Ex-Foreigner Singer Lou Gramm on the Band Touring With Only One Original Member: ‘I Think It’s False Advertising’
In the 1970s and 80s, his was one of the most dominant voices on radio, MTV and in stadiums across the globe. As the frontman of Foreigner, Lou Gramm became one of the most durable and recognizable singers on the planet. His ability to belt hard rockers, while at the same time possessing this skill and soulful tenderness to deliver softer ballads, truly made Gramm a force to be reckoned with.
In the late 1980s, Gramm also found gold in a solo career before reconnecting with Foreigner in the ’90s. After battling rock ‘n’ roll demons including drugs and alcohol, the gifted singer then faced his biggest challenge ever: a brain tumor that was so serious, he was basically given a death sentence by his doctors. But Gramm never gave up. He found a specialist who performed an operation that saved his life, and today, Gramm is back and healthy again, ready to tell his story.
In his new book, Juke Box Hero – My Five Decades in Rock ‘N’ Roll, Graham takes the reader on an incredibly personal ride that is honest, brutal, funny, and quite frankly, one of the best rock ‘n’ roll autobiographies Noisecreep has ever read.
Gramm still tours today with his own band – he needs to keep rocking – ain’t never gonna stop – and it was a sincere and privilege for Noisecreep to be able to speak with him about Juke Box Hero, which comes out May 1.
Lou, talk about the challenges of being able to recount some of the details from your life going back to the beginning. After all, you lived the classic rock star lifestyle for a long time.
I worked with the fine sportswriter Scott Pitoniak on this and we started by jumping around n different chronological orders. I think it made it easier to recall certain things. In the end, jumping around rather than going in one linear path was good for me because it was less predictable. Right away, we started talking about Foreigner war stories, and then once we got all the big stuff out of the way, it just seemed like it made it easier to go back in time and recall what was a really great childhood.
Even before you joined Foreigner, your book details a lot of pretty special rock ‘n’ roll moments including one with John Lennon.
It was my band Black Sheep’s second time in New York at the Hit Factory and we learned that John was working a studio down the street from us, recording an album with Phil Spector. And we had a break and there with a pool table and a foosball table in this room where you could just go and relax. I went in there and he asked what I was doing there. We talked about each other’s projects and then he asked me to shoot game of pool. It was just so amazing. He seemed like such a great guy. I floated back to the studio afterwards and couldn’t believe it.
You tell another great story in the book were you snuck out of your house to go see the Rolling Stones in 1965. Then about 13 years later, there you are, fronting Foreigner and playing with the Stones in front of 100,000 people in Philadelphia.
Yeah, my parents really didn’t understand the Rolling Stones thing way back when and so I called my dad from the show in ’78 and we had a good laugh about it. That’s one of the more memorable Foreigner shows for me. Being able to play with you heroes was always something I always appreciated.
There’s also a moment in the book where an up-and-coming singer needs a little help with some background vocals.
Foreigner was finishing up the recording of Agent Provocateur back in 1984 and there was this young guy named Bryan Adams who came in one day to the studio next to us. He was finishing up his album and a couple of his backup vocalists had become sick. I volunteered to help him out. I wound up singing on about six of the songs including his signature single, “Cuts Like a Knife.” He was really grateful and wanted to pay me but I told him, no it’s okay, this is just what you do, you help other guys out. Plenty of guys helped me out along the way and this was just my way to pay back.
You’re very honest in the book about the tensions that started to arise between you and Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones. It seems that the business aspect of the band started to take over after the big success of “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” which hit #2 on the Billboard Singles Chart in 1982.
Yeah, that was a weird time. I love that song, but just because we had a big hit with the ballad, that started skewing everybody’s sense of what it meant to be a rock band. I didn’t think that should become our signature sound, but there was a lot of tension between Mick and I over that as there were about a lot of other things – including songwriting royalties and things like that. I wanted to be very honest in the book about those situations, because they had a lot to do with what happened with Foreigner. Look, we did some great ballads over the years, but in the end I always thought of Foreigner as a hard rock band and when we started to shift away from that sensibility, I got upset.
You also go into detail about your feelings in regards to bands today that are out there with few original members – like Foreigner.
They are like fake bands to me. Many people in the audience are so young that they have no clue that they’re not hearing the original singer. When you’re out there with one original member, I don’t think that’s a good thing and I think it’s false advertising. Somebody pays to go see a band called Foreigner and they are not really getting Foreigner – yeah, I have a problem with that. You can do the music if you want of course, but call it something else. Sometimes I think bands take advantage of the fans by doing that, by keeping the original name, because there are plenty of people that will never know the difference.
Similarly, you talk about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ignoring Foreigner – the unfairness of it.
I do, more and more it seems like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is less about music and more about behind-the-scenes politics. There are obviously people there that for some reason don’t care at all for what we did, and then behind-the-scenes they make the decision to keep us out. And it’s not just us, there are plenty of other bands that have done a lot for music that I think deserve a place in the Hall but for political reasons will never be allowed in.
Lou, you write very eloquently about the role your faith took after you were diagnosed with a brain tumor. You were up against some huge challenges. .
I always believed in God, but you know in my late teens and then after I joined Foreigner I had God at arm’s length. I didn’t want to get too involved with him. As the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle began to be more part of my life, when I would get home think about what was happening, I got to the point where I realized that if I was not careful, I would become a statistic. God definitely helped me get through my surgery, but beyond that, he’s become a true force in my life and that’s how it will be for the rest of my life. I learned a lot going through what I did, and my faith gave me strength I never knew I had.
Lou Gramm’s autobiography, Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades in Rock ‘N’ Roll, hits bookstores on May 1 via Triumph Books. You can pre-order the book now on Amazon.