Many of the most well-known rock bands were formed in a similar way.
A group of friends and sometimes family members got together in somebody’s garage, or basement or living room, grew more proficient on their musical instruments and vocal skills, starting playing gigs somewhere, became better and better (hopefully) and finally obtained a recording contract.
Often they came from the same neighborhood or attended the same school or had some other likewise connection.
But that’s not the only way the some of rock’s greatest groups got together. Sometimes they came from different parts of the county and converged together in one of the nation’s music centers, often in cities such as New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco.
A few days ago, I thought about a few rock’s time-honored bands or vocal groups who got together in a different way. They weren’t even from the same nation! Sure, a few of these were the so-called super groups who formed after individual members had already achieved great success, either on their own or as a member of another band.
Still, there are indeed a number of well-known bands whose members hailed from different nations and the music world is definitely better for it. It’s not just my opinion. It’s one shared by thousands — and in some cases, millions — of music fans who snatched their records off the racks, as well as their cassettes, 8-tracks, CDs and streaming formats. Whatever technology evolved, many of these bands have been along for the ride, still drawing listeners in a variety of formats and will likely continue to do so in the future.
So while this is no means an exhaustive or complete list, these are some of rock’s greatest groups whose members hailed from different nations — with the most common being American and British combinations, along with bands whose members consisted of American and Canadian musicians. Here are a few who achieved great success:
• Foreigner — What better band to begin with when talking of international bands than a group which got its name from the fact that the original group members hailed from two different countries, the United States and England.
Original group members included Mick Jones, Dennis Elliott and Ian McDonald from Britain, along with Americans Lou Gramm, Al Greenwood and Ed Gagliardi. Jones was already well-known as a guitarist and songwriter, while McDonald had been a member of King Crimson, with Gramm pegged as the new band’s lead singer.
They supposedly based their name on the fact that whether they were performing in the U.S. or in Britain, half of the band would be foreigners. Those numbers changed when Gagliardi and Greenwood left the band, but Gramm remained on board as the band’s lead singer when Foreigner hit #1 on both the U.S. and British charts with “I Want to Know What Love Is” in 1984.
Their recording of “Waiting for a Girl Like You” spent 10 weeks at #2 without hitting the top spot, while some of the band’s other hits included “Cold as Ice” and “Feels Like the First Time.”
• Fleetwood Mac — Sure, the original members of Fleetwood Mac were all British, consisting of phenomenal guitarist Peter Green, drummer Mick Fleetwood, guitarist Jeremy Spencer and bassist John McVie in 1967.
In 1975, Americans Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Bucking joined Fleetwood Mac, then consisting of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie in what became one of the most popular groups of all time.
Fleetwood Mac’s string of hits includes songs such as “Rhiannon,” “Go Your Own Way,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “The Chain,” “Gold Dust Woman” and their sole #1 hit,” Dreams.
The band has recorded and toured in various configurations ever since, with a 2021 tour canceled due to COVID-19 concerns and moved to 2022. Still, rumors abound in the music world if Fleetwood Mac’s most successful lineup will all be on the stage performing together again.
• The Band — The quintessential Americana band, The Band is credited with creating the genre that has many listeners today, including its own Grammy category and its own awards show that’s usually held on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville, Tennessee.
Singer Conway Twitty and his bass player, Big Joe Lewis, had a lot to do with getting the group that later became The Band together, when they advised Arkansas rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins to take his band The Hawks to Canada.
Hawkins’ drummer, Levon Helm, has recounted how Twitty and Lewis told him and Hawkins that people in Canada loved the rockabilly style of music they were performing. Hawkins took the advice, so he and Helms and the rest of Hawkins’ band made the trip from Arkansas to Toronto, Canada, in 1958 and by the 1960s were part of the burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll scene.
However, one-by-one, all of Hawkins’ band members became homesick and moved back to Arkansas, with the exception of Helm, who’d developed into a striking singer as well as a drummer. As the other Arkansas musicians headed back home, Hawkins replaced each of them with local Canadian musicians: Bassist and vocalist Rick Danko, pianist and sometimes drummer Richard Manuel, lead guitarist Robbie Robertson and keyboard wizard Garth Hudson.
Eventually, The Hawks became so successful that the group struck out on its own, became Bob Dylan’s backing band on his 1966 world tour and eventually found their own success as The Band, releasing landmark albums such as “Music From Big Pink,” their eponymous “brown” album and “Stage Fright.”
Those albums, along with songs such as “The Weight,” “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up On Cripple Creek,” are today considered the forerunners of today Americana music genre — even if four of its members were from Canada!
• Buffalo Springfield — Musicians who would become members of Buffalo Springfield got together in Los Angeles after heading to LA from different parts of the U.S. and Canada.
Americans Stephen Stills and Richie Furay were in LA not long before the arrival of Canadians Neil Young and Bruce Palmer. Young and Palmer, who were in a hearse Young had brought and was driving, met up with Stills and Furay in a traffic jam. Young had been looking for Stills, wanting to start a group with him, when they spotted each other from their respective vehicles. The four added drummer Dewey Martin to form Buffalo Springfield, known for songs such as “For What It’s Worth,” by Stills, “Mr. Soul” by Young and “Kind Woman” by Furay
• Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — Although immensely talented, Buffalo Springfield didn’t last long as a band due to internal differences. Stills began jamming with David Crosby, who’d been fired from The Byrds by fellow band members Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman.
While Stills and Crosby were both Americans, they were joined in an informal jam session at the house of either Cass Elliott or Joni Mitchell, depending on who is telling the story. Graham Nash of the British group The Hollies stopped by, heard them singing Stills’ song “You Don’t Have to Cry” in two-part harmony and after asking them to play the song two more times, added a third part.
All three were struck by their magical sound. Nash returned to England, quit The Hollies and then joined his American buddies in a new group called Crosby, Stills and Nash, whose debut self-titled album became a massive seller. The group proved a big hit at the Woodstock music festival in what Stills called their second gig as a full group.
CS&N became even more of an international group when they added Canadian Neil Young to the group, and changed their name to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Their album “Deja Vu” becoming one of the most popular albums of the era, with the band members performing in various configurations through the years.
I’m only partway through my list. I’ll have to continue it in another column.
The success of all the aforementioned bands proves once again that a band consisting of “foreigners” can make memorable music — with who is the foreigner in these particular groups depending on the point of view.
Just ask the members of Foreigner.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.