“I Want to Know What Love Is.” “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” “Cold as Ice.” “Double Vision.” “Juke Box Hero.” The list of hits goes on and on for Foreigner, and for many, these songs represent special moments in listeners’ lives, which may be why the band’s current tour with Styx and Don Felder of The Eagles is called “The Soundtrack of Summer.”
Tom Gimbel can relate, as music has been his entire life. The multi-instrumentalist plays rhythm guitar, saxophone, keyboards, flute, and sings backup vocals for Foreigner, joining in the early ‘90s after touring extensively with Aerosmith. His talent is incredible, but his passion and enthusiasm may just surpass it. In advance of his band’s July 4 concert at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain, Gimbel gushed to the Weekender about The Beatles, his mastery of so many instruments, and what plays on his iPod – or, in this case, maybe his tape deck – during the summer months.
WEEKENDER: You guys have toured with Styx before. How will this upcoming show in Scranton be different?
TOM GIMBEL: Well, it will be different staging. It’ll be different lighting. Everything’s gotten better; it was a long time ago when we toured with them; it was like 2010 or something, so everything’s gotten better. The bands get tighter. In our band, we have a new drummer, probably some different songs in the set list. So yeah, different year, different model.
And Don Felder … He was recently in The Eagles, so he brings a lot of those Eagles songs with him that he helped co-write like “Hotel California” and some other really cool ones. He’s also a tremendously incredible guitar player. So you get that whole Eagles vibe and Styx vibe and a Foreigner vibe – it’s a complete package.
W: What bands or songs would be in your summer soundtrack?
TG: When I listen to music, I listen to a lot of Marvin Gaye and Al Green; that stuff really resonates with me. But I still love The Who, and traditional rock bands like Pink Floyd and The Beatles are still on my playlist, and the (Rolling) Stones. We listen to some Allman Brothers occasionally. It goes on and on. I have pages of music that I love. I want to include Cream, too. I was just talking about when I was a kid, the first tape I ever got that my dad gave me was “The Best of Cream.” Very random. Here I am this little sixth grader walking around going, “In the white room with black curtains!” Everyone’s going, “What’s wrong with that kid?”
W: When did you decide this was what you wanted to do with your life?
TG: I think probably we all had that feeling when we saw The Beatles on “Ed Sullivan.” I think there was a massive turning point in millions of lives across the United States where everyone said, “I want to do that for a living,” because there were screaming girls and they had these guitars that looked like they were from outer space. It was very futuristic looking, and they looked like they were from another planet with their hair and everything. No one had seen anything like that up until that point. It was so futuristic and charged with positive energy. There was kind of this feeling of getting out of jail. I think in the United States, the sort of puritanical background that we had, the sexuality was very repressed.
When they were singing about teenagers who wanted to hold hands and want to dance together and just go crazy and come out of their shell, free out of their cage, the expression was just this wonderful, uplifting freedom that was part of the ‘60s revolution.
I think we all just said, “I want to be in a band like that and meet screaming girls.” That was really the extent of it. [Laughs] Everything else just happened naturally later. “Oh, you mean we can get a job and we can play songs and get money too?”
W: How did you end up learning so many different instruments?
TG: I think they just came along one at a time and sort of seduced me. I feel like I was just minding my own business and music just came and swept over me. I started on the drums when I was a little kid, and then I picked up a rhythm guitar and learned some keyboards along the way, and later in life, I would be looking for work and people would say, “We need someone that plays this and also plays that,” and I would just say, “Oh, I can do that. I’ll gladly do that.”
I had my own band and they started coming out with these synthesizers where you could play chords and beautiful strings and all kinds of marimbas and things on stage and I just went, “Well yeah! Let’s get one of those!” So automatically I was now a guitar player and keyboard player. My sister had a flute. We were listening to Jethro Tull and I just said, “Yeah! Give me the flute and I’ll learn that!” I don’t know why I didn’t just dabble; I had to get serious with all of them and dedicate myself. I think I’m maybe just naturally a hard worker. I would sit there and diligently practice the scales and arpeggios and learn how to really play each instrument because I felt that if you’re going to do it, get good at it. I think that was my mindset.
W: Musically, was it a similar or very different vibe playing in Aerosmith as compared to Foreigner?
TG: These are iconic rock bands, real rock bands that just have songs that are part of people’s growing up, the soundscape. When you’re growing up, these songs are embedded in people’s minds and hearts and ears. I just think to be part of these bands with these songs that mean so much to the audience when they come to see the show – these songs really mean something to these people. They mean something to me.
They’re not just fluffy pop songs that were a hit on the radio and then went away and now sound dated; these are songs that have stood the test of time and are important to so many people for so many different reasons. We have people say they fell in love to “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” We have people that say they danced with their parents to “Hot Blooded” when they were little kids. We have little kids that think the words are “Juice Box Hero” instead of “Juke Box Hero.” So we’ve got three generations of people that have really important memories associated with these songs, so it’s just an absolute honor for us to deliver the songs, and you can see the look on people’s faces – they’re flashing back through time.
W: What do the songs of Foreigner mean for you? Do they also put you in a different place?
TG: Sometimes it does and sometimes you also can have that similar experience. Playing and singing is automatically sort of an emotional experience for me. Even singing background parts at the end of “Waiting for a Girl Like You” – … when I sing those background parts, I’m not thinking about, “What are we going to have for dinner after the show?” [Laughs] I’m actually thinking about waiting. I’m really thinking about what that feels like to have been waiting for that girl because I can relate to that. I know what that feels like. We all do, that yearning feeling waiting for the right person to come along. That’s what I’m focused on when I’m singing those words on stage, and playing keyboard also. With music, whatever I play I’m pretty much caught up in the expression and the performance and the emotion of the song.