Styx’s Tommy Shaw and Foreigner’s Kelly Hansen on Summer Tour, Rock Hall & What’s Next

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Foreigner and Styx on tour together is a match made in classic rock heaven.

It’s happened many times over the years, though it’s been a decade since the bands were last on the road together — as they will be for this summer’s Renegades & Juke Box Heroes tour, which kicks off Tuesday (June 11) in Grand Rapids, Mich., and plays 36 North American dates through August. The bands will also release a joint compilation album, Renegades & Juke Box Heroes, on vinyl in conjunction with the trek. Available at tour stops and, as of July 12, at retail, it features four songs from each band, divided onto separate sides.

With John Waite opening, the tour will be filled AOR-era hits, from Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time,” “Cold As Ice,” “Urgent,” “Juke Box Hero” and “I Want to Know What Love Is” to Styx’s “Lady,” “Come Sail Away,” “Renegade” and “Mr. Roboto.”

And so many more, for both. Foreigner, after all, has released nine studio albums since 1977 — seven of them platinum or better — with 14 top 20 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Styx, formed during 1972, in Chicago, has been around a few years longer, with 17 studio albums and nine top 20 singles

Foreigner, in the midst of a farewell tour that’s slated to go into 2025, will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Oct. 19 in Cleveland after its first nomination, following an extensive campaign spearheaded by founder Mick Jones’ son-in-law Mark Ronson. Styx is still waiting for that honor but has been (comparatively) prolific in the last decade, with new albums in 2017 (The Mission) and 2021 (Crash of the Crown).

Both bands have also gone through numerous membership changes during their histories, as well as recently. Earlier this month Styx brought keyboardist Lawrence Gowan’s brother Terry Gowan on board replacing bassist Ricky Phillips after 21 years. Foreigner, meanwhile, added guitarist Luis Maldonado three years ago after the amicable departure of multi-instrumentalist Thom Gimbel. But what both bands share is a staying power; in their cases — to turn a Pete Townshend phrase — it’s the songs not the identity of the singer that keeps the music moving along, and the popularity of those tunes has kept both bands healthy at the box office.

In advance of the tour, Billboard sat down with Styx’s Tommy Shaw and Foreigner’s Kelly Hansen, both eager to share their enthusiasm for hitting the road together once again with such friendly touring partners.

They Really Like Each Other

“It’s always been good, the respect and admiration we have for Foreigner and their music,” Shaw says of the kinship between the two groups. “They’re going for excellence all the time, and they’re achieving it. I think they are also true to the DNA of the music and really do a great job of playing the songs people have loved for so many years.”

Hansen adds that, “Both bands came out of the same era, the same kind of machinery of the time, of the ‘70s, when recording techniques were expanding colossally, when all different kinds of bands on a wide spectrum were all on the same radio station together, when every song you heard was completely different. It was a really a bountiful time, and I think that’s something both of these bands have experienced that kind of bonds us and creates a camaraderie.”

That extends to at least one end-of-tour prank that Hansen remembers. “(Bassist) Jeff Pilson and I dressed up in this crazy outfits. Jeff was wearing a dress and a wig and I had a mask on with a huge nose and a cape and tights and stuff. We were just trying to make them crack up when they were in the middle of a serious song.” Did it work? “No,” Hansen says. “They’ve experienced it before.”

The First Time They Heard The Other Band

“I had just moved to Niles, Mich.,” Shaw relates, “and was sitting in the bathtub in the middle of the afternoon, cooling off ’cause it was hot. I think it was ‘Cold As Ice’ that came on; that was the first time I heard anything by Foreigner, and I’m sitting there going, ‘Who is this?! Whoa! I have to hear more of this!’ From that point on they never let me down — in fact, they just kept getting better and better. The songwriting is just fantastic, really well thought-out and produced. I think that’s what makes their music so timeless.”

Hansen claims that he “couldn’t tell ya” when he first heard Styx. “It’s all a jumble. I was listening to pop radio — to singers with backup bands, mostly, like Aretha or Ray Charles or Rod Stewart, things like that. It wasn’t until years later that I fully understood the concept of what a band is, when I got into Zeppelin or whoever and realized, ‘Oh, these guys are really equally playing a part here. There’s not one guy out front and the rest of the band in back.’ That was a real revelation, and that’s the context I heard Styx in.”

Their Favorite Song By the Other Band

Hansen tries to demure — “There’s so many,” he protests — but pushed he allows that, “I like ‘Blue Collar Man.’ ‘Renegade’ is a big song. So, yeah, there’s two.” Shaw’s pick: “Well, of course, ‘I Want to Know What Love Is.’ But I can go down the list really — ‘Cold As Ice,’ ‘Hot Blooded,’ just really drop the needle anywhere and you’ll get a great song.”

