Talking fame with Foreigner’s Tom Gimbel

Tom Gimbel riffs on new music, what it means to be a classic rock band and drinking and golfing before lunchtime.

by Joe Kellen

Save for the noisy whine of talk radio, classic rock stations pour out the loudest frequencies you’ll find on the FM dial — maybe to accommodate the older ears listening?

But even though it’s true demographically, “older” is hardly an appropriate adjective to tack on to classic rock listeners. Countless bands take influence from the genre’s catalogue, and hey, Foreigner still sells out shows.

If you’ve ever tuned in to any of those radio stations, you’ve probably heard one of their anthems. Whether it’s the thumping, shout-along chorus of “Juke Box Hero” or the iconic pulsing piano of “Cold as Ice,” Foreigner helped create the now well-worn genre.

Still, the group has only released two albums of new material in the past twenty years. They’ve undeniably added to the blazing-guitars-and-shiny-long-hair canon, but are they all that hot-blooded anymore?

Saxophonist, guitarist and all-around heavy lifting musician Tom Gimbel doesn’t fret over the question too much.

“I like the new memories just as much as the old memories,” he said. “A month or two ago I was able to sneak out and play some golf and it was just as fun as the days when Mick [Jones] and I would have martinis for breakfast.”

The old memories he refers to aren’t entirely lost. Foreigner’s set primarily contains their greatest hits. Despite the repetition, Gimbel notes that the more current renderings of the foot-stompers still bring the energy.

“We try to give the people what they want, and believe it or not, that takes up most of the night,” he said. “There are songs we gotta play.”

Songs like “I Want to Know What Love Is” or “Feels Like the First Time,” for example, have the ingredients of a Top 40 hit —lighter-waving choruses, scream- along lyrics and grooves that stick in your brain for days.

“It makes it fun when you’re in a concert and you know all the songs. There’s something in that,” he said.

While the claim is legitimate, the question of whether the band is a brand name or a dynamic group of artists is still relevant. Foreigner has paired up with NASCAR, sold their last record exclusively through Wal-Mart  and tours for most of the year. It’s easy to suspect that this is more about dollars than jamming out, but Gimbel doesn’t see it that way.

“You get into a rhythm and it becomes a way of life. We’re happy to do it. People wanna come out and rock with us and that’s a privilege,” he said. “It’s never set in stone. We take the opportunities we can get.”

Perhaps being so quick to call “sell-out” doesn’t give much credit to the fact that the band reeks of passion.

Even in 1992, when Gimbel joined Foreigner, the band had existed for almost 20 years. He recalls the group bursting with youth and welcoming him in.

“Someone can just become part of the family,” he said. “We don’t have personality clashes or butting heads. If you’re lucky enough to find people like that, which we have been, that’s where you find that longevity. It becomes something special.”

There’s something to be said for 37 years of music, regardless of the many lineup changes the band has had over time. Gimbel said his tenure with Foreigner has been an enjoyable blur.

“I used to be the new guy, and now I’m the old guy,” he said. “It’s been twenty years? It feels like twenty days.”


What: Foreigner

When: 8 p.m., Friday

Where: Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, 2400 Mystic Lake Blvd., Prior Lake

Cost: $49-59 (SOLD OUT)