Why Lou Gramm’s Shadow King Collapsed After Only One Concert
Lou Gramm released a couple of well-received solo albums outside of Foreigner in the late ‘80s, returning briefly to the group in the middle of the two for 1988’s Inside Information. But by the end of the decade, with the success of “Just Between You and Me” from his second solo release, 1989’s Long Hard Look, the prospects of a permanent career outside of Foreigner seemed more legitimate.
Gramm and guitarist Mick Jones, the other half of the creative partnership in Foreigner, went their separate ways. Jones issued his own eponymous solo effort in 1989, featuring contributions from Billy Joel, Carly Simon and others. By 1990, both men were working independently, with Jones bringing in singer Johnny Edwards (Montrose, King Kobra, Wild Horses) as Gramm’s replacement.
The reconfigured Foreigner released Unusual Heat in 1991, which arrived to a lukewarm reception from both critics and fans. That response more than likely fed into the difficulties that Gramm would encounter with his own band, Shadow King, when their record was released in October of 1991.
Shadow King pooled Gramm’s vocal and songwriting talents with those of longtime collaborator Bruce Turgon (his bandmate in ‘70s rockers Black Sheep) and former Dio guitarist Vivian Campbell.
Both had worked with Gramm on Long Hard Look and it was suggested that they approach the follow-up to that album as a band effort, something which was met with mixed reception.
Still, Gramm saw Shadow King as a potential vehicle to kickstart the next phase of his post-Foreigner career. “We were ready to go on the road for the long haul, because we were so stoked about the material, attitude and imagery of the band,” he explains in a conversation with UCR. “Atlantic [Records] did not do us right.”
Almost as soon as their self-titled album was released, Gramm saw and heard things he interpreted as signs the label and his former cohort were looking to sabotage any potential success that the LP might have, recalling a meeting that he heard about involving Jones and the label. ”The crux of the meeting was that if Atlantic got behind Shadow King and promoted them and they had a long successful tour backing the first album, that Lou would never come back to Foreigner. Ever,” Gramm recalls now. “And he’s right.”
Working with producer Keith Olsen, who had collaborated with Gramm previously on Foreigner’s Double Vision LP, the band -- with drummer Kevin Valentine also in the mix -- crafted an impressive album that rocked hard in a way which addressed the former Foreigner frontman's concerns at how ballad-focussed his previous group had become.
Songs like the riff-heavy “Danger in the Dance of Love” found the singer putting grit on his vocals and also gave Campbell plenty of room to open up and play, something which Gramm says was very intentional.
Listen to Shadow King's 'Danger in the Dance of Love'
He appreciated what the guitarist brought to the collaboration and says they worked well together. “He has an awesome sense of humor and he takes direction. For a non-guitar player to more or less sing out the chords that I was talking about, he would find them for me and embellish them,” he details. “We got along great. We’d just cut in plenty of room to play a solo maybe twice as long as we needed and then we took the cream of the crop and made it into a killer solo.”
The atmosphere that Campbell created with his guitar work on tracks like “No Man’s Land” and “Don’t Even Know I’m Alive” further underscored the importance of what he brought to the table for Shadow King.
Olsen also was a key component of the sonic architecture of the album. “I always thought he would be the guy to make that record hard,” Gramm says. “Interesting and deep and [with the right] amount of good cuts.”
Even with a completed record that felt like they were traveling with heavy artillery, Gramm wasn’t prepared for what they were going to encounter once they hit the promotional trail. Appearances in record stores were combined with the frustrations of discovering that those same outlets didn’t have the group’s album in stock. “We were meeting things like that head on,” he says. “Every couple of days, we were trying to do the right thing.”
The shifting musical landscape and the gradual onset of grunge likely had an impact on their experiences at radio, although the veteran artist also feels there could have been other forces at work. “We’d go to radio stations and talk about the band and the album,” he remembers. “They’d say, ‘Can we play a cut?’ They’d pick a cut on the album and play about 35 or 40 seconds of it and they’d start fading it out.”
