With one of the most recognizable voices in rock, Lou Gramm was the lead singer of Foreigner from 1976 until three months ago.
Not only was Gramm the lead singer, but also the loud singer. If Gramm's vocal pyrotechnics could somehow be harnessed, he could produce enough energy to heat Cleveland for the winter.
Now touring as a solo artist, Gramm will be opening for that Bay Area "space cowboy," Steve Miller, Sunday at the tree-lined Santa Barbara County Bowl. Gramm's second solo album, "Long Hard Look" will doubtlessly figure prominently in his performance.
"Three months ago, Foreigner hired a new singer," Gramm said in a recent telephone interview. "I was doing this tour, and they wanted to record. I would've had to cancel my tour, and that's not the way I work. It seemed like every time I was touring, they wanted to go into the studio--our schedules were conflicting. But the split was amicable; we're all still friends."
Gramm's music is corporate and commercial rock 'n' roll, hook-filled, predictable and slick. It's perfect music for the album-rock stations where Gramm will doubtlessly live long and prosper. "Being labeled commercial is not negative to me," Gramm said. "Commercial doesn't mean compromise. As long as my standards remain my own, there's nothing wrong with being commercial. My object is to make music that gets on the radio so people can hear it."
Born in Rochester, N.Y., Gramm came from a musical family. His father led a big band in the '40s; his mother was the vocalist. Hooked on radio rock 'n' roll at an early age, Gramm took up the drums when he was 8. He joined his first band at 15, playing the local bar circuit. In addition to drumming, Gramm was allowed to sing lead on one of the ultimate bar tunes, "Louie, Louie."
Later, Gramm joined another Rochester band called Poor Heart. A few years later, he hit it big when he formed Black Sheep. That band recorded a pair of albums on Capitol and were touring with Kiss--until the truck crashed and wrecked the band's equipment.
Without equipment or money or insurance, the band lost the tour, then lost their recording contract. But things worked out. A friend of a friend, former Spooky Tooth guitarist Mick Jones, was forming a band that turned out to be Foreigner. Jones hired Gramm and the rest is history, with hard-rocking hits like "Feels Like the First Time," "Double Vision," "Cold as Ice," "Hot Blooded," "Urgent" and "Women."
"On this tour, I'm trying to find out just who my fans are," Gramm said. "The last time I toured with Foreigner, it was five years ago. A kid could've been 10 or 15 years old then, and could've cared less who Lou Gramm was. But the tour is doing well--we started in May."
As a certified rock God, Gramm had this to say about the bands still trying to make it: "Luck has a great deal to do with success. Just be ready to sacrifice. If you're good, someone eventually will hear you who can help you. Just be ready."
* WHERE AND WHEN: Lou Gramm opens for Steve Miller at the Santa Barbara County Bowl this Sunday. The Bowl is located at 1122 N. Milpas St., Santa Barbara; 966-2727. Tickets are $18, $22 and $24. They are available at Ticketmaster locations, the Bowl box office, or by phone, 583-8700. Show time is 3 p.m.