Powerhouse vocalist/songwriter Lou Gramm is best known as the lead vocalist and co-writer with the multi-platinum selling band Foreigner. He is a successful solo artist in his own right and remains one of the most recognizable performers in music today.
Gramm is the vocalist on 20 Top 40 singles, which continue to drive sales of nearly 80 million albums worldwide. He exploded onto the international music scene with Foreigner on the chart topper, “Feels Like the First Time,” in 1977. The stats are impressive – Eight top 5 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and five top five albums on the Billboard Top Album Chart in the U. S. alone!
Even though Gramm survived the removal of a non-cancerous tumor, the after affects of the disease took its toll on his overall health. He split from Foreigner in 2002 because of rifts with band mate Mick Jones, but in 2004 returned to the music scene with a new band and a dynamic live show featuring 90 minutes of his own unique brand of rock ‘n roll.
Whether they are rocking out on classics like “Hot Blooded” or “Juke Box Hero,” or rolling out a new extended groove on Gramm’s massive solo hit, “Midnight Blue,” Lou and his band have been pleasing enthusiastic audiences since January of 2004 with a show that captures the essence of Gramm’s talent. Making up The Lou Gramm Band are brothers, Richard Grammatico on bass and guitar and Ben Grammatico on drums, guitarist Don Mancuso, and keyboardist Andy Knoll.
The Lou Gramm Band is releasing their first Christian album on June 2, 2009.
Lou Gramm spoke with Our Prattville publisher on the telephone on May 14:
Happy belated birthday, I think it was the 2nd, right?
Yes it was.
Did you do anything special?
Just spent time with the family. That’s special enough.
I listened to the single (“So Great”) off of your new Christian album and it is really great.
Oh, thank you so much.
Yes, I loved the a cappella ending.
Yeah, that really gave me the chills when I first heard that.
Was that your idea?
It was my idea, yep.
It really sounds good.
You mention “single vision” in the song so I have to ask…does that have anything to do with “double vision?”
It absolutely does.
Please tell me about it.
“Double Vision” was a song that was written in about late 1978 just before the “Double Vision” album came out. And it’s a song that Mick Jones and I wrote and although a lot of people think it’s about being intoxicated or being high…when we were recording that song before we had the title, the New York Rangers hockey team was playing the Philadelphia Flyers and one of the big Flyers guys bumped into the Rangers’ all-star goalie and knocked him down and they had to take him out of the game because he was experiencing double vision.
So that’s where the title came from.
So what is the reference to “single vision” in the single (“So Great”)?
I just think that someone who has a single vision means that they know what they want to do and are very determined.
There is also a song on the album called “Single Vision.”
Yes there is and I see no problem with the title of one song being in the lyrics of another song. I think it interweaves in a good way.
How much more thought goes into writing Christian songs than say, goes into writing “Hot Blooded” or something like that?
It really depends. I know that some songs, whether they are just a rock song or a Christian song, just flow right out of you and you’ve got to keep up with your own ideas by writing things down or by using a recorder of some sort to get your ideas down. And then some things you struggle with and you never quite get them the way that you want to and others you may struggle with but then you have a huge breakthrough and it feels real good when you complete them. So, there are a lot of different efforts and thoughts that go into songs and I do think that I was getting a tremendous amount of satisfaction as I completed each song.
As a Christian, how do you feel about singing some of the Foreigner songs with maybe some questionable lyrics? Do you have a problem with that?
Well, it is how I make a living. We try to weed out the ones that are overly suggestive and on the other ones I just kind of close my eyes and get through it.
Do you enjoy working with your brothers?
Oh very much.
Are you the oldest?
I’m the middle brother.
Oh okay. So they don’t take orders from you, huh? (laughs)
They team up on me. (laughs)
Your parents were also involved in the music business, right?
They were. My dad, right out of high school, was a big band leader and my mom was the singer in that band. That’s how they met and fell in love.
That’s a nice romantic story. How’s your health now?
My health continues to improve after twelve years after my operation and some pretty steep ups and downs…not so many ups, mostly downs. I thought I never would be feeling better. I had to turn in my license because I developed Type 2 Diabetes, I developed Sleep Apnea…you know, it was just nonstop. And all of the other little things that came along with the brain tumor.
Does it still affect your stamina like when you perform on stage?
It did, but it doesn’t affect it so much that I’m in trouble. My older brother Ben is a drummer and he does a drum solo. During the drum solo I go backstage and I have some oxygen and that kind of invigorates me again to finish the set with a lot of energy.
You’re still on medication?
I’m on a ton of medication. I will be probably for the rest of my life.
That must have been so traumatic for you, both mentally and physically, to be in a successful band for years and then you are diagnosed with a brain tumor.
I thought I was in a bad dream, really. I just couldn’t figure out…then the doctors one day did the first MRI and determined that I was born with this tumor, and that it finally at age 47 grew to a point where it started to interfere with my life.
