Rockin’ the 70s and 80s

Voice of Foreigner Lou Gramm highlights classic rock concert at CAC


Sun-Gazette Correspondent

The original voice of Foreigner and one of the greatest singers in the history of rock music, Lou Gramm will light up the CAC stage, asLegends of Rock productions presents “Rockin’ the 70s and 80s,” 7:30 p.m. May 26 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.

Opening guests for Gramm will be Danville’s own Hybrid Ice performing with John Elefante, former lead singer of Kansas and Kevin Chalfant from The Journey Experience. The high energy double feature classic rock concert will feature some of the most memorable songs that continue to rock generations of audiences.

One of the most successful rock vocalists of the late 1970s and 1980s, Gramm will perform hit songs that defined an era, such as “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Juke Box Hero” and “Feels Like the First Time,” plus many more.

After the release of their fourth album in 1981, creative differences shifted the band. During this long-winded conflict, Gramm released his first solo album in 1987. Encouraged by his solo success, he left the group in 1990. He re-joined Foreigner from 1996-2003, and has since been touring the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Born Louis Andrew Grammatico in Rochester, New York, on May 2, 1950, Gramm grew up with music in his blood, as his mother Nikki was a singer and his father Bennie a band leader and trumpeter.

As with most musicians from his generation, the very early Beatles were a tremendous influence on Gramm, with their modal harmonies and interesting arrangements.

“That stuff reached me — I couldn’t get enough of it,” he said. “And then came that whole first British wave with The Zombies and The Animals and The Kinks. It was very cool stuff.”

Gramm began his musical career in high school playing in local Rochester bands, including St. James Infirmary (later The Infirmary), PHFFT and Poor Heart. He then went on to sing, play drums and eventually become front man for the band Black Sheep, the first American band signed to the Chrysalis label, which released their first single, “Stick Around” in 1973.

In 1975, English musician and Foreigner co-founder Mick Jones, English multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald and New York keyboardist Al Greenwood already were in a band together, and they were looking for a bass player, a singer and a drummer. Gramm had met Jones a year or so earlier and gave him an album that he had recorded. Jones was looking for singers, so he played the album and heard Gramm sing, but somehow ended up calling Gramm’s parents.

“My parents called me and said somebody named Mick wants to talk to you,” Gramm recalled. “I talked to him and he said he’d heard the album and liked the way I sang, so he asked me if I’d come to New York for an audition. I told him no because I was already in a band. He said I’ll call you in a couple weeks if everything is okay.”

But everything wasn’t okay as it turned out. Black Sheep was opening for the Kiss tour and on the way home after playing in Boston on Christmas Eve, they hit a patch of ice on the New York State Thruway. The band’s equipment truck slid off the road and tipped over, and they lost 90 percent of their equipment.

“We were supposed to play with Kiss again the day after Christmas,” Gramm said. “We couldn’t get enough equipment together, nor a truck to carry the equipment, so basically, we had to bow out of the tour. And then when we bowed out of the tour, the record company heard about that and they dropped us.”

But ironically, Gramm’s luck was about to change, as it was just about that time that Jones called and asked if he would consider auditioning.

“I actually went down there to audition and they liked me,” he said. “I ended up staying two weeks and started working on some new songs with them. You could tell that story, and it sounds like a fairytale.”

Foreigner’s first eight singles cracked the Billboard Top 20, making them the first band since The Beatles to achieve this. Gramm performed vocals on all of Foreigner’s hits including “Feels Like the First Time,” “Cold as Ice,” “Long, Long Way from Home,” “Hot Blooded,” “Double Vision,” “Blue Morning, Blue Day,” “Dirty White Boy,” “Head Games,” “Urgent,” “Juke Box Hero,” “Break It Up,” “That Was Yesterday,” “Say You Will” and “I Don’t Want to Live Without You.”

Gramm co-wrote most of the songs for the band, which achieved two of its biggest hits with the ballads “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” which spent a record-setting 10 weeks at No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart in 1981-82, and “I Want to Know What Love Is,” a No. 1 hit for the band internationally in the US and UK in 1985.

With the release of “4,” also known as “Foreigner 4” in 1981, the band struck a perfect balance between hard rocking tunes and smooth power ballads.

“We were very careful with the types of tempos and the songs — if they were in an uplifting key or whatever,” he said. “We had enough ballads to play three or four rock songs and then come down to a ballad and then pick up again. We actually had more songs than we needed, so to pare it down and actually take some songs out of the list, was really difficult to do. But it worked out really good.”

Following the success of the album “Agent Provocateur” in 1984-85, Gramm decided to go solo, which can prove to be a daunting task for any frontman for an already extremely successful rock and roll band.

“It was scary because I was told by the president of my record company that if my solo album failed, Foreigner would also go down the tubes,” he said. “So that put a little extra stress on me.”

But Gramm had nothing to fear, as he hit it big with his first solo effort in January 1987 with “Ready or Not,” which featured the top five hit single “Midnight Blue.” Shortly after the release of “Ready or Not,” rehearsals for Foreigner’s next album had started, but stalled as Gramm’s status with the group was uncertain. But after the promotion and concert dates for Gramm’s album were finished, he rejoined Foreigner in the studio for their next album, “Inside Information,” which was released at the end of 1987.

Eventually, a second solo effort, “Long Hard Look” in October 1989, included the top ten hit, “Just Between You and Me,” and “True Blue Love,” which reached the Top 40.

After rejoining Foreigner for a couple stints, which included a greatest hits collection in 1992 and another album of new material in 1995, Gramm left the band for good in 2003.

“I left permanently and I think that was the best move for me at that point,” he said.

But he has no regrets, as he helped create some of the most popular rock anthems of all time.

“I aspired to writing memorable songs and hearing them on the radio,” he said. “I didn’t really think that much about the hard work touring and the accolades and all the other stuff that goes with it.”

In June 2013, Gramm and Jones were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

As for the future, Gramm said he has plans to release some brand-new material.

“I know we’ve been writing songs and kind of stockpiling them, and then we take a look at them and work on them a little bit,” he said. “But I think probably towards the end of the summer or early fall, we’re going to put another album together.”