Imagine the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger, Led Zeppelin sans Robert Plant, Aerosmith with some other guy in the Steven Tyler slot. Doesn’t work, does it?
So many great rock ‘n’ roll bands owe much of their identity to the lead singer. That’s why Foreigner, which is still out there touring, led by founding guitarist Mick Jones, can’t get arrested. No hits, no crowds, nothing.
Because Lou Gramm, to the eyes and ears of millions of fans around the world, was Foreigner.
The American equivalent of the great Paul Rodgers, Gramm laid down hard ‘n’ heavy vocals on every one of Foreigner’s massive hits, from “Feels Like the First Time” and “Hot Blooded,” to “Urgent” and “I Want to Know What Love Is.” He wrote or co–wrote many of the band’s best–known songs.
The Lou Gramm Band co–headlines the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival in Richmond Hill Saturday, with the equally terrific John Waite (the Babys, Bad English).
Gramm left Foreigner in the early 1990s, and despite one reunion album (1995’s Mr. Moonlight) and a couple of short–lived stabs at keeping things going with Jones, he’s been on his own ever since.
He’s a born–again Christian, and survived surgery to remove a benign brain tumor in 1997 (the medications he’s still taking play havoc with his pituitary glands, resulting in weight gain and general puffiness).
Fans ought not to look for a reunion with Mick Jones in the near future. For those multi–millions who bought Foreigner’s classic albums, the best way to re–visit them in 2009 is not to go and see the band with the name, but to hear Lou Gramm in concert.
Does it give you some kind of satisfaction that Mick is failing with his "new" version of Foreigner?
Lou Gramm: You know what it does? It makes me sad, and it makes me angry that he thinks so much of himself to stay out there with the name, and basically saying to the world that he's Foreigner.
You two still don't speak?
Lou Gramm: We kind of have an ongoing lawsuit, to tell you the truth, so I have seen him recently. Before that time though, I hadn't seen him in five years. And he's exactly the same, unfortunately.
Tell me about the spiritual change you made.
Lou Gramm: By 1992, I had completely purged myself of alcohol and drugs and given my heard to the Lord. I needed to do that, and I'd wanted to do that for a long time. I just felt so different after that. It changed every aspect of my life. I had already been wondering how I could exist in the Foreigner band knowing what I know of the individuals that were there at the time.
That was probably an unhealthy atmosphere. Were you thinking, "I just can't do this anymore?"
Lou Gramm: The performing part of it wasn't bad, although I've got to admit that there were songs that I wrote the lyrics to, which suddenly rubbed me the wrong way. We were touring heavily. We were traveling in a bus, and during the day things were fine. But after the show when we traveled to another city, I had to lock myself in the back lounge because I knew what was going on in the rest of the bus and I did not - and could not - be a part of that.
Everybody said they were thrilled that I was clean and sober and had found the Lord, but they didn't make anything easier for me during the course of our travels. They continued as if I wasn't there.
Do you think Foreigner should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Lou Gramm: I do think so. I can't see a reason why Foreigner shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. We qualify on every requirement. And I think the quality of the albums we put out, the number of Top 20 singles, the abundance of quality material, just on those points alone we qualify. I hope it's nothing behind the scenes and personal. I hope there's nothing that goes beyond the music that's keeping us out.
You weren't critical favorites, and I wonder if that's what it is? The Rolling Stone mentality - if Jann Wenner doesn't like you, you don't get inducted.
Lou Gramm: That's too bad, because I always thought the Hall of Fame was above the coloring of the "Rolling Stone Review." I mean, they really loved to hate us. The last album we did, Mr. Moonlight, I really had a ball doing that album and thought it was a really good album for the times. But we had an independent record label by then, and they just didn't have the clout to make anything happen in the States. However, we sold two and a half million in Europe and the rest of the world. And had some good hit singles over there.
It's almost prophetic that Rolling Stone gave us a good review for that album, and it totally stiffed in the States. Every time they gave us a bad review, we had a great, successful album.
Are you in a good place professionally these days?
Lou Gramm: I'm happy with what I'm doing. I'm a little upset that it's not being accepted, not by the rock community, and not by the Christian community.
I've seen so many artists that are non-elements in the music mix any more, and they're still terrific.
One last thing: How big an influence was Paul Rodgers?
Lou Gramm: I was a huge Free fan, the early albums when they were a blues/rock band. But I also was a huge fan of Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott. And Aretha Franklin, and Marvin Gaye. I had all the albums and could sing along with all the songs. I think doing that, and beginning to write my own material at an early age, kind of melded me into the style I am.
Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival
Where: J.F. Gregory Park, 521 Cedar St., Richmond Hill
When: 5-11 p..m. Friday, Oct. 16; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18
John Waite, Lou Gramm concert: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17
Admission: Friday and Sunday all day; Saturday before 4 p.m.: Adults $5, children 12 and under $3; Saturday after 4 p.m.: Adults $10, children 12 and under $3
Phone: (912) 765-3444