“When Thom decided to leave, we talked to several multi-instrumentalists that did play sax and keyboards and everything that Thom did,” Foreigner bassist Jeff Pilson tells UCR. “We tried a few and everybody did a good job. But nobody – I mean, I don’t know if anybody’s ever going to be able to top Thom Gimbel as far as being able to play all of those instruments so well.”
Foreigner then shifted their focus, instead looking for someone who could sing and play guitar. “Most of Thom’s gig was playing guitar. That was the bulk of it,” Pilson explains. “Yes, he did play keys; yes, he did play sax; yes, he did play flute – which was wonderful. But at least four-fifths of the time, he’s playing guitar, so it made sense to get another guitar player.”
Now the band is enjoying an opportunity to rework certain elements musically in the wake of Gimbel’s departure. “We figured [the change] opened up the door for Michael Bluestein, our keyboard player, to do the solo on ‘Urgent,’ and man, he kicked it last night,” Pilson says. “So it’s all going to go great.”
He played guitar for Train in recent years, but Maldonado’s roots are in classic rock. “One of the main reasons I play an SG is because of Pete Townshend,” he shared during a recent interview with Vintage Guitar. “I watched him on the Woodstock video, playing with the Hiwatt amps and that crazy fuzz he had going. That was a big influence – like, ‘Oh my God!'”
Maldonado also cited AC/DC’s Angus Young and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath as additional influences. He channeled those early musical loves into studio and touring work with UFO in the early 2000s, and Maldonado subsequently co-wrote five tracks with Glenn Hughes for the former Deep Purple legend’s F.U.N.K. project, playing acoustic and electric guitars on the album.
“He loves ‘70s rock, so he could not be happier,” Pilson says. “He was in the band Train – and what a great band they are – but in this band, he really gets to play rock guitar like he loves. So his enthusiasm is palpable [and] he’s also an amazing singer.”
Maldonado made his debut with Foreigner at their May 19 show in Orlando, Fla. The rest of the current lineup remains intact, with founding guitarist, producer and songwriter Mick Jones (though he doesn’t always tour with the group), vocalist Kelly Hansen, Pilson, Bluestein, guitarist Bruce Watson and drummer Chris Frazier.
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