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| 24 February 2016 | Reply

I love when I get the chance to talk to an artist that is part of a band that has become a part of the fabric of my life.  What I don’t like is when a glitch kicks in and the interview is lost forever.  Luckily, when you are dealing with a guy like Tom Gimbel from Foreigner, that interview is never lost, because he is the more than happy to jump back on the phone and run through the interview again, even with some of the same questions being thrown at him.  Out promoting everything Foreigner, including the latest live acoustic release, Tom and the rest of Foreigner are sure to be hitting a venue near you.  While on break before a show in Florida, we called Tom and had a cool chat…


Toddstar: I thank you so much for being cool about having to redo this. I had to fire my transcription service because they dropped the call and didn’t tell me while I was on the phone with you, so we get to do this again, but at least we rehearsed now, right?

Tom: I thought it sounded familiar. I think I know that guy (laughs).

Toddstar: This time of year, it’s funny because you and I joked the other day about having to sit in an office and do certain things, and you know, you’ve got your cool job where you go out and see the world and get on a stage for a couple of hours and entertain millions, and I’m sitting in an accountant’s office, so.

Tom: (laughs). At least we’re talking about good music, so…

Toddstar: We’re talking about awesome music, that’s for sure. Well, listen, again, Tom Gimbel, such an honor to be talking with you today.

Tom: Thanks.

Toddstar: Foreigner is an iconic band, and you’re an iconic member of that band. Now you guys are out on tour down in Florida, you got a big date down in Jacksonville tomorrow, and in a week or so, you’re going to be in Nashville, Tennessee at the Tennessee Theater. What’s it like getting out there on the road day after day, playing these songs that you and millions of people love?

Tom: Mmm, it feels natural. It feels normal. We feel at home when we’re on stage. A lot of musicians feel like that. Like, the other twenty-two hours of the day, you feel like an alien, but the two hours that you’re on stage connecting with an audience is when you feel like it’s really you, you know, so that’s your second home. That’s your home away from home. That’s like the cradle, you know? We love the stage, so whether it’s acoustic or electric, the fact that we’re there and we’re playing this incredible collection of creations by Mick Jones and the Foreigner songs, it’s wonderful to be part of that. There’s this energy that goes back and forth between an audience and performers that, it’s magical. I would say that when you get back up on stage maybe after we had a break for the holidays, it feels like coming home again.

Toddstar: That sounds like a song title, man.

Tom: (laughs). I know.

Toddstar: You’re always thinking music, aren’t you.

Tom: I can’t help it, yeah. That’s the way our brains work after this many years. We’re always talking in song titles or lyrics or something.

Toddstar: It’s funny. You mentioned the acoustic, and back on February 5th, you guys released “Foreigner In Concert Unplugged.” What’s it like to take all those beautiful songs, and some just awesome rockers, and strip those down, take them down to bare bones?


Tom: It’s really fun. It’s like, if you can imagine having this wonderful girlfriend, and you want to take her out on the town and she’s got all her diamond earrings on, she’s dressed up to the nines, that’s one way, that’s fun, but you also might want to see her kind of stripped down a little or almost naked, you know, scantily clad in some really nice unmentionables, and that’s more like the acoustic side. Obviously both are really, really fun, but when we get to take the clothes off of the songs, like this, you see this essence, and it’s, the songs are so great that the essence when it’s revealed is just brilliant. It’s like finding the diamond underneath the coal, you know, at the center of the earth. It’s a treat and it’s a thrill.

Toddstar: How different do you guys approach these shows? Like tomorrow night at the Florida Theater, where you do more of an acoustic or a laid back set, but then you get something like where you guys come out and just kick ass at Pine Knob up here in Michigan?

Tom: Yeah, it’s two different sides, and even in a regular electric show, we will typically have a portion of that night with an acoustic song or two. We always did “Say You Will,” which has the flute and the harmonies, it’s really acoustic. It’s got an unplugged kind of vibe, and that’s part of our normal set, so it would be easy to just do a couple more like that, and there we have the combination of the two. The two have been brought together, so yeah, we’re the same guys, same band, same music, and people, they love it. The song comes across either way. It’s just sort of dressed up differently.

Toddstar: Sure. Well I mentioned Pine Knob in Detroit. Detroit’s had a long love affair with Foreigner. The last year, you guys did something cool. We talked about it before, but that string of shows with Kid Rock.  What was that like?

