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Foreigner, Cheap Trick celebrate 40th anniversaries on tour together

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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When Foreigner and Cheap Trick released their respective, self-titled debut albums in 1977, they had no idea how long their bands would last.

Four decades later, each is still going — and going strong.

“I could never have dreamed this would happen or that we would still have some kind of relevance 40 years later. It’s unbelievable, really,” Foreigner founder Mick Jones, 72, says by phone from Florida. “I wasn’t expecting anything like the reception we got for the first album, even. I thought it was going to be a labor of love for the next few years to establish myself.

“I certainly hadn’t set my sights past that. So what’s happened has been ... yeah, unbelievable, really.”

Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen, 68, adds that, “It’s like the one song, ‘Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School’ — ‘I’m 30 but I feel 16,’ ’cause I still feel like I’m 16 — until I look in the mirror. I better update those lyrics, huh?”

Both debut albums got the bands off to significant career starts. “Foreigner” was an instant smash, the first of five Top 5, multiplatinum studio albums that launched hits such as “Feels Like The First Time” and “Cold As Ice.” It was a successful gamble for the British-born Jones, a journeyman who had come out of playing with Spooky Tooth and Leslie West to form Foreigner with a group of British and American musicians, including former King Crimson member Ian McDonald and upstart singer Lou Gramm — though lineup changes over the years left Jones as the only original member, and a part-timer at that.

“It was definitely more of an album-oriented world at the time,” Jones said, “so to me the important thing was writing an album people could listen to from the beginning to the end. The singles were sort of highlights, the songs that attracted people’s attention more immediately. But my heart was more into making albums.”

Foreigner was tagged as “corporate rock” at the time, much like peers such as Boston and Journey. Jones, however, took solace in “the sales of albums and the amount of people who bought them,” as well as his own confidence in Foreigner’s mission.

“We were fighting upstream a lot,” he acknowledges. “We came out at a difficult time — the dawn of punk and the height of disco mania, and we were just a simple, straight-ahead rock band with some cool songs. But I was always confident in the music, and I put my heart and soul into everything we did, so I had to really sort of ignore that kind of wanton dismissal by the critics.”

Foreigner is actively embracing its 40th anniversary this year. It released a compilation, “Foreigner 40,” that includes the new song “Give My Life For Love,” while Gramm, McDonald and original keyboardist Al Greenwood reunited during the group’s July 20 show in Wantagh, N.Y. Jones will publish an autobiography, “A Foreigner’s Tale,” later this year, and there are plans to push for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in the near future.

“That would be nice, but we were never a critics’ darling, so I think it’s an uphill climb for us there,” Jones says. “But I’m quite happy with what I’ve achieved, and the songs speak for themselves. So whether it happens or not, I’m a happy man.”

Cheap Trick, which didn’t break big until its fourth album, the live “At Budokan” in 1979, is more active than ever at this juncture.

The quartet, which was inducted into the Rock Hall last year, has released two albums in two years — including the new “We’re All Alright!” — and has a Christmas album slated for release this fall. Nielsen says circumstances were right for his band to be prolific once again.

“We have a record company that believes in us and ... we like the work and they’re letting us make more records, which is cool,” he explains. “And we had a lot of material. We always do write, and it’s more fun to write for a project or write for a reason

“I’ve got so many songs laying around, most of them not finished because there was never any big clamor for a Cheap Trick album. And now that we get asked to, it it’s like, ‘Yeah, holy cow!’ We start working really hard and we all work together on it. It’s really fun.”

The prospect of another new album in 2018 is plausible, too. In fact, Cheap Trick was in the studio during May, working on more material.

“There’s stuff around and there’s some ideas that never did get fleshed out, which we hope to.” Nielsen says. “It’s exciting.”

• If You Go: Foreigner, Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience perform at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11 in DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75. Tickets are $29.95-$99.95 pavilion, $29.95 lawn with a $90 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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