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Foreigner 4(0): Mick Jones, Foreigner Celebrate Four Decades of Being Juke Box Heroes

Photo credit: Bill Bernstein

“Feels Like the First Time” off Foreigner’s 1977 self-titled debut album was the first of countless hits produced by the band that featured members from both side of the Atlantic. “That Was Yesterday,” found on 1984’s Agent Provocateur, arrived on our shores and around the globe seven years later.

Today – four decades worth of yesterdays later – Foreigner is celebrating its 40th anniversary with the release of the aptly titled career-spanning compilation 40 – Forty Hits From Forty Years (due May 5), a forthcoming 40th anniversary tour (starting July 11 in Syracuse, NY) with Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience as very special guests, and the release of the band’s first-ever official biography A Foreigner’s Tale (due early July), penned by founder, guitarist and producer Mick Jones.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the aforementioned Mr. Jones – not for the first time, I might add – about the band turning 40, about Foreigner not yet having its passport stamped for entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, about him being a member of a very exclusive club of people privileged enough to have worked with The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, and about his induction – along with former frontman Lou Gramm – into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and much more.

Mick, how are you? I know we’re a little short on time and we’ve got a lot to cover today, so let’s jump right into it. And again, thanks for your time…

MJ: Cool, no problem.

So, it seems hard to believe that you can add a zero to your 1981 album 4, and here we are…

MJ: (Laughs) Indeed!

…a milestone forty years later. 40 – Forty Hits From Forty Years is gonna be available on CD and vinyl. What’s it feel like turning 40 again, only this time, of course, career-wise?

MJ: Yeah, it’s sorta like Déjà vu all over again (laughs). In a way, this is a significant time. Well, I guess it’s been more than 12 or 13 years now since we started the Foreigner engine up (again). It’s been interesting because it’s virtually like breaking a new band in; introducing a new band and a whole new kind of image. It feels great! My aim was really to reestablish the band, to get some prestige back, and we’ve managed to really do that with this band. I’m very proud of the guys and everybody who’s contributed towards this. But it is a very meaningful (and) a very scary thought, you know, 40 years (laughs). If you’d have told me that when I first signed on I would never have believed that, but you know, that’s the way music is I guess, at the moment. Some people can really still perform and do their thing, and thankfully we’re in that group of people.

Yeah, well good music is timeless. No question about that.

MJ: Yeah, I think the songs have really been a major part of it.

Speaking of the songs, the 40 – Forty Hits From Forty Years compilation is available as a two-CD set and features 40 tracks – appropriately – including two new recordings, “I Don’t Want To Live Without You” and “Give My Life for Love.” Tell me about the new tracks, starting with “I Don’t Want To Live Without You.”

MJ: Well, that’s actually a redo of a song that was on the (1987) Inside Information album.

Ah, yes, my apologies. That’s a re-recorded track, correct?

MJ: Yes, that’s re-recorded. And the other one (“Give My Life for Love”) is a song that we released on an acoustic album, but we’ve given it the electric treatment. It was a song I wrote for an English movie back in the, wow, it had to be in the late 90s, I guess (laughs), called Still Crazy (1998). It was like a satire on the music business about a band that gets back together 30 or 40 years after their heyday (laughs). So, this song was actually the featured song from the movie, so we thought we’d throw that in.

You guys have sold over 75 million albums worldwide and have obviously been around for over four decades now, so I wonder, what are your thoughts – if any – on induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

MJ: Well, nothing much to talk about there (laughs), as far as we’re concerned. As you may know, a few years back, Lou (Gramm) and I got inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, so hopefully that’s maybe a sign of some good news, but we’ll just have to wait and see. People ask me that question just everywhere we go, you know. (They say) “How come? How come you guys aren’t in? You guys should’ve been in there already for years.” But it baffles me (about how) some of the people that make it in there. But, here we are, we’re slogging’ away, and so we’ll just have to put up with Cheap Trick brandishing their Hall of Fame stuff during the tour, so that’ll be interesting (laughs). No, we’re very, very old friends, so it’s gonna be a great night and I’m really looking forward to the tour. And with Jason, of course, our ex-drummer and great friend.

Yeah, I’ll ask you more about the tour in just a second, but on a quick side note here Mick; obviously all of us who’ve asked you that question or brought up the issue of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame do so because we think you should be there, of course.

MJ: Well, thank you very much. Thank you, I appreciate that.

Let me take you back further in time for this next question, and let me paraphrase the title of your first big hit in asking it: tell me how it felt the first time you knew that you wanted to make music for the rest of your life? Did you have that proverbial – or perhaps literal – Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment, where you knew music was going to play as important a role in your life as it obviously has?

MJ: I guess at the time it was definitely just a day-to-day existence. All I really knew was – well, a big part of it, let’s say – was that I just couldn’t see myself doing a regular job. And, anything to avoid that was my idea of the future. When I started writing the songs for the first album, fate had its way and it was called “Feels Like the First Time.” And that’s really what it felt like. I remember towards the end of the album sitting down, putting the headphones on, and I think I had something that was sort of (helping) creating my imagination as I was listening to it – I can’t remember what that was at the time, but I remember it was green. That’s right. The first time I’d actually listened (to the album) and smoked a little bit of a joint, and I laid back on the floor and put the album on – just a test pressing – and I thought, my god, this could really be something! It was blowing my mind because I hadn’t seen it that way or listened to it that way before. After all the work had been done and everything was pretty much (done), and I got that feeling – like you said – like a bit of an epiphany. So, just having that feeling of getting a glimpse, maybe, of a bit of success. I had no idea what we were (in for). We hadn’t got our sights set on selling four million albums on the first go around.