Tom: Oh man. Those were some of the best days. I remember we were, the numbers were like incredible. It was a ton of sold out shows, so because you don’t do them all in a row, we were there for like three weeks I think, and I’ll never forget it because I went into this hotel room and I literally unpacked my clothes into the bureau. I mean, I don’t even do that at home, you know (laughs). We were setting up camp. We were setting up shop there. We’re going to be there, and it was so much fun. We’d just roll over and do the show. I was playing golf during the day. I actually saw Kid Rock out there zooming around in a golf cart. I’m such a maniac. I was walking on the golf course in the broiling summer heat, and I saw Kid Rock sailing by with a cigar and a big smile, waving his clubs around. It was a special summer, and playing with Kid Rock, being part of that energy is really something for us. To be part of that was a huge deal, and sometimes we would come off the stage and Mick Jones, our leader, our founder, would give Kid Rock a big high five or something, and they’d just smile at each other. We were very happy in that situation. We were making a lot of new friends. We were seeing a lot of old friends. As you say, yeah, that’s been one of our favorite places to play. It’s everyone’s favorite place to play in Detroit, especially Pine Knob, with so many special memories there. It was a natural fit, you know, because we’re a rock band, and I think at the real heart, Kid Rock is a rocker, you know. He’s kind of a rock band too. I had so much fun watching him every night. I loved the way he performs and the way the crowd gets involved. It was a magical summer.

Toddstar: Magical. Well you guys, I mean, this summer is going to be just insane for you guys. You guys have got a cool line of dates up overseas. You’re doing some huge festivals. I mean, I’ll be honest, I love Foreigner. I love classic rock, but never in a million years would I think you guys are playing at a Wacken festival or a Wacken festival in Germany. I mean, that to me has always been one of those metal festivals, you know, and here’s Foreigner playing that. What, I mean, what’s it like for you guys when you see that you’ve got the older people who did mellow stuff, you’ve got the guys like you and me, and then the middle of the age bracket that just love to rock, love to take a minute out too, but then you get the just metal kids that love you guys. What’s that like for you guys to see that different span of crowd?


Tom: In our minds, I think it just sort of makes sense. We’ve done the Sturgis biker festival up there, and we’ve played for all kinds of crowds. We’ve played for these heavy metal festivals overseas, and I remember, it was this festival called Bang Your Head, and it was all these metal acts, and we were on there and I was a little worried. Like, if I go out there with a flute, you know, for the beginning of “Starrider,” I’m a little concerned. Mick Jones, he said, I wouldn’t worry about it, and before I knew it, we were playing for this metal crowd, but they’re so, if you could, it sounds strange, but they were a very musical metal crowd overseas, and Foreigner is a big part of the history over there, so by the time we got around to “Urgent,” they were all getting down, you know, and I’m playing the sax a lot, and people are going crazy. I never expected that to happen, never expected that to happen, and especially when we get to a song like “I Want To Know What Love Is,” you know, here are all these people like wearing leather and spikes, but they’ve got their girlfriend and she’s wearing leather and spikes, and they’re singing, “I want to know what love is.” It’s so, you’d be surprised. The music works in any setting, and so it’s just kind of worldwide. The music is already known. It’s like a part of the landscape wherever we go.

Toddstar: That’s awesome. It’s good to see that Foreigner isn’t just one of those blue collar rock and roll bands, you know.

Tom: No, it’s really based all around the music and the sentiment and the feeling. It’s a very honest music, very direct. The lyrics are not pontificating, so it’s, it’s cool. It’s got the roots of American rock and roll, and it has what I call rock and roll values, which are like, you know, fast cars and loud guitars. Let’s forget about life and dance for a while.

Toddstar: Sure. Let’s talk about you for a minute. You brought up a couple of interesting things, Tom, that a lot of people probably don’t know, and I mean, you do play sax during “Urgent,” you do play flute during “Starrider,” but you’re a multi-instrumentalist, keyboards, piano, bass, guitar, sax, drums. I mean, you do it all. You got some background at Berkeley. Tell us a little bit about that.