“We were like, ‘What the fuck?’ It just wasn’t right. I think they were being told what to do by the powers that be,” he continues. “We had no gigs, no promotion and the next thing that happened was that Vivian was asked to join Def Leppard. He gave his notice.”
Campbell’s departure came after a solitary gig overseas in London at the Astoria in December of 1991. He says it was around that time that he began to speak with Leppard frontman Joe Elliott about the possibility of joining up with the Sheffield hard rock group.
Watch Shadow King Perform 'Anytime, Anywhere' in London
The members of the band were looking to fill a hole tragically created by the passing of guitarist Steve Clark, who had died in January of that year. “Obviously, that was a major decision for me. Because I had been in a lot of bands at that stage in my career and had just seen another one fail with Shadow King and Lou," Campbell told UCR in a previously unpublished interview from 2016. "I’d really invested heavily into going my own route and just thinking, 'Okay, this whole band thing is never going to work out for me. I’m just going to make a record of my own.'"
To that end, Campbell notes that he was concurrently working on a solo album at the time that he was involved with Shadow King and had a contractual obligation with CBS/Sony to deliver a record. Because of that, he was traveling frequently in the midst of his duties with the band, to meet with other songwriters to collaborate. "I was excited about that," he said. "But you know, then came the opportunity to join Def Leppard and that opportunity doesn’t come very often."
He was also frustrated that Shadow King had, in his view, “taken the path of least musical resistance,” landing on a sound that was straight ahead mainstream AOR rock. “It could have been such an exciting band,” Campbell said in an interview for a 2018 reissue of the album by Rock Candy. “If we had only stuck to the original idea of being a modern representation of Free.”
"It didn’t work out musically to be anything like I thought it was going to be and anything like Lou had originally spoken to me about," he explained in 2016 to UCR. "There were many reasons for that. At that time, when that record was being made, Lou was going through some very, very, heavy personal issues. He wasn’t present a lot for the record. So the record really got taken off course from where we were supposed to go."
For his part, Gramm was also unhappy with the way that the guitarist chose his exit and says he hasn’t maintained any contact. “You know, maybe the band and the album were over. But to be way ahead of everybody else in jumping ship, it just didn’t sit right,” he shares. “It made you wonder if Atlantic did something for him too, you know? Put something in his bank account and told him, ‘Just get out of there. Once you’re gone, there is no band.’”
In regards to the "personal issues" that Campbell referenced, Gramm clarifies that he came to terms with his struggles as they wrapped up the album sessions, additionally addressing the rumors of an intervention happening in the midst of the recording period. "It was at the end. And it wasn’t an intervention brought on by anybody else," he says now. "It was me knowing that I needed to go to rehab. If I was going to tour with this band or do anything with this band."
"If I was going to be the husband to my wife and the father to my children that I always envisioned myself being, I had to deal with this situation, once and for all," he continues. "You know, I also wanted to go to rehab so if the record did start taking off and we started to tour, I didn’t want to be going on stage not knowing where I was or anything like that."
Olsen, who passed away in 2020, backed up Gramm's performance on the album. "I can assure everyone that whenever Lou was needed in the studio, he was there," he said during a 2018 interview with Rock Candy for that same reissue. "This 'intervention' occurred over a two week period. However, he was definitely there for all of the tracking and for the vocals. When that was finished and it was time for the guitar overdubs, he did leave it to the band and myself to get those done. But that was with everyone's understanding. I should know, because I was there for every second of each recording session."
By 1992, Gramm had rejoined forces with Jones to reunite as Foreigner. But he remains proud of what the members of Shadow King created in the studio together. “We had a lot of fun writing the songs. Nobody had a real sick ego that wanted to make a song revolve around them. It was a nice band offering,” he says. “I think each song had a definite personality of its own. Obviously, with Viv and Bruce Turgon in the band -- and the other guys too, the playing was exemplary. It was a ton of fun.”