Why Foreigner's Tom Gimbel may be having more fun than anyone else in the rock band
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
You'll know Tom Gimbel when you see — and hear — him on stage Monday with Foreigner.
The classic rock band brings its 40th anniversary tour to Amarillo for a 7:30 p.m. Monday show in the Amarillo Civic Center Auditorium, 401 S. Buchanan St. Tickets are $35.50 to $95.50, plus fees.
Gimbel, who joined the band temporarily in 1992 and full-time three years later, is Foreigner's one-man secret weapon, playing rhythm guitar, saxophone, flute and keyboards, and singing backing vocals alongside founder Mick Jones, vocalist (since 2005) Kelly Hansen and the rest.
"I don't think you can measure the fun factor," Gimbel said. "I play all of these instruments and I know how much fun each of them are. I'd be happy playing any of them all night long."
That's not to say that he's not a little envious of Hansen ("To be able to sing like that! Your soul soars when you sing like that.") or drummer Chris Frazier ("I've played drums, and the fun factor is off the charts there."), but neither of them get that iconic sax solo in "Urgent," either.
Gimbel played drums in a high school band, but his first love as a child in Boston was big band music. He attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music and studied saxophone and flute, but he found the curriculum lacking.
"I couldn't do that jazz bebop stuff anyway," Gimbel said. "They wanted me to memorize a Charlie Baker solo" — he broke into an approximation of the beeps and do-wahs and scats of a jazz riff — "and they'd kick me out of a rock club if I did that."
By that time, Gimbel had found that his heart and soul really was in rock 'n' roll.
"As I got further along (at Berklee), I realized that I'd been playing rock my whole life — it was my roots — and there were ids there who'd been playing jazz their whole life. ... You've just got to find where you're at," he said.
"As a starting college musician, living in a house with four people, eating Ramen noodles, we put together a band to start making money," he continued. "That's when I learned I was a rock musician."
He landed a gig with Jon Butcher Axis, then was invited to join Aerosmith in 1989. It wasn't the right fit, Gimbel said, so he happily accepted an offer to join Foreigner.
By that point, the rock band had been together for nearly 20 highly successful years. After Jones founded it in 1976 with Ian McDonald and former vocalist Lou Gramm, among others, the band found immediate success with its self-titled debut album, loaded with hits like "Feels Like the First Time" and "Cold as Ice." Soon came "Hot Blooded," "Double Vision" and, in the next decade, "Waiting for a Girl Like You" and the band's biggest hit, 1985's "I Want to Know What Love Is."
"I Want to Know What Love Is," Foreigner (live)
Gramm departed in 1990, fairly acrimoniously, but returned two years later before health problems and more tensions with Jones led to his departure in 2002. Jones took a brief hiatus himself and reformed the band in 2004 for a special performance; the band has been on the road regularly since 2005.
"The stories I could tell, over 20 years' worth," Gimbel said. "I always hoped for something like this. It's something you work for and dream about when we were making our own bands back in college.
"Foreigner said they wanted me to be part of their family. It was a much more comfortable situation (than Aerosmith)," he continued. "I'm always grateful to Mick Jones for that."
Above all, Gimbel is most grateful for the massive hit "I Want to Know What Love Is."
"(It) has universal appeal," Gimbel said. "I think that's the key to a great song like that. Everyone knows what that feels like, the 'heartache and pain.' ... It's the human experience.
"I ask Mick how he wrote some of those songs, and he won't tell us."