|4eigner.net The Foreigner Website||Updates|
|[ Main ] [ The Site ] [ The News ] [ The Band ] [ The Music ] [ The Fans ] [ The Links ]|
|The Band: Interviews: "Al Greenwood topping the charts with Foreigner"||04.09.01|
This interview was conducted by Dominic Milano from Contemporary Keyboard (Keyboard since 1980), and appeared in the April 1979 issue of the refered magazine.
In the original interview whenever a song was mentioned by Al on any of his answers, the author provided a note between parentheses indicating the album on which the mentioned song was included. However those notes were wrong in the most of the cases, and even when many of them have been corrected in this transcription, there could still be more informational mistakes. In fact, the song "Good Morning To The Day", mentioned in answer number five, could have been misheard by the author and actually being "Blue Morning, Blue Day" from "Double Vision", not from the soundtrack album "FM".
The name of the band is Foreigner, but for the past two years this British-American sextet has been at home in America, on top of the national AM radio playlists. Their driving rock sound was first heard on their debut album, "Foreigner" (Atlantic, 18215); released in March 1977, it eventually sold more than three million copies in the United States alone, with three of its cuts - "Cold As Ice", "Long, Long Way From Home", and "Feels Like The First Time" - riding the charts as hit singles.
Although Foreigner guitarists Mick Jones, formerly of Spooky Tooth, and  Ian McDonald, an alumnus of King Crimson, have played some keyboard parts on Foreigner records, Al Greenwood is the band's full-time multi-keyboardist. When Jones and McDonald began forming the group early in 1976, the New York-born Greenwood was the first recruit. An article on Jones in the February '79 issue of Guitar Player noted that "keyboard work never entered (Jones's) mind until he heard Greenwood play, after which he realized that Al's rhythmic sense and steady delivery actually enhanced the group's and his own creativity".
(1) Dominic Milano: How did you first get interested in the piano?
Al Greenwood: My sister took piano lessons, and I was just
fascinated by the mechanics of the instrument, and the fact that when you pressed down the keys,
this music would come out. I started taking private piano lessons when I was eight years old, but
I wasn't what you'd call the greatest student. I was brought up in New York City, so I would much
rather be out playing stickball than inside practicing. I started taking trumpet lessons when I
got to junior high school, because they didn't have a piano in the school band, but after a
few  years The Beatles came out, and all my friends were getting into groups, so I
thought, "well, that's the thing to do". I was playing a little reed organ
with a mike stuck inside of it.
(2) Dominic Milano: What kind of bands were you working with back then?
Al Greenwood: One of my first groups was called Benedict
Arnold And The Traitors. We had these three-cornered hats like Paul Revere And The
Raiders, and it was kind of funny. From then on I just started joining other groups. Most of
the guys I played with were a lot older than I was, so I needed a false ID, because we'd play in
nightclubs, topless go-go places.... I really got an early education from that! Then I went back
to music school. I studied arranging and composition at the Berklee Conservatory, because I
wanted to be more independent and not rely on a group situation. I wanted to write on my own and
be able to compose. After that I started doing a few studio dates and some commercial work; I
hung around New York trying to get whatever I could to survive. Then Mick called and
auditioned me after coming down to hear me play - I was in a group that was doing my own
material, and he really liked it. We got together, and that was the beginning of
(3) Dominic Milano: Who have your major influences been?
Al Greenwood: I listen to just about every type of music, but I
started out of course with the classics, like I guess Debussy And Bartok, and George
Gershwin really set me up with "Rhapsody In Blue". Those were my early
influences. Then when I got into rock and roll bands, there was of course The Beatles,
but it was The Nice With Keith Emerson that really got me into keyboards. Before that I
thought keyboard players were just backup musicians sitting somewhere in the background, not
really making much noise. But Keith Emerson brought it out to the front and showed that
keyboards were an important part of the band. From then on I really got into synthesizers,
multi-keyboard setups, and things like that.
(4) Dominic Milano: What keyboards were you playing when Foreigner was formed?
Al Greenwood: When I first got into Foreigner I had a
Hammond L-100 and an EML 101 synthesizer, and I think I had an Orchestron, but that's all been
changed. Now I use a cutdown Hammond B-3, an ARP Omni, and a Wurlitzer electric piano. I still
use the same EML 101, which I've had for about six years, and I just got an Oberheim OB-1, which
is a really nice little programmable synthesizer.