Well, that first album was almost standard issue for all of us who were into music at that point. It’s one of those iconic albums, like Frampton Comes Alive or something. It was something that everybody had to have.

MJ: Yeah, right, right.

Let’s talk about the 40th anniversary tour coming up with, as you mentioned, Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, which by the way, is an amazing show in and of itself…

MJ: Oh, yeah!

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing it a couple of times, and for those who haven’t, I highly recommend it.

MJ: Oh, yeah, it’s great! Yeah, it’s such a cool package (this tour). We’re all old friends – we’ve survived through thick and thin. It couldn’t be better, chemistry-wise, as far as I’m concerned. It’s great and I’m really looking forward to it.

Do you have input on putting this package together, or does someone come to you and say, hey, what do you think about these acts, etc?

MJ: Yeah, pretty much. We first see who’s available. Also, we see what makes sense musically. We’re all into the sound we make and we’ve proven ourselves many times over. We’re friends, so on this tour there’s a bunch of extra little things that’ve gone into the decisions. I’m just glad to say I think we’ve come out with one of the winners for the summer.

I would agree.

MJ: That’s what it’s looking like, ticket-wise anyway, so it’s all looking very rosy in that part of it. The fact is it’s quite difficult to find a package that works, you know, that allows you to at least make some money out of it and have some success with it.

I think this one’s gonna do okay, Mick.

MJ: Yeah, you know, I think so! It couldn’t have been a better selection to celebrate 40 years, because over those years – except for Jason who’s a bit of a young whippersnapper (laughs)…

(Laughs) Yes, he’ll always be the whippersnapper…

MJ: Our first headline tour, I remember Cheap Trick was signed on as the support act, which was crazy because they’d already been out a few years. They must be having their 45th anniversary or something (laughs). I remember it vividly because we hit it off pretty much (right away). When I saw them the first night of the tour, I stood offstage and I they were awesome. And I immediately thought, oh my god, how are we gonna follow this band (laughs)? And they continue to do that every night. But I tell you what it was a real growing experience because it gave the band a little bit of an audio by fire. It ended up being very constructive for us.

Absolutely. And you guys were definitely up for the challenge.

MJ: Yeah.

The latest itinerary that I’ve seen has the tour beginning July 11 in Syracuse and runs through September 9 in Auburn, WA. By that itinerary and by my count there are 36 shows on the list. Was there no thought of making it a very appropriate 40 shows for the trek?

MJ: I tell you the truth, I don’t know why they didn’t. That’s a good point (laughs). You’re the first one that’s pointed it out to me, actually. It would’ve made a lot of sense.

I double and triple checked my math (laughs).

MJ: (Laughs) There you go! Well, I’ll pass it on to management and see what they can come up with.

Excellent! The last topic that we definitely need to get to on our crowded agenda today is your first-ever official biography titled A Foreigner’s Tale. On a scale of 1-to-10 – with 10 being the most difficult – how much harder was it to write this book than, say, the million-selling songs and albums that you’ve done?

MJ: (Laughs) Well, in its own way, it was a lot of pressure. It’s difficult to know where to start. You have to keep it interesting. Memory not being quite as sharp as it used to be, you have to sometimes rely on friends and people you’ve worked with to tell you what went on that night, or what went on that day (laughs). I tried to make it sort of a fairly colorful, general picture of how my life evolved in music, from the age of 15, pretty much. It was tough recalling all that stuff – emotionally, it was tough as well – seeing a lot of photos of people I’d seen for years. So, a lot of memories – a lot of great memories, a few not so great – but all-in-all I think it’s a fair balance of what I was doing, what happened, a few adventures, and some musical notes, and hopefully the fans will get into it. When you’re talking about your personal life like that, it’s tough sometimes. I’ve had time to stand back and look over some of the glorious parts of life, and some of the not-so glorious and I had to sort of mix them in together. So, it’s a challenging task. I didn’t think it would be, but it ended up (where) I missed several deadlines and managed to pretty much get it done in time.

Well, hey, that’s rock and roll, right (laughs)?

MJ: Yeah, yeah.

Speaking of some of the stories that we’re looking forward to reading about in the book; you may be one of a very small handful of people, I think, who’ve worked with The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.

MJ: Well, I’ve worked with Jimmy (Page) and Robert (Plant). Jimmy I’ve actually worked with in London in session work, but Robert’s really just become a friend over the years. We’ve jammed together, and Jimmy, Robert and I and the band have jammed together over the time. Yeah, I think I share a few things that might be of interest to people that want to know what was going on and who I was lucky enough to be in the presence of and perhaps be influenced by, to a certain extent. So, hopefully it (the book) will provide a good image of myself (laughs).

I’m sure it will. We’re all looking forward to it. Is there a release date on the book yet?

MJ: Yeah, there is. The book’s coming out the beginning of July.

Alright, great. Well, I see we’re getting ready to wrap here, so Mick, I wanna thank you again for your time, it was great to talk you again, and I appreciate it. Take care and have a good day.

MJ: Okay, man, you too.
 

 

 

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