By MIKE CHAIKEN
Flip on a classic rock station— just wait a minute— whena familiar guitar riff rings out, chances are pretty good that it’s a Foreigner song.
With such hard rocking hits as “Feels Like the First Time,” “Double Vision,” and “Urgent,” or ballads like “Waiting for a Girl Like You” or “I Want to Know What Love Is,” Foreigner was a staple of rock radio and top 40 radio for most of the late-1970s and 1980s. And even in 2013, the band’s music is ever present.
Foreigner is teaming up with two other stalwarts of classic rock—Styx and Don Felder, late of the Eagles—for the Soundtrack of Summer Tour. The tour stops at the Grand Theater at Foxwoods this Sunday.
“It’s just great music,” said the band’s bassist Jeff Pilson when asked why he thought Foreigner’s music has stood the test of time and become part of the classic rock canon. “It’s great, timeless music that resonates (with fans).”
Pilson was a later addition to Foreigner, which started off initially as leader/ guitarist Mick Jones, singer Lou Gramm, multi-instrumentalist Ian MacDonald, bassist Ed Gagliardi, and keyboardist Al Greenwood.
The personnel has changed over the years. But the music remains.
In addition to Pilson, Foreigner these days is founder Jones on lead guitar, keyboards, synthesizer, bass, vocals; Thom Gimbel on rhythm guitar, saxophone, flute, keyboards, backing vocals; Kelly Hansen on lead vocals, and percussion; Michael Bluestein on keyboards, synthesizer, and backing vocals; Chris Frazier on drums, percussion.
“Foreigner’s had so many great songs,” said Pilson in a phone interview. He said he has to “pinch myself” when he realizes the unique opportunity he has to be a part of that legacy.
With Foreigner so ingrained into the psyche of classic rock fans, Pilson was asked if fans had ever shared stories with him about how Foreigner’s music affected their lives. Pilson said he is amazed how often he hears from married couples who say that “Waiting for a Girl Like You” was their wedding song.
In fact, Pilson shared a story about the wedding of former Foreigner bandmate, drummer Jason Bonham (who was in the group from 2004-08).
Bonham is the son of the laste legendary Led Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham.
At the wedding, Pilson explained, Jason Bonham invited his dad’s former bandmates Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Robert Plant to attend the nuptials.
But, Pilson said, even though three-fourths of Led Zeppelin was in attendance, when the bride walked down the aisle, Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You” was playing.
Looking back on the catalogue of Foreigner, Pilson was asked what he thought was the quintessential Foreigner song.
Pilson said he remembered that moment when “Feels Like the First Time” initially came on the radio, proclaiming Foreigner’s arrival on the music scene.
“It’s the greatest rock song ever (from a new group),” said Pilson of the track from the band’s eponymously-named debut, which was released in 1977. “It was high energy. It had amazing singing and great guitar playing.”
Pilson also cited the follow up track to “Feels Like the First Time”— “Cold As Ice” — as another great example of Foreigner’s music. “I loved that.” And, he also loves, “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” (“It’s an amazing song.”)
For the “Soundtrack of Summer” tour, Foreigner will be heading out on the road with Styx (with the pair alternating the headlining slots) and former Eagles’ guitarist Don Felder.
Pilson said Foreigner likes the combo with Styx because “not only is Styx a great band, and they put on a great show every night, they’re a great bunch of guys.” Pilson said the members of Styx are “fun” and “good friends” with the members of Foreigner.
Also, like Foreigner, Pilson said Styx’s mission “is to deliver as quality a performance as they can.” And each night, they put on a “one helluva show.”
Pilson also said Styx gives the guys in Foreigner some healthy competition since they are such a great act live. “I like that I know we have to do our best to compete.”
“It always should be like that,” said Pilson of the health competition between the acts, “I hate when bands just phone in their parts.”
As for Foreigner’s other tourmate, Pilson said he saw Felder perform several years ago on a radio station concert show. “I was blown away,” said Pilson. He knew Felder was a great guitar player from listening to the classic songs from The Eagles’ albums, “Hotel California” and “The Long Run.” But he had not realized what a good singer Felder was. And when he watched Felder, Pilson said he realized what a great songwriting legacy the guitarist represents.
“They’re both fantastic,” said Pilson of Styx and Felder.
While Foreigner does a great job with the classics, Pilson was asked if there is any new music on the way.
Pilson said the guys are focusing first on the summer tour. But, he said, fans should expect some new music from the band at the end of the year.
The plan this year, in terms of touring, was to head to Europe in April and then off to Israel for the first time, said Pilson. Then at the end of the year, the group was going to do an acoustic tour of Europe.
“I love doing that,” said Pilson of the acoustic approach to Foreigner’s catalogue. “It’s so much fun.” It offers the band a chance to focus on the vocals and making the “acoustic guitars sing.” Pilson said it helps also to have some great songs, “You can do anything with them.”
The Soundtrack of Summer Tour with Foreigner, Styx, and Don Felder comes to the Grand Theater at Foxwoods at 7 p.m. Tickets are $60 to $90.
For more information, go to Foxwoods.com or Foreigneronline.com
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver. com
By MIKE CHAIKEN