(5) Dominic Milano: There were a lot of harpsichord-type sounds on "Double Vision". Were you playing a harpsichord on that album?
Al Greenwood: No, that was a Clavinet run through a Lexicon (60
Turner St., Waltham, MA 02154) digital delay. It gives that harpsichord effect, sort of doubling
but detuning the sound at the same time. We use the Lexicon on the piano too, in
"Good Morning To The Day" (from "FM").
(6) Dominic Milano: Do you use any other effect devices?
Al Greenwood: Yeah, I use Ibanez flangers on the piano for
"Spellbinder" (from "Double Vision"), and I use a Roland
Chorus Ensemble on the piano just to give it a shimmery effect. I also run everything through a
Yamaha board and a Roland Space Echo, with a very slight echo and a little reverb on it
(7) Dominic Milano: How are you amplifying your setup?
Al Greenwood: It's a custom-made system by Ram Audio (17 Jansen
St., Danbury, CT 06810), tri-amped for really clean sound. The volume is very loud onstage, with
the guitars and everything, so I need a very clean sound from an amp. I have a BGW 500-watt amp
for the bottom and mid, and an Altec 9440 for the top amp. It works out real well. Everything
comes out crystal clear, and at quite loud volume. I mix everything myself too. Right now I'm
using Ernie Ball volume pedals. They're just volume pots, very basic. I send one direct out to
the board out front, and the guy there keeps it at the same volume all night. He dosn't have to
worry about what I'm doing, because I mix it all myself.
(8) Dominic Milano: What kind of speakers are you using?
Al Greenwood: They're all Gauss speakers. There's one 18", which
is my low amp, and there's the 12" midrange cabinet. I have a high-frecuency horn and two
high-frecuency lenses, all amplified separately and in separate fiberglass cabinets.
(9) Dominic Milano: Do you have any Leslies for the B-3?
Al Greenwood: Well, I wasn't getting enough power from running
the organ into my Leslie 147, so now the B-3 goes through a Hiwatt amp, and from there it goes
straight into the Leslie, which is miked offstage. Then it comes back into my mixing board, and
runs through my system too. So I don't hear a direct Leslie sound; I hear it the way it would be
(10) Dominic Milano: Do you notice any difference between the B-3 and the L-100?
Al Greenwood: The way I had the L-100 set up, there was more
distortion, whereas the B-3 is a lot cleaner. There's a lot more you can do with the B-3, but I
do like the quality of the L-100. I may use it again in the future, because it has a certain
quality that you can't find in the B-3.
(11) Dominic Milano: Who did the work on your B-3?
Al Greenwood: Valley Sound (7501 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
90046). When I first got it back I had a few poblems with it. Some of the wires weren't connected
correctly. But I had all the original insides put into a fiberglass case, and now it's fine. I
didn't have any new work done on it - no modifications. It's the same straight B-3 I've always
(12) Dominic Milano: What kind of drawbar settings do you use?
Al Greenwood: On the Bb preset I use full-out drawbars, and on
the B setting I use almost all full-out, with the top three drawbars about halfway out and the
percussion on fast decay, normal and third harmonic. For the bass, the first drawbar is halfway
out, and the 8' is all the way out.
(13) Dominic Milano: What about vibrato?
Al Greenwood: I mostly use the C-3 vibrato setting on the top
keyboard and no vibrato on the bottom. On the bottom I basically use the left-hand bass and just
some off settings on some other songs.
(14) Dominic Milano: How long were you using an Orchestron?
Al Greenwood: I've only used it twice, actually. The only song I
used it for on the first album was called "Cold As Ice" because it had that
real cold icy sound, and the Orchestron really fit into that particular part. I also used it on
"Tramontane" on the "Double Vision" album. But the main
reason I used it was that it just happened to be there. It's an awkward instrument. I don't
really play it at all live. I don't depend on it at all; it sounds like a scratchy record most of
the time. It's a good concept, but it could have been done a little bit better.
(15) Dominic Milano: Was that the main string voice on "Tramontane"?
(16) Dominic Milano: How about the EML 101? Why are you playing that instead of, say, a Minimoog?
Al Greenwood: It's much more versatile synthesizer. I can do much
more with it as far as effects go, and it's a lot easier to work with live. A Minimoog to me is
just lead lines and basic synthesizer, whereas the EML has a little bit more to it. It's got ring
modulation, and you can control just about anything without even patching it. For live
performances it's just amazing. I do a lot of different settings onstage, and the fact that it
is so easy to patch and set up makes it simpler to use that, rather than getting an ARP 2600 -
that would just be too much to think about.
