Lou Gramm

An interview with Foreigner's Lou Gramm
by Tommy Rage
August 2019

Lou Gramm

Lou Gramm

Not everyone is a hero. But if you are Lou Gramm, you’re a Juke Box Hero. Former Foreigner front-man Lou Gramm, along with guitarist Mick Jones and Ian McDonald, bassist Ed Gagliardi, Al Greenwood on keyboards and Dennis Elliot on drums, found instant success with their debut album. Foreigner’s 1977 self-titled album resided on the Top 20 rock charts for over a year with hits “Feels Like the First Time”, “Cold as Ice”, and “Long, Long Way from Home”. The band’s second album Double Vision sold more than five million records with the hit title track along with well-known rock staples “Hot Blooded” and “Blue Morning, Blue Day”. The band’s grittiest album, Head Games, followed and set the table with songs “Dirty White Boy” and “Head Games” for the band’s fourth and most notable release, Foreigner 4. Holding the number one spot on Billboard’s album charts for more than 10 weeks with hits “Urgent”, “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and the ultimate classic rock ‘rise-to-fame’ tale “Juke Box Hero”, both Foreigner and Lou Gramm fortified their hero status till the end of time.

Looking back at how it all came together for him and Foreigner, Lou Gramm reflects: “It was 1977, Mick Jones, the guitarist and leader of the band, had handpicked the people for the band; and had everybody except the singer. I was told that he had auditioned over 40 singers. He somehow had gotten my parent’s phone number and my parents told me he had called. I got back to him, and I flew into New York. They put me right in the studio and played for me “Feels Like the First Time” and they had me sing it. I heard the demo of it when Mick sang it, so I knew what the melody was. That song turned out be one of the first demos we passed along to Atlantic Records, and it helped to get us signed.”

Throughout the 70’s Foreigner toured relentlessly and continued to put out top selling albums and gracefully transitioned themselves into the changing music scene of the ‘80s. 1984’s Agent Provocateur saw the band’s only number one hit song “I Want To Know What Love Is” as both Mick Jones and Lou Gramm began to pursue solo interests. Enjoying the success of his solo album, Ready or Not in 1987 with the top five single “Midnight Blue”, Lou notes how he felt about putting out his own record. “It was a little liberating. Although Mick and I still had a good creative flow, Mick was starting to be enamored with synthesizers and keyboard songs. We weren’t doing a lot of guitar songs. I was feeling a little hungry for a good old fashioned guitar song. It was a real exciting adventure for me to do my own solo record.”

Stepping away from music briefly in the ‘90s, Gramm was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor in 1997. Brain surgery damaged Gramm’s pituitary gland, causing him to gain weight and briefly affected his stamina and voice. Gramm shares how he feels now, still touring after all these years. “It’s been a struggle, but I feel I’m back to 100%. I’m definitely feeling good and my voice is back to 100%. My doctors have given me the O.K to do what whatever I want to do.” Gramm did exactly that. Releasing his autobiography in 2013, Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades in Rock ‘n’ Roll, Gramm shares the ease of penning his book. “It came out pretty naturally. I was working with a co-author (Scott Pitoniak) who helped me with those private moments. It’s all a part of my life, so the good and the bad had to come out.”

Perhaps Gramm’s best autobiographical moment came when he co-wrote one of Foreigner’s most famous hits “Juke Box Hero”. “I used to be a drummer. I had my drum setup in my basement and a little cassette player when I was working on my song ideas. That song came to me while I was on the drums in the basement and I started laying down the beat. I then got on the synthesizer and started playing that intro [thumping sound]. We took it to Mick, and he put some guitar ideas to it, and it became a signature song for Foreigner. It came from when I was a kid in Rochester. We had a venue called the Rochester War Memorial. I would hitch-hike down there every weekend and stand by the backstage door to hear my favorite artists. I couldn’t afford to get in, but every time they let someone in the back door, I was able to grab a look and hear what was going on. That aspect of it was autobiographical.” 

Having such a strong foothold as one of the true classic rock greats, Foreigner just released for the very first time their Live At The Rainbow ‘78. Digitally remastered from the original film reels of the band’s UK live performance, Live At The Rainbow ‘78 was recorded two months prior to the band’s second release. Gramm laughs as he shares for the very first time what’s truly special about the band’s newest album. “They sent me the vinyl album in the mail, but I haven’t listened to it yet. I don’t have a record player anymore [laughter]. I remember that we did two songs live that hadn’t come out yet ‘Hot Blooded’ and ‘Double Vision’. That was the only [time] we did that!”

Performing with Asia at the Crystal Grand Theater on August 17th, Gramm recently announced that he will stop performing as a solo act. “I don’t have a band anymore [laughter]. At the end of last year, I disbanded my band and decided to just go out as a guest vocalist. Asia has their own music and they’re great. They have learned all my songs and Foreigner hits. I go out after they do their songs, and I do about 45 minutes to an hour of Foreigner songs, it’s really terrific!”

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