From Aerosmith to Foreigner, this ‘Juke Box Hero’ is ready to rock the Utah State Fair
Foreigner headlines the Utah State Fair on Friday, Sept. 13. Saxophonist Tom Gimbel wants people to know that the concert is going to be “a class in rock ethics.”
Note: This story has been updated to reflect an upcoming event.
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is no stranger to Foreigner.
When the rock band came to the Beehive State in 1999, it was energetically welcomed by a rare tornado that swept through Salt Lake City, according to the Deseret News.
Over the years, Foreigner has gained a fan base in Utah large enough to fill USANA Amphitheatre. And for all the joys of performing, nothing gives Tom Gimbel as great a thrill as the saxophone solo in the band's 1981 hit “Urgent.” It’s a moment that brings him to his knees, gets him rolling on the ground and turns his face a bright shade of red as he plays the highest note the brass instrument can produce.
As a longtime member of the rock band Foreigner — and Aerosmith before that —Gimbel has been belting that solo for more than 20 years, in addition to providing rhythm guitar, flute, backup vocals and keyboards for hits including “Juke Box Hero,” “Hot Blooded” and, of course, “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Foreigner headlines the Utah State Fair on Friday, Sept. 13. Gimbel talked about being a part of the Foreigner family and the upcoming concert in a recent interview.
Although Gimbel knew from a young age that he liked rock ’n’ roll, it wasn’t until he was studying flute and saxophone at the prestigious Berklee College of Music that he came to understand just how much rock music meant to him.
“The thing about Berklee is they’re really into jazz,” he said. “I love jazz, but I’m a rocker in my heart and soul. … All this jazz music, (teachers would say), ‘You have to memorize it! It has to be a part of your DNA!’ and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t want it to be a part of my DNA!’”
But all of the hours practicing and learning music theory proved to be beneficial when he joined Aerosmith in 1989, and even later when he became a full-time member of Foreigner in 1995.
“I thank my parents daily for sending me to Berklee,” he said. “It’s the greatest thing that could have happened to me. (I learned) to play from the heart; to sing on the saxophone like I could sing with my voice, and I never forgot that. … The saxophone elicits such a response from people. It’s a very evocative instrument, and I am just thrilled to be bringing that sound onto a rock stage.”
Before joining Foreigner, Gimbel could be seen saxing it up alongside Steven Tyler during songs such as “Mama Kin” and “Same Old Song and Dance.” But when Aerosmith took a break from touring to record its album “Get a Grip” in the early ’90s, Gimbel was left with some extra time on his hands.
That’s when he got a call from Foreigner.
And for a man who already enjoyed rocking out to “Hot Blooded” in his car, a call from Foreigner was a sure-fire way to get his temperature rising.
“And in those days it was a telephone call,” Gimbel said with a laugh. “You had to be there to pick up the phone — I don’t even think I had an answering machine.”
On the other end of the line was the brother of Foreigner founder Mick Jones looking for "someone to play guitar, sing, (play) sax on “Urgent,” (and) possibly some keyboards.”
Gimbel’s response came without hesitation: “I do all those things! You have called the right number. I’m your guy!”
It didn’t take long speaking with Gimbel to learn that his enthusiasm for being a member of Foreigner has not faded even a little since that phone call more than 20 years ago, mainly because performing the classic rock songs and power ballads night after night continues to be so rewarding.
“It’s going to be a good night of rock ‘n’ roll.”
“There are some bands that like to play (songs) straight off the record, but (Aerosmith and Foreigner) are not like that,” he said. “Both bands encouraged me to tear the roof off the place — they want to take (the music) to the next level!”
And in a manner that conjures up images of Jack Black in his “School of Rock” days, Gimbel wants fans to know that above all, the concert is going to be “a class in rock ethics.”
“We’re having a good time playing this rock music, and people can expect to hear all the songs that they want to hear — we’re not going to leave any out,” he said. “And we’re going to encourage everyone to join in and be a part of it if they feel so inclined. You can sit in your chair and fold your arms if you want, but it might be more fun if you sing and hoot and holler with us. … It’s going to be a good night of rock ’n’ roll.”
If you go …
When: Friday, Sept. 13, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Utah State Fairpark, 155 N. 1000 West
How much: $25-$45