“My mom says ‘Stein’ and my dad says ‘Steen,’ so there ya go,” said Foreigner keyboardist Michael Bluestein with a laugh as he corrected this journalist on the pronunciation of his last name. “I always went with mom’s version.”
One thing is certain, when your band’s tour comes to an unexpected halt and you’re used to being on the road and performing for huge crowds and suddenly a pandemic makes you a solo artist, you need an outlet. Bluestein created one titled “Why Corona?” not long after all other operations were canceled.
“We were just outside of Minneapolis at a casino and we had a show scheduled there for Fri., March 13,” he said. “The governor made an announcement that day, just as all the states were falling into line, about limiting group activities to 250 people or less. That was where they started, so of course that made that night’s show a non-starter, so we flew home that day and we had two more weeks of gigs on the books.”
Among later Foreigner gigs that were cancelled were ones with Kansas and Europe scheduled for the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, Aug. 22; and the BB&T Pavilion in Camden, Aug. 25.
Grounded, and with nothing but uncertainty on the horizon, Bluestein found himself humming an old tune — well, sort of. And what happened next started out “tongue in cheek,” but evolved into something special.
“When the first blossoms of the idea were coming out … it was lots of plays on the word corona. ‘I’m all alone-a,’ ‘Pick up the phone-a’: Those kind of lines. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of funny,’ because it sort of reminded me of an Adam Sandler ‘Chanukah Song’ kind of vibe, just kind of silly and goofy. Then in light of what was happening, it didn’t feel totally right to have it just be comedy. I have no problem if somebody goes down that road, but by the time it got to the chorus it kind of morphed into something else and took on a more serious and reflective note. So it’s kind of a hybrid of both. There’s some kind of funny, goofy elements to it and some highlights of the seriousness of what we’ve been dealing with. So yeah, it’s a combination.
“I play both acoustic guitar and piano on the song and I, like everybody else in the world, have been thinking of the song ‘My Sharona.’ I was born in ’69 and that song came out in ’79, I believe. So, yeah, it was definitely part of my childhood. So with the coronavirus and everybody talking about ‘my corona,’ that kept jumping in my head to the tune of ‘My Sharona.’ And as you know, there’s tons of parodies out there already of that … I’m glad I didn’t go that route, but I did tip my hat to it, tongue in cheek.”
Currently the song is out as a single with a corresponding video. In this age of distance and masks, how did Bluestein pull that together?
“Actually, the whole recording happened here in my home studio in L.A. The video, the string parts are me playing those on the keyboard. But since there is kind of a dramatic string entrance on the third verse, I did want video of Dave Eggar, who is a good friend of the band and does a lot of orchestral shows with us when Foreigner does some orchestral stuff … he’s kind of the main guy behind that. I wanted to get him in the video, just visually, for that third verse entrance. Then there’s Tina Terry on background vocals on the chorus, and then a friend who is a longtime Foreigner fan who lives in Germany sent us a video of herself singing on the choruses, too. But the only other vocals on the recording besides me are Tina Terry.”
Bluestein has performed with some industry heavyweights, including Boz Scaggs, Linda Perry and Enrique Iglesias, and as a member of the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” house band. Is this his first solo offering or are there others?
“I actually have three different recordings, two of them are kind of more on the jazzier tip and they’re up on all of the streaming platforms — Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora — and are all under my name. One of them is more of a singer-songwriter thing, it’s an EP of singer-songwriter stuff … but this isn’t part of an album. It’s just a single.”
Being in the right place at the right time can often make a big difference in someone’s life and/or career. Such was the case with Bluestein and Foreigner.
“The guy who was playing keyboards for the band was Paul Mirkovich, who is the musical director for ‘The Voice,’ and before he was doing the ‘Voice’ gig he had come on as an interim keyboard player in 2007 … He said, ‘I can’t be your permanent guy but I’ll hang in and help you find a new permanent guy,’ and just as fate would have it, we were both at (the National Association of Music Merchants trade show) in January of 2008. I ran into Paul there. He and I had worked on a project years before that with an artist named Anastacia, who I toured with because Paul had brought me on board. So we ran into each other at that NAMM conference and he said, ‘I’m glad I ran into you, because I’m doing this Foreigner gig now on keys, and I need to find a replacement for myself because I have other commitments coming up. You might be a really good guy for this.’ And so it’s like that old adage: who you know, timing and luck, fate and how things roll out. So at that point, they brought me in for an audition, and I joined the band in March of ’08.”
Twelve years with the band is a relatively short time, given Foreigner’s longevity, which now spans more than five decades. Bluestein says the band is as fun-loving as ever.
“We are all still kind of amazed that all these years later, we are still laughing our asses off on the bus after the show. There’s lots of inside humor, things you develop, inside jokes after years of being on the road together. A few of us like to tip a couple back after the show, have some beers. Bruce Watson and I are big into beer and we actually have a podcast/YouTube channel called ‘VIB: Very Important Beer,’ that our guests can check into. Just search ‘Foreigner VIB’ and it will come up; we had a recent episode with lead singer Kelly Hansen on as our guest.”
With the laughs on the bus temporarily silenced and “Why Corona?” out to the masses, has Bluestein given any thought to tying the tune to charity?
“Right now, streaming as a fundraising thing doesn’t really generate a lot. I’m looking into that as an option for a charitable venue, but it hasn’t been framed that way yet. The Foreigner folks have gotten totally behind it and it is being distributed through our production company Trigger Productions and our publicist Vanessa (Menkes) has been getting the word out. But it’s cool, it’s up there, and it’s gotten a decent amount of hits. I’m just trying to give some people levity and distraction from this stuff until we are done with it.”
How about adding it to a Foreigner setlist?
“I joke about it, but I don’t think ‘Hot Blooded’ or ‘Feels Like the First Time’ are in danger of losing their spot in the set to my new ‘Why Corona?’ tune,” he said. “Not to be too self-effacing but, yeah (laughs), fans are there to hear those classics and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
For more about Bluestein and “Why Corona?,” visit michaelbluesteinmusic.com.
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $20, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.