Being a huge classic rock fan, one of my all-time favorite groups is the legendary Foreigner, that’s brought us incredible tunes like Cold As Ice, Hot Blooded, Urgent, and I Want To Know What Love Is (to name a few).
Uh huh, I’m a big classic rock geek -- and huge fan especially of Foreigner's music from the 80s. Did I say that already? I’ve even been known to put my own diabetes spin on their music, changing up their classic rock hit Jukebox Hero to humming “Juicebox Hero."
So, imagine my excitement when learning that Foreigner was not only coming to Metro Detroit (where I now live) for a two-week tour with Michigan native rocker Kid Rock in August, but also playing a private charity event benefiting the JDRF that would feature a live acoustic mix of its classic song favorites.
That's about as cool as it gets, right?! I’ve been lucky to chat with pop singer Nick Jonas before, and a few years ago met 80s rocker Bret Michaels at a diabetes event, but this feels like a whole new level for me.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t swing tickets to the private JDRF event at the Ford Motor Company Conference Center in Dearborn, MI. But I was floored to have the chance to talk with Foreigner co-founder and lead guitarist Mick Jones, a certified legend who two years ago was named to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
We connected by phone on a Friday afternoon, just hours before he would be taking the stage at DTE Music Theater -- talking music, how the band is prepping a new live acoustic album expected for release in February 2016, and of course, why and how they are connected to diabetes.
DM) Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, Mick. I’m a longtime fan and definitely want to talk music, but let’s start with diabetes. What’s the connection Foreigner has there?
MJ) Our tour manager has a daughter who has suffered since childhood, unfortunately. She was diagnosed in 2003 at age 4 and is now a teenager living with type 1. I also have a few friends affected by diabetes. There is treatment, but no real cure, so that leaves you in a helpless situation.
Anything we can do to help and donate to the cause, it’s important because we have a close association within our family.
I didn't know anything about type 1 (before learning of our tour manager’s daughter), but I do know about diabetes. I am living with type 2 myself!
Wow, we weren't aware that you were living with type 2. Can you tell us more about that?
I try to make sure I’m just doing what I can to keep it under control, basically. I do watch what I eat, and try to avoid anything that makes my blood sugar rise, like sugar and fruit especially.
That’s really the thing with type 2 -- it’s not so restricting and doesn’t require as much maintenance (as insulin dependence), but it still can affect other organs and your life. That’s something you consider as you get older, particularly. I’ve had my troubles with circulation, muscle problems and artery blockage. So I have to stay on top of it.
So you're not taking insulin?
So far I’m not on insulin, but I do have to be very wary and careful to do what I can to wrestle the danger.
How did this JDRF benefit concert come together in Metro Detroit on August 24?
This is a charitable concert where all the money raised goes toward the JDRF. We're starting an association with Ford Motor Company, and doing events together. The Ford family does have a personal connection to diabetes, too (4-year-old Albert Ford was diagnosed in 1997 with type 1 diabetes -- see details below).
It’s great and promising, when you have a company like that who are able to get behind something. That’s very meaningful, and it was the genesis of the concert. Anything we can do to help move the research and cause along, we want to do.
Have you done other diabetes-related events?
Not yet. We’re pretty tightly booked through the rest of the year. Perhaps when we get into the New Year, we’ll look into it. We’ll see how this concert has benefited the venture, and will take it from there. This is really a bit of a trial test to see how we work together. I’m sure we can do this again, because so far they’ve worked like clockwork. I’m sure we can continue this into the future.
It’s an honor to be part of this. And hopefully we can do more as time goes by. Keep your ears open, there’s more to come.
You're also doing an extended Metro Detroit tour with Kid Rock, part of this summer's "Cheap Date" tour... How's that going so far?
Extremely well, and I’m getting to know Detroit quite well. It’s great to be touring with a guy who’s really a solid performer, has a great personality, and is a master of the stage. It’s a lot of fun, and the combination of the two acts together has been very popular this summer. It’s good for both of us, I think.
