Interview by Paul Salfen
You know the songs: “Feels Like The First Time,” “Cold As Ice,” “Hot Blooded,” “Double Vision,” “Urgent,” “Juke Box Hero,” “Waiting For A Girl Like You” – and that’s probably not all. Foreigner has 16 Top 30 hits, 10 multiplatinum albums, and have sold 75 million records. Through ups and downs and a variety of lineup changes, Foreigner has survived over 40 years now and they’re back this summer with a big package rock tour called the Juke Box Heroes Tour that includes Whitesnake and Jason Bonham. Since joining the band in 2005 when it reformed, bassist Jeff Pilson is convinced the band is sounding better than ever.
Calling on his day off mid-tour in the East Coast, Pilson calls the tour “fabulous.” “It’s a great show. Three great bands – a lot of bang for the buck. It’s going extremely well,” he says proudly. In fact, he says you can spot him on the side of the stage “on many nights” watching Whitesnake and Jason Bonham, having grown up listening to Whitesnake and Jason Bonham’s father, the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.
Pilson is best known as the bassist in the classic lineup of multiplatinum metal group Dokken, who recently had a surprise reunion overseas despite years of tension between the band and its namesake singer, Don Dokken. But the bassist has always been one to be all over the place, having played with Dio, Starship, and Adler, the namesake group of original Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler. He also had a couple of acting gigs, playing Jorgen, the bass player in Mark Wahlberg’s fictitious rock band Steel Dragon in Rock Star and voicing Johnny Cage in the Mortal Kombat video game reboot. He’s also an in-demand producer and has a new band called Super Stroke, which is a supergroup featuring former Dokken bandmates George Lynch and Mick Brown along with current Warrant singer Robert Mason.
Here’s more from Pilson:
AMFM Magazine: Last year was the 40th anniversary tour and although you haven’t been in the band the entire time obviously, it marked a great time to not only look back but celebrate the rebirth of the band, which you’re still doing.
Jeff Pilson: That’s right. It’s been a great feeling. Of course we have this powerful legacy of songs to build with, but there’s also a real satisfaction that the band built back. When we started in 2005, it was a bit of a struggle. But here we are two years in a row headlining amphitheaters and it’s feeling really good so can’t complain about a thing.
AMFM: And how cool for you, too, because surely you grew up listening to the band?
JP: Of course. Huge fan!
AMFM: So what has it been like to not only play with [original guitarist] Mick Jones, but to get to know him?
JP: Well, Mick is not only a great guy, but a great musician, great songwriter, great producer, and he’s got some of the best stories you’ll ever want to hear ever. From anybody. I mean, Mick was in the room with the four Beatles at the hotel in Paris the day they got the telegram from Brian Epstein telling them that “I Want To Hold Your Hand” had gone to #1 in America. He was opening for The Beatles at The Olympia Theatre in Paris and because he was English they all just kind of took to him, became good friends, and started hanging out. There’s just so much history. There’s a bit of Forrest Gump in Mick Jones. [Laughs]
AMFM: And a bit in you, too.
JP: Yeah, I’m just the box of chocolates part. [Laughs]
AMFM: Yeah, but throughout your career – especially in Dokken – you ran across just about everybody.
JP: You know what? I’ve been very fortunate to meet a lot of great people and I’ve gotten to play, experience, and learn from the greatest players ever, so yeah, I feel very fortunate. I think it’s my passion for music that has cast me into this place but I feel very fortunate because not everybody gets to work with the people I get to work with and I never take any of that for granted.
AMFM: Speaking of Mick, how is his health now?
JP: Great! He’s been great. He’s been in great spirits. He’s been playing the whole show and he’s been loving it. I think for him this is a very big deal. Not many people get a second chance to climb all of the way back to the top. He has and I think he’s appreciating it and taking advantage of every second he can.
AMFM: Kelly [Hansen, the singer that joined with Jeff in 2015] has been such a great singer for you guys. You probably knew him back in the Hurricane days, though, right?
JP: I did, sure. Never would have ever put him together in my mind with Foreigner but boy, is he a perfect fit. He’s just amazing. He sings every note every night, performs great, he’s wonderful with the audience, and you know what? He’s a hell of a nice guy and has become a dear friend. We’re really luck. And having someone that’s that much of a Superman as a frontman has enabled us to build where we are and none of us take that for granted, either – including Mick. He’s been a very fundamental element in allowing us to come back. It’s cool that he’s getting what he deserves, too, because it’s a hardcore group of talented guys and now he’s finally getting his dessert, so that’s great.
AMFM: And you have a really cool program through The GRAMMYs where you bring a high school choir up on stage every night?
