Classic rock critics -- er, "haters" -- will take great pride and joy in letting you know how much your favorite rock band from the '70s or '80s sucks. Take a band like Foreigner, for instance, whose hit songs ("Juke Box Hero," "Cold As Ice," "I Want To Know What Love Is") should get a pass for their timeless nature, right? Unfortunately, they generally don't. But with over 70 million records sold, fourteen Top 20 hits -- and nine of those hits reaching the top ten -- it's safe to say that Foreigner is doing just fine.
Founding guitarist/songwriter Mick Jones gave the Foreigner machine a tune-up in 2004, by replacing longtime co-conspirator/vocalist Lou Gramm with veteran singer Kelly Hansen, who's best known for his work with the b-level '80s metal band Hurricane. Accessorized initially with former Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson and drummer Jason Bonham (who was later replaced by Brian Tichy and, eventually, current drummer Jason Sutter), this is not your dad's version of Foreigner. Despite a previous failed attempt to replace Gramm in 1990 with relatively unknown vocalist Johnny Edwards, Jones successfully reloaded, relaunched and (against the odds) has been kicking ass under the reconstituted Foreigner name with Hansen at the helm.
2009 marked the release of Can't Slow Down, the first album of all-new studio material from Foreigner in nearly fifteen years, and a collection that sounds like it could have been recorded in 1982. The band maintains a hectic touring schedule, which left only a slight amount of breathing room to record Down. After an area appearance at the Bottleneck Blues Bar at the Ameristar Casino in January, the band is back in town tonight at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater as part of the United in Rock tour, which it's co-headlining with Styx and Kansas. In a phone chat, Kelly Hansen discussed Foreigner's hectic schedule, charity work and whether he has to check into hotels under an assumed name.
Matt Wardlaw: I just asked for Kelly Hansen, and the hotel switchboard operator asked me, "Is that a guest or an employee?" I think you'll be pleased to know that you're still flying a little bit incognito. Kelly Hansen: [laughs] Well, maybe I've taken on some part-time work!
How's the tour going so far? It's going really well. We're about a week in right now and doing really great. Surprisingly, you'd think it would be getting warm, but we did an incredibly cold show in Jackpot, Nevada, I think it was 38 degrees windchill outdoors. But that's rock & roll, and we're out there doing it. The guys in Styx and Kansas are so great, and we're having a really good time. If Foreigner goes on first before Styx, I'll come back and give them a weather report. If Styx goes on before we close, they'll come back and let us know how the crowd is, so it's good.
I know that Styx has had an end of the night jam with the bands on similar tours like this in the past. Are you doing anything like that this time around? No, we're not. They actually worked on a new tune together, and unfortunately our schedules are so different, and Foreigner is incredibly busy. Most bands tour during the summertime, and we actually tour all year-round. Especially these first few years when we had to reestablish the band all over the world. We've been to over 50 countries in the last five years, so we're really, really busy, and we barely had enough time to make our own new CD.
Jumping back a bit: When Mick was looking to fill the vocalist slot in Foreigner in 2004, how did you wind up on his radar?
Actually, I was at a point in my career where I wasn't happy with where I was going and what I was accomplishing. I thought to myself, "I really need to try to be proactive about what I am doing." Because, most of my career, things have just landed in my lap out of luck, I guess. So I started looking actively for things to do. One of the first things I saw was an article on the Internet about a charity show that Mick had done with Jason Bonham, Jeff Pilson and some of the guys from Foreigner. I thought it was alluding to a Mick Jones solo project, but really, it was talking about a revamping of Foreigner.
Being in LA and being a singer for 30 years, I knew some people, I made some phone calls and I got in touch with the band. We went back and forth, and they sent me a karaoke CD of five original Foreigner hits, the actual real recordings without vocals, and said, "Put your voice on these." So I did. Those actual versions that I did, ended up being for a while some of the music that we would use to advertise shows on the radio. Mick got to hear the CD in New York, and they were coming out to do some rehearsals. So I sat in, we played for about an hour and a half, and it sounded really good. They called me an hour later and said, "Listen, we're booking shows for next weekend, can you start rehearsing tomorrow?" So, I had five days to learn the set, and from that point it was a juggernaut.
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