Foreigner: Jukebox Heroes

Foreigner's multi-instrumentalist Thom Gimbel talks about living the dream

Foreigner's guitarist, keyboardist and general jack-of-all-trades, Thom Gimbel, doesn't get starstruck too often.

"You get immune to it after a while," he told me over the phone, while the band was taking a day off in Albuquerque, N.M. "You know, when I played with Aerosmith, Jimmy Page would sit in, and Mick [Jones, Foreigner's co-founding guitarist] would introduce us to people like Nile Rodgers. These days, I'm more of a film guy to be honest. I was at a movie premiere one time, and I could see Jacqueline Bisset sitting a couple rows down from me, and I was like, 'Whoa!'"

What a life: Not only is Gimbel's main squeeze the classic-rock titan Foreigner -- who performs at Harrah's Resort Southern California (a SoundDiego sponsor) on Friday, April 24 -- he also spent years as a player in Aerosmith's touring band. As you can imagine, the stories he has to tell are mind-boggling. While we chat, he spins tales of hanging out with Brian May, Robert De Niro, Steven Tyler and Emeril. Not in a name-dropping sense, either; you can tell that he's not pulling out these stories to seem cool -- these are simply just the people that make up his weekdays. Whereas you and I will say stuff like, "TGIF!" Gimbel says, "TGIF -- and I hope Jeff Goldblum's practiced his guest piano part for the show tonight."

In atypical rock star behavior though, his most excitable memories and impassioned stories have to do with family. Within two minutes of picking up the phone, Gimbel's telling me about his dad -- a world-class practical joker, it seems.

"He looks like Jack Nicklaus. So, whenever we'd fly anywhere, he'd tell the flight attendants he was him and they'd end up bringing him free drinks the whole flight. [laughs] We're all like, 'C'mon dad! Cut it out! You're a psychopath!' Well, one time, some kid goes up to him during the flight and says, 'If you're Jack Nicklaus, where are your clubs?' because apparently, Nicklaus takes his clubs on planes with him. Needless to say, he was caught. The flight attendants got pretty pissed. [laughs]"

Gimbel admits he's had it pretty good: For a guy that grew up in Boston, majored in performance (flute) at the Berklee College of Music, and ended up touring with Steven Tyler and Co. from '89 to '95, he's aware of the fact that he's been living the dream the last two decades as a member of Foreigner. Yet, he's still down to earth.

"We’re just lucky. We appreciate being on the road. We don’t get on each other’s nerves too much. This is what you want to do when you’re a kid. This is what you hope will happen. If I’m complaining, I’m doing something wrong."

Foreigner's seemingly always on the road. After the band completes their current tour, they're back at it again in the summer with Kid Rock and yet again in the fall with Def Leppard and Styx. Gimbel says the constant life on the road is really just a testament to their music.

"It's about the quality of the songs. That's why you're looking at 80 million albums sold worldwide. And that's not for 25 albums either. We've only got nine albums. And that's the only reason we can do what we do. We're a global band. We go to Germany, South America, France -- everywhere. People just love the songs -- and I still love them, too. I mean, they have everything I like; they're mostly rock but there are moments when they're more melodic and have interesting harmonies."

When asked if he had any personal favorites when it comes to the Foreigner catalog (I rattle off some of the hits like "Cold As Ice," "Feels Like the Very First Time," "Waiting For a Girl Like You," and "I Want to Know What Love Is"), he offered up another.

"Sometimes you get chills from a certain song and for me, 'That Was Yesterday,' really does that. We don't do it all the time, so it's very special to me and I love its message."

Local Foreigner fans have a couple chances to see the band in 2015, as those aforementioned big tours come rolling through in the summer and fall, but luckily for us, the band is set to headline Harrah's Resort Southern California right around the corner. As Gimbel puts it, playing America's Finest City is never a bad gig.

"Everybody loves San Diego. It's so nice. Sometimes when we fly in, and people look at your ticket, they all go, 'Ohhhhh, you're lucky!' When your ticket says 'San Diego,' it's a good day."

Harrah's Resort Southern California welcomes Foreigner on Friday, April 24. Tickets range from $45-$115 and are available online here. 

Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Diamond Lakes and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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