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Sat11172018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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.

Published in Previews

I’m always fascinated by people who find ways to change their lives and pursue their dreams.

Leanna Bonamici, 58, of Palm Springs, is a great example of such a person.

After a career in insurance and real estate, Leanna became a wine consultant, buyer and educator, teaching classes on how to have “wine-pairing dinners.”

“It was a very engaging subject,” she says. “I loved it. People would say, ‘I have to impress my boss.’ I always told them that the best bottle of wine in the world is the one that’s your favorite!

“But after 10 years, I wanted to do more. I was interested in how to reach the masses of people who aren’t really into wine.”

Growing up in Los Angeles, Leanna had wanted to be a producer—organizing projects and seeing them come to fruition. “I wanted to be behind the scenes. For years, I carried around the UCLA extension catalog, and I finally took classes in production. I’ve always loved that side of things. Anybody can have a great idea, but how do you monetize it?”

Leanna wrote to various show business experts, asking them questions about getting into the production side. “I especially contacted women in the industry. They were very congenial and helpful,” she says.

While working for an independent producer, Leanna attended a production-related event in San Diego, put on by the San Diego Film Commission and the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. “There were world leaders in the industry, and I knew after that what I wanted to do. I got a day job with a fundraising organization, putting on events to raise money from people in the entertainment industry. Putting on events is production—you have to know where every fire is and how to put it out.”

Leanna came to the Coachella Valley in 1998 when her mom died, and her dad got sick. She committed to being his full-time caretaker. Her first “job” here was volunteering for the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

“While my dad was healing,” says Leanna, “he came up with a plan to pay off the national debt! So when he read about possible bankruptcy in Desert Hot Springs, he devised a plan to help the city. In the process of speaking about it at a council meeting, someone stood up and said, ‘I’ve got a local TV show, and I’ll put you on the air.’ So I thought, ‘I can work with them and produce a wine show.’”

When Leanna learned that a post-office building in DHS was becoming available, “I was asked if I could turn the building into a studio for local producers to use.” She made a deal to buy the building. “For the next 10 months, our entire family transformed the building into a production facility for rent by others, including post-production capability. Then I began developing projects of my own.”

Leanna produced a documentary about the mineral waters of DHS, and a television series about restaurants, Two Forks Up, both of which aired locally. She also produced a feature film which, she says smiling, “is still awaiting distribution.”

Leanna’s most visible current project is Shorts Showcase, featuring short films from around the world, which runs on PBS stations throughout Southern California. “I was thinking about this project for a long time,” she says. “I especially love the documentaries. They’re real stories and history.”

Leanna is now partnering with Palm Desert resident Carole Krechman on the CV Studios Entertainment Network. “We’re building a network for premium content—no gore, violence, or porn. We just want good product,” Leanna says.

One new show is Cooking It Up With Karly, featuring 11-year-old Karly Smith, a talented youngster who demonstrates healthy food alternatives for young people and their families. Another is the 30-minute weekly series The Real Desert, featuring desert resident/historian Steve Brown.

Leanna was a founder of the Palm Springs Women in Film and Television chapter in 2001. “We bring together women and men connected to the entertainment industry, as well as raise money for scholarships that support interested young people.”

Leanna’s hope for the CV Studios Entertainment Network includes support for the development initiative articulated by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership that focuses on creative arts and design as one of its core sectors for economic development.

Leanna is also supportive of the performing arts pathway being offered by Rancho Mirage High School. “I love the idea of having that here,” she says, “but there are not enough jobs. We need to back up those students by building good production facilities locally.”

If money were no object, what would Leanna be doing? “I love what we’re building with network and production capabilities. However, if I had total freedom, I would still be producing, but I’d do the wine documentaries I’ve always wanted to do. I want to tell those stories, reaching the broadest audience possible—and I’d be doing it for the fun of it as well!”

As for pursuing one’s dreams, I finally graduated college at 59, then got a law degree, and just completed a master’s degree in Education. Like Leanna, I believe it’s never too late to change your life.

What are you waiting for?

Published in Know Your Neighbors