THROUGH STARDOM AND TRIAL BY FIRE, THE SINGER STILL ROCKS
Lou Gramm’s voice is one of the things that comes to mind for most people when the topic of classic rock arises. His high tenor cuts easily through the loudness, providing the clear signature of one of rock’s iconic bands, Foreigner.
Since the band’s debut in 1977 with an album that sold more than four million copies, the group has been a mainstay on classic rock radio. That eponymous album spawned Top 20 hits like Feels Like The First Time, Cold As Ice, and Long, Long Way From Home. An even more successful follow-up, Double Vision, brought us Hot Blooded, Double Vision, and Blue Morning, Blue Day. The 1981 release, Foreigner 4 yielded Waiting For A Girl Like You and 1984’s Agent Provocateur gave us “I Want
to Know What Love Is,” both ballads that have filled many a dance floor with slowly swaying couples. All told, Foreigner has sold over 50 million records worldwide. And on his own, Rochester, New York native Lou Gramm had his biggest hit with “Midnight Blue,” from his 1987 solo release, Ready or Not.
Fast-forward to 1997, when Gramm was diagnosed with a dangerous brain tumor. Although it had been designated “inoperable” by others, an eighteen-hour surgery by an innovative Boston doctor saved his life. A long and difficult recovery followed, during which Gramm took his final bows with Foreigner.
Fast-forward again, and 2009 saw Gramm releasing a self-titled album with his new outfit, The Lou Gramm Band. It rocks hard while also revealing the singer’s
newfound commitment to Christianity.
Mobile Beat Publisher Ryan Burger had the chance to talk with this true rock star, who will grace the stage at the quickly approaching Mobile Beat Las Vegas DJ
Show, this February.
Ryan Burger: We’re here with a true legend of the music industryLou Gramm, best known as the voice of Foreigner. He had his days with Foreigner, making all kinds of
fantastic albums, then a great solo career that he’s still jamming on, and, most important to us at the moment, he’s going to appear and rock the house with the Lou Gramm Band at Mobile Beat Las Vegas. Lou, give us the one-minute version of how you got into the realm of music.
Lou Gramm: Well, it’s real simple. Both of my parents were in music. My dad played trumpet in his own big band in the mid to late 1940’s and my mom was the singer. That’s how they met and fell in love. They were married and had three children, and all of us are proficient with our own instruments.
R B: Anybody else go in a similar direction as you did, or did they all have their own different styles that they got from mom and dad?
L G: Well, I think they had their own different styles. But at one point we all played together. My brother Ben still plays drums with me.
R B: How did you end up in Foreigner? I mean, that’s just a legendary band. How did you end up getting hooked up with the other guys?
L G: It was kind of strange but it’s true. I was in a band called Black Sheep. We had two albums on Capitol Records in the early to mid-seventies. Our manager happened to work for A&M
Records. We would see all the local groups that would come to Rochester that were signed to A&M Records.
We happened to see Spooky Tooth, and Mick Jones was playing with Spooky Tooth at the time. So I was introduced to him and gave him the two Black Sheep albums. In about a year, maybe a year and a
half later, when he had enough Spooky Tooth and was forming the band that became Foreigner, he apparently auditioned over 30 people for the lead singer slot; he remembered hearing my
Black Sheep records, and ended up calling me and asking me to come to New York to audition for this band.
I thanked him but I told him no, because I was still loyal to Black Sheep. But right after the call, our equipment truck slid off the New York State Throughway and most of our equipment was destroyed.
So the guys in Black Sheep told me, hey, listen, why don’t you go audition with this band; maybe something good will happen for you, you know? So reluctantly I did.
R B: Sounds like a bit of a God thing; he was telling you that you needed to be with Foreigner, at least for a while.
L G: Yep. I can believe that.
R B: Very cool. Do you have a favorite song out of all of your hits with Foreigner? I know there are enough to fill multiple greatest hits albums, but if you had to pick one to be remembered by out of all of them, which track would it be?
L G: I think “Juke Box Hero.”…I basically had the impetus to begin writing the song and then had some help, of course. But it’s my baby.
R B: You guys were a heavily touring band, weren’t you?