(17) Dominic Milano: Do you have any tuning problems with the EML?
Al Greenwood: Not now, but at the beginning I didn't have a
voltage regulator, and when we'd do outdoor shows I'd have a lot of problems with voltage because
we'd use generators; the synthesizer would follow the voltage pattern in pitch. At a lot of gigs
I couldn't even use a synthesizer, because it would go out of pitch.
(18) Dominic Milano: Was the B-3 doing that too?
Al Greenwood: No. The B-3, because it has the synchronous motor,
follows the cycles per second rather than the voltage, so it wasn't that bad. But the synthesizer
would just drive me up a wall, so finally I got a voltage regulator, and that calmed it down a
bit. I haven't had any problems since then. As it warms up it does go out of pitch, though, so I
keep a strobe tuner there at all times to retune it during the set.
(19) Dominic Milano: How do you like the OB-1?
Al Greenwood: It's great. You just pre-program it, press a little
button for different songs, and it's right there. It's so stable it's amazing. I don't even have
to tune it up. An incredible instrument.
(20) Dominic Milano: Do you change tone colors often in the middle of your live performances?
Al Greenwood: Oh, yes. I constantly change settings on the
synthesizers, and it keeps me real busy between songs, because I'm always resetting for the next
tune. I go from flute sounds to very hard horn sounds; some of them are pretty far
(21) Dominic Milano: Do you mainly use the OB-1 for lead lines?
(22) Dominic Milano: You don't do pitch-bending, do you?
Al Greenwood: No, not really. I let Jan Hammer take care
of that (laughs). I do solos in "Starrider" and "Cold As
Ice" (both from "Foreigner") where I use pitch-bending, but I don't like
to overdo effects. I'd rather keep it pretty straight and just save the effects for a certain
moment. I don't really consider myself a big soloist anyway. I just do my lines. I try to get the
feeling of a song, then get that through the keyboards.
(23) Dominic Milano: Does it ever bother you that Foreigner is such a guitar-oriented band? Do you ever feel frustrated by your role in the group?
Al Greenwood: Well, sometimes I am. I'd like to play a bigger
role in it. I feel for right now that I'm more of a coloring that adds a little extra dimension
to the whole, rather than actually being the lead role with the band, and I don't really mind
that. But things are getting more keyboard-oriented within the band; on "Double
Vision", for example, I have a whole track to myself ("Tramontane"), so
maybe things will progress in that direction.
(24) Dominic Milano: How are the band's arrangements done?
Al Greenwood: Mick writes most of the material, so he'll
usually just bring in a chord sequence or a basic sketchy idea of a song; most of the time there
are no lyrics or melody. We just sit down with it and jam for a while, and everybody fills in his
own little parts with what he feels he should play. That's basically how it gets done. Nothing
is written out, and Mick doesn't tell anybody what to play. It's all up to our own
individual tastes, and so far it's worked out real well. Everybody has a pretty good idea of his
instrument and how it should be related to each song.
(25) Dominic Milano: Given your busy schedule, do you do most of your rehearsing on the road?
Al Greenwood: Yeah, mostly. We work on ideas during sound checks,
and we record every sound check that we do. That's how "Hot Blooded" (from
"Double Vision") was written. You work it into your own schedule. That's
pretty good, because when you're on the road, ideas come out from your experiences and from the
hectic pace. Your mind is always working, so that lends itself to writing.
(26) Dominic Milano: Does your conservatory training help you to come up with ideas at these rehearsals?
Al Greenwood: Oh, yeah. It helps me a great deal when I'm trying
to arrange and put things into a song - the different inversions and all that. It's also helped
me in my own composing. I write my own material too, but it isn't all used with
Foreigner. One of these days I hope to just do my own solo album.
(27) Dominic Milano: What keyboards does Ian use with Foreigner?
(28) Dominic Milano: He used to play a lot of Mellotron with King Crimson. Was there any pressure to continue using it instead of the Omni for string parts?
Al Greenwood: No, not at all. Ian doesn't want to be
known as a Mellotron player. In fact, he doesn't really care about them or want to use them, and
I agree with him. I've never liked Mellotrons. I don't like to use them, because they're kind of
out of pitch most of the time. Besides, we're not doing anything right now where I could use a
real string sound, so I don't try for it. I use the Omni because it's not really strings and it's
not really fake strings either. It's got its own sound, so for now I use that for the string
(29) Dominic Milano: Do you like to use the chorus effect on the Omni?
