When Foreigner patriarch Mick Jones takes the time and tells the audience about the classic songs he wrote, there’s nothing that makes bandmate Thom Gimbel happier.
“I love it,” Gimbel said while calling from his Los Angeles home. “It’s not just about the songs. It’s what happens before and after they’re presented. (Guitarist-songwriter) Mick (Jones) gets up there and tells stories. It’s fascinating.”
When Gimbel had the chance to join Foreigner 20-years ago, he jumped at the opportunity to work with Jones.
“That was a huge deal,” Gimbel said. “It still is a big deal. Mick is part of rock history.”
Jones is the architect of Foreigner’s durable pop-rock sound.
“He sacrificed flashiness since he has always been about the songs,” Gimbel said. “He set out to be a song crafter. He didn’t set out to be Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton. He has chosen his notes wisely. That’s obvious when you listen to Foreigner songs.”
Jones is all about serving the hook-laden songs he has penned. His solos are compact ala Elliot Easton of The Cars fame. Jones has been adept at keeping it simple and at times subtle.
It helped that Jones found a vocalist, Lou Gramm, who he found simpatico in 1976.
Jones and Gramm crafted an array of hits, such as “Feels Like the First Time,” “Cold As Ice” and “Long, Long Way From Home” with their eponymous 1977 debut. That album went five times platinum and it was just the start of an incredible commercial run for Foreigner, which has quietly sold a staggering 80 million albums.
“It’s not surprising when you look at all of the hits,” Gimbel said. “It’s really amazing.”
Each of the band’s first four albums, including 1978’s “Double Vision,” 1979’s “Head Games” and 1981’s “4” were platinum plus releases. The latter album was produced by Mutt Lange, the most successful producer of that era. Lange (AC/DC, Def Leppard) was behind the board when the group recorded Gimbel’s favorite song to perform, “Urgent,” which features a blazing saxophone solo by Junior Walker.
“When I’m doing that sax solo, I just go berserk,” Gimbel said. “People are going crazy. I look out in the crowd and they’re doing air sax solos. Mick is the man who made it possible. When Foreigner was recording “4” in New York, he saw that Junior Walker was in town playing a gig. He and Mutt Lange went to see him and asked him to join them in the studio and magic happened.”
The only issue the band, which will perform Saturday at the Kansas Star Arena, has is what to include on its set list. Does the band go with the pretty ballad “I’ve Been Waiting for a Girl Like You’” or with the gritty, immediate “Double Vision,” which hits the listener in the gut with Jones’ opening riff.
“He starts that with a jazz chord and just pumps it with “Double Vision,” Gimbel said. “It’s a brilliant way to start a rock song. But yes, it’s not easy for us to come up with a set list but that’s a good problem to have.
Every night we figure it out. It’ll be fun this time since we’re going to add some songs to the set list, like “Say You Will.” This is a challenge since there is so much to choose from.”
Foreigner, which also includes vocalist Kelly Hanson, bassist Jeff Pilson, keyboardist Michael Bluestein and drummer Chris Frazier, isn’t certain if it will release a new album any time soon.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with that at this time,” Gimbel said. “Today bands can just release a single or two and be happy with that. It’s not easy making albums like we do. When we made (2009’s) “Can’t Slow Down,” we recorded 13 songs. That’s a lot of material, but that’s what fans demanded back then. Things, though, have changed a bit.”
Gimbel said that perhaps original Foreigner vocalist Lou Gramm will join the band in the studio. Gramm, who left the band in 1989, and Jones reconnected two years ago when the tandem were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“They hugged and laughed and talked about their past,” Gimbel said. “I hadn’t seen Lou in ten years. It was great for them to have their work recognized. It was a galvanizing moment. There’s nothing like hearing tales from Foreigner’s early days.”
Gimbel loves hearing Jones’ early tales.
“The stories are unbelievable,” Gimbel said. “My favorite story is when Mick and (former Foreigner drummer) Dennis Elliott were playing cards on a private jet the band had, courtesy of Atlantic Records. This is not long after the first album went crazy on the charts. The card game became heated and they were brawling as the plane was landing. Their fight spilled out on to the runway.”
Next year, Foreigner will celebrate its 40th anniversary. “I can’t imagine what we’ll do,” Gimbel said. “Forty years is huge. The cool thing is that I’ve been a part of half of it. It’s been amazing so far. It’s only going to get more interesting from here.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Kansas Star Arena, 777 Kansas Star Drive, Mulvane
Tickets: $32 and $52. Must be 21 to attend.
Information: 855-970-7827 or www.kansasstarcasino.com