"Cold as Ice" helped to make Foreigner into one of the hottest bands of the '80s. Anthony Mason talks with the man behind the band, lead guitarist Mick Jones, For the Record:
"It feels like the first time,
Feels like the very first time ..."
They seemed to come out of nowhere. We first heard from Foreigner in 1977, when Mick Jones assembled a band of journeymen musicians (three Brits and three Americans), and Foreigner put out their very first record.
What did Jones think when the album took off? "I mean, it was like being at Cape Canaveral!" he laughed. "It was really intense."
For the next decade, they rained hits down on radio -- "Cold As Ice," "Urgent," "Waiting For a Girl Like You," "Hot Blooded" -- selling 80 million records worldwide
But before Foreigner made Mick Jones famous, the British-born guitarist had had a whole other career . . . in France.
"What made you go to France?" asked Mason.
"It was partly that attraction of, wow, what a cool hip place. And their sunglasses are really happening!" he laughed.
As a teenager, he played guitar for French pop star Sylvie Vartan, performing on the same bill as The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.
That got him a gig with rock star Johnny Hallyday -- the French Elvis.
Hallyday and Jones reunited recently at Le Bilbouquet restaurant in New York. Mason asked Hallyday, "Why did you want him?"
"Because in France in that time you didn't have good guitar players," he replied. "And he was one of the best."
Jones would play with Hallyday through the '60s, and also co-write some of his biggest hits. "He wrote something like, maybe, 40 songs for me," said Hallyday.
"I was more industrious than I thought!" said Jones
But Jones still wanted to prove himself in England and America. He was asked to join Gary Wright's band, Spooky Tooth.
Hallyday admits he was upset when Jones left him for Wright, "because I liked him as a friend and I loved him as a guitar player."
But, he added, "You did the right thing. I forgive you now. C'est la vie!"
"That's a big weight off my shoulders!" laughed Jones.
Jones would play in several bands in the '70s, but nothing seemed to catch -- until one night he wrote the first chords of "Feels Like the First Time."
"And suddenly I'm thinking, 'My God, this song's pretty good!'"
"So did you have the song before you had the band?" asked Mason.
"Yeah, yeah. I needed a band!"
And that's how Foreigner was born.
But as it took off, Jones and lead singer Lou Gramm began to fight over the group's direction. They had a lot of disagreements, but according to Jones it wasn't competitive. "Lou considered himself to be just more of a down-and-out rock singer," he said.
Jones says Gramm thought the band's sound was getting too soft: "Especially when we got to 'I Wanna Know What Love is.' Although he sang it like an angel, he sort of disclaimed his affection for the song."
That bothered Jones, and the two would split in 2003.
"I gotta take a little time
A little time to think things over
I better read between the lines
In case I need it when I'm older."
"You know I look back on it now, I can't have been easy to work with in those days," Jones said. "I knew what I wanted -- I was pretty domineering."
"You sound like you have some regrets."
"Yes, I do."
When Jones and Gramm were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame last year, they performed together for the first time in a decade.
"You know, we hugged. And I think it dawned on both of us that, wow, we did do something pretty great together."
"It meant something to you?" Mason asked.
"Oh, big time!"
For the past decade, the guitarist has been leading a new Foreigner. They just released a live album.
- To listen to Mick Jones' intro to a live version of "Hot Blooded," from "The Best of Foreigner 4 & More," click on the link.
But a few years ago, Jones was forced to take a year off.
At the time, he blamed it on a heart valve problem, but now admits it was more than that: "I'd had a virtual nervous breakdown, brought on by a bad prescribing of medication."
In talking about it for the first time, Jones said, "It was a very dark time for me. I literally didn't know where I was anymore. I didn't know who I was. I mean, honestly I never thought I'd play on stage again."
"I lost the ability to play chords briefly, only for a couple of months. And my brother brought a guitar over for me and said, 'You play guitar. Play it. You're a guitarist. Play the guitar, you know.'"
"That must have been terrifying," said Mason.
"Yeah, it was terrifying."
"How do you come back from that?"
"You just somehow try and hold on."
With the help of his family, his four children and three step-children, he did. And Mick Jones, who turned 70 just yesterday, is on the road again.
The "Juke Box Hero" is back.
Mason said, "It must feel pretty good to go out on stage now then?"
"Yeah. It does. Sometimes, I think, yeah, wow. What a gift to have regained."
To hear Foreigner perform "Juke Box Hero," click on the player below.
For more info:
- Mick Jones bio at foreigneronline.com
- Follow @TheMickJones on Twitter
- https://twitter.com/TheMickJones"The Best of Foreigner 4 and More" by Foreigner (Sony); Available via Amazon, iTunes and Spotify
- https://play.spotify.com/artist/6IRouO5mvvfcyxtPDKMYFN?play=true&utm_source=open.spotify.com&utm_medium=openFollow @ForeignerMusic in Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube