If you go
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8
Where: Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., Naples
Information/Tickets: 239-597-1900 or www.the phil.org
Becoming lead singer for Foreigner in 2005 was like being handed the keys to an expensive sports car for Kelly Hansen.
"These are great songs and have great melodies and there's no need for me to mess them up," Hansen said in a recent phone interview.
Hansen, original band member and co-founder Mick Jones and the rest of Foreigner perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Naples Philharmonic.
Anyone not around in the late 1970s may not appreciate the impact Foreigner made when the group debuted. Its first album, released in March 1977, sold more than 4 million copies in the U.S. The album remained in the top 20 for a year with hits such as "Cold As Ice" and "Feels Like the First Time."
"Foreigner was a new sound when it came out in '77," Hansen said. "The band has always been a soul band meets a rhythm and blues band."
The band continued to churn out hits; eventually lead vocalist Lou Gramm left by 1990. Other singers followed until Hansen joined the group seven years ago.
Hansen said he read an article about a charity show Jones was playing in Santa Barbara, Calif. He said he made some phone calls and got in touch with Foreigner's management, who told him they were looking to revamp the band.
Hansen said he was invited to play with the band for 90 minutes.
"I knew the jam was really great and felt really good," he said.
Those who believe only Gramm can serve as Foreigner's frontman haven't listened to Hansen. His voice sounds eerily similar to Gramm's, although Hansen looks more like Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and has a more refined voice.
Hansen, 50, said his earliest memories of music included driving around with his mother in her Pontiac GTO, listening to Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and the Rolling Stones. He said he sang in the fourth-grade choir and still recalls many of the TV ad jingles of his youth.
"I always had an affinity for singing," he said.
Joining the 67-year-old Jones and Hansen are drummer Mark Schulman, saxophonist Thom Gimbel, bassist Jeff Pilson and keyboard player Michael Bluestein — all accomplished musicians.
An argument could be made that this might be the most talented Foreigner yet.
"We've all been around the block," Hansen said.
Hansen said he's never tried to duplicate Gramm.
"I wanted to sing the songs melodically as they were. That was really my goal," he said. "It really is about having great