Foreigner's Lou Gramm — touring as a solo artist with his new band — answers our urgent questions, while Old 97's Murry Hammond steps out with a gospel-folk solo record

Foreigner's Lou Gramm — touring as a solo artist with his new band — answers our urgent questions, while Old 97's Murry Hammond steps out with a gospel-folk solo record

There existed only one band from the late '70s through the early '80s: Foreigner. The group gave us immortal rock tunes such as "Cold as Ice," "Feels Like the First Time" and "Urgent" — and who could forget "Waiting for a Girl Like You"? Now, the voice of Foreigner, Lou Gramm, is on the road with his own band and headed to the VooDoo Café & Lounge at Harrah's Casino.

B-Sides: I've had a chance to check out some old Foreigner videos on YouTube. I'm curious: When someone asks you to "show them what love is," is it your natural inclination to punch them in the mouth as hard as you can?

Lou Gramm: Good question! At one time it probably was, but I've moved on.

What are we going to hear at Harrah's? Please say "Hot Blooded."

The music will be a good representation of the years I spent with Foreigner along with my solo stuff and maybe a Beatles tune or two.

You and Todd Rundgren recently toured together playing the songs from the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album. No offense to the Fab Four, but shouldn't Paul and Ringo be covering Foreigner?

That would be good, but I just don't see it. I've been a fan of the Beatles since the day they came out. They were a big influence on me.

You still hear Foreigner tunes everywhere these days. How is it that the band remains a "Juke Box Hero" to so many people after all these years?

It's twofold. I think it's the way the songs were written, recorded and produced. They had both simplicity and character. There were no slick production tricks. Secondly, it was all pretty honest stuff. The songs are based on our own life experiences.

You and Mick Jones penned some classic love ballads ("Waiting for a Girl Like You," "I Want to Know What Love Is") that presented you as sentimental romantics. But come on, Lou, weren't you just lovin' and leavin' them back in the day?

Actually, at the time I was in the middle of a sixteen-year marriage. Mick was married, too. Those love songs are just something that we — especially Mick — wanted to say back then. I like them because the songs have a touch of spirituality.

Speaking of that, I've read where you've recently put out a Christian rock album. Does this mean you're no longer a "Dirty White Boy"?

For the most part, no. The new album is Christian in its message. But it rocks hard, too.

As most Foreigner fans know, you experienced some "Double Vision" in the late '90s when you were diagnosed with a brain tumor that affected your memory and sight. How is your health these days?

The tumor damaged my pituitary and adrenal glands. I now take a lot of medication to offset the damage, but by and large my health is pretty good. I feel fine.

In your hit "Midnight Blue" you sing that life is either "midnight blue or cherry red." Given all that you've been through, can you now tell us which it is? Midnight blue or cherry red?

I'd say it's in between. Let's call it purple.
— Chad Garrison

8 p.m. Thursday, September 18. VooDoo Café & Lounge at Harrah's Casino, 777 Casino Center Drive, Maryland Heights. $30. 314-770-8100.

No Direction Home
Murry Hammond has always been the hillbilly heart of alt-country veterans the Old 97's, but his first solo album, I Don't Know Where I'm Going But I'm On My Way, sounds nothing like the supercharged honky-tonk and rockabilly he brought to the Texas band. It's a spare, eerie gospel record with a heavy railroad jones, played on acoustic guitar and harmonium, with some spectral yodeling and songs that cross the traditional and personal with an eloquent and tender touch. Hammond makes his first solo appearance in St. Louis this week; he helped B-Sides see the light.

B-Sides: Is this album your revenge against Rhett [Miller, Old 97's vocalist]?

Murry Hammond: No, no, not at all. It's just what I do. I've always been into raw, minimalist folk music. The extremity is just what it is. I'm making a new album that sounds just like this one.

It seems you have more than just a passing interest in trains.

I've been a train buff all my life. The first 50 drawings I ever did were nothing but trains. I loved my grandfather, and he worked on the railroad. I was nuts about Johnny Cash the way some people are nuts about the Beatles. So I'm aware of the train as metaphor. It's not hard to find concepts of love and infinity in the world of railroads. Hobos know that. I get the poetry of all that.

And trains have been a profound metaphor in gospel music.

The deep meaning is just the journey, the travel that a life is, with nonexistence bookending that journey. There was a lot of train imagery at a time when America traveled by horse or by train. So it was a common way to explain heady concepts like God and existence and all that kind of stuff. I go to church and consider myself a Christian, but I'm not the sort to beat you over the head with it. Your average neo-con right-winger probably thinks I'm going to Hell with the rest of them.

You've been participating in weekly gatherings of music and bible discussion at your church in Burbank, California. Did the album grow out of that?

I suppose it did. I used to do bands, write like crazy. I gave Rhett Miller his first two gigs ever, opening for my band. But to put out a solo record, you have to figure out what you have to say. But it took me years to do it, because I wasn't sure I had something to say. Of course, I did, and I was writing with the 97's, but who am I by myself? You have to answer that question to do a "solo record." It was made to stand alone. I'd like to be a guy who goes out and plays in the folk music world the rest of my life. I needed to make my first record as a general statement of the kind of music I make, and it's what I'm going to do the rest of the way.

You make it sound like you're imagining a life after the Old 97's.

No, that's not it. I'm trying to imagine the kind of musician I'll be in my 60s and 70s. When you get to be in your, how old are you?

I'm 43. But don't print that.

You may know what I'm talking about. You're eyeballing 50 now and starting to look at the last half of your life. I forgot the person who said it, but old age is one of the biggest surprises you'll encounter. And so I wonder if when I'm in my 60s, will I make something that moves anything, that will have a little higher purpose, that isn't just me being ambitious or selling records to make myself slightly more famous than I was five minutes ago.
— Roy Kasten

9 p.m. Friday, September 19. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $10. 314-773-3363.

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