Songwriter Interviews

Lou Gramm

by Greg Prato

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Lou Gramm is lucky to be alive. In 1997 he developed a barely operable brain tumor and underwent laser surgery to save his life. He returned to Foreigner fold, but the recovery was slow and by 2003 the band moved on without him.

This wasn't the first time Gramm left Foreigner; in 1991 the band released the album Unusual Heat sans Gramm, who had established a solo career in the late '80s with two successful albums and two Top 10 hits: "Midnight Blue" and "Just Between You And Me." His last album with Foreigner came in 1994 with Mr. Moonlight (the band remains active with lead singer Kelly Hansen).

Those classic Foreigner hits - "Hot Blooded," "Double Vision," "I Want to Know What Love Is" among them - were written by Gramm with guitarist Mick Jones, a collaboration so successful the pair was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013. Their performance at the ceremony has been their only reunion since 2003.

Gramm is still touring, and as we learned, still writing songs. In 2013, he released his autobiography, Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades in Rock n' Roll.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): How has the summer tour been going so far?

Lou Gramm: The summer tour has been great. We have had a lot more shows than we have had in the last four or five years. Things are looking very strong this year.

Songfacts: And let's discuss your book, Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades in Rock n' Roll.

Lou: The book wasn't anything in incredible great detail - it was kind of a synopsis of my years before Foreigner, during Foreigner, and the upside, the excitement, the downside, being on the road for so long, the alcohol and drugs. I didn't try to "color" it - I wanted it to be as it was.

Songfacts: At this point of your career, which tunes do you enjoy performing the most in concert?

Lou: Honestly, they're all a lot of fun. But I like "Juke Box Hero," "Midnight Blue," and "Hot Blooded." All of them sound terrific live.

Songfacts: What about the songs that are the most challenging to sing live?

Lou: That would be "Juke Box Hero," also. [Laughs] And maybe "I Want to Know What Love Is" - the chorus is way up there.

Songfacts: Your lyrics play a big part in Foreigner's classic songs. In the song "Midnight Blue," what does "cherry red" and "midnight blue" represent?

Lou: "Cherry red" means everything going as best as it can, and "midnight blue" means dark and mysterious.

Songfacts: The word "blue" shows up on two of your other songs as well: "Blue Morning, Blue Day" and "True Blue Love."

Lou: Nothing intended, just coincidence.

Songfacts: Let's discuss "Blue Morning, Blue Day" a bit more - regarding the inspiration behind the song.

Lou: It talks about a young musician that's burning the candle at both ends. He has a lot on his mind, and walks the street at night.

Songfacts: With "Head Games," was there a real relationship that inspired it?

Lou: It was through our imagination and probably our memories, too.

Songfacts: And was "Say You Will" inspired by a real relationship?

Lou: Not for me, no. It could have been for Mick.

Songfacts: Which producer did you most enjoy working with, and why?

Lou: I got something out of all of them, and they all had their strong points. I think Mutt Lange was interesting to work with - a very dominating type of guy. And sometimes, it was worth seeing his vision and going down the road that he heard the way the song sounding. And other times, I thought he was taking it to a place that I didn't want to go.

At some point, you have to stand up for what you believe in. While his idea was good, it sounded too much like another big band that he had produced [Lange had recently worked on the AC/DC album Back in Black]. So I had to put my foot down.

One of the most renowned and respected producers in rock n' roll is Robert John "Mutt" Lange. Although some of his productions were stripped-down affairs - namely AC/DC's trio of classics, Highway to Hell (1979), Back in Black (1980), and For Those About to Rock (1981) - it was a multi-layered style that became his trademark, best heard on two mega-hits by Def Leppard, Pyromania (1983) and Hysteria (1987). Other rock acts Lange produced include The Cars (Heartbeat City, 1984), Bryan Adams (Waking Up the Neighbours, 1991), and of course, Foreigner (4, 1981).
Songfacts: Could you give an example of a song you were happy with what Mutt did, and a song that you felt he was misdirecting the band with?

Lou: There are little bits and pieces of a number of songs that we did major head butting, but there was definitely disagreements in style. Mick was co-producing, so he had his own quirky things that he wanted to keep intact for this band, and Mutt was sometimes heading in a very cool direction, production-wise. And sometimes, it had been blatantly done already by him a number of times, and I just didn't want to add another number to that.

Songfacts: How would you compare Mick and Mutt as producers?

Lou: Mutt has some real interesting and brash arrangement ideas, and I think Mick, while his arrangements are excellent, I think they're a little more classic in style. No less imagination - just a slightly different approach.

Those are his different styles, and we made them work. As you can see on those albums, from one song to the next it's a pretty extreme difference.

Songfacts: You can certainly say Mick is an underrated producer, because even to this day, when you hear Foreigner songs on the radio, they stand out.

Lou: Yeah, I think they do. And I think his approach is the same approach we use when writing the songs: we try to make things simple, catchy, and timeless.

Songfacts: What did you think about music videos?

Lou: I liked them. I wasn't particularly thrilled with the ones that we did - I think that they could have been a little more interesting. We had good directors and good producers, but I was a little disappointed in the lack of imagination.

Songfacts: Looking back, was it easy or difficult for Foreigner to make the transition into the music video age?

Lou: The thing that wasn't lost on me was that by the time music videos had really reached their stride, most of our big, big hits were already in the past.

Songfacts: What are memories of filming the video for "I Want to Know What Love Is"?

Lou: That was exciting. I think it brought the song home with the pictures of the gospel choir and people doing their own thing during the day, and how it all seemed to come together at the end. I thought it was pretty touching.

Songfacts: Future plans?

Lou: I've got a number of songs written. I think at some point towards the end of the fall, just for the sake of having a little fun and doing something, we might privately release an EP. I honestly think that for groups of our ilk, there's no place to go with an album these days.

August 18, 2015
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