ELDE8J_XkAAA6qi-danified-enhance-2.1x-faceai copyWith over 80 million albums sold, as many Billboard top-ten hits as Fleetwood Mac, and eligibility for over two decades, Foreigner has finally received their first Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nomination in 2024.

The classic rock band, founded by Mick Jones in 1977 with hits like “Cold As Ice” and “I Want to Know What Love Is”, has puzzlingly been excluded from the Hall, which original singer Lou Gramm attributes to a personal “vendetta” rather than merit.

 

But with support from fellow nominees and an industry push, Foreigner’s perseverance may pay off with potential induction, taking a major step closer to the music world’s highest honor

“We’ve waited 22 years for this to happen, not thinking it would ever happen. It’s kind of ironic that my old friend Peter Frampton who I used to work with back in the early 70’s has also been nominated. He’s very pleased and we’re very pleased so we’re very competitive about how many votes we get to make sure we’re inducted into the Hall of Fame.”

Wills was a member of Peter Frampton’s Camel in the early to mid-70s and his time with Frampton yielded a co-writing credit on one of Frampton’s biggest hits. About his time with Frampton, Wills explained how it introduced him to the American music scene.
Wills explained, “When Peter Frampton left Humble Pie in 1971, he asked me to help him out on his solo album. The one thing I wanted to do more than anything with Peter was come to America. My friends in Humble Pie said, “Rick, when you get to The States, you’re not going to believe how hard you’re going to work to get up that ladder, to make it. You’ve got to do every show there is going. So, when I joined Peter, we had to start from the bottom again. I don’t know how many tours we did, but it was a lot. I was away from England for three months at a time, and my wife hardly ever saw me. My daughter was born and I didn’t see her until she was three months old.”

Speaking about the band’s reaction to finally being nominated, Wills said, “The one thing I feel satisfied about is we’re finally being recognized for the work we’ve done with Foreigner. Each member, Mick, Lou, Dennis, Al, Ian who’s not with us anymore, unfortunately. We’re so relieved in a way to be entering into something that we hoped for, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, because I think we’ve earned it, I really do.”

“We’ve sold 80 million records worldwide, we had 16 top 30 hits, we’ve done everything we could possibly do, but obviously, we’re honored to be at last, nominated for this Hall of Fame.”

Speaking of the current band’s success carrying on the music, Wills praised the musicians saying, “They’ve done more than an incredible job because what people don’t realize is, people say they’re a cover band, that’s not true. They are put there mainly by Mick Jones, and we all agree who should be put there in that band by the quality of their playing, the quality of their singing, and the care they take in reproducing the music. They are happy as Hell to do it because they love what we’ve done, and they have a great catalog of music to choose from to do their shows.”

“If you put it all together, Kelly Hansen as frontman, Bruce Watson on guitar, Chris Frazier on drums, Michael Bluestein on keys, Luis Maldonado and Jeff Pilson on bass and as musical director, they’ve done a fantastic job of keeping that name not only alive but building up to a point where they’re selling out shows all the time.”

Wills joined Foreigner in 1979 when original bassist Ed Gagliardi left the band. The story of how he came to audition and become a member of Foreigner is a somewhat remarkable chain of events which he was happy to tell the story of. According to Wills, it all began with the sudden success of Peter Frampton’s “Frampton Come Alive” album.

“I co-wrote Do You Feel Like We Do with Peter Frampton. It was the first song we wrote together, and then later, a song called Doobie Wah, which was a tribute to The Doobie Brothers who we played many shows with on the west coast of America and who we loved as people and musicians. When Peter released the live album in 76, it went ballistic, it just took off. I was at home in London having just finished my work with Small Faces and I called Peter and asked, “What’s going on?” He said, “Rick, it’s just gone nuts. Call Dee (Anthony).”

“Dee was Peter’s manager, and we knew each other well. I called him up and said, “Dee, I think I’m owed some money” and he said, “Rick, you’re owed a lot of money, you need to get your ass over here.” So, I did, I went to New York and stayed with my friend Jerry Shirley, longtime friend and drummer of Humble Pie, and I was there for a couple of days before I went to see Dee at his office on Park Avenue.”