JP: That is correct. Every show – and it’s been wonderful. They enter a contest and the best high school gets picked. They get to go on stage with us and sell CDs at the show and the proceeds go to their school’s music program, so it’s a win-win for everybody. We’re trying to help out with these music programs that are having a difficult time in a time of difficult funding. Can’t ignore the arts and we’re trying to do our best.
AMFM: Are they just so excited to play with you?
JP: You know what? They don’t have the least idea who we are but they’re really excited to be up there singing [laughs], so maybe their parents will tell them who we are. But the great thing is to watch them experiencing and you can kind of watch it through their eyes seeing them up on stage – and youthful energy is so infectious, anyway. It’s so much fun to watch and let’s hope we’re carving out some future stars in it.
AMFM: Once they know, what advice would you give them because it’s a crazy business. You should know – you’ve been through the ringer!
JP: The advice I would give them is always listen to advice, always listed to what people have to say, but always follow what’s in your heart. It will never steer you wrong. Even if it sends you down the side street, you’ll eventually end up on the main highway and find the right way to go.
AMFM: The numbers are staggering for the band. All of the hits and the albums sold – you must be wowed yourself when you see the set list.
JP: When you have that many Top 30 hits, that’s predominately what you’ll hear. The hardest thing about making the set list is deciding what songs to leave out. You’re going to hear the hits, but you’re going to hear a real high energy show where there are so many hots that you think, “I forgot Foreigner had that many songs I know,” and you’re going to see a hell of a show. We’re putting on quite a show this year and it’s going to be three great bands, a night of insanely great music, and a lot of fun. Wait until you see our light show and all of the little bells and whistles we’re pulling out. Quite a night.
AMFM: What song is it that gets you amped up every night?
JP: You know, there isn’t any one particular one but there are several ones for me. There are just so many great moments. There are moments of improvisation that we have and that’s a real kick. But really it’s about the set and the great breadth of material and legacy that Foreigner has and we’re lucky to be able to play every night.
AMFM: And in recent times we saw a Dokken reunion, which we thought we would never see. Is there a possibility that we’ll get some US shows this time?
JP: [Laughs] It’s possible but there’s nothing immediately because scheduling is so difficult but I’d never say never. We’re friendly enough again and we get offers all the time. You know, no immediate plans between Foreigner, the album that I’m producing, and the album I have with George Lynch and Mick Brown from Dokken and Robert Mason, the singer from Warrant, that takes up a lot of energy. With all that stuff, I’m pretty doggone busy.
AMFM:I was going to ask about that project and the status of it. You got to spend a lot of time with Robert producing the last Warrant record, right?
JP: That’s correct. I’ve known him for a long time anyway, but we did have a lot of fun working on that Warrant record and that probably led to this whole project with George, Mick, and Robert. The record is done and it’s fabulous. We’re so excited about how it came out. It’s not going to come out until next year but we’re really looking forward to when it does because it’s a really amazing record. George is playing great but it’s quite a group effort, so I’m very excited.
AMFM: You also dipped into some acting and voice work – even doing a Mortal Kombat voice. That’s pretty exciting! Will we see more of that from you?
JF: [Laughs] I would love that. I mean, unfortunately the agent that got me that gig passed away in a tragic accident a few years ago and that was kind of my conduit to it but hey, if the offer ever comes up, I’d love to do it because it was a lot of fun and I do love to do stuff like that.
AMFM: You’ve always had a reputation for being one of the nicest guys in rock – which I’ll vouch for based on our past meetings – but now any fan can meet you now with the meet and greet VIP packages. It’s a different world backstage now!
JP: Yeah, I know. We didn’t have those in the ‘80s and we’re doing some things we didn’t get to do before. It’s a whole different age now. Who would have ever thought that records didn’t have much to do with it and the live shows and meet and greets does? [Laughs] It’s a strange age but let’s take the good out of it and enjoy it.
AMFM: You’ve been to Dallas and Houston a bunch of times over the years. You must have great memories of Texas in general.
JP: Well, you know, it’s funny – Dallas was the first place I ever played with Dokken. The first show we ever did was in December of ’83 in Dallas at the Dallas Convention Center. So yes, I have very good memories of Dallas. Texas in general is such a good rock place so I’m excited to be back in Dallas. I think Texas will always be special to just about every rocker I know.
Foreigner performs with Whitesnake and Jason Bonham at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, TX (Houston) on July 20th and The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory in Irving, TX (Dallas) on July 21st. Tickets range from $39 to $350 and can be found at www.LiveNation.com.
For more info on Foreigner, go to www.ForeignerOnline.com.