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Updated on May 30, 2013

Foreigner is alive and kicking--but still squabbling

Is PBS really where old rock groups go to die?

You might think so, especially during pledge drives, where Baby Boomers are encouraged to call in and give moola so that public television can survive. In order to attract those Boomers, what better way than to feature the musical artists they grew up with?

But many of those groups don't have the same original members, and certainly don't sound the same when trying to sing their old hits in front of an older, definitely-graying crowd. What a way to spend a hot Saturday night--watching your local PBS station feature a long-ago canned performance of a group that may have had two or three top 10 hits.

Which brings us to the exception to the rule--the rock group Foreigner. My wife and I (she's a bigger fan of theirs than I) decided to watch them sing their hits on a recent pledge drive on a --you got it--Saturday night. Even though their lead singer had changed--it is Kelly Hansen instead of Lou Gramm--their performance was spot-on, and the music sounded exactly like their hits of the late 70's and 80's.

During a break in the music, the new lead singer, Hansen, and the group's founder, Mick Jones, sat down for an interview with one of the PBS hosts. The two actually sang a song while seated, proving that they were one group that would never lip sync--no Milli Vanilli here. But there was something oddly missing during the interview, and then I finally figured out what it was.

The man who wasn't there.

Where was Lou Gramm? He was the face, voice, and co-writer during Foreigner's incredible string of hits: "Cold As Ice," "Feels Like the First Time," and "Juke Box Hero," just to name a few. Hansen sounds almost exactly like him, but it's still a copy, not the original.

The founding members of Foreigner were Gramm, Jones, Dennis Elliott, Ian McDonald, and Al Greenwood. Together, they dominated the charts for years. But the soul of the group belonged to Gramm.

Apparently, there were two reasons Gramm left the group and went out on his own as a solo act. First, he developed serious health problems, including a brain tumor that turned out to be benign. Second, he and Mick Jones simply did not get along. In an interview with Smashing Interviews Magazine, Gramm said he and Jones had a serious disagreement over who wrote what in the song "I Want to Know What Love Is." Gramm quoted Jones as saying it was 95% to 5%, with Gramm getting the short end of the stick. (In the article, Gramm also claims that Jones totally ignored him when attending the funeral of both of Gramm's parents.)

Gramm went on to a fairly successful solo career, and is now touring with his brothers as a Christian rock band, with some Foreigner hits interspersed throughout their concerts. Jones still claims ownership of the band, and took some time deciding on Hansen as the new lead singer, although he's now been Foreigner's front man for over seven years.

With hits like "Urgent" and "Double Vision," Foreigner will likely be around forever, or as long as their voices and musicianship hold. (The name was chosen by Jones, who liked the fact that half of the band was from England and the other half from America.)

Even though the band had several number one hits, their claim to fame in rock history comes from the song that never hit number one, but should have: "Waiting for a Girl Like You" holds the record in the rock and roll era for longest time at number two--14 incredible weeks.

So the next time you check the TV listings, and you notice a boring pledge drive on public television, don't turn your noses up entirely. There may be a golden blast from the past just aching to be heard.

Which brings us to another college-style quiz.











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