“I went in and sat down and said, “Dee, tell me what’s happening?” He said, “Rick, it’s just gone crazy. There’s so much money and accounting to be settled. How are you doing financially?” Not well at all, I said, I’m pretty broke to be honest. He said, “Well I can help you out. I’m going to write you a cheque for cash.” He wrote me a cheque for $35,000.00 that day. That was more money than I had ever seen in my life up to that point.”

“So, I go to the bank underneath his office on Park Avenue and go up to the teller and ask, “Can I cash this cheque?” And she looks at me and starts laughing. She said, “Rick, you’re in New York, you realize that?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “I can’t give you $35,000.00 and let you walk out that door. You could get mugged!” She told me to put the money in a deposit box and she’d give me a key and when I need money, come in and take cash out. It was great advice because I was over the moon about all this money coming in. Jerry and I partied for the next couple of days, let’s put it that way.”

“During that time of partying, he had heard through the grapevine that Ed Gagliardi was leaving Foreigner, and they were auditioning bass players. So, I asked Jerry to find Mick’s number. I knew Mick from 1967 when I was in Paris with David Gilmour. I called him and said, “I’m in New York, I want to audition for the band.” He asked, “Do you know our stuff?” I said, “I bought both 8 tracks and I’ve had them in the car for two years now. I know your stuff very well, it’s great!” He said, “I’m going to organize it. We’re rehearsing at S.I.R. Studios. Do you have your bass with you?” I said, “No, I know you have some Fender basses I could use.” So, he said sure.”

“I walked in and saw Mick and gave him a big hug. He took me into the studio to meet the guys and they said, “What do you want to do?” I said, you tell me what you want to do and they said alright, Double Vision. So, we did it, sounded great, did Hot Blooded, sounded great, Cold as Ice, great.”

“Dennis Elliott, the drummer, who I thought was terrific, got off his drum kit and walked down to where I was playing and said “Mick, I want him in the band. He’s just right for us.” Mick said, “Whoa, Dennis, we’ve got 70 bass players to audition. Do you realize how many people want this job?” Dennis said, “I don’t care, I want him.”

“I said, what do I do next? He said to come back in 10 days, and we’ll go over all the vocals together and work on the different arrangements because it’s quite complex, Foreigner’s music, it’s not that straightforward. So, I did that, and that went great. And they said you’re definitely in there, you’ve just got to be patient because we still have other bass players to try.”

“In the meantime, back in England was my wife and we had two young children, five and 18 months, and both of them came down with chickenpox and my wife said, “Rick, I can’t cope. I want you to come home.” I said, “How can I come home when this is happening around me? This is the biggest opportunity in life I’ve ever had.” She said please, so I did go back to London, and I was home for one whole night and the next morning at 8:00 am the phone rang and it was Mick Jones and he asked me how I was feeling and I said, “Pretty rough” and he said, “Well you have to feel pretty good because you just got the job with Foreigner.”

“I said, “What do you want me to do?” He said, “You have to come back to New York.” I said “When?” And he said “Today.” I said, “OK, what do I do?” He said, “Go to Heathrow, go to British Airways, there’s a ticket for you.”

“So, I did exactly that and walked up to the counter and said, “My name is Richard Wills, I have a ticket to New York I believe.” She said, “Oh Mr. Wills, we’re so sorry, but The Concorde is full today.” The Concorde? You’ve got to be joking! I don’t do Concorde, I sit in the back of the plane in economy, that’s where I belong!” She said, “Not today you don’t. But I’ll tell you what we can do. We can put you in first class on a 747. Would you mind?” I’d never been in first class in my life at that point. There was a lounge above first class, and I went up there and told the crew why I was going to New York, and they said, well, I think we should have a drink and I said I agree. By the time I was in New York, I was feeling no pain, just joy, thinking there was no way I was going to work that day.”

“One of the road crew was waiting for me and said, “Rick, I’m taking you straight to rehearsals. I said, “Oh no, I’ve had too much to drink! I said, “Take me to the first coffee shop that you can and get me some black coffee, strong as hell.” I needed to straighten up because I knew what I was going to be asked to do. I had to go in all guns blazing and it worked out great. We went straight into the songs we were going to record, Dirty White Boy, Head Games, and they sounded terrific.”

