Lou Gramm says he’s more than a ‘Juke Box Hero’

Lou Gramm, the former frontman of Foreigner, is set to perform Saturday at the Monroe Co. Jam.
Lou Gramm, the former frontman of Foreigner, is set to perform Saturday at the Monroe Co. Jam.

Lou Gramm knows the feeling of standing on a stage in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans locked onto his every gesture or vocal mannerism.

But the lead singer of behemoth ’70s hard rock hit makers Foreigner also can say he’s done something much cooler and far more nerve-wracking: playing pool with John Lennon.

It was 1973 and Gramm was in the Rochester, N.Y., band Black Sheep that preceded his stint in Foreigner. They were recording at the Record Plant studio in New York at the same time Lennon was working with Phil Spector and Gramm decided to take a breather from a tedious session in one of the break rooms.

“John Lennon was in there by himself shooting pool and he asked me if I wanted to have a game. I know I’m a crappy pool player, but the guy asks you if you want to play, what are you going to say, ‘No thanks?’”

Gramm recounted in a phone interview to promote his solo concert Saturday at the Monroe County Jam Festival of Food and Music at the Monroe County Fairgrounds.

“So we talked, I told him what I was doing, he told me what he was doing and he proceeded to whip me, unbelievably so. I think I got one shot in before he ran the table."

Gramm said he thinks Lennon appreciated a respite from the intense pressure of being an ex-Beatle by just playing a round of pool with a fellow musician. So he maintained a nonchalant vibe even though inside he was a bit freaked out.

"I really had to use all my self-control to keep it together. He is one of my rock idols and to find myself surprisingly in that situation, if I was another guy, I probably could have just fallen apart right there. But I kept my cool and we had 10 minutes of good fun together."

Gramm also recounts the story in his autobiography, Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades in Rock and Roll (Triumph Books, 240 pages, $24.95), which revisits his life growing up in Rochester, N.Y., his early years scuffling in Black Sheep, his time with Foreigner, and eventual split from the band, descent into drug and alcohol abuse, and a harrowing brain tumor.

Fortunately the story has a happy conclusion. Gramm was able to kick the drug problem and he has recovered from the brain tumor and is back to making music.

"Even when you reach the top there's still many dangers that can tear you right down again such as drugs and alcohol," he said of the book that was co-written with Scott Pitoniak and is available at his Web site, lougramm.com.

"I wanted to show that I'm not a rock god, that I'm a man and I have my weaknesses and vulnerabilities and I can fall prey to things like addiction. But I definitely wanted to show with God's strength you can overcome that stuff."

Gramm split with fellow Foreigner creative leader guitarist Mick Jones in 1989 in a move that was acrimonious and had long-term repercussions. Despite the songwriting chemistry that created hits such as "Cold As Ice," "I Want to Know What Love Is," "Hot Blooded," "Urgent," "Jukebox Hero," and "Waiting for a Girl Like You," their relationship has been marked by a number of public fights even after a reunion in the mid-'90s.

The biggest issue has been Jones' decision to carry on with the Foreigner name (the band will play the Fulton County Fair on Sept. 1) against Gramm's wishes after the latter suffered the brain tumor. But the pair had a friendly reunion recently when they performed together for the induction ceremonies of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.

Gramm said he builds set lists that feature plenty of classic Foreigner songs along with his solo material.

"Although I haven't been a member of Foreigner for over 10 years, I'm very proud of my participating in that band as an original member and one of the two main songwriters, so I feel every bit that those songs are mine too," he said.

"I feel very proud to play them and the response for those songs continue to be amazing. People don't get tired of those songs."

Lou Gramm will perform at the Monroe County Jam Saturday at the Monroe County fairgrounds. Tickets are $15 in advance and $25 the day of the show. They can be purchased at monroecountyjam.com or the box office at the Monroe County Fair, 3775 S. Custer Rd. or by phone at 734-241-2600 or 734-241-5775. The fairgrounds open at 3 p.m. and the grandstand opens at 6. Also performing are Cetan Clawson at 6:45 p.m., Hunter Bricks at 8, with Gramm taking the stage at 9.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.