You might not know its members by name or remember their MTV videos, but Foreigner recorded a slew of recognizable, era-defining hits. Songs like "Urgent," "Cold As Ice," and "I Want to Know What Love Is" remain rock radio staples and have made the band a significant concert attraction nearly 40 years into their career. We caught up with the band's rhythm guitarist and sax player, Thom Gimbel, to chat about their upcoming tour, their enduring hits, and his obsession with golf.
Foreigner are one of the archetypal arena rock acts, a genre sometimes maligned as "corporate rock." Do you have a feeling about the notion that the band exemplified some kind of sea change whereby spectacle or commerciality became rock's dominant feature?
For some reason I never thought of Foreigner that way. I attached them with Bad Company and Free, and those bands never struck me as corporate rock, they were more rootsy rock, especially on the early albums. It wasn't commercial, it was just blues-based rock and it was so good.
Is founder Mick Jones playing guitar on the tour?
Yes, he's on fire.
Gotcha, because Dee Snider was on The Eddie Trunk Podcast recently and he called out Foreigner as being a band that has toured without having any members that played on its best-known hits. Is this ever talked about within the band? Do you encounter fans that are bothered by this?
We're very happy when [Mick's] with us. And we're carrying the torch for him when he's not with us. Even then, it's because they've advised him not to travel or something. We just keep going either way and no one seems to have a huge opinion about it, except maybe Dee Snider.
What is it about the songs that you think have been so enduring for audiences?
For me, it's fantastic rhythm, fantastic harmony, incredible writing of the melody and then the lyrics on top of that, which are direct. They're not lofty. It's not singing about other worldly stuff or proselytizing. It's honest.
One of the instruments you play with Foreigner is the sax. Is that an under-utilized instrument in rock & roll?
Maybe, but people love it. Whenever you grab one, people go, "Yeah!" It's not under loved. You'd be surprised how much is out there if you start to look at it. In Aerosmith we used it. It kind of hangs around, lurking.
When Foreigner took a break in the early 2000s you became a certified golf instructor. Have you ever played a round with Alice Cooper?
Who's the best rocker-golfer?
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Maybe Adrian Young, the drummer in No Doubt. Watch out for that guy!
What is it about golf that you think musicians find so appealing?
It's addicting and a lot of musicians are addicts. In the old days we would go to the bar. Now we go to the golf course.
Foreigner opens for Kid Rock at 6:45 p.m., Thursday, July 16, at Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansburys Way, West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $20 via ticketmaster.com.