Recommendation led to Foreigner gig

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Rick Wills said he can thank his wife for setting the stage for his arrival in the band Foreigner.

Wills, who had played with the likes of Peter Frampton and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, said his spouse had heard “Feels Like the First Time” from Foreigner’s first album. She told her husband it would be worth his while to have a listen as well.

In her sales pitch of the band, Wills’ wife told the bassist that the leader of the group was this guy by the name of Mick Jones.

The name immediately rang a bell for Wills.

Wills, who was interviewed from his home in Florida, saidd he met Jones back in 1967. At the time, Jones was the guitarist with Johnny Halliday (who is considered the French Elvis Presley).

That was the first piece of the puzzle to Wills’ membership in the band.

Later, Wills said he traveled to New York City. Wills said he had written two songs with Peter Frampton, which were huge hits: “Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Doobie Wah.” He figured he’d go to America to get the money he was owed for the songwriting credits.

While he was in New York, Wills heard through the musicians’ grapevine that Foreigner, which had two huge hits with its self-titled debut and its follow-up “Double Vision,” might be looking for a new bass player. He was told the band would soon be holding auditions.

Since he knew Jones, Wills said he gave Foreigner’s leader a call and expressed his interest in the gig. Jones told him to come down and try out.

Wills was already familiar with the band and its music. So for his audition, he sat in with the group to playa couple of tracks such as “Cold As Ice” and “Double Vision.”

Immediately, said Wills, Foreigner’s drummer Dennis Elliott wanted him to be part of the group. However, Jones said there were other bassists to look at and he didn’t want to commit to Wills just yet.

So, Wills said, Foreigner spent the next three weeks looking at bassists. Eventually, Wills received a call.

He got the gig.

For Wills, the quality of the songwriting of Mick Jones and Lou Gramm and musician of the band were key to why he wanted to be part of the group. Wills has played with “some excellent” musicians over the years. And he knew Jones and Gramm were at the top of their game.

Wills said the invitation was “life changing.” He found himself in one of the biggest bands in the world. It also meant he had to pull up roots in the U.K. and move to New York state, where Foreigner was based.

Wills went on to becoming the second-longest tenured bassist in the group behind current bassist Jeff Pilson.

Wills joins the original and current members of Foreigner on stage at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Oct. 3 for the ” Double Vision: Then and Now” tour.

These days, Wills has retired with his wife to Sarasota, Fla. Even though he is “retired,” Wills said he still enjoys playing music. And the reunion shows with Foreigner have worked out well for him.

“We’re so lucky the original members are alive, can play, and get on stage,” said Wills.

When he was first approached about reuniting with the original players of Foreigner, Wills said the first question that arose in his mind was, would everyone want to do it? But, to his surprise, the original members (guitarist Jones, singer Gramm, drummer Elliott, keyboardist Al Greenwood, and multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald) all quickly jumped on the idea.

The next question in his mind, said Wills, was how would the reunion work in a live setting with the current members touring with Jones?

These days, Foreigner is vocalist Kelly Hansen, rhythm guitarist and saxophonist Tom Gimbel, bassist Jeff Pilson, keyboardist Michael Bluestein, guitarist Bruce Watson, and drummer Chris Frazier.

The decision was made that the show would open with the current lineup of Foreigner performing, said Wills. There then will be an intermission. When the lights go back up, the original members take the stage. Finally, the show will wrap up with past and present members performing together.

The gigs are a special occasion, said Wills. The gathering of the Foreigner clan only happens about six times a year.

But, when everyone gets together on stage, Wills said, “It really works well.”

Foreigner will perform at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on Thursday, Oct. 3 at 7:30 p.m.

For information, visit MoheganSun.com or