Lou Gramm rightly bills himself as the voice of Foreigner, having contributed his impassioned vocals to hits such as, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Urgent,” “Hot Blooded” and “Cold as Ice.”
For legal reasons, however, Gramm can’t tour under the band’s name. Foreigner is controlled by founder Mick Jones, who has assembled a roster of replacement musicians but is rarely part of the touring lineup these days because of his poor health.
“The name belongs to Mick, and it’s real obvious that the people who are using the name are the people he wants to use the name,” says Gramm, who performs 9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, at the Golden Nugget Atlantic City. “I would never think for a second that I would be able to use that name, other than the voice of Foreigner or formerly of Foreigner. It’s really his decision.”
Gramm, whose solo hits include “Midnight Blue” and “Just Between You and Me,” chronicles the highs and lows of his time with Foreigner in “Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades in Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Triumph Books), a memoir released last year.
He and Jones co-wrote many of the group’s hits during its late-’70s and early ’80s heyday, but creative differences led Gramm to split with Foreigner in 1990. He returned to the fold in 1992 and stayed for another decade, during which he received treatment for a non-cancerous brain tumor, before leaving again in 2003.
Over the past decade, Gramm has performed with his own band, releasing an album of Christian rock in 2009.
Ahead of his A.C. appearance, Gramm talks about staying true to Foreigner’s sound and the state of his relationship with Jones.
Q: How do you approach the hits –– are you reinterpreting them or singing the radio versions?
A: As far as the arrangements, nobody takes great liberties with their playing. It’s not an ad-libbing contest. We play them like they should be played, with a lot of feel but true to the record.
Q: What’s more challenging for you to sing these days — the ballads or the rock anthems — and which get the bigger response?
A: They’re all challenging and very satisfying to sing. Maybe the ballads might be more challenging, because your pitch has to be deadly accurate. If it’s not, its real obvious to ourselves and the audience.
It’s a different kind of response. A ballad will garner oohs and aahs, along with the applause. A song like, “Juke Box Hero,” if it’s performed well, will get a lot of applause and full-on cheers.
Q: In your memoir, you open up about your addiction issues and creative tensions within Foreigner. How was it to revisit your story, warts and all?
A: Most of it was OK. I’d lived it and gone over it so much that I could think about it and not get caught up in it. There were a couple of things that caught me off-guard. I couldn’t help but get emotional. They were things I hadn’t thought of in years. When (co-writer) Scott Pitoniak touched on them, it was like touching a nerve.
Q: What about the career highs — what struck you as the most memorable time?
A: When Foreigner performed for Atlantic Records’ 40th anniversary at Madison Square Garden (in 1987). All the stars were there — Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin, Lenny Kravitz. It was an unbelievable event.
When Foreigner came onstage, we rocked the house hard, and then we played “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
Usually, we would ask a gospel choir to join us. For some reason, that slipped between the cracks. When I came to the chorus, my first thought was, “Where are the voices coming from?” It was Phil Collins and all the other singers from the other groups that performed that day.
It was unbelievable, and it just sent chills down my back.
Q: You reunited with Mick Jones in 2013 for your Songwriters’ Hall of Fame induction. Are there any plans to get back together for a one-off or a full-scale reunion?
A: There’s nothing in the works. We continue to mend fences, and we do speak to each other on occasion. He’s not in good health — he doesn’t perform much with his band, so they perform as Foreigner and there’s not a Foreigner member in it. Periodically he makes an appearance. I guess he doesn’t have the stamina to perform anymore.
I’m not sure if having anything in the works would prove to be futile.