At the time of Wills’ hiring, Foreigner was about to go into the studio to record their third album, Head Games. The first two albums, Foreigner and Double Vision had huge sales. It was a tough act to follow. Wills remembers the experience of his first album and tour with the band, “What they wanted to do with this next album was beef up the bottom end. It gave them a more ballsy sound, and it worked. Roy Thomas Baker was our producer on that album, and he did a great job. I loved the sound of that album; I’ve got to be honest. It didn’t do as well as the first two albums, but I think it had to do with the album cover more than anything. A lot of people took offense to a young girl being in the men’s room trying to rub her name off the wall. It didn’t make much sense to me because it should be about the music, not the cover. We toured all year, we did all of Europe and Japan, places I’d never been to before.”

After the relatively poor sales of Head Games, there were more changes in store for Foreigner. Mick Jones was relentless in his pursuit of excellence, and he wasn’t going to rest until he was satisfied. Enlisting the genius of producer Mutt Lange who recently had a huge success producing AC/DC’s Back in Black, the album took 10 months to record and was over-budget, but it became Foreigner’s crowning achievement.

On the recording of Foreigner 4, Wills reflects, “We knew we had to do something really special to get back up to the sales of the first two albums. Mick and Lou decided that things had to change. Ian and Al were pushed aside so to speak, which upset them terribly and rightly so, but it was a difficult decision that Mick made. He would go to England regularly and check out the music scene. It was a very different thing going on, a lot of keyboard stuff going on and he wanted to experiment more. He wanted the four of us, Dennis, Mick, Lou, and myself as the music makers, but bring in people to texture the songs to what Mick heard. Mick and Lou together were such a strong writing team, they wrote some great songs.”

“He had a vision of how it was going to go, and we worked with Mutt Lange on that album. He was a powerhouse; we knew what he’d done with Def Leppard and AC/DC. It was at times tough because Mick had his vision and Mutt had his and they used to clash quite regularly, but they made it work together, we all stuck at it. There was a lot of re-writing going on. The first track was Waiting for a Girl Like You. We did that in two takes. I thought wow, get this done in an hour. No way. Almost a year later, we’re still in the studio, still doing rewrites. Mutt wanted an anthem. He wanted a “Juke Box Hero” that we didn’t have at the time, but it came. He wanted something radically different. On Urgent, we had Junior Walker come in and play sax solo. It was different for Foreigner, but it was also very exciting to do something different.”

“I was kind of worried when we released the album, but the first single was Urgent, and it went up the charts and we followed it with Waiting For a Girl Like You. We were ready to tour and brought Mark Rivera and Bob Mayo along for the tour. We had a great band and the fans loved it. That year was crazy. I don’t think we ever hit the heights of 4 again, but we had some very big albums. Agent Provocateur and Inside Information were both successful and they were good.”

A lot of credit goes to the current band for keeping Foreigner’s music alive decades after their biggest albums. Although the current members aside from Mick Jones aren’t being nominated, they’ll most likely be there in some capacity should the band get inducted, most likely supporting the classic lineup in a performance.

Wills remembers when Lou Gramm first left the band. “To replace Lou Gramm as a vocalist is not easy. He may not have been the best frontman, but he sure had one of the best voices. It was tricky, we tried one or two other people out, in fact, we very nearly hired John Waite. We worked with him for a week, and I thought it was terrific.”

“Jason Bonham, who was in the band in later years said to Mick, “We’ve got to put this back together. We need to do it like it should be, how Foreigner was, a band that worked as a unit.” Through his connections and Jeff Pilson, they mentioned this guy Kelly Hansen in L.A. They said, “You’ve got to check him out, he’s got a voice you won’t believe, and he looks great too and he’s a wonderful frontman.” “He’s also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. He and I have been such good friends now since I first entered their world. He takes it so seriously about doing it right. I respect that, and I admire him for how he works so hard on the stage but never comes across as “I’m a big star” kind of vibe. He’s not like that, Kelly’s a real person and he’s wonderful with the audience.”

Fan voting runs until April 26 at vote.rockhall.com/. You can cast votes daily for up to seven nominees.

As seen in the March 2024 issue:

 

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