The resurgence of Foreigner as a summer concert calendar staple is a welcome surprise for fans who became worried when band founder – and only original member – Mick Jones announced in 2002 that the band would be taking an indefinite hiatus.
It took the band – known for such hits as “Jukebox Hero” and “I Want to Know What Love Is” – two years to recharge its batteries, but for member Thom Gimbel, the time flew by. The multi-instrumentalist spent time on the golf courses around his home in Los Angeles, worked behind the scenes on other musicians’ recordings, and had a host of students eager for music lessons of all sorts.
But when the band – set to take the stage at Raleigh’s Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek Sunday night – came back together to tour, Gimbel was ready.
“It was a complete rebirth, and none of us had really played any Foreigner music in close to two years,” Gimbel recounts over the phone. “There was a real sensation that first night. I think Mick was thrilled to be onstage again, rocking out on the guitar. It was really cool to be in that situation where we were jumping back onstage after missing it, which you automatically do, because it just gets into your blood as a musician.”
Gimbel has been a full-time member of Foreigner since 1995, after a six-year stint as a touring musician for Aerosmith. That former gig may have prepared him for the two-plus decades he would spend with his current band, entertaining fans in the largest music venues around the world, but nothing prepared him for the musical partnership and friendship he has found in guitarist Mick Jones. As the last member of the band to continue carrying the Foreigner banner full-time, Jones has become a mentor.
“Mick is the best,” Gimbel says. “Everyone that knows him loves him. He’s top of world class. He sets a really good example. Musically, its been great to get to know him, because we all have learned to be economical with our playing. How to pick your notes wisely, that kind of thing. Whenever Mick does a guitar solo, you can see every note he plays, he means it. That’s one of the best things that I’ve learned from him: when you play a note, really put something behind it.”
Over the past 40 years, the band has watched as its reputation among critics has evolved. While its commercial popularity was never in question – the band has over 75 million album sales to its credit, as well as a slew of hit songs – it was never able to gain the critical support some of its peers enjoyed. Gimbel says this never bothered them, and in fact, believes it helped raise support among Foreigner’s fanbase.
“I think there was a time when critics loved to bash on (us), and it was great, because it was also at the time that we were selling the most records,” he says. “I think, over time, people have had to recognize the immense reach of our music; it goes all around the world. It’s not pop music – it isn’t here today, gone tomorrow. It’s been around for 40 years now, is still going strong, and is actually gaining momentum. Our audience gets bigger every year as each new generation discovers our music through the internet, or some other kind of media, maybe by picking up their parents’ records.
“If you look at our list of hit songs ... songs don’t succeed like that unless they offer something pretty special, which our songs do.”
Who: Foreigner with Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, 3801 Rock Quarry Road, Raleigh