Born and raised in England, Mick Jones began his musical career as the “24th guitar player” in Nero and the Gladiators. He wrote songs and played sessions for French pop idol Johnny Hallyday and recorded with such artists as George Harrison and Peter Frampton.
Jones formed Wonderwheel with Gary Wright and they eventually reformed Spooky Tooth. In 1974, he moved to New York; Spooky Tooth broke up, and Jones went on to serve as A&R rep for a British record company.
Foreigner formed in 1976 when Mick Jones met Ian McDonald (ex-King Crimson) at a session in New York. The pair recruited one more Englishman and three Americans (hence the band’s name).
The Gramm/Jones writing chemistry clicked immediately, with the driving Cold As Ice becoming the first of their hit collaborations. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1977 and went on to cross the quadruple platinum sales mark.
During its two-year run on the national charts, the hits kept coming, beginning with Feels Like The First Time and continuing with Cold As Ice and Long, Long Way From Home. The next year the band road-tested a verse and chorus of Hot Blooded in front of a few hundred thousand close friends at the Cal Jam II Festival.
Their enthusiastic response assured its place on the next album, Double Vision, which was released in 1978 and surpassed its predecessor with more than five million albums sold in the US alone. It remained in the Top Ten for six months and became the #1 selling rock & roll album of the year.
Two gold-selling singles were released from Double Vision – Hot Blooded and the album title track.
Foreigner released their third album, Head Games, in 1979. Again, it was a multi-platinum success, producing the hit singles, Dirty White Boy and Head Games. The album also marked the band’s first personnel change, when Rick Wills (ex-Peter Frampton and Roxy Music, among many others) became Foreigner’s new bassist.
With the help of producer Mutt Lange and synth-meister Thomas Dolby, the group entered their second “fertile” period with 4, which found the band streamlined to the quartet of Jones, Gramm, Elliot and Wills.
The album was highlighted by Jukebox Hero and the churning, futuristic hyper-funk of Urgent – which included the critically acclaimed soaring sax solo of Junior Walker.
1984 marked the release of their next album of new material, Agent Provocateur which debuted one of Foreigner’s gargantuan ballads. Mick Jones went through a period of earnest soul-searching about his life and relationships that resulted in the words and music to I Want to Know What Love Is.
In 1985, Foreigner embarked on a nine-month world tour. Wrapping up two years of virtual non-stop activity, they took a break in 1986 during which Mick Jones co-produced Van Halen‘s smash, 5150 album and served as executive producer of the re-formed Bad Company‘s Fame and Fortune project. Lou Gramm also released his debut solo album, Ready Or Not, in 1987, which featured the hit single, Midnight Blue.
In 1987 Foreigner returned to the studio to record Inside Information, marking the first album to be produced solely by Mick Jones. The album delivered two hits for the group, Say You Will and I Don’t Want To Live Without You. By then, the band shifted its musical focus from up-tempo rockers to more commercial “power ballads.”
His solo album yielded a Top 10 hit, but Gramm was not able to actively tour as a solo act because of the continual demands of Foreigner. When Gramm saw this change in direction and the restrictions on his own career, problems within the group began.
Gramm’s solo career was perceived as a threat to the band and he and Jones began arguing and, in 1989, Gramm left the group to form another band called Shadow King. Foreigner, in turn, replaced Gramm with an unknown singer and carried on. Neither band, however, saw much commercial success and both groups broke up in 1991.
During the Los Angeles riots in the spring of 1992, while one war was breaking out in the streets of America’s largest city, another war was ending. Inside the confines of the Sunset Marquis hotel in downtown LA, singer Lou Gramm and guitarist Mick Jones were sequestered due to a city curfew. They decided to use their time together putting a two-year feud to rest and resurrecting their platinum act, Foreigner.
“I flew to Los Angeles, during the riots,” says Gramm. “We got flown to John Wayne airport instead of LAX because they were shooting at the planes. Mick and I were holed up in the Sunset Marquis in LA, with armed security guards walking around on the roof. It was a little weird, to say the least.”
Gramm and Jones decided to bury the hatchet and revive one of the world’s best-loved rock’n’roll bands. They went back on the road, had a blast and sold out everywhere and decided it was time get the band back in the studio, and in 1994, Foreigner proved what a great rock and roll band can do with a few years downtime and some creative reassessment.
Plunging back into the rock arena with Mr Moonlight (the band’s first album reuniting guitarist Mick Jones and vocalist Lou Gramm since 1987) they decided to bring fresh blood into the band and came up with a formidable line-up of backing musicians – Bass player Bruce Turgon and keyboardist Jeff Jacobs.
Lead singer Lou Gramm was diagnosed in April 1997, with a benign brain tumour (just one day before the band was set to leave for a tour of Japan). The tumour was removed by surgery, which was followed by a year of rehabilitation at his home and a concentrated period of radiation treatment at Boston’s Brigham & Woman’s Hospital.
“My tumour was non-cancerous,” says Lou, “but it was certainly life-threatening. It was growing adjacent to my optic nerve in the base of my brain and it was blocking the signals my brain was sending out to my body. I was losing my memory, getting headaches and seeing with double vision. Fortunately, everything turned out OK, and I’m back to work with the band. I’m very grateful to the Lord, my wife and family, and all my friends, who got me through this difficult time.”