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April 2013

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Lou Gramm Interview: The Backstory Behind Foreigner's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Snub and His Days as a "Juke Box Hero"

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Image attributed to Lou Gramm

Lou Gramm

Best known for many years as the lead vocalist of the iconic rock band Foreigner, Lou Gramm (born Louis Andrew Grammatico on May 2, 1950) also co-wrote with guitarist and record producer Mick Jones such hits as “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Double Vision,” “Head Games,” “Hot Blooded,” “Juke Box Hero,” “Say You Will” and “That Was Yesterday.”

Gramm also had a successful solo career with the critically acclaimed album Ready or Not, and in 2009, the Lou Gramm Band released their self-titled album of Christian Rock. The music legend was diagnosed in April 1997 with a rare type of brain tumor called a craniopharyngioma and was told that it was inoperable. Miraculously, Gramm found a doctor in Boston who performed laser surgery on these types of tumors, and the procedure saved his life.

“The last words spoken by the chairperson were, ‘If it were up to me, Foreigner would never be inducted.’ And, so far, we never have. I’m not sure what prompted this meeting. The two of them probably should have just left it alone until it happened, but since they made such a big deal of it, you can be sure we’ll never be a part of that now.”

Now his rise to international stardom in the 1970s and 1980s from working class roots in Rochester, New York, and his life in the music industry with all the trappings of fame including faith to overcome his addictions are documented in Gramm’s new autobiography, Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades in Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Lou, it’s a pleasure to speak with you again. Do you remember when we talked back in 2009?

Lou Gramm: Of course, I do.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, that resulted in a fairly famous interview garnering several million reads with the story of how Mick (Jones) tried to cheat you out of royalties for the song, “I Want to Know What Love Is.” By the way, thanks for sourcing our magazine in your book.

Lou Gramm: Oh, my pleasure and great to talk to you again.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When you and Mick co-wrote songs, why was it sometimes one-sided on his part as far as splitting the pie equally?

Lou Gramm: I think that when the band first started, there was much more give and take between Mick and myself. When we co-wrote a song, we actually co-wrote it, and we each had input. As time went by, he seemed to want to more or less set the course exactly where each song should go and how it should end up. He co-produced most of the albums. It used to be that the content of the song as we created it had both of our personalities in it, but as time went on, he wanted to dominate that end of the creative process also.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was “White Lie” one of the last songs you two wrote together?

Lou Gramm: Yes.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You both wrote the words?

Lou Gramm: We both had input on numerous parts of the song.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Congratulations on being inducted into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame. I know that has special meaning to you because that’s where it all began. That’s when you aspired to be a juke box hero.

Lou Gramm: (laughs) Yes.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s also great about you and Mick being inducted into the Songwriter Hall of Fame this summer. When you called to congratulate him after a silence between you two that spanned 10 years, were you nervous?

Lou Gramm: I was nervous making the call and started to break the ice, but his responses were very warm and friendly, and I think we started off on the right foot again.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Since you’re performing a couple of songs together, will there be rehearsals?

Lou Gramm: Yeah, we will be rehearsing at least the day before the show.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would you like to clear the air with him at that time?

Lou Gramm: I’ll feel that one out because I wouldn’t want to try and clear things up and then end up making it worse. I would use my better judgment on that and just wait. If the moment was right, maybe I’ll say something.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Mick has recently suffered some health issues.

Lou Gramm: He had a throat tumor, and I believe he had a heart bypass. Those are very serious things.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, they are. I truly enjoyed the book.

Lou Gramm: Thank you.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What prompted you to tell your story now?

Lou Gramm: I’d been thinking about it for a few years, and I wasn’t sure that I had an interesting enough story, but after talking to my co-writer Scott Pitoniak who’s a sports writer, he assured me that there were enough interesting stories and anecdotes, and that it was a good premise for a book. So we began.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The book mostly recounts the music and your days with Black Sheep and Foreigner, but no “sexcapades,” which is unusual for a memoir. Would you like to tell me one of those stories now?

Lou Gramm: You know what, Melissa, I have to leave something for the movie (laughs). And, I’m only being funny saying that. No movie in the works. But I better not. What’s funny to me may rile somebody else up, so I think I’ll let sleeping dogs lie as they say.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Lou, what was the very first thing you thought of when you were given the death sentence after the tumor diagnosis?

Lou Gramm: I felt I needed to get deep into prayer.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): No bucket list?

Lou Gramm: I honestly couldn’t think of one at the time, and there was nobody I had to necessarily make amends to or repair a relationship with. It was mostly work on my own soul, you know?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Of course. The album Head Games was banned in Boston …

Lou Gramm: And a whole slew of stations in the Bible Belt.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it for the song “Seventeen?”

