The Gibson Interview: Mick Jones of Foreigner
Michael Leonard | 10.28.2013 | Original Article
2013 is a good year for Mick Jones. Foreigner are back on the road to sell-out shows and Mick Jones and original singer Lou Gramm joined the Songwriters Hall of Fame. With “Juke Box Hero,” “Feels Like The First Time,” “Urgent,” “Head Games,” “Cold as Ice,” “Hot Blooded,” and the global #1, “I Want To Know What Love Is,” Foreigner have stacked up hits, from rockers to ballads.
These days, Foreigner’s only remaining original member is Englishman Mick Jones himself, with ex-Hurricane singer Kelly Hansen fronting the band. But Foreigner was always Jones’s band in the first place.
Here, Jones talks about his Gibsons, the lucky number 9, and some strange meetings over his 40 years as a pro guitarist and songwriter…
Is it good to be back on the road?
Yes, definitely. The new band is playing great, Kelly is a great singer and the audience is there. We’re having fun.
How does it feel to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame?
It was a surprise, but a welcome one. It feels like a validation of what we’ve done. You don’t get recognized as a songwriter much, and to be recognized by peers… well, it was a proud moment.
You’ve got your recognition now as a songwriter – do you ever feel you are under-appreciated as a guitar player?
It was never really my personality to be a “guitar hero.” I was always more interested in being part of a band, leading a band, than any personal fame as a musician. A lot of people I’ve worked with have said they think I’m “overlooked” as a guitar player but that’s not my concern. I think I have a good appreciation within the guitar business, but I never really wanted to project myself so much.
But there’s great video of Foreigner playing in 1981, playing “Juke Box Hero” where you are shredding like crazy.
Yeah, I’ll take a solo once in a while! It’s funny. A lot of people are praising me now as a guitar player than they ever did in the ’70 and ‘80s. But that’s fine. I’m not a shy and retiring type, but being a “guitar hero” never had as much importance as taking the time to craft the songs with my guitar. I don’t think I’ve ever been overly-flashy. I’m there to enhance the songs and to deliver the songs. And that inflatable jukebox was a nightmare. Some nights, it inflated properly. Other nights it didn’t inflate at all!
Before Foreigner, you already had an interesting career…
Yes. Cutting my teeth with Johnny Hallyday, the “French Elvis.” I was living in France at the time, but frequently came over to London to do sessions. That’s when I met Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones… And when we went to the Cromwell Inn in west London, that’s when Jimi Hendrix was new there, blowing everyone’s mind.
And that night was when Johnny Hallyday turned to me, “he’s got to come on tour with us.” I don’t think Jimi had done a proper tour of England at that time. But Jimi’s manager Chas Chandler thought it was a great idea. Jimi could go on tour in front of, if you like, an “uneducated” audience and get his chops together. So the Jimi Hendrix Experience came out to France with us and did a tour for a month. So, as guitar players, Jimi and I were hanging out together every day. I met David Gilmour in those early Paris days, too – and then the rest of Pink Floyd. I lived in Paris for five years. Interesting days of my youth.
Playing with Johnny Hallyday was very good for me. He sent me over to America to do an album with Otis Redding. Johnny was doing a lot of Otis Redding covers and they met – Otis was coaching how Johnny should sing soul songs. I learned so much from that time. Just to see someone like Otis teaching Johnny Holliday how to sing soul was great.
And you played with another Gibson Les Paul fan, Peter Frampton, on his Winds Of Change album?
I got to know Steve Marriott and Peter really well, just as they were putting Humble Pie together. If you want to talk about underrated guitar players, there’s Peter Frampton. He’s so good, a really great player, and I don’t think he’s ever been recognized for his talent as a guitar player per se. He just became a pop sensation instead. We do shows together sometimes.
Tell Gibson.com readers about your Les Pauls…
Onstage, I generally use a Tobacco ‘burst Les Paul Standard, a 1997. It’s not one of my originals, obviously – I don’t take those Les Pauls on tour anymore. They’re too valuable and I don’t want them to get damaged or even stolen. But my Tobacco ‘burst is a beautiful Les Paul and plays so well. And sounds fantastic.
For the Gibson Mick Jones Les Paul Custom signature [now out of production- Editor], it was simply a copy of the first Les Paul Custom I used in Foreigner – a three-pickup ’59. I had it specially wired, had the middle pickup taken out. And Gibson replicated it. I know other players have said this, but I could barely tell the difference between my original and the Gibson replica. All the little cracks and dings are all there. I even embarrass myself sometimes, when I pick up the wrong one!
I take the Gibson signature out on the road all the time, but not my original. For acoustic guitars, my favorite now is a 2012 black Gibson J-200.
I hear you like the idea of a chambered-body Les Paul?
Yep, I’ve specifically asked for one to be made for me. Billy Gibbons has one, I know… and Joe Walsh too. They’re just so much lighter. The weight of my original Custom is like carrying a large baby. It gets to my shoulders, so I just want to lighten the load. Gibson are making one for me now, and I’m really looking forward to getting that.
You’re English, but found big fame in the U.S.A – is that why the band was called Foreigner?
Pretty much! We were going through hell trying to find the right name. The first name we had was Trigger! I just felt Foreigner was a good name – it felt like the music was coming from somewhere else. We had three Englishmen, three Americans sometimes… wherever we went, someone would be a foreigner.
And at the time I had a lucky number, nine. Foreigner had nine letters in it. And I lived, at the time, on 90th Street at number 190 on the ninth floor. Nine was everywhere! And Mick Jones has nine letters in it too, you see?
And on all the original vinyl albums, there was always the run-off groove with an engraving on it – it could be the engineer’s signature or something. But I had our record company change all our catalog numbers to include nines. So all Foreigner’s catalog numbers on the Atlantic label are all out of their system. Why do it? Because we could, maybe. Nines!
Calling a band Foreigner was brave, I guess. In the U.S. it kind of means “alien.” But the connotation of Foreigner now, with terrorism and everything, I do sometimes think: what a stupid name! But Foreigner, the band, have a good connotation I think. I’ve lived with it for a long time. I’m happy with being a Foreigner.