I've read that you're hoping to "expand" the reach and fan-base of Foreigner, even now long past the band's heyday. How so?
One of the benefits of doing this is that it reminds people of the band and that we’re still here -- a band they might not know about so much. While we do still have a worldwide audience, it brings new ears to our music and our band in an expansive way. I think it also works well for Kid Rock on this tour, too, because we bring along quite a few fans. People are getting real talent for the buck.
You also have a history of bringing student choir groups with you on stage at concerts – including the Detroit Mosaic Youth Theater Group locally. Tell us more about that initiative?
We’ve been doing that for quite a while now. It’s a tribute to the GRAMMY Foundation that is very invested in providing help and resources to local school choirs and music groups -- especially in this time when music is unfortunately the first thing to get chopped off the list when they’re cutting budgets in schools. It’s crazy, but music is usually the first thing to be cut. So we provide this money and contribution toward providing musical experience for the kids. It’s very important for us to bring music back into focus when schools are having such difficult times with their budgets.
Pretty amazing that it's going on 40 years for Foreigner, and you're now in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. How does all that feel?
It’s making me feel a bit like a grownup (laughs). But it’s certainly very nice to get the acceptance, and particularly the Songwriters Hall of Fame was very meaningful for me. It’s an interesting time, and a good moment for reflection and to think about how fortunate I’ve been to be doing this – as a job – for some time. I never thought it would last this long, and I think that’s a strength of our music that it still seems to resonate with people. That’s kept us going. And we aren’t over yet!
The Ford Family’s Diabetes Connection
The Ford family and automotive giant Ford Motor Company have been involved with JDRF since 1983 when it first participated in a walk in Dearborn, Michigan, where it’s headquartered, but the diabetes connection got personal in 1997.
That’s when parents Cynthia and Edsel B. Ford II (the great-grandson of Henry Ford who founded the company) stumbled into the D-world when their 4-year-old son Albert was diagnosed with type 1. The Ford-JDRF partnership has grown and evolved since then, and it’s all what led to this Foreigner event earlier in the week.
The Benefit Concert
While we unfortunately couldn’t attend the private Foreigner benefit concert personally, we hear it went exceedingly well. More than 200 people attended and the event raised roughly $40,000 for the JDRF, we’re told.
Mick told us beforehand: “An hour and 20 minutes is what we have to play and there probably isn’t a song that you haven’t heard of – that’s a good problem for us to have.”
From those in attendance, we hear the 7-person band rearranged a number of their hits acoustically – respecting the original, but unplugging to give each song a fresh sound with a mixture of two guitars, a keyboard, saxophone, bass guitar, mini percussion, and a flute at times. They mixed up older and newer songs, and added a fun tribute to Elvis (who they’re big fans of) with "That's All Right Mama."
Sounds pretty cool, and I can’t wait to hear this new Detroit-recorded live acoustic album once it’s released in February!
"We will be doing a quick turnaround with it. This time in Detroit, with the multiple shows, has given us a chance to rehearse and practice. We should be sounding pretty good for this album," Mick told me.
After the the summer and early Fall tour schedule wraps up, we understand Mick has plans to reunite with fellow legendary rocker Lou Gramm, one of Foreigner’s originals who was the lead vocal in the classic ballad, “I Want To Know What Love Is". They parted ways in 2003 when Gramm left the band for good, but after re-connecting and performing together in 2013 at the Songwriters Hall of Fame induction, they now have plans to connect and maybe play together again.
Classic rock fans like me are salivating, and we can't wait to hear what comes from that collaboration. Not to mention get our ears on the live acoustic album coming early next year.
Thank you, Mick, for taking the time to talk about diabetes and your musical career! And a big shout-out to JDRF, both at the national level and local Southeast Michigan chapter, for helping coordinate this interview.
Now, after watching my blood sugar coast downward, I'm off to crank up the music and become a "Juicebox Hero." ;)