Al Greenwood: Yeah, I do. I used it on "Lonely
Children" (from "Double Vision"). It creates a pipe organ-type sound.
It's really easy to work with as far as setting it up is concerned. I used the Omni a lot on
"Double Vision". On most of the tracks I think I used it more than anything
(30) Dominic Milano: Which keboard do you consider your main instrument right now?
Al Greenwood: I try to use them all. I don't really want to
depend on one thing, or to be known as just a synthesist, or just an organist, or pianist. I try
to play all the keyboards pretty equally on the albums and in live performance, because each
instrument has different characteristics and should be used on different places. Some songs
should be piano songs, and others should be strong organ songs. Piano is for mellower songs,
ballads and things like that. I just try to use synthesizers for lines and effects. Mainly I try
to use the organ in rock songs, because it's more raunchy.
(31) Dominic Milano: When you started playing organ, did you have to develope a different approach to the instrument than you had had with the piano?
Al Greenwood: Yeah. I had to learn a lot of chording. When I
started out in the biginning with rock and roll, there was really not much technique involved in
playing the organ, except to play chords. It was more or less a rhythm instrument, but I
progressed as the music moved forward, adding classical things. But I didn't really have any
organ training at all. I just sort of took off from the piano, listened to a lot of
records, and learned from that.
(32) Dominic Milano: Do you have any practice exercises you do before going onstage?
Al Greenwood: It's really tough on the road, because I can't
bring a keyboard backstage to warm up on, but in the sound checks we have every day I do some
exercises which get me into shape, and then before I go onstage I work with my little hand
exerciser - it's a little rubber thing I use to loosen up my fingers. But it's really tough for
a keyboard player. A guitarist has his guitar backstage and can loosen up with that, but I really
don't have much opportunity. At home I do practice a lot. I have a Rhodes there with a really
tight action, and that's really good, because when I'm on the road all I play are these little
electronic keyboards, so my fingers get pretty rubbery and lose their strength.
(33) Dominic Milano: What kind of exercises do you do on the Rhodes?
Al Greenwood: I do a lot of piano rags at home, Scott
Joplin things. It gets my fingers into shape, plus it's fun to do. And I do jazz things. On
the Rhodes it sounds really nice. I get into a lot of different things than I do on the road, and
I don't do any of the things I do on the road when I'm at home. I completely reverse everything
and play a lot of classical pieces. I don't stick to any one thing; I try to keep as versatile as
(34) Dominic Milano: Do you do any Czerny or Hanon drills?
(35) Dominic Milano: Why don't you take the Rhodes on the road and use it on Foreigner?
Al Greenwood: The Rhodes just wouldn't fit in, although I did use
it on the first album, but now I just keep it at home. The Wurlitzer works better, especially
with a pretty guitar-oriented band like Foreigner, because it's a stronger instrument.
It has a sound that will cut through everything else.
(36) Dominic Milano: Have you had any trouble with its reeds breaking?
Al Greenwood: No, I haven't. Well, I had one reed break, and when
the guy replaced it he retuned the whole thing wrong, so I had to get a whole new Wurlitzer! He
was trying to tune up the new reed, but the other ones didn't seem in with it, so he just
returned the thing like that. Other than that, it's been pretty sturdy. I've actually been
looking for something to take the place of the Wurlitzer, but I haven't quite found it yet,
although the Yamaha electric grand comes pretty close.
(37) Dominic Milano: Do you change the way you voice chords when you go from acoustic piano to Wurlitzer?
Al Greenwood: No, I pretty much play the same. It's a
smaller keyboard, of course, so I don't have that much range on the Wurlitzer, but I tend to do
the same type of things on both.
(38) Dominic Milano: Was the instrument used on "The Damage Is Done" (from "Foreigner") the Wurlitzer?
Al Greenwood: It was a combination of the Wurlitzer and the
Clavinet, and that actually was the basis of the song. I had started doing it on the Wurlitzer,
but it just seemed too mellow on its own, so Ian said, "Well, why don't
you try it on the Clavinet?". The Clav was too harsh, but when we played the two of them at
the same time, you got a nice effect, so we decided to combine them.