L G: Yes, we were.
R B: And the lifestyle on the road, I’ve heard all kinds of stories about that…
L G: You can believe only 99 percent of them.
R B: How about when you went off on your own? When I was working in radio, we were playing your solo tracks, because that was my generation of music. What led you to step out on your own? Did you just want more creative control?
L G: Well, as time went by, I was becoming a pretty proficient writer, and in a lot of the Foreigner tracks Mick wouldn’t give me any creative room. He kept the reins very
tight. So when it was time to record a new Foreigner album, I started presenting him with my ideas for songs.
He basically turned them down, saying that they weren’t up to snuff for Foreigner.
And it got to the point where I was not contributing very much to the Foreigner albums creatively, because Mick was completely taking the reins on all levels. So the only way that I knew that I was going to get my ideas heard, and kind of quantify that I can also write good songs, was to do my own album. And so I went to Atlantic Records and they agreed. And I think end of ’86, early ’87 the Ready or Not album came out.
R B: I asked you for your favorite Foreigner track. How about your favorite solo track?
L G: Well, there’s quite a few, but I really like “Midnight Blue.”
R B: I understand you’ve gone through some illness and different stuff in your life. But you look like you’re doing great and your voice sounds as good as ever. How has that all affected your lifestyle and your
L G: Well, I had a non-cancerous brain tumor removed in 1997, but it was the size of a large egg and it had already done damage to my pituitary. I sent MRI’s to a number of doctors who were considered some of the best, and they all said it was inoperable, so it was pretty depressing.
And I happened to hear about a Dr. Black at Brigham and Women’s Hospital through a segment on 20/20. He’s the purveyor of laser surgery, which is more precise and able to get at tumors that are normally considered inoperable.
So I sent my MRI’s to him and he said he would operate on it and asked me to leave the next day for Boston. And I did. They took more MRI’s and about 4:30 the following morning I was on the operating table. It was that close.
R B: He said, we’ve got to do this now or you may not be singing…wow.
L G: Yeah. True.
R B: Your Christian album caught my attention a couple of years ago. How did that come about?
L G: Well, I gave my heart to the Lord around 1991, and that was the year that I finally won the battle against alcohol and drugs and went to a real fine rehab, Hazelden, in Minneapolis.
And I’ve been clean and sober for over 20 years now.
I certainly had believed in God all my life, but kept him at arm’s length. When I needed him, oh, I called on him; when I didn’t, I pushed him away a little bit, you know? And I decided that there was going to be no more of that. I knew I needed him to give me the strength to clean up my life because I certainly knew that I didn’t have the strength to do it. I came to terms with that. It’s an unbelievable life-
changer. And I’ve got to tell you that my faith in the Lord had given me an incredible amount of strength, especially when I faced that brain tumor….so obviously after the operation and stuff I resumed touring with Foreigner for a few more years, but in the back of my mind I always knew that I wanted to do a Christian rock album to espouse my faith and to give thanks for being alive in a situation that can go a lot of different ways, potentially.
R B: Fantastic. Do you plan on releasing more material; continuing to tour? I mean, are you winding down; are you kind of jump-starting? What do you think the future holds.
L G: Well, the album’s been out a couple of years. We play a few cuts of it live. We mostly play the big hits from Foreigner and the Lou Gramm solo albums. We play one or two things from the Christian album and maybe an old Beatles song. Of course we’re still promoting it; we still sell it at shows and such, the Christian album, and very proud of it.
As of now we’re just starting as winter”s starting to hunker down here to get in the writing and recording mode again. So I’m hoping that there may be something next spring or early next summer.
R B: You described a bit of what your concert’s going to be like for us. Can you give me anything more about what the mobile DJs are going to hear in Las Vegas coming up in February?
L G: You know, I think it’s going to be the standard rockin’ through the hits. That’s kind of what people want; we aim to please, pretty much. It’s not a sacrifice for us.
We have a heck of a good time doing it. We shuffle the set around a little bit from show to show, but basically it’s the big Foreigner and Lou Gramm hits, and back to back they sound unbelievable. MB
Filed Under: Issue #147, Music
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