Juice Box Hero: Foreigner's Tom Gimbel talks about the young fans showing up at special orchestral shows

The band plays Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on March 18.

click to enlarge Tom Gimbel of Foreigner, which plays Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on March 18, 2018. - LAPPEN PRODUCTIONS
Lappen Productions
Tom Gimbel of Foreigner, which plays Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on March 18, 2018.

Fans of veteran classic rock band Foreigner should be pretty excited about the unique tour the band has embarked on. Opting to tour with a full orchestra to accompany it and help the band perform many of its well-known rock staples like they’ve never been played before, the additional enhancements are sure to turn the band’s most powerful tunes into bona fide, soaring orchestral showpieces.

The enthusiasm for this project is evident within members of the band as well; during a recent chat with the band’s multi-instrumentalist Tom Gimbel, it was easy to note the joyfulness he feels towards the pairing. Gimbel’s many talents include prowess as a guitarist, keyboardist, bassist, flute player, percussionist and saxophone player. Primarily supplying his guitar chops for the current version of the band, Thom, who was formerly part of Aerosmith’s touring band, has been a permanent part of the Foreigner lineup since 1995. Speaking to me from a tour stop in Virginia, Gimbel’s infectious fierceness and his playful sense of humor made for a highly enjoyable conversation.

Read our Q&A and get more information on the show below.

Sun. March 18, 7:30 p.m. $53.25 & up.
Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen Booth Rd., Clearwater.

So, this tour is being billed as “Foreigner Orchestral”; who came up with the concept and how did it come about?

I think it’s a natural extension from what we started doing with our acoustic shows. We were playing a lot of acoustic instruments and doing a lot of harmonies and people loved it. So, (band founder and songwriter) Mick Jones was looking for someone he could work with along these orchestral lines and that’s when he met Dave Eggar. Dave is an amazing guy and a great cello player and he’s worked with so many bands; Coldplay is probably the one people would most recognize. So we had a chance to sit down with him and work on all the orchestrations and it was just a marvelous collaboration.

He just had all these great ideas for songs like “Cold as Ice” or “Double Vision.” He does these marvelous string arrangements. On a song like “Juke Box Hero,” that choir! It just sounds perfect. It’s like this gothic, kind of massive sound that you would hear in an Al Pacino devil movie or something! (Laughs) It’s so cool! I get shivers when I hear it! It’s like a cathedral sound. A lot of other bands have done it so I think Mick was ready to give it a shot. Metallica has played with an orchestra so, we thought, ok, let’s see how this goes as a test and we did it in Lucerne (Switzerland); we recorded it and filmed it so that was the test drive and, needless to say, it was a success. So we’re taking the show on the road!

So how different are the arrangements of the songs? Are they recognizable? Will the audience be surprised at what they’re going to hear?

I think it’s a pleasant surprise. It’s like taking a beautiful car and throwing a fresh coat of paint on it. The songs still shine through first and foremost so it’s just this really nice way of presenting them and I think fans will say ‘Oh…that’s a cool way to play that song!’ There are some nice little surprises in there. It’s always going to be based around the melody, the vocals and the words.

So you play a whole lot of instruments. Are you sticking with one instrument with Foreigner or do you play a little bit of everything onstage?

In Foreigner, my primary role is on guitar. I play rhythm guitar which is my favorite thing to do along with singing. On top of that, I’ll occasionally jump on the keyboards and definitely play the saxophone on “Urgent” and I also utilize the flute on a song like “Say You Will” or “Starrider.”

What do you hear most often from fans of the band when you meet them in regard to the memories they have of Foreigner or the songs that mean a lot to them? What keeps fans coming back after so long?

One of the magical things about Foreigner is it has all these different kinds of songs. It’s not just one kind of rock song, right in your face, over and over. But we have rock songs like “Double Vision” or “Feels Like the First Time” and then you get something like “Waiting For a Girl Like You” and we’ve had people at the meet and greets tell us that was the song they got engaged to or got married to say ‘that was our song’ or they’ll say ‘thanks for the song that brought us together’. So we’re always happy to hear those kinds of things. But something like “I Want to Know What Love Is,” you wouldn’t typically expect that from a rock band…even though guys with the tattoos and the devil horns, they want to know what love is too!


What kinds of age groups are you seeing at these shows? Are you seeing a lot of the original fans of the band or maybe some younger kids that have just discovered the music?

Yeah, we see the full spectrum. Everyone from tiny little kids on their parents’ shoulders. We had this little guy who was probably six or seven years old, up on his dad’s shoulders, shaking his fist and singing along to “Juke Box Hero” but, a lot of times the little kids get the words wrong. They think it’s actually “Juice Box Hero”! (laughs). At one point, at the merchandise booth, we had a dirty white bear instead of (1979 hit single) “Dirty White Boy” so, we’re big in the 4-8 age group sect…that’s a very popular range! (laughs) And everything above that, it’s so great to see teenagers, 20-year olds, 30-year olds, all the way up to our contemporaries so it has this massive, broad range of appeal and I think that’s the magic in the songwriting. There’s something for everyone and the music has held up well over the test of time.

So which song is getting the biggest reaction when played in this orchestral setting and which song do you think benefits the most from this type of arrangement?

Well, you know I’m a sax player, right? I play sax so I’m gonna say “Urgent,” “Urgent,” “Urgent,” “Urgent”….those are really the best songs! And then there’s “Urgent”! No, I’m not kidding man, when the orchestra plays “Urgent,” and all those big, upright basses are going ‘dun-dun-dun-dun,” it is rocking! But I get a kick out of every one of these songs and when the orchestra kicks in. It’s so much fun to hear these beautiful shining flutes and clarinets and trombones and everything that’s in an orchestra, especially the strings.

I know you’ll be doing a more traditional tour this summer along with Whitesnake and Jason Bonham but what would you say to someone who is maybe used to seeing that type of rock ‘n roll Foreigner show as far as wanting to come out to check out this orchestral show?

One of the nice things about this orchestral show is that it’s not strictly orchestral. We’re gonna be playing songs where we’re just playing by ourselves as a rock band. That element is not taken out for people who want to see a rock band; they’re still gonna see that. And when the orchestra joins in, they’re augmenting that rock band. It’s not like we soften up our thing for the orchestra. No, no, no. We’re still a full-tilt, full on rock band but now, instead of a keyboard player playing the strings, it’s a real orchestra doing the strings. So, it’s fairly consistent and also people who like acoustic stuff, we’ll probably do a couple of songs in an acoustic setting so we’re gonna cover all the bases that way and hopefully there’s something… or everything for everyone! There’s no down time and there’s nothing sleepy about it.

Sounds like its enhancing the rock experience and not taking away from it.

Precisely! Yes!!


About The Author

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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