When keyboardist Michael Bluestein joined the legendary classic rock group Foreigner in 2008, it was like reliving the soundtrack of his youth.
Bluestein grew up in the 1970s and 1980s when Foreigner was at the top of the music charts with hits like “Juke Box Hero,” “Hot Blooded,” “Feels Like the First Time” and “Waiting For a Girl Like You."
One of his earliest memories was of sitting in a diner that had a jukebox in the booth and punching in the number for “Hot Blooded.”
“Foreigner was everywhere back then,” Bluestein said. “All of those songs were on the radio in heavy rotation and stayed that way. And as I got older, they didn’t go away. It was classic rock. So it was an honor to join and it’s been quite an experience.”
The rock band will be coming to the Landers Center in Southaven on Nov. 6 delighting fans old and new with “The Greatest Hits of Foreigner on Tour.” The group, which was started in 1976 by British guitarist and songwriter Mick Jones, Ian McDonald, and American vocalist Lou Gramm, has 10 multi-platinum albums that spawned 16 Top 30 hits and has sold over 80 million records.
Jones is the only remaining original member left in Foreigner, but will not be joining the band on the tour at this point.
“Currently he is not,” Bluestein said. “We do have some events coming up in the New York area that he will be at. But more than likely he will not be here for the one in Southaven.”
Bluestein said it is great to be back on the road performing in front of live audiences after being forced to cancel dates for most of the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live music.
“It’s great and long overdue,” Bluestein said. “We certainly are psyched. The audiences have been fired up. They have been without live music for so long that they are coming out to shows and there is an extra level of enthusiasm, which is nice.”
Although he joined Foreigner over a decade ago, Bluestein said it is still unreal to him that he is now playing the hits he once listened to on vinyl and heard on the radio.
He was playing on tour at the time with Enrique Iglesias when he was asked to audition for Foreigner.
“I was at a music convention in 2008 and ran into an old friend of mine, Paul Merkovich, who is the musical director and keyboardist for “The Voice” TV show,” Bluestein said. “At the time, he was playing with Foreigner but was just there temporarily filling in for a bit. He asked me if I wanted to come in and audition. They brought me in for an audition and it all worked out. So it was just serendipity.”
He admits it was a bit daunting joining a legendary rock band like Foreigner, but said the band was very welcoming and he transitioned fairly quickly.
“I went through a period where I was getting to learn the material and know the parts and my duties and getting more comfortable performing,” Bluestein said. “I had to be prepared with a lot of different sounds and parts that are integral to Foreigner’s music. It’s always been pretty keyboard heavy. There is a lot of background vocals and it’s pretty heavy on harmonies, which is great. I love doing it. I had done my homework and the chemistry with the guys was there pretty early on.”
Bluestein said the music industry has changed a lot since the heyday of Foreigner. Streaming has taken the place of buying music on vinyl or CDs and is available on people’s smartphones who can can instantly download them on platforms like YouTube and Spotify.
Also, Bluestein said artists can now record and produce their music on a laptop instead of paying $2,000 to $3,000 a day to rent studio time.
“So because of that, there is a lot more music out there being produced,” Bluestein said. “I read where there are 1.6 million artists on Spotify right now. Is all that music good and high quality? Probably not. But I do believe that the good stuff and people putting out good music are going to shine through.”
As to what fuels the enduring popularity of Foreigner’s music, Bluestein said it all boils down to the fact that the songs were well crafted, well produced, and that there was a receptive audience for the band’s sound.
“All of those elements contribute to that,” Bluestein said. “I think (Lou Gramm’s) voice is still a big part of that. His voice was so powerful with that high tenor, and you had Mick’s excellent writing and producing. It is able to stand the test of time.”