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'80s rockers keep the good times going

Published July 18, 2014 3:26 pm

Concert preview • "We're pretty much a family," Foreigner multi-instrumentalist says of his band and their tourmates, Styx.
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What it's like touring with '80s rockers Foreigner, Styx and Don Felder?

Tom Gimbel, the multi-instrumentalist from Foreigner — he ­plays rhythm guitar, saxophone, flute and keyboard — gave a little insight during a recent telephone interview with the Salt Lake Tribune.

"It's funny when you get on a tour like this, everyone always immediately has something in common," he said. "It's like we're all in love with the same girl and that girl is music. It's not like we chose music; music chose us. It's really cool to have that common bond. And we play some golf together. Don Felder is an excellent golfer, and he's an excellent comedian on the golf course."

In a sense, the tour lineup constantly changes. Foreigner has a long-standing tradition of hiring a local high-school choir — usually chosen through a radio contest — to perform "I Wanna Know What Love Is" live during the concert. The band also donates $500 to the choir. The Cottonwood High School Choir got the nod for Wednesday's show at Usana Amphitheatre.

Gimbel, who grew up in California, graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and started touring with Aerosmith, playing keyboard and saxophone, in 1989. He joined Foreigner in 1992.

The band went on hiatus from 2002 and 2005, then got back together and started touring again. Gimbel said it makes about 120 stops during the year.

After the U.S. tour ends in September, the band will head to Europe to spend the winter playing acoustic sets in ancient German castles.

Gimbel talked about life on the road and his memories of Salt Lake City.

About the tour

Well, I think it's an opportunity for people to see a lot of great songs on the same bill. Don Felder with those classic Eagle songs. Styx songs that people know and love. We put our Foreigner songs on top of that. There's also lots of staging and things and lights and production. We get to have a great time playing live.

Life on the road with Foreigner and Styx

I'm always excited about playing live, great concerts and great crowds. The energy that goes back and forth, that's the magic that keeps us coming back year after year. It's a great adrenaline kick.

Life is good on the road. As a bachelor, I get used to the comforts of hotels. If you have dirty towels on the floor, you come back and they're clean. You don't have to do the dishes. When I get to my house, I keep trying to call room service and no one answers. They're both great, just different.

We're just lucky because there's not a lot of fighting. If you talk to people in the business, that's not always the case. We're pretty much a family. We spend a lot of time together in airports, on planes. We've got a really hysterical comedian bunch of people right now. So we've had a lot of laughs.

Favorite moments

Either playing golf with Don Felder or joking around with the Styx guys. One time, I was walking around backstage with my saxophone and one of the Styx guys came up to me completely naked and said, "Hey, can I play your saxophone?'

On performing with local high-school musicians

That's a great tradition that goes back a few years now. "I Wanna Know What Love Is" had a gospel choir on the recording. That's where the incarnation of the idea came from. The actual process is wonderful. The looks on their faces are just really uplifting. It's not necessarily the first time performing for them. They have a lot of experience performing; we end up getting the best choir around. You seem them take the stage with confidence — that's really cool to see.

On Foreigner's joint effort with The Grammy Foundation to help keep music education in regular school curriculum

As soon as I was able to join the band and start taking lessons, I did. I just can't imagine that that wouldn't be there for kids in schools. It doesn't make any sense. It's like not teaching math or English. It was always a place where kids who connected with music could go. I loved it. It was a huge part of my life. It shaped my musical identity forever. It would be a shame to think that kids wouldn't have that same opportunity.

The difference between the band then and now

The music, of course, is still intact. I think we've gotten a little bit tighter musically as a band. We have this muscular rhythm section. … It's astonishing; every night I listen to it I'm like, "Man!" The technology has gotten so much better. We have better speakers onstage. In the old days, you had to have monitor speakers blasting your ears. It's gotten a lot more sophisticated. We have different priorities. Back then, partying and being wild was a priority. Now golf is priority; so is the gym. Back then we were horrible golfers. We could barely hit the ball. We're interested in staying healthy and happy and being productive.

On Salt Lake City

Foreigner was there when the tornado hit [in 1999]. We were in this hotel and we watched it. I didn't realize it was happening, I thought it was a rainstorm. The building started shaking, and being from California, I thought it was an earthquake. I couldn't remember if I was supposed to get in the tub or under a doorway. The lights went out and we all went downstairs to watch.

It's actually quite a rockin' town.

On his favorite instrument

I enjoy them all sort of equally for different reasons. Playing, you're using a different language, you're communicating on a different wavelength. It's hard to describe, it's other-worldly. But it's a universal language. It's just one of those things that when you're doing it, it feels organic and natural and normal. The fact that everybody understands it, that's really the high point. —

Back to the '80s

Popular '80s bands Styx and Foreigner will perform. Opening act: former Eagles guitarist Don Felder. Special guest performance by Cottonwood High School Choir.

When • Wednesday, July 23, 7 p.m.

Where • Usana Amphitheatre, 5150 S. 6055 West, West Valley City

Tickets • $29-$60; Smith's Tix