It is odd. And the other thing was that I couldn’t get anybody to operate on it. They have some fantastic doctors and surgeons right here in Rochester, New York, and they suggested I go to this other surgeon in Manhattan and I went to him with my MRIs and he said he would operate but he would be upfront with me and told me that my chance of survival was less than 50-50. So, I went home extremely upset and I happened to be watching 20/20 one night and they had an article about Dr. Black in Boston and he is the purveyor of laser surgery. He is now able to operate on previously inoperable brain tumors. That’s really what the article was about.
That’s quite a breakthrough.
Yeah and he’s a brain surgeon and at the end of the segment they gave the phone number to his office and I called the next morning and told them my situation and they said they had an opening (this was Tuesday morning) Thursday and could I come to the hospital today. So, that Tuesday I packed up my stuff, my MRIs, and everything else that they needed and went to Boston. So that Thursday starting at about 5:30 in the morning, there was the seventeen hour operation.
Well, they didn’t give you too long to think about it between Tuesday and Thursday.
I tell you what, when they had me in pre-op at about 4:00 in the morning, I was so deep in prayer that even when they gave me the sedative to put me to sleep and they were wheeling me to the operating room, I went under as I was praying.
So your faith got you through all of that?
I think it did and I was very happy to be alive and that the operation was a success but all of my problems were just beginning.
How long did it take you to get back where you felt comfortable performing?
Well, the operation was in April and because Foreigner had commitments I was performing that August. I knew it was way to early because I couldn’t remember the words to any of the songs and they all had to be written down in big marker pens and taped to the floor. I didn’t know I had Sleep Apnea then, but I was getting more and more fatigued.
It was just too much too soon.
Yes, it really was. I got a little better and a little better but it wasn’t until I went to a Sleep Apnea clinic that they determined I was getting about less than five percent REM sleep. That’s critical.
Have you had any contact with Mick Jones since the last breakup?
No not really, that was in 2002 I believe. My mom and dad both passed away in 2004 within months of each other and he came up to the funeral and was charming the pants off of everybody, but didn’t say a word to me.
Well, at the end of 2002 when we were still working together we went to a “Night at the Proms” in Europe – they have a big symphony orchestra and a rock rhythm section. They have one musician and a singer of all of these hits come out and do their versions of their songs orchestrated. So, that was a lot of fun. And, at that time, Mick was saying that he was clean and sober and that he had his own AA group that he was the chairperson of.
Well, he was making so many mistakes while we were up there…we had our assistant tour manager go to put some bottled water in his room and he found a big bottle of vodka in his freezer. Unfortunately he had fallen off of the wagon and was also doing other things, too. He was a pretty big embarrassment in front of 18-20,000 people and we were on with people like the Pointer Sisters. As we were singing the finale of the concert all together on stage, he would be grabbing her and she would be slapping his hand down. He would be laughing about it. He was just gone.
Foreigner’s manager was there and at that point I said if Mick didn’t go right back to rehab from here that I didn’t think I could be a part of it anymore. So, the manager and I both talked to Mick and the manager set up his rehab for a month. When we all left after the last show, Mick never went. So, that was the end of it right there.
That’s a shame.
It was a kind of a sad ending but it really freed me to pursue what I wanted to pursue and so that’s when I got my brothers and my friends and we went out as The Lou Gramm Band and started playing Foreigner hits and hits from my solo album. But I already had the seed of a Christian rock album planted in my heart and it was growing rapidly and even though my brothers and my friends believe in God they were a little skeptical about what I wanted to do. But they jumped on board and as soon as we started writing songs and they heard the lyrics and that the music could be very powerful also, I think that it moved them. They are really loving it now.
Mick wrote “I Want to Know What Love is,” right?
Well, you know what, I spent about eighteen hours a day for about two weeks with him writing…we were writing “I Want to Know What Love is.” And after it was all recorded and Mick and I got together and started to figure out…you know, at the end of the album sessions when you’re done recording, you sit down with the person who wrote with you and you figure out what the percentage is of each song and that gets sent in and that’s how you collect your royalties, etc.
So, all of this time, with all of my ideas and all of my melodies and everything that I helped him with on that song he presented me a piece of paper that said he thought he should get 95% and me 5%. I had it 60% to Mick and 40% to myself…and he laughed at me when he saw that. When I saw his I couldn’t believe it and he said, either that or nothing. I said, I don’t want anything Mick.
Obviously that song became huge and I know for a fact that he’s made millions of dollars off of it and people re-record it and re-record it again and again. That’s one of the times that Mick showed his true colors and pulled rank. We could have sat down in front of a mediator and talked about who did what on that song, but the reality of it is he wanted that song to be his signature song and was determined to cut me out of any piece of it.
I always thought it was a Christian song. Am I wrong?
It definitely has Christian overtones.
I know most people thought it was about romantic love.
Yes, that’s the way he wrote it. My contributions were swaying it toward the Christian way and he was willing to accept that to a certain point. He wanted it to be all things to all people.
What do you think about Kelly Hansen as a singer?
