BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Not many bands can release a 40th anniversary album containing 40 credible hits, but put Foreigner in that rarefied air.
Between 1977 and 1987, the band was inescapable on Top 40 and rock radio with a parade of now-classic guitar crunchers (“Hot Blooded,” “Juke Box Hero,” “Head Games”) and soaring ballads (“Waiting for a Girl Like You,” “I Want to Know What Love Is”).
Fans can revel in that nostalgia on the recently released double-CD, “40,” and hear the live versions when Foreigner hits Chastain Park Amphitheatre on Saturday with fellow hitmakers Cheap Trick (who also just released a new album, “We’re All Alright!”) and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience.
Although original lead singer Lou Gramm departed Foreigner in the early ‘90s and again in 2003 (he and fellow original members Al Greenwood and Ian McDonald reunited for the encore at a show last week), the band has remained a solid road draw the past decade-plus with a lineup featuring founding member/guitarist Mick Jones, lead singer Kelly Hansen, rhythm guitarist Thom Gimbel, bassist Jeff Pilson (formerly of Dokken), keyboardist Michael Bluestein, guitarist Bruce Watson and drummer Chris Frazier.
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A gregarious Pilson chatted earlier this week from a tour stop in Virginia Beach, Va., in a joint interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The River (97.1 FM).
To hear more from Pilson, including his thoughts about Jones as a guitarist, working with Ronnie James Dio and possibly collaborating again with Dokken, check out the audio of the interview at www.971theriver.com.
On Foreigner’s 40th anniversary milestone:
“To think that all of these songs have lasted 40 years, that the legacy has lasted this long, this strongly, when does that happen? That’s crazy. It’s really amazing to be part of all that. Just watching the people’s faces every night, it’s very rewarding. … It helps that I’m a Foreigner fan. We’ve gotten to be friends (in the band). There’s a lot of love between us all. We treasure the legacy and we want to do our best because we love it. I feel like I bring a perspective of someone who knows how the music impacted them.”
On his favorite song to play live:
“I don’t necessarily have a favorite song, but I love how we jam on ‘Juke Box Hero.’ We go crazy, which is really fun. And the energy that we stir up doing that, I always feel the crowd reacting. That’s the essence of live playing.”
On performing with original Foreigner members Lou Gramm, Al Greenwood and Ian McDonald last week during the band’s encore at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, N.Y. (the first time those three shared the stage since 1980):
“It was amazing. We rehearsed the day before, not too much because we wanted it to be a little loose, but it was really wonderful. When Mick Jones introduced Lou Gramm, he just broke up and choked up. I teared up. It was really powerful. Lou is such a wonderful guy, and that voice; he was my favorite rock singer forever. It was so cool.” (When asked if there might be a repeat appearance, Pilson laughed and said, “Oh, you never know!”)
On playing frequently in Atlanta (the band has performed here nearly every year since 2010):
“(Atlanta is) fantastic (for us). We were able to do Chastain as a headliner several years ago; now we’re on this tour headlining the whole country. It almost feels like (things) started in Atlanta. When Mick Jones came back to the band in 2012 (after taking a year off because of surgery), that was at Chastain. Atlanta is very special to us.”
On tour mates Jason Bonham (who played drums in Foreigner for a few years in the mid-‘00s) and Cheap Trick:
“(Jason and I) are dear friends. His wife is out with him, my wife was out last night, so it was a family week kind of thing. Jason is wonderful and his band is fabulous. They do Led Zeppelin like how they did it at their peak. And Cheap Trick — there’s so much bang for the buck on this show, it’s ridiculous. They’re in the (Rock and Roll) Hall of Fame now and we’re not (laughs). They so deserve to be. Those are the kinds of bands who should get in. They’re amazing. If I didn’t have to do some of the stuff I have to do at the gig, I would watch them every single (show).”
On the “Foreigner Choir Competition,” which gives a local school choir (in the Atlanta show’s case, the DCHS Chamber Singers) the opportunity to sing “I Want to Know What Love Is” with the band during the show:
“Watching these high school choirs sing with us … the looks on their faces are worth a billion dollars. That is the purpose of music, and the purpose of live music is to connect and get to do that and experience their joy and a fresh new experience on their faces.”