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11 Oct 2018

The Flame Still Burns: Foreigner Celebrates 40 Years at Agua Caliente With Help From the Original Lineup

Written by 
Foreigner. Foreigner. Karsten Staiger

When I called Thom Gimbel of Foreigner to discuss the band’s upcoming show at Agua Caliente Casino, he was upfront about his drinking problem. In fact, he confessed that he had already started that morning.

“For a while, I was up to about two or three smoothies a day,” Gimbel said. “I was going to a bar every night … the salad bar. I was a mess. But now I’ve switched to Martinelli’s sparkling cider, so I’m doing OK.”

Kidding aside, Foreigner is one of the greatest rock bands of all time. The group has sold 80 million records, and although only one original member remains with the band—guitarist Mick Jones—Foreigner remains in high demand.

The show at Agua Caliente on Saturday, Nov. 10, will be special for several reasons. First, the current lineup will be joined by some of the surviving original members. Second, the Rancho Mirage High School choir will join Foreigner for the classic hit “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and the band will donate $500 to the choir for their appearance. The choir will also help sell CDs to raise money for The Grammy Foundation, which advocates for keeping music education in public schools.

During our recent phone interview, Gimbel, who officially joined the band in 1995, discussed playing with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, a performance Foreigner recorded and released as a live album.

“It was magnificent and nothing short of spectacular because of the size of the choir and the orchestra,” Gimbel said. “The choir alone was 60 to 80 people, and we had this massive orchestra, and we got to work with a conductor. It was a new thing for us. Plus the conductor is a rocker at heart; if you see the DVD, you can tell. He looks like a leftover of the Beatles and was trapped in a conductor’s body. We had such a good time with that. It’s not really a classical rendition; it’s still rock, but we have this icing on the top with strings and horns and vocals.”

Gimbel—who plays the guitar, saxophone and flute with Foreigner—showed an interest in music growing up.

“My parents loved music, and my brothers and sisters did, too,” he said. “My mom is very musical. … As soon as I could get my hands on drums, I was playing a drum set. When I was in fifth-grade, my dad was trying to get me work. He would say, ‘Hey, there’s a band at this bar. Why don’t you come and sit in?’ By the time I got to music college, I had already been in my high school band.”

He went on to study music at the Berklee College of Music.

“Intellectually, it was a dream come true,” Gimbel said. “I was so thirsty for knowledge and wanted to understand how all the chords and scales worked together. They answered all my questions. Then they said, ‘Now go back to being a thinking and feeling musician, and forget all that technical stuff. Play from the heart, and make melody the supreme goal.’ Melody is the absolute in music. You listen to any hit song, and it’s about the words and the melody. I learned that and even more.

“I got to work with some of the most brilliant minds there, and I had a roommate who was a world-class jazz guitarist. It was a great place for the mind to thrive. Professionally, I owe everything I have to Berklee.”

Gimbel bemoaned the weakening state of music education.

“The only thing that seems to remain strong as far as school bands is I always see the colleges having a strong marching or concert band,” he said. “It might be taken away at the elementary or high school level, but for some reason, college bands are really strong. … That’s what gives me hope for the future.”

Gimbel joined Foreigner in 1995—coming directly from being a touring musician with Aerosmith during that band’s wildly successful comeback, from 1989 to 1995.

“I saw a lot of similarities. Here was Steven Tyler and Joe Perry on one side, and then you had Lou Gramm and Mick Jones on the other side,” he said. “There was always this dynamic duo at the helm during those days. It was great, and it’s like having a couple of parents—like a mom and dad figure. I thought the Aerosmith guys would have been a bit more standoffish when it came to saxophone solos, but it was the opposite. They’d be like, ‘Why don’t you do a big giant saxophone solo with the drums?’ When I came to Foreigner, instead of them telling me to keep it down, they were like, ‘No! That’s first gear; then you need to go into second gear and then third gear. Tear the roof off the house with that saxophone.’ They both encouraged their players to take it to the next level, and that’s the sign of great bandleaders.”

Gimbel said the members of Foreigner are happy to still be in high demand.

“It’s kind of humbling to see that people still enjoy this, and we feel honored to be rocking out in this great situation where people want to see Foreigner,” he said. “That’s the ultimate reward for whatever we put into it. It feels like a wonderful treat to hear people tell us, ‘Thanks for keeping this going, and we hope you keep rocking.’ We’ll keep going for as long as people want us to.”

Foreigner will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 10, at The Show at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $75 to $150, with VIP packages available. For tickets or more information, call 888-999-1995, or visit www.hotwatercasino.com.

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