(39) Dominic Milano: How do you position all your keyboards onstage?
Al Greenwood: They're laid out in an L. I'm up in the back of the
stage next to Dennis (Elliott), the drummer, and the organ is facing him, with
the ARP Omni on top of it, and the EML 101 on top of that. Facing the audience in an L shape is
the Wurlitzer, with the OB-1 on top. The amps are all behind me, as far as I can get them.
(40) Dominic Milano: What led you to choose these particular instruments for your keyboard setup?
Al Greenwood: It was sort of through trial and error, I guess.
Basically my system is geared for a live performance. I just try to keep it simple, without any
breakdowns; that's what is most important to me, and that's why I'm looking into the Yamaha
CS-80. I'd like to cut all those keyboards down to maybe two, and I might eventually replace the
Omni, the B-3, the synthesizer, and possibly the piano with a Yamaha CS-80. I just tried one a
few weeks ago; it's quite a nice instrument. You can do so much with it, and it's also got that
piano feel to it. You can do pretty much whatever you want as far as touch sensitivity and
pressure on the keys are concerned. So I'm looking at that, because right now I have a lot to
worry and think about when I'm onstage. I'd rather have fewer problems than just add more
complications to what I already have. The CS-80 seems to fit right in, so I'm going to try
and get one of those.
(41) Dominic Milano: What about in the studio?
(42) Dominic Milano: Do you run anything direct into the board when you record?
Al Greenwood: Yeah, almost everything. I do the piano out in the
studio, but I do all the electronic keyboards in the control booth going straight into the board,
and I know exactly how it's going to be laid down. Most of the time I like to go into another
studio just by myself with an engineer, and lay down the tracks. I have a chance to experiment
that way and get down exactly what I want, and it's worked out real well. While the rest of the
band is doing other tracks in one studio, I'll go into a mixing room or somewhere alone, take a
tape, and put down what I feel is necessary.
(43) Dominic Milano: When the mixdown occurs, is everyone in the band usually around, or just the producer?
Al Greenwood: For "Double Vision" it was just
Mick and Ian in the studio with an engineer. They mixed the whole thing
themselves. There was really no one else in the studio at the time.
(44) Dominic Milano: How do you mike the piano in recording sessions?
Al Greenwood: We just have two microphones up on top facing down
into the harp; it's nothing really different. We used a Steinway for a few piano tracks, and a
Baldwin for some of the others. Sometimes we even did both of them together in unison to get a
different sound, because the Steinway was a little bit muted and the Baldwin was pretty
(45) Dominic Milano: Did you prefer the action on either one?
Al Greenwood: I like the Baldwin better. The Steinway was, to me,
a bit overused. It's been there at Atlantic studios a long time. It's a really nice
piano, but it didn't have quite the same feel as some other Steinways I've used. I'd rather play
(46) Dominic Milano: Have you ever thought of taking a piano on the road?
Al Greenwood: Not really. I just use the Wurlitzer onstage,
because it's too much of a problem trying to take a grand piano on tour with us, in terms of its
size and keeping it in tune. I've been looking into the Yamaha portable electric grand, though;
I think I may use that on the next tour.
(47) Dominic Milano: What is your working schedule like with Foreigner?
Al Greenwood: Last year we had about seven or eight months on the
road, which is pretty heavy. That was right after we did the first album. In fact, we hadn't
played together on the road at all before we recorded it, so that was our first experience
playing together as a band on the road. Then after that tour we had maybe two weeks off, and we
started rehearsing for the new album. We were in the studio just about every day, but we took a
week off in the middle of all that to swing down south for the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Then we
were back in the studio, and after that we went on a world tour which lasted about six weeks,
then we came back and finished mixing the album. We were out again once that was done, and ever
since, we've been on this tour. It's been pretty hectic. We haven't had much time off at all. And
that's really my first experience in the big time (laughs)!
(48) Dominic Milano: It's a hell of a way to break in.
Al Greenwood: Yeah, it's kind of strange. I really didn't think
it was going to be this big. In fact, none of us did. Everybody had high expectations, but
nothing like this. We really didn't shoot for it; it just happened. You could say it's kind of an
|The Band: Interviews: "Al Greenwood topping the charts with Foreigner"||04.09.01|
|[ Main ] [ The Site ] [ The News ] [ The Band ] [ The Music ] [ The Fans ] [ The Links ]|
|© 2000-03 4eigner.net The Foreigner Website||Updates|