Lou Gramm, the longtime lead singer of British-American rock band Foreigner, had just led his band through an encore of “Hot Blooded,” Foreigner’s 1978 smash hit about youthful desire.
And then he shocked the crowd at Proctors.
Gramm’s voice had held up well on set that spanned 45 years, with the 68-year-old singer hitting the high notes on indelible Foreigner songs like “Feels Like the First Time,” “Cold as Ice,” “Long, Long Way from Home” and “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
After the encore, Gramm lingered onstage for a moment, called his band together, and soberly announced his retirement.
“Tonight, right here in this theater, you listened to our last show,” he said, saying that he decided – after talking it over with his wife and others in the music business – it was time to roll up the backing band he assembled in 2004.
“You get real excited when you start out in this business, but you've got to be smart enough to know when to walk away from it too. And I just feel it's that time for me…. It’s been a ball. I love you guys very much,” he added as cheers rang out in the theater.
After the show, fans in the merchandise line – some who had traveled from as far away as Australia and Mississippi to be there – seemed stunned, and a bit sad.
Waiting for Gramm to sign photos, records and copies of his memoir, “Juke Box Hero,” they speculated that he would be back, at least to make some appearances with the Rock Pack (a retro revue featuring vocalists from Asia, Night Ranger and Journey).
Other fans acknowledged that it was a miracle Gramm had even been able to perform at all in recent years, after surviving surgery to remove a brain tumor in 1997.
Foreigner co-founder Mick Jones – also struggling with health troubles – still tours under the name Foreigner with Kelly Hansen serving as frontman. They appeared at Saratoga Performing Arts Center last summer in honor of the band’s 40 th anniversary.
Gramm may look like an unlikely rock star, the shorter, blonde man dressed in jeans and patterned shirt next to his sleek band all dressed in black.
But it’s the likeable Rochester, New York, native whose voice — one of the most distinctive of the late 1970s and 1980s – is irreplaceably linked to bold and dramatic hits like “Head Games,” “Double Vision,” “Urgent,” “That Was Yesterday” and “Juke Box Hero.”
Gramm and his band (which features Scott Gilman on sax, Gramm’s brother Ben on drums, AD Zimmer on bass, Michael Staertow on lead guitar, and former Foreigner keyboardist Jeff Jacobs) performed those hits at Proctors along with Gramm’s 1987 solo number “Midnight Blue.”
Gramm hit all the right notes during his last performance – and will be missed.