Tom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I always just kind of wanted to do whatever was needed. If I had my choice, I would have been a drummer, but when we got to sixth grade, we had all these drummers (laughs). We were trying to put a band together, like oh, I don’t know, this is going to be like a marching drum band. I don’t see it happening. Somebody had to get a guitar, and I couldn’t wait. I always just thought of Elvis with his guitar and the Beatles, the way they had their guitars singing and playing. That’s always what I wanted to do, so initially right there, I was singing and playing guitar starting in seventh grade. I had to say goodbye to the drums, but they’re still friends of mine, you know? I still play the drums, and I always kept them in the background, but, you know, you have to focus and I couldn’t divide my time, so I was way into guitar, singing, those were my two things. I wanted to be a guitar player and singer. Along the way, I learned sax and flute and keyboards, and if someone, if we needed it, like if it was in the band, and God, I wish we had a keyboard here, I would say I’ll do it. You know, if we do a song that has this flute, I’ll do it, yeah, yeah, yeah, so this is probably how I got into all this stuff. Like, ah man, let’s put a sax here, I’m all yeah, I want to play sax. I’ll do it, I’ll do it. I just kept learning more and more instruments, and whoever called, you know, if there was work involved, Aerosmith called me. Do you play keyboards? Absolutely. Oh yeah, I’m a keyboard player, sure. You know, it’s not really what I wanted to do, but I’ll do it. Then, I was just so lucky when Foreigner called and would you play guitar, sax, and sing, and I said yes! Those are the ones I really want to do, so I’ve just been doing it over here ever since, and loving life, man. Just playing power chords on a song like “Juke Box Hero” or the riffs in “Hot Blooded” or “Double Vision,” that’s really my idea of a good time.

Toddstar: Why wouldn’t it be a good time? You get to go up on stage night after night and just play the songs of a generation. We all have memories wrapped around these songs, you know?

Tom: Yeah, how cool is that that people are just attaching it to the songs that they know and they have lived and grown up on that music? Or they’re just discovering it, that’s really cool too. We have a lot of young people coming to our shows, multiple generations coming to our shows, and it’s doesn’t matter whether they’re reminiscing with old memories or creating new memories, as long as we’re all enjoying this music, we’re on the same page.


Toddstar: You talk about enjoying music, but it’s something you do. I mean, again you play a wide variety of instruments, you do write, you do some production, but rumor has it you also teach when available.

Tom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I’ve done a lot of teaching over the years. When this band got as busy as we have been in the last ten years, I haven’t had a chance to do much teaching, a little bit of golf instruction here and there or music instruction. It’s just, it’s something that, whenever you teach something, it has to become clearer in your mind, so I always think of teaching like a gift where I learn so much by doing it. I figure out stuff while I’m going through the process, you know. It’s crystallizing in your mind so that you can put it across, so I really think it’s always a two-way street. As a teacher, I feel like I learn as much as I do teaching as I do from learning. It’s a really nice sort of double-edged.

Toddstar: I bet it is. Anybody who hasn’t experienced Foreigner in the last ten to fifteen years is they haven’t been smart enough to get out to see you guys or hear you guys. One of the releases you guys put out, and some people might hate me for this, but it was the Juke Box Hero release that you guys did, where you went back and rerecorded all the classics.

Tom: Oh yeah.

Toddstar: To me, it showed such a maturity in the playing and just demonstrated to me how tight you guys are as a unit even though you guys might not have been the guys that recorded that stuff in ’81 or ’83, but you guys are such a tight unit. I mean, are you guys really like a family now? Are you like that original band? Are these your songs even though you might not be that first guy?

Tom: I think it’s getting close to that. Speaking about that album though, it was a pretty special situation, and I’m glad you like it. It’s been very, very well received. It’s one of our most popular best-selling discs, and we’re really just happy that we had a chance to do that. It was kind of because people were asking us, you know, are there recordings of you guys doing these songs because, your right, we’ve been together for ten, over ten, for me twenty years, but for these guys, Kelly and Jeff, ten years. Anyway, we got a chance to go in the studio and recreate the classics, and Mick Jones was there showing us the secrets and the stories, everything that went with the songs. It was really, really cool. It came out sounding just the way we wanted to, and yeah, we are definitely a tight well-rehearsed band, so after this many years, it’s just, it feels like a family. You’re absolutely right, and it’s a good family. It’s a family that gets along pretty well. You know, it’s not the easiest thing to do to spend that much time with that many people. We’ve been very, very lucky, and I think that has to do with Mick. He keeps an eye out to make sure we don’t get anyone in the band that’s too weird, you know. I’m kind of like holding down the weirdo section as the sax player (laughs).

