The classic rock band Foreigner has weathered many changes since its “Hot Blooded” heyday in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Original singer Lou Gramm left years ago; his replacement, Kelly Hansen, has been belting out the group’s testosterone-fueled anthems and power ballads for the past decade.
In fact, the only remaining original member of Foreigner is founding guitarist Mick Jones, who wrote the riffs that drive timeless classic-rock tracks including “Feels Like the First Time,” “Hot Blooded,” “Double Vision,” “Cold As Ice,” “Head Games,” “Juke Box Hero” and “Urgent.” Still, Foreigner has enjoyed a renaissance of late, partly because of the exposure its hits received in the 2012 film “Rock of Ages.”
You can check out Jones – whose son Roman has forged a career of his own as a club kingpin in Miami with the Opium Group, which operates Mansion, SET, Mokai, and Cameo – and his current mates Saturday night at the Hard Rock Live near Hollywood. You’ll hear all the rock hits, plus the monster ballads “Waiting For a Girl Like You” and “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
Jones talked to Miami.com about the show, his favorite guitar riffs, and his relationship with Roman.
What can we expect from the concert?
For anybody that’s seen Foreigner over the last few years, I would say that they’d be coming back to see us because we were so exciting, and sounded so damn good [laughs]. The band is really peaking in our live performance, and it’s very exciting from beginning to end, with great musicianship. It’s just like everything is really in the right place, and everybody’s having a lot of fun doing it. And I think people can feel that – this band really loves playing together, and you can see that onstage.
Is the set list mainly greatest hits, or is there a lot of new stuff as well?
We put one or two different songs in now and again, but some of our songs have become such classics that it’s hard not to play them. People who come to the show wanna hear those hits, and they wanna hear them sounding like they’ve heard over the years. So we basically have a lot of hits, and the question is, which ones to leave out, which is not a bad position to be in.
But yeah, we’ve got to play the hits. If I went, for example, to see Led Zeppelin, like I did a few years ago in London, and they started playing a few tracks off their new album instead of all the songs I wanted to hear [laughs] … I don’t know. For a classic rock band, it’s not easy to get new songs across.
Back in the beginning, did you know right away that your guitar and Lou Gramm’s voice were a perfect match?
Well, not to the extent that it would become [laughs]. But I was excited, because it was the first time in my life that I really decided that I was going to put something together, and that I wasn’t going to be maybe a hired hand, or that kind of thing that I’d been doing up until that point. And funny enough, the first song that I wrote for Foreigner was “Feels Like the First Time,” and that kind of summed it up.
I was humming the song to myself while I was just finishing working on the melody, and I put another album on just to get out of my own head a bit, by a band called Black Sheep, and it turned out that this was Lou Gramm’s band. And I put the album on, and suddenly I heard something in the timbre of his voice, and it really spoke very loudly to me.
So I tracked Lou down, and the next day he was up in New York, and we were trying him out. And it was obvious from the get-go that his voice and my guitar, and the songs that were to come, really developed into what the sound was – the Foreigner sound.
Kelly Hansen must have some incredible pipes to have successfully replaced Lou for so many years.
He certainly does. And he’s very respectful and incredibly happy to be chosen to do this and sing those songs. It’s very challenging vocally, with some really high notes to hit, and there’s a lot of emotion that needs to be put into the songs so that they come across in a genuine way. It’s very demanding for a vocalist. But he’s there, man, every night, delivering the goods. He’s got some Kryptonite in there somewhere – it’s unbelievable, his endurance level.
You’ve written some great guitar riffs – which are you the most proud of?
Lemme think … I like the riff in a song called “Blue Morning, Blue Day.” I think the guitar intro to “Feels Like the First Time,” for me it’s sort of special, because that was the first guitar riff I wrote for the band. And I like the instrumental introduction to “Urgent” – that was a slightly different direction, which I’ve always tried to be aware of with the band, that we would always try to experiment, not fall into a pattern so much. And then “Hot Blooded” was probably one of the most famous riffs, and that’s the recognizable Foreigner riff.
You’ve performed with some all-time great musicians – ever been star-struck?
I think I have, yeah. It’s the kind of thing where you don’t realize it at the time, but sitting in the studio, just jamming away with Eric Clapton, was kind of cool. We wrote a song called “Bad Love” together on an album of his called “The Highwayman.”
How was it working with George Harrison?
Same thing with George, you know. When we’re sitting in his house recording a song, and I’m looking at him playing, and I think, wow, this is surreal. You look up and there’s one of the best acoustic rhythm guitar players ever, and I’m playing with him. And he’s digging it, too.
Foreigner’s popularity has enjoyed a sort of renaissance in popularity over the past few years, starting with the film “Rock of Ages.” Did that take you by surprise a little bit?
Well, the band in its current form has now been together for 12 years, and during that time, we’ve slogged pretty hard to bring Foreigner back to some of its former glory, just to the level where the band is taken seriously again. We kind of let it slip in the late ‘90s – around that time the band sort of imploded a bit. But we’ve really been out on a mission to bring Foreigner back, and we’ve put a tremendous amount of work into it. And just as you said, “Rock of Ages” really helped with exposure for the band.
You have a place here in Miami Beach – when did you get that, and was it because of your son Roman?
I did buy an apartment, and Roman as you know lives here, and my brother Kevin and my second son, Chris. So I’ve got a little family stake down there as well. And Roman is, I don’t know, more like my buddy than son, I guess [laughs]. He’s also had a lot of success in his life, and although we didn’t see each other so much when he was younger, we’ve forged a great relationship and friendship together over the past few years. And I feel like we understand each other and appreciate each other in a deeper way now, and I’m very happy about that.
And I love Miami and South Beach, too – the whole area. I love that Latin flavor down there. To me, it’s like going to another country. I live in New York most of the time, but whenever I come down, I feel like it’s the closest thing to going outside of America. And I like that.
What do you think of Roman’s accomplishments in Miami?
Well, it’s incredible. He started out with a fast-food chicken restaurant [laughs], and I don’t know if he’d mind me mentioning that. And from there, what he achieved with the clubs has been amazing. His ability to keep renewing and reinventing himself I think is wonderful, and I’m very, very proud of him.
Do you ever go out to his clubs?
Yeah, I do sometimes. The problem is, it’s a little bit late for me now [laughs].
I try to be a day person more these days, because over the years I’ve spent way too much time in clubs. But I go around, especially if he’s got new decor or refurbishes one of the clubs, and sometimes if I wanna just rock out a little bit, I’ll go out with him. It’s great – I’m always well taken care of [laughs].