Gramm: Why My Foreigner Affair Turned Sour
There’s no love lost between former Foreigner vocalist Lou Gramm and the band’s longtime guitarist, Mick Jones. Claims by Foreigner founder Jones that he helped Gramm develop a distinctive vocal style have been dismissed as “absolute nonsense” by the singer.
Gramm also says he was treated as “a subordinate” in Foreigner by Jones, and never as a partner.
The self-titled new album from The Lou Gramm Band is released via Frontiers Records on June 5.
In an exclusive interview with Classic Rock’s Geoff Barton, Gramm talked about his new record, becoming a born-again Christian, his ongoing recovery from suffering from a (thankfully benign) brain tumour, and his fractured relationship with Mick Jones.
Your new album has a very strong Christian-rock theme – but the Frontiers press release gives the impression it’s a straightforward Lou Gramm album, without the underlying message.
That’s strange, I’m going to have to talk to them.
So it’s not as if you’re trying to hide your Christian beliefs?
It’s a very central part of the album and it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for years. I was finally able to put a bit of time into it and I’m very happy with the results. I wouldn’t try and hide what the album is. It is what it is.
When and why did you become a born-again Christian?
In the early 1990s. I’d pretty much had enough of the rock’n’roll life and all the trappings that go with it. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I just gave my life and my heart to the Lord. Now my life is so much more fulfilling and so much more worth living.
Following your brain-tumour trauma in 1997, how are you on the health side today?
I’m quite a bit better. The steroids and some of the intense medications… the level of them is down quite a bit, at a point where I’m exercising with a trainer five days a week. I’m on a pretty strict diet and I’m feeling really good.
Your operation affected you on four fronts: physically, mentally, vocally and creatively.
Absolutely. My mind was in a medicated fog, obviously, for at least two or three years after the operation. My pituitary was damaged from the tumour and it, plus the mass of steroids, caused me to balloon up almost 100 pounds more than my normal weight. As I say, I was in a fog, and it was a real effort singing songs that I’d sung for years and years. In front of me, on the stage, I had all the lyrics written down, because if I didn’t glance down at them I would completely lose track of where I was.
Is it a lifetime commitment?
I think I’m always going to be taking that medication but as time goes by the symptoms lessen. My brother Richard [who also plays bass in The Lou Gramm Band] goes to appointments with me, he’s like my advocate, and together we always test the ground for the doctor to lower the dosage.
It’s been a long time.
Twelve years. It’s been a battle, I’ll tell ya.
When Classic Rock last interviewed Mick Jones, he took credit for refining your vocal technique. Jones said: “It was a singing style that I helped Lou develop; obviously it was a pivotal part of Foreigner’s sound.” Would you agree with that, that Mick took you under his wing and coaxed the best out of you?
Absolutely not. That’s absolute nonsense. I definitely wouldn’t agree with that at all. If you see any albums from Black Sheep [Gramm’s pre-Foreigner band] online and can get ahold of one, then listen to it back to back with, say, Foreigner’s Double Vision. You’ll see that my style was pretty much developed when I got in Foreigner. I am an American singer and Mick wanted me to sound more English, in fact. There would be songs like Dirty White Boy or Rev On The Red Line that were uniquely American that Mick didn’t understand and didn’t like. I had to explain to him about the whole experience for the lyrics to even make sense to him. So I know he loves to say that if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have had a job or whatever, but I think his memory is getting fuzzier and fuzzier as the years go on.
You’ve got one of the defining American rock voices…
Well, thank you, Mick, for helping me with that.
…Do you realise what sort of impact your vocal style had on a whole generation of singers? Do you ever step back and think about that?
I can say I don’t really think about that until someone brings it to my attention. Then I do think about it, obviously, but I also think about all the other great singers from that era, too.
A lot of people forget that, when Foreigner started out in the mid 1970s, early reviews compared you to Bad Company. You had a real aggressive edge and it was only later that you became entrenched in the AOR genre.
Yup, and once that started Mick wouldn’t let it go. Ha-ha! I used to say to him: “C’mon, Mick, we’re a rock band, remember?”
You two butted heads to some considerable extent. Was it the massive success of I Want To Know What Love Is – a No.1 hit on both sides of the Atlantic – that tipped you, personally, over the edge?
No, I liked both Waiting For A Girl Like You [from Foreigner 4, 1981] and I Want To Know What Love Is [from Agent Provocateur, 1984]. But Mick’s total focus was on having two or three more beautiful ballads per album. I’m like: “No way, Mick! What about the rockers?!” Ha-ha! At that point I could tell that things were changing and maybe I was in the wrong group.
Have you seen or spoken to Mick Jones since you left Foreigner?
Well, my mom and dad both passed away within six months of each other, in 2003. Mick came to their funeral… but he didn’t say a word to me. So, was that out of respect for my parents? Or to make me feel uncomfortable in my time of sorrow? I can’t make head or tail of it. Is he paying his respects to my parents but not respecting me? It’s a bit baffling.
That was the last time you saw him?
If you bumped into Mick in the street, would you cross the road to the other side or would you offer to buy him a beer?
I wouldn’t cross the road but I’d walk right by.
It’s such a shame, because you were a very creative partnership.
If you talk to him, it wasn’t a partnership. I was a subordinate.
* Read the full interview with Lou Gramm in a future edition of Classic Rock.