30 Years Ago: Lou Gramm Goes Solo With ‘Ready or Not’
After a decade that saw a flurry of frontmen leave their bands, Foreigner fans had a right to worry when Lou Gramm stepped outside the band to cut his own record in 1987. As it happened, he wasn't quite ready to fly the coop just yet — but like other lead singers who took the spotlight in the '80s, he enjoyed a fair amount of success with his solo debut.
Gramm's first solo LP, Ready or Not, arrived in February of 1987, toward the tail end of Foreigner's lengthy hiatus following the triple-platinum success of their Agent Provocateur album. It'd ultimately end up being a year of Gramm's voice all over rock radio — Foreigner returned with their next release, Inside Information, in December — but for the moment, he didn't have any new music from the band to compete with.
Looking to step outside the confines of his lengthy creative partnership with Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones, Gramm returned to his roots, hooking back up with former Black Sheep bandmate Bruce Turgon. The duo co-wrote a batch of new songs together, including the future Ready or Not hit "Midnight Blue," and entered the studio in 1986 with co-producer Pat Moran — familiar to rock 'n' roll liner notes junkies as an engineer on recordings by a slew of acts that included Rush and Robert Plant.
With Turgon as a utility player, Gramm assembled a band that included Black Sheep vet Don Mancuso, session ringers like Mark Rivera and Eddie Martinez, and E Street Band vet Nils Lofgren as well as a couple of family members: Gramm's older brother Ben Grammatico Jr. played trumpet on the record, alongside their dad, Ben Sr.
While the ingredients may have been substantially different from a Foreigner record, the overall sound was close enough to satisfy the pent-up demand for a new release from the band. Sleek and eminently commercial, Ready or Not boasted one of the most familiar voices on rock radio in addition to suitably slick production and a heaping helping of hooks. If it wasn't exactly the sound fans of the band had grown used to, it was close enough — as evidenced by the reception afforded "Midnight Blue" when it soared to the top of Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and hit the Top 5 of the Hot 100.
The album itself performed respectably, cracking the Top 40, and Ready or Not's title track also made it into the Mainstream Rock Tracks Top 10. But like Steve Perry moonlighting from Journey earlier in the decade, Gramm wasn't quite a separate commodity as far as his label was concerned; while the company stood to make a little extra dough by letting him pursue a solo career, they were still more invested in Foreigner. After a short tour and a bit of promotion, Ready or Not was an afterthought, and it was time to get back to business with the band.
In the short term, it looked like a part-time solo career would work well for Gramm — Foreigner scored another platinum LP with Inside Information, and his next foray outside the group, 1989's Long Hard Look, spun off another hit single with "Just Between You and Me." But behind the scenes, the bond between Gramm and Jones was fraying.
Fans would hear the results in just a few years, when Gramm teamed up with Turgon and future Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell to found a new group, the short-lived Shadow King, and Jones enlisted new singer Johnny Edwards to lead the similarly one-off Foreigner lineup that produced 1991's Unusual Heat LP. The pair reunited shortly thereafter, but the band's time in the limelight had passed — and their partnership never truly seemed to recover.
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