Toddstar: (laughs) That’s the beauty of watching you guys on stage because I mean, myself as a journalist and photographer, it’s cool to have pictures of you where you’ve got the sax, you’re behind some keyboards, you’ve got a guitar, you know, but then you’ve got you alongside Kelly Hansen, who I remember when he fronted Hurricane. You’ve got Jeff Pilson, who I remember from Dokken. I mean, you’re alongside these rock guys, you know, you guys all come from the different genres, and you make this work.

Tom: It’s a great collection, yeah. Mick Jones has a way of doing that, and it just kind of brings out the best. He finds people and then he gets the best out of them, or maybe he just finds people that are suited, that that’s their special skill set, you know? Definitely for me, it couldn’t have been a better fit. I couldn’t have found this anywhere else, where what I have to offer, all those different things, the guitar, the sax, the flute, and singing, is exactly what is featured in this scenario. He’s got everyone doing the same thing, and then he ends up with this like V12 engine with all twelve cylinders just banging on top of their game.


Toddstar: Yeah. Well, you mentioned Mick Jones. You can tell there’s definitely love and most important respect there. I mean, the last time you and I spoke, we talked about his solo disc, which is so unappreciated by the musical world…

Tom: Yeah. We were talking about his singing. I don’t know if people know what a great voice he has. There was a conversation where we were talking about what songs could we add to the set that would really be special for me, and I was talking about the one that he sings that goes, “I have waited oh so long, please don’t tell me that I was wrong.” Such a cool song, and he also sings “Starrider” and a song called “The Modern Day,” so that was a big part of the Foreigner sound was his singing, and right now his voice is better than ever, so I’m kind of hoping we can convince him to sing a couple of more songs.

Toddstar: That’d be awesome because, I mean, you know, you talk about Foreigner songs, you can’t write songs if you can’t sing songs. You got to, you know, he does the harmonies, you know, when he wrote all that stuff, so that’s just a special thing. I know you’re busy, and you thankfully threw that in there about the songs that you like that you guys don’t necessarily play, but when it comes to touring, Tom, and I mean again, you guys are going to be out most of the year, what’s the one or two things that you do in your downtime when you’re not on stage that kind of keep you sane?

Tom: Well, we talked about golf. That’s probably the number one thing, and that can keep anyone sane (laughs). You don’t have to be on the road 200 days a year to have golf be something that will help you normalize yourself, so that’s a big one. Going to the gym, I can’t say enough about a little cardio, just jumping on a Life Cycle. I always take my laptop and I’ll be watching DVDs, you know different series like “Mad Men,” or something that really keeps your interest. The hard part is to not stay on the Life Cycle too long, because, you know, I want to see what happens, and you’re like on there for two hours and you’re, oh, my hip (laughs). When you come off, you can’t walk, so you got to be careful for that, but those things definitely keep me sane and walking, you know, just moving is so important. It’s surprising that as we get more and more conveniences, we move less and less. Just even getting up from the desk, right, people forget that you’re not supposed to stay seated for more than an hour. You got to get up and move, so these are the only things that I can think that actually keep me sane. Of course, I’m a guy, so I like to look at cars on eBay (laughs). I consider that fishing. You know how guys have like a fundamental need to look for stuff and search, and people love fishing. I always feel like when you’re scrolling through the Internet looking at cars, oh, I wonder how much these are going for, you know, that almost feels like fishing to me. I enjoy it and it’s recreational, because if you watch the news, it’s not good for your blood pressure.

Toddstar: That’s true. That’s true. Oh, I love cardio myself, and that’s when I listen to “Juke Box Hero” the most because I run, and every song just has that cadence to running.

Tom: I had a friend that was running marathons, and he said he always had our live album on his iPod, and I’m sure “Juke Box Hero” was one of the big numbers, so that’s got to be a great song for jogging, running, tread milling.

Toddstar: It seriously is. It gets the blood up and it keeps cadence constant. Well listen man, I appreciate your time, I appreciate your patience, and most of all, I appreciate what you do as Foreigner, man, because I love seeing you guys every time you come through the Detroit area, and I can’t wait until April 7th when you’re over here in Windsor. I’m going to make that little drive across the bridge and come see you guys there.

Tom: Excellent. Yeah, we’ll be there. Things will be starting to thaw out by then. It’s coming up soon.

Toddstar: Exactly. Well listen man, enjoy Florida, enjoy the show tomorrow night, and enjoy the upcoming weekend.

Tom: Thanks Todd. Great talking with you. We’ll see you soon.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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