That used to aggravate the hell out of me.
When we finished the tour (Agent Provocateur) Mick and his wife went on a cruise. Then with the stops they made and they were in Europe, he ended up being gone for a year and a half. I kept asking management “when is he coming back?” because we have to write some new stuff. They kept saying a couple weeks, and then they finally said we don’t know when he’s coming back. So I starting writing a bunch of songs and took them to Atlantic Records and recorded my first album. As soon as it was released, I had an opportunity to open for Steve Miller. I took that opportunity and after the second show, guess who came home? Our management said “Mick’s home now and he wants to start writing songs for the next album. You have to cancel the tour and get back to New York.” I said “I will not do that. I put everything that I had into this album and I have a great opportunity to open for Steve Miller.” I learned from Mick, when you have opportunities like this, you have to see them through. So they had to wait around for me until I was done. Actually they didn’t wait around; they got another singer, Johnny Edwards. He (Mick) thought that my album was going to undermine Foreigner. He was insinuating that my stuff was not so good. After “Midnight Blue” became the most played song of 1987, over and above U2 and other great acts, I felt pretty good about it.
GD: So your relationship with Mick has kinda been off and on pretty much since that time.
LG: Yes it has, but it’s actually at the present time a good relationship. We received that award together and we performed together for the first time in 10 or 12 years. That was a lot of fun and we renewed the friendship.
GD: What are your thoughts on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? I feel that your induction is overdue. You had the hits, the longevity and certainly have impacted rock and roll. What do you think your chances of getting in?
LG: I don’t think they’re real good at this point. It’s not so much about the music; it’s the politics that overrides anything that we’ve done in our career. Hopefully it that dissipates, maybe we will get into the hall of fame. I wouldn’t doubt that we never get in.
GD: I think there are some changes in the Rock Hall, at least voting member wise, that are putting acts in that should have been in long ago like Deep Purple and Cheap Trick. So I’m not giving up hope that one day you guys will get in there, because you are deserving.
LG: Well, I appreciate that.
GD: You are playing in Canton on the August 27th. What can fans expect from this show?
LG: My band is a Rochester based band that are extremely good musicians. We play the Foreigner catalog because I co-wrote 90% of those songs. They are part of my career and I was the lead vocalist on all of them. I put in the hit songs from my solo albums and we might put in an old Beatles song at the end then say good night.
GD: That sounds excellent! It will be a great night of Rock and Roll.
LG: We have a lot of fun and the audience usually loves it.
GD: Lou, thank you so much for your time. I am looking forward to seeing you at the end of the month!
LG: Sounds good. I appreciate it!
Catch Lou Gramm at The Center for the Arts at GlenOak High School in Canton on August 27th. For ticket information go to http://www.plainlocal.org/News/lougramm#sthash.NFlShfgf.C847BoTO.dpbs