FOREIGNER's JEFF PILSON Dismisses 'Cover Band' Accusation: 'I Stand By What We Do A Thousand Percent'

May 5, 2023

In a new interview with "Real Music With Gary Stuckey", FOREIGNER bassist Jeff Pilson addressed the fact that he and his bandmates are often dismissed as a glorified cover band, particularly since founding guitarist Mick Jones no longer regularly tours with the act.

The only remaining original member of FOREIGNER, Jones suffered from some health issues beginning in 2011, eventually resulting in heart surgery in 2012. Ever since, it is never announced whether he will be appearing with the band for specific shows — it just depends how he is feeling.

Asked about criticism from some fans that FOREIGNER without any original members is nothing more than a "cover band," Pilson said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET):"You know what's funny? You see some of that on the Internet, but it's not as pervasive as you think. And I'm actually amazed, because when we play, we get no negative feedback. So, sure, people are gonna say stuff like that online. It only takes one or two people to make it sound like there's a bunch.

"What I tell people is anytime anybody has a problem with the no-original-members thing, I just say, 'You know what? I get it. But come and see the band. And then you tell me whether we do FOREIGNER justice or not.' And I'll stand by what we do a thousand percent."

Joining Jones and Pilson in FOREIGNER's current lineup are Kelly Hansen on vocals, Michael Bluestein on keyboards, Bruce Watson on guitar, Chris Frazier on drums and Luis Maldonado on guitar.

After singer Lou Gramm left FOREIGNER in 2003, Jones took some time off before regrouping a couple years later with an entirely new lineup, featuring Hansen and Pilson, among others.

In 2018, Gramm revealed that he was retiring from touring as a solo artist. The vocalist made the announcement just months after he participated in FOREIGNER's "Double Vision: Then And Now" concerts, which featured current and original members of the band, including Jones, drummer Dennis Elliott, keyboardist Al Greenwood, bassist Rick Wills and guitarist/saxophonist Ian McDonald.

Gramm was the voice on FOREIGNER's biggest hits, including "Feels Like The First Time" and "Cold As Ice" from the band's eponymous debut in 1977, and later songs like "Hot Blooded" and "I Want To Know What Love Is".

FOREIGNER's farewell tour is set to launch on July 6 at Atlanta's Ameris Bank Amphitheatre. For the first leg of the U.S. Live Nation-produced tour, FOREIGNER will be joined by LOVERBOY.

In a recent interview aboard The 80s Cruise, Gramm was asked for his opinion on FOREIGNER's announcement that the band was embarking on its farewell tour. He said: "I think it's a good thing. At this point of the FOREIGNER career, epic career, I think it's run its course. And it's been good years for all involved, especially the band that was FOREIGNER's inception. There were changes in personnel after that while I was still in, and that was a damn good band too. And Mick's choice to keep it going after there were no original members other than himself, that's his option. I can't quite get… I know his health, he's had his ups and downs. And I don't understand how they can be touring with no original members and still calling themselves FOREIGNER and going on for years like that. I guess it's not my business, and maybe it is a business decision for them, but it just doesn't feel right to me."

He added: "Honestly, for years [Mick has] been showing up for half the show or he'd come in the last four or five songs of the set. And apparently lately he's come in for the last song and the encore, and that was it. And then I know there's been many, many shows lately where he's not there at all."

Asked if he would be interested in making a special guest appearance at any of the shows on FOREIGNER's farewell tour, Lou said: "I'm not sure. I'm so at peace with where it is now and how it's ended. And we had our 40th[-anniversary] reunion of one of the albums — the first album or FOREIGNER '4' or 'Double Vision' — we had those. We played some shows with the new band and the old band, and those have been a lot of fun. But just for me to come in and sit in with a band that emotionally doesn't mean that much to me and just play for the memories of it… If there were other members of the original band onstage, I might be inclined to seriously think about it. But to come and guest with the new FOREIGNER, that doesn't appeal to me."

When Goodman noted that Gramm had previously performed with FOREIGNER's current lineup, Lou said: "Yes, when they had the reunion tours. I have not gone to any of the shows and guested myself on stage with the new band — just me. I haven't done that. It's always been with members of the original band with me."

Last October, Gramm was asked during an appearance on SiriusXM's "Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk"what he thinks of Hansen, who has been in the group for nearly two decades. "I think he's a good singer," Lou said. "And he sings those songs okay; he sings them good. But he mimics my style right down to the ad-libs, and I'm offended by that… I just think that if he's gonna sing the songs, he could sing the melodies that are familiar, but when it comes to the ad-libs and all the little things that set me aside as a vocalist when I sing them, he should make his own up. He should have his own ad-libs that are his own; he doesn't have to mimic me."

Gramm's comments echoed those he made a little over two months earlier when he told John Beaudin of about Hansen: "Kelly is all right. He's a good singer. But I think Mick [Jones, FOREIGNER's founding guitarist and leader] really told Kelly, when he first got in the band, that he had to study me, because he sings those songs with the same musical innuendos and vocal licks and ad-libs as I have. He's mimicking me. His voice doesn't sound like me, but he's singing the songs the way I would sing them.

"Some people say, 'Well, take it as a compliment, Lou.' I don't take it as a compliment," Gramm continued. "You're a singer with a big band like that — use your voice and your style. Don't hang your coat on my hook.

"I don't think he should sing the songs verbatim like me," Lou added. "Maybe sing a couple of parts. But let his own influences show — show the fans that he's the new singer now, not me."

Asked what it was like to share the stage with Hansen and other members of the current and original FOREIGNER lineup in 2017 and 2018 to celebrate the band's 40th anniversary, Lou told "It was okay. [Kelly] was bouncing off the walls. He couldn't stand still or sit still. After a song ended, I couldn't even get a word to thank the audience or tell 'em that I was happy to be part of the reunion. At the end of the song, the last song hit, and there wasn't a quarter of a second of space before he was yapping away to the audience… It was, like, 'Jeez, will you quiet down for a minute?'"

Pressed about whether it is "over now" for him and FOREIGNER, Lou said: "I think so, yeah. I don't wanna be a part of it. Well, Ian [McDonald, guitar] has passed away and Ed Gagliardi [bass] passed away, even though he wasn't part of the reunions. Two original members of the six are now gone. And Mick is in very poor health. I think when the new FOREIGNER plays, I've heard that he comes on for one song and then waves and goes offstage. [In the recent past] he would play the whole last half of the set. But then he was in the hospital again for weeks. He had some heart problems and his recovery time was very long and tedious. And I heard that he comes out for one song now — when he comes on. Most of the time FOREIGNER has no original FOREIGNER members in it."

The 73-year-old Gramm has battled health issues in recent years, including the removal of a non-cancerous tumor. He told the Democrat & Chronicle in 2018 that he was planning to retire, but still reunited with FOREIGNER for several shows that year.

Gramm and Jones's June 2013 performance of "I Want To Know What Love Is" and "Juke Box Hero" at the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in New York City marked the first time the pair performed together in a decade after Gramm left FOREIGNER for a second time. Hansen has fronted the group for the past 18 years.

Photo credit: Karsten Staiger

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