Get ready. Foreigner, the ever-present rock titan, passes through Louisiana one last time.
Chances are you know many of their songs, even if you don’t know you know them. Haunting the airwaves in the 70s and 80s – along with other giants like Styx, Boston, Kansas, REO Speedwagon et. al — they churned out a relentless string of polished, powerful and oh-so-rocking No. 1 hits.
“Cold As Ice,” “Hot Blooded,” “Feels Like the First Time,” “Juke Box Hero,” “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Just try going a few hours on classic hits radio without coming across at least one of them.
Aside from founding member Mick Jones, bassist Jeff Pilson is Foreigner’s longest-serving member. He joined in 2004, but in an unlikely twist, a broken Mellotron – a temperamental electromechanical instrument – brought him into contact with the band decades before he joined.
“I was in a progressive rock band in Seattle at the time, and we bought the Mellotron for a fee at the time,” he recalled. “One time our music store called and said ‘Hey, listen, the foreigner is in town and something happened to their Mellotron. Do you want to rent (them) yours?’ I said, ‘Well, sure,'”
For their help (along with, one would hope, a payment or two to topple the Mellotron), Pilson and his bandmates received free tickets to the band’s show. They walked into Seattle’s Memorial Stadium as Foreigner performed their 1977 hit, “Cold as Ice.”
“It was right in the part where the Mellotron came in, so it was a great moment,” he recalled. “And to think I’d end up in the band years later is just kidding.”
Foreigner has existed in some form since 1976. Its initial lineup included guitarist Jones and lead singer Lou Gramm: Jones still joins the band for the occasional show, while Gramm left for the last time in 2003 to be replaced by current lead singer Kelly Hansen .
Pilson said knowing the band is on home soil is a sobering feeling.
“You can feel the emotions of the crowd,” he said. “It means a lot to them that we’re coming to an end. Even if we’re going to the end of next year anyway, we’ve got some time left.
“But I think it’s bittersweet for all of us. The band is firing on all cylinders right now, we’ve never sounded better, the audiences have been great, the shows have done phenomenally well.”
Before joining Foreigner, Pilson was a highly regarded bass player with stints in prominent rock and metal bands Dio and Dokken. Joining the band when it was already well established gave him a good understanding of both its music and its fans’ expectations, a particularly useful quality now that he is the band’s musical director.
“As a fan, I know what I want to see and I think that’s kind of an advantage,” he said. “I think it gives me a unique and critical perspective to bring to it all. And because I love the band so much, and the music and the legacy of the band, we work so hard to make sure it’s expressed at its best possible.”
The show on Friday will see the choir from Lake Charles’ St. Louis Catholic High School join the band for “I Want to Know What Love Is.” The band will also donate $500 to the school’s choir program. It’s something Foreigner mostly stops at these days – call it rock and roll philanthropy.
The band has been on the road since earlier this year, a long stretch filled with hotels, planes, buses, rehearsals. The work that goes into a tour for a band as big as Foreigner can be draining to think about.
“The journey is tough,” Pilson said. “Getting through airports and getting on planes, even if they’re private, can be exhausting. You’re in and out of hotel rooms, your sleep is interrupted, there’s a lot of things that go on behind the scenes that are tough.”
Don’t get him wrong though. He doesn’t complain.
“But you know what? Every job has things like that. I would never, ever, ever consider those things something I would ever fight about.”