Exclusive Interview: Lou Gramm


Lou Gramm, accomplished musician, lead singer and songwriter of the iconic band Foreigner, just released his autobiography Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades In Rock ‘N’ Roll. The book details the Foreigner lead singer and co-writer’s career from his humble, working-class roots in Rochester, N.Y. to become one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most distinctive and popular voices. Working with best-selling author Scott Pitoniak (nationally honored newspaper columnist and author of 16 books), Gramm recounts his extraordinary life in this compelling and candid behind-the-scenes memoir.

Throughout Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades In Rock ‘N’ Roll, Gramm poignantly recounts how he realized his dream. Sadly, though, like many rock stars, Gramm would succumb to the trappings of wealth and fame. Foreigner’s remarkable success was due in large part to the song-writing synergy between Gramm and the band’s founder, Mick Jones. However, creative clashes between the two would become more frequent and the tension would result in Gramm’s departure, not once but twice, the second time for good.

But Gramm’s recounting of his life is also is a story of redemption. In the early 1990’s, he finally confronted his demons and checked into a drug rehabilitation center for a month. He came out a changed man and has remained sober ever since. Several years later, Gramm faced an even bigger challenge when diagnosed with an egg-sized brain tumor. After being given a death sentence by several physicians, he learned of a then-revolutionary laser surgery being done by a doctor in Boston. Gramm underwent a life-saving operation to remove the tumor and then courageously battled through radiation treatments and several harrowing years of rehab.

Gramm’s health and energy have rebounded. With a refocused second chance at life, Gramm has put his family and his faith first. While he still enjoys time on the road the touring schedule is now limited to fly-in dates and weekends.

Rock Confidential caught up with Gramm to discuss Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades In Rock ‘N’ Roll and the lack of radio support for still productive classic rock artists.

Lou, I appreciate you making time for this. Your book Juke Box Hero is out now. Did you ever think of writing a book at any other point in your career?

I did. I started thinking about it a year or two after my tumor was removed. I thought that was at a monumental happening in my life, not necessarily a great time. For better or worse it happened. You never walk away from something like that unchanged.

I would imagine you had to be more reflective at that time in your life.

I was. That and between the time they told me I had a brain tumor and the days before I went it to have it removed. My thoughts were totally entangled.

It had to be an emotional process.

It was. A number of memories are downright funny. I will always reminisce about them. There were other painful parts that I knew I would have to recall because they were important. Even after all these years.

What made now the right time for Juke Box Hero?

If it had happened any earlier it wouldn’t sound like a completed story. It really feels like it is now because I’ve been in the business for so long and have done so much. It just felt like it was time to tell the story.

There are so many stories to tell – so many highlights of your life and career. Did you make notes of certain things and events you wanted in the book before you started?

I probably should have! I didn’t. Scott Pitoniak, who wrote the book with me, was aware of much of my story. Even though we didn’t write in the correct timeline – we jumped around, he provoked me into remembering things I may not have even included in the story. He was very good at stimulating my memory to recall things – good and bad – I probably wouldn’t have thought of left to my own device.

Did you know Scott before you started working together?

I knew of Scott because he’s a sports writer here in Rochester, New York. I remember his articles to be thought provoking and very much from the human standpoint, not slanted or opinionated. He was great at just telling the story. He’s written some great sports books. As we talked we both realized that sports was not all that different from a rock n’ roll band – action, teamwork, interplay, personalities, egos. It’s very similar in that aspect. When we talked about the possibility of working together it was very intriguing to me. I didn’t think I had enough for one story and he convinced me I had enough for two books! We’re getting started on the second one now. Just kidding.

Since you weren’t trying to tell the stories in chronological order you were probably more thorough just telling the stories as they came up.

That’s exactly what we did. Scott put everything in order afterwards.

You mentioned earlier that some of the stories were painful to recall. Were there any stories that you didn’t feel comfortable sharing for the book?

There were a few things. When Scott would ask I would start to answer and try my best but if it was too emotional or there was too much angst involved I would tell him so and ask to move on.

On the flip side of that sometimes having too much fun can be incriminating! Were there any escapades that you had to leave out of the book to keep everyone innocent?

Definitely! Maybe my second book will be titled Escapades! I made sure to tell enough so everyone will know the boys had fun.

As you were proofing the book and reading what you thought was a finished product, did you go back and take out some things you weren’t sure about?

Absolutely. It was usually about former relationships or something that would leave me wide open for a lawsuit. Or maybe something was unnecessarily incriminating or hurtful that wasn’t so important that it needed to be in the book. Maybe I wanted to save a relationship.

That’s cool. There are so many music and entertainment autobiographies coming out now that are full of so many cheap shots…

Absolutely. It’s like that was their only purpose.

I would rather hold on to that relationship instead of destroying it in exchange for a short-lived moment of glory in a book.

Yep. Even though I was truthful and told it like it was I didn’t try to verbally assassinate anyone.

People will always ask about new material, new songs, a new record. There is a terrible trend for established classic rock artists – where is the outlet for new material? It’s like a black hole full of active rock bands. These bands are highly successful on the road but when it comes to new material nobody is there to play it. What happened?

Corporate radio. Radio stations have been gobbled up by corporations that have nothing to do with music. They just know a good deal when they see one, especially when they know they can make money. That’s why there are very few independent radio stations left in the country. When a corporation takes over they choose they playlist and decide what will and what won’t be played. When that started happening in the early nineties that marked the end of new music for bands like us and the Eagles and Bryan Adams. It marked the end of new albums and new music on rock stations. Even though the acts are still creative and commercially viable, we were forced into that classic rock category where they would continue to keep our old hits in rotation but would never, ever play something new by us again.

How does that affect you as a songwriter?

It takes away the impetus to write. Honestly. The impetus to write is for songs to be heard. Rock stations had a whole new slew of rock bands to choose from. In the early nineties through the late nineties there were so many artists that had one decent album and then disappeared. Radio was ready to collapse. We felt like we were being put out to pasture before our time.

It’s a dirty game.

It is a dirty game. It’s not a fair game, either. If we had made albums that continually stiffed I could see the reasoning. Bands were being ripped out of hit rotation while they were still in their prime. The most important part is not performing old hits or still making a living from them. Sure, that’s wonderful but to continue to be creative and current and viable is really the true bread and butter of the business.