I think he’s a good singer, but I think that Mick, more or less, insists that he listen to me and do the nuances that I used to do on songs. Although his voice doesn’t sound like mine all of the little inflections and tail offs and this and that, he sounds like he’s listened to them over and over again and copied them.
Yes, I know a lot of people say that he sounds like you.
You know, nobody could really sound that much alike.
Who are your favorite singers? Did you have someone you tried to emulate when you first started out?
John Lennon for sure, Marvin Gaye, Steve Marriott, and Paul Rodgers.
I heard that maybe Wilson Pickett…
Wilson Pickett, too. I sure liked the way he sang.
Well, you know, he was born right here in Prattville where I am now.
Yeah, they are going to honor him soon by, I don’t know, either naming a street after him or a park or something.
What a voice he had!
I think he lived here until he was about sixteen or so.
That’s a piece of trivia I never would have guessed.
I’m in Prattville, right outside of the capitol city of Montgomery. I’m sure you’ve been to Montgomery before.
Could I tell you a little story about that?
The last time I was in Montgomery was Foreigner’s first tour. When our concert ended there were fights outside of the auditorium and it developed into (I don’t think it was racial) forty or fifty people fighting each other and eventually they had about fifteen or twenty police cars and dogs there. It just shocked me so much. I wasn’t used to seeing that. Somebody either had too much to drink or their tempers were turned on or whatever. It was pretty wild.
I don’t know what started that…maybe drinking…
Or dancing with somebody else’s woman. (laughs)
What do you do when you’re not writing or performing?
I’m a muscle car fanatic. That’s my full time hobby. And I’ve been into muscle cars since I’ve been old enough to drive. I have about four or five nice ones and they have cruise night here during the summer where everyone meets at a certain parking lot where there’s a restaurant and you may have fifty or sixty muscle cars and everybody gets burgers and pop and looks at each other’s cars. It’s a real fun thing to do.
I have nine year old twins, a boy and a girl, and I have two older boys, 29 and 25. The older ones – one is a sushi chef and has his own restaurant, and the other one works on the computer for a car company. But, the young twins, Natalie and Joe, they are musicians through and through. Joe takes drum lessons and banjo lessons and Natalie takes piano and violin. We’re in the car all of the time singing together. It’s wonderful.
You live in Rochester, New York?
Yes I do.
You were born there?
I was and I auditioned for Foreigner in 1976 and when I was accepted into the band I moved to Westchester, New York about forty five miles north of the city.
You were in Foreigner for 25 years?
Yeah, about 25, maybe a little more than that.
Do you have a favorite Foreigner song?
I like “Head Games,” I like “Juke Box Hero.” I like “Urgent.” There are some that hardly anybody’s heard that I like, you know? (laughs) There’s a quick story that I’d love to tell.
It must have been in the mid 90s, one late night when Foreigner was on tour. We were driving from city to city and it must have been like two or three in the morning. We pulled off of the highway to a 7-Eleven and everybody got out of the bus but Mick. He was asleep in his bunk. So, we all went in and we bought snacks and bottled water, etc. We got back on the bus and we left.
Later in the morning came and we were still a hundred miles outside of our destination. Mick’s brother, Kevin, who was our tour manager, started to wake everybody up. He went to wake Mick up, pulled back the covers, and nobody was there. So, what had happened was…when we were coming out of the 7-Eleven on one side of the bus to get in, he had woken up and gone out around the other side of the bus, and as we pulled away he was in the store…no wallet, no money, no cell phone. He tried to use the phone in the 7-Eleven and he told the owner of the 7-Eleven that he was with Foreigner and that they accidentally left him so every customer that came in the owner would go “hey that guy’s from Foreigner and they left him.” (laughs)
So, just about the time that we discovered he was gone, Kevin on his cell phone got a call from his mother in England and she said “you left Mick back at the 7-Eleven.” We had stopped at the 7-Eleven three and a half hours earlier but we turned around and went three and a half hours back and picked him up. By the time we turned around and went back again we had just enough time to get our clothes on and go on stage.
That is a funny story. (laughs) Well, in addition to the new album, do you have any new performances anywhere?
We still go out as The Lou Gramm Band and play the Foreigner hits and the solo album hits so we can exist pretty much. But, we’re starting to garner interest from the Christian community which is where we were aiming for and we’re hoping that we’ll start to get some shows or maybe hook up with a tour of some sort. But, no Christian shows yet and about a half a dozen shows that we’ll play the old stuff. Where are you located?
I’m in Alabama, in Prattville.
I think the closest we are to you is…
No, I don’t think we have Birmingham that I know about. We have Texas and Georgia…Sacramento, Pendleton, Ohio…Caracas, Venezuela, is that close?
I think Georgia is a little closer.
Then next week we’re doing Edmonton and Calgary.
Well, we’d love to have you in Alabama.
I would love it.
It was great talking to you, Lou.
I wish you great success on the album.
I appreciate that a lot.
And great success in your life, whatever you continue doing.
Thanks so much. Thanks for your time.
Thank you, Lou. Bye.
Interview by Melissa Parker
© 2009 Our Prattville. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.