Lou Gramm: It was actually more for “Dirty White Boy.” They felt it was racist, and then they thought the Head Games album cover was way over the line of good taste.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What was the inspiration behind “Woman in Black?”

Lou Gramm: Mick is the one who initiated the song, and he told me that it was inspired by a Bette Davis movie. I couldn’t tell you which one, but it was one of the films where she played a real dark character.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you had any contact with Mutt Lange since the album 4?

Lou Gramm: I have actually had no contact with Mutt Lange. He’s a pretty private person even when we were doing the album. I think he’s just one of those guys that does his work and rides off into the sunset.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I don’t believe you mentioned your younger brother, Richard, in the book. I know there were conflicts. Have the two of you reconciled?

Lou Gramm: No … nope. We have not reconciled, and I don’t see that happening in the near future.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s a shame.

Lou Gramm: It’s a real shame. My poor parents passed away in 2003. They would be rolling over in their graves if they knew about his comeuppances.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You asserted that Richard stole money from you, correct?

Lou Gramm: Yes, on one of the tours in Europe that I did. It was just me singing with an orchestra, and I asked him to come along. It was just an unbelievable nightmare. He sued me. I didn’t sue him. I fired him from the band, and he put a lawsuit against me.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What was the outcome?

Lou Gramm: He actually won (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Looking back now on your entire music career, would you go back and change anything if you had the chance?

Lou Gramm: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know. I think if I could change anything, I would be a little smarter with my health and would try to stay clear of some bad habits instead of succumbing to them.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would you have healed quicker if you hadn’t gone back on tour with Foreigner a few months after the brain surgery?

Lou Gramm: Yes.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you currently on tour?

Lou Gramm: My band plays weekends. We’ll go out on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We do have some shows booked, but we have a couple of weeks off.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you sing Foreigner songs?

Lou Gramm: Maybe an old Beatles song, too.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Since Mick owns the trademark of Foreigner, has he ever said anything negative to you about performing those songs?

Lou Gramm: No, he’s never said anything about that. But when I would be working, and the promoters of the show would bill the show as “Lou Gramm of Foreigner,” Mick did send a “cease and desist” from his attorneys and made sure they told me I had to advertise it a different way because I’m not “of Foreigner” anymore.

It had to be “Formerly of Foreigner” or some little petty thing like that. So he sent a “cease and desist” from his attorneys that I had to change the way I was advertising myself or suffer a lawsuit from him. That was about 7 or 8 years ago.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why isn’t Foreigner in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Lou Gramm: This is what I’ve heard. At a time when some of our peers were being inducted, and for some reason we were not, I heard that Mick and Foreigner’s manager went to the Hall and spoke to the chairperson there to find out why we hadn’t been nominated or inducted. I guess they got into a heated argument.

The last words spoken by the chairperson were, “If it were up to me, Foreigner would never be inducted.” And, so far, we never have. I’m not sure what prompted this meeting. The two of them probably should have just left it alone until it happened, but since they made such a big deal of it, you can be sure we’ll never be a part of that now.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When we last spoke, Lou, you told me that you had developed diabetes and sleep apnea. How is your health now?

Lou Gramm: Obviously I still have both of those, but it’s under control, and I’m feeling good. I’ve lost about 65 pounds, and I’m working out 4 days a week with a trainer. I’m on a pretty rigid diet, and I feel great.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Glad to hear that. Is it still day-to-day for you fighting the addiction?

Lou Gramm: No, it’s not. I try and put myself out of the way of temptation, but I can honestly say I don’t even think about it anymore. I’ve crossed those old times, you know? I don’t crave those things anymore.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are your twins, Natalie and Joe, still interested in music?

Lou Gramm: They certainly are and in sports, too. Natalie was on the junior varsity volleyball team, and Joe was the quarterback of the varsity football team. They’re both doing good. Joe and I officially measured our height about 3 weeks ago, and he’s taller than me by about a half an inch. That was a huge victory for him (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Last question, Lou. How do you think audiences react today when they see a group called Foreigner that is basically unrecognizable?

Lou Gramm: I think there’s probably like a turnover in audiences, and they may be watching the new Foreigner and see nothing particularly wrong with that and think that those were the people that actually made those records. I think at a certain age, many people stop going to concerts, so maybe our original true fans who know the difference … it doesn’t mean anything to them anymore. They don’t go to concerts. The younger people that go to concerts don’t know the difference and don’t care.

© 2013 Smashing Interviews Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.

 

 

 

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