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Mick Jones had momentous rock life before Foreigner

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Foreigner, with original guitarist Mick Jones, center, is touring on its 40th anniversary. (Courtesy Bill Bernstein)
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Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones is celebrating his band’s four-decade career in grand style, with a greatest hits compilation, ““40–40 Hits From 40 years,” a Rhino-issued, remastered box set of its Atlantic catalog from 1977-91, a comprehensive 40th anniversary world tour, and a decidedly modern honor: the group just passing over 1 billion plays on Spotify. “There’s a lot to be proud of,” he says of signature smashes like “Hot Blooded” and “I Want to Know What Love Is.” “But you’ve got to keep your feet on the ground through all of it, somehow. So I’m just trying to be sensible, and make sure that I’m in shape for the playing.”

People forget that you had a whole music career before Foreigner. What did your early British band Nero and the Gladiators sound like?

I joined as their hit singles were fading, as the band faded from being a novelty. And it had to be a novelty, dressed up as Roman centurions. I was a centurion onstage, with a skirt made of armor. And we used to get a lot of curious young girls standing right at the front, trying to get a glimpse of what was underneath. But it was my first opportunity to really play professionally. And once I stepped in, it very quickly became almost an R&B band.

But you somehow wound up in Paris in the mid-1960s, working with Francoise Hardy, Sylvie Vartan and Johnny Hallyday?

Nero and the Gladiators had been offered a summer tour, doing a set ourselves but backing up this French singer called Dick Rivers. So we came over to France from England to do it, and on one of the first few days, there was a very beautiful young lady traveling with us, and we started an affair while traveling in the back of an American station wagon, thinking we wouldn’t be observed. But we were. So we both got kicked off the tour because she was Dick Rivers’ fiancée. And that’s the reason I stayed in France — we were together for two years.

And you palled around with The Beatles there?

I was in Sylvie Vartan’s band, and we were opening for them at a famous theater in Paris called The Olympia. They had a curtain that dropped, and as it was coming down, I was coming off, carrying my amplifier and my guitar, and it knocked me to the ground. My guitar fell, and I went, “Oh, f—! S—!” And John Lennon walked up behind me after hearing me swearing and said, “Hey, we didn’t know you were English! Come up and have a bevvy with the lads!” From then on, I spent every day, after shows with them.


IF YOU GO

Bone Bash XVII, with Foreigner, Cheap Trick
Where: Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 2
Tickets: $18 to $228
Contact: (650) 967-4040, www.ticketmaster.com

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