When Foreigner takes the stage of the Silver Legacy Resort Casino’s Grande Exposition Hall on Saturday night, the audience will be teeming with the rock legends’ fans.
One group of attendees will be more excited than the rest of the crowd, although they weren’t even born during the group’s ’70s and ’80s heyday, when Foreigner cranked out hit after hit.
They are 25 members of the Reno High School Choir, who will climb on stage and join the band in singing the mega-hit “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Their appearance is part of Foreigner’s longtime partnership with the Grammy Foundation, which supports music education in schools across the country.
The teens have big footsteps to fill — a spirited gospel choir accompanied Foreigner on the song’s initial release. Their time in the spotlight will yield them more than glory. The students will take $500 back to their music program, thanks to a donation by the band.
Along with performing, the students will put on their sales hats, taking time before and after the gig to sell a Foreigner greatest hits CD. They will also vend raffle tickets for a one-of-a-kind prize, a Les Paul guitar autographed by members of the band. Proceeds will go to the Grammy Foundation.
Making a difference
The foundation already has had an impact in the Washoe County School District, providing instruments for students who can’t afford them. Last year, Foreigner enlisted the McQueen High School Choir for its Reno show.
When Reno High School choir director David Gaunt was presented with the opportunity for his students to participate in the high-profile sing-along, he jumped at the chance. He made the pitch to his students and discovered that, despite their youth, many of them were well acquainted with the group and its chart-topping catalog.
“They all know who Foreigner is. Once I started singing ‘Feels Like the First Time’ or ‘I Want to Know What Love is,’ they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah,’” said Gaunt, who’s been choir director at RHS for 15 years.
As a longtime fan of Foreigner, he considers “I Want to Know What Love Is” to be ideal material for his talented young students.
“It’s a great song, with a great hook and great lyrics,” he said. “I just think everybody wins on this. The kids get to get up and sing, the program gets a donation — other schools out there get donations. And someone walks home with an autographed Les Paul.”
In fact, the name Foreigner is synonymous with winning. The band hit No. 1 in the Hot 100 with “I Want to Know What Love Is,” off the Agent Provocateur album. Other top 10 hits include “Waiting for a Girl Like You” at No. 2, “Double Vision” (No. 2), “Hot Blooded” (No. 3), “Urgent” (No. 4); “Feels Like the First Time” (No. 4), “I Don’t Want to Live Without You” (No. 5) as well as “Say You Will” and “Cold As Ice,” both of which reached No. 6 in the Hot 100.
The band has seen some significant change over the years. The current lineup comprises lead vocalist Kelly Hansen, who has rocked the mic for Foreigner since 2005. He brings some serious chops to the post, having served as vocalist for ‘80s metal band Hurricane and worked with the likes of Poison guitarist C.C. Deville.
The majority of the band is composed of other musicians who, while relative newcomers to Foreigner, have some impressive credentials. Bassist Jeff Pilson is a founding member of the rock band Dokken and has performed with acts like Dio. Multi-instrumentalist Tom Gimbel has toured with Aerosmith, while keyboardist Michael Bluestein has provided melodic accompaniment to everyone from Boz Scaggs to Stevie Nicks to the house band on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Guitarist Bruce Watson’s resume includes working with folks like B.B. King, Rod Stewart, Christina Aguilera and Elton John. Drummer Chris Frazier has kept the beat with a veritable Who’s Who of rock and pop musicians, including Steve Vai, Whitesnake, Carole King, Eddie Van Halen and Eddie Money.
Don’t look back
As founding member of Foreigner, which was launched in 1976, lead guitarist Mick Jones provides continuity to the outfit. Jones reformed the band in 2002 after a hiatus and hasn’t looked back.
Almost 40 years into his career with Foreigner, Jones — quoted on the band’s website — said he feels privileged to be surrounded by such talented musicians.
As for the current lineup of the classic rock band, the performers feel lucky to be part of a legacy that includes 10 multi-platinum albums, 16 top 20 hits and more than 75 million in album sales.
On Foreigner.com, “truly surreal” is how Bluestein describes his experience.
“I grew up hearing and loving all these songs and never dreamed that I would have the chance to be in the band playing them! The energy on stage is amazing, and I love looking out and seeing everyone singing every single word,” he said.