Weathering Lineup Changes

“There’s the entity of the band and the music itself — the catalog of songs and what they carry with the audience,” explains Hansen, who’s been singing the songs made famous by original frontman Lou Gramm since 2005. “It’s all about the songs; it’s a testament to the writing and the recording of these songs originally.

“I think my job is to carry forward the legacy of those songs. To still be able to go out there and play these songs, and the songs still have meaning, is a rare thing to achieve. I think both bands have been doing that quite well.”

Styx, of course, still has founding guitarist James “J.Y.” Young and bassist Chuck Panozzo, who plays a few songs each night, while Shaw has been in the band since 1975.

“As we’ve gone on great people have come our way, and once you’re working in it it’s such a great world to be in, musically,” he says. “It’s the music that brings you all together.” Shaw adds that the benefit of legacy is “you’re not having to worry about having to make new music. We’re always working on new music, but the power of that music from the first time it came out and the experiences that our fans had and how they related to the music, that’s really what sticks with you.”

Is New Music Coming?

Foreigner hasn’t released anything since Can’t Slow Down back in 2009, but founder Mick Jones — who revealed via Billboard that he’s been battling Parkinson’s disease for several years — has confirmed that he’s still writing for both the band as well as for a solo project. Gramm has also discussed some unfinished material he and Jones wrote during the early 2000s that’s still around in demo form.

“As always, there’s unfinished stuff in the pipeline,” Hansen notes. “Maybe when we’re not on the road all the time we’ll have time to finish up some of those things. There’s definitely some good stuff that’s not finished yet, so time will tell.”

Shaw, meanwhile, says he’s been working on new Styx material with Will Evankovich, who produced the band’s last two albums and also tours with the group. “There’s music; the problem is there’s just not enough days in the week or hours in the day to get it all done. But we just keep plugging away at it and everyone brings a certain kind of magic to the new music, especially when it’s in the writing phases of it, and it’s all exciting.

“Whenever we’re creating new music we always remember who we are and the things that we love about Styx and not step out of the margins any more than we have to. But it’s such a wide lane to be in, anyway. (Styx) music can go just about anywhere.”

About the Rock Hall….

Hanses says that even though the current members of Foreigner will not be inducted, they’re thrilled for Jones, Gramm and the other members receiving the accolade.

“I think that the original guys in this band really deserve this recognition,” he says. “In so many ways they didn’t get recognition back in the day. It was somewhat of a faceless kind of thing; there wasn’t a David Lee Roth out there or a Jimmy Page or a Keith Richards public persona out there; they were a lot more about the music rather than showing off their personalities. I think they made a musical mark, so to be recognized for the music is a really great thing.”

As for the induction, Jones and Gramm have said they plan to perform, along with other members being inducted, but the current Foreigner lineup won’t be forgotten. “I know everyone has all kinds of ideas,” Hansen says. “I’m here to humbly assist in any way I can.”

Shaw is also stoked about his tour mates’ impending induction. “It’s fantastic,” he says. “You like to see your friends get in — (Peter) Frampton this year, too.” He’s circumspect about Styx’s prospects for the Rock Hall, however.

“We’re really powerless over it,” Shaw notes. “We don’t have any influence whatsoever. So to be anticipating it or be disappointed that we’re not in there…I don’t even know who the people are who judge (the Rock Hall), so I can’t really say much about it. We just know that our fans love us and we know that our music is good before we let them hear it. If that thing’s meant to happen, it will.”

Farewell is a relative term for Foreigner, by the way. Despite last year’s farewell tour announcement — which is expected to roll into 2025 — Foreigner is “not disappearing off the face of the earth,” according to Hansen, who’s blamed the vocal demands of singing that material as one of the reasons he’s dialing down.

“We’re just not gonna tour nine months out of the year anymore; it doesn’t get easier, especially for someone of my years,” explains the 63-year-old. “There’ll be some shows here and there, but there’ll be a lot more time for doing other things in my life that I’m passionate about,” including family, cooking, working on cars and motorcycles and “a social life that I’ve had to miss out on for many years. There’s just a lot of other things for me to do.”

Shaw says Styx is nowhere near such a point, but he does understand where Hansen’s coming from. “Y’know, I’m one of the singers (in Styx); there are good vocalists in our band who can take the leads,” he notes. “Kelly’s the guy in their band, and there’s a lot of high vocals in those (songs) that aren’t easy to do. So that’s a decision they have to make but, y’know, I never say never. They can say it’s the end; a lot of people do, and then a lot of people are right back there a year and a half later. I just hope they do what’s right for them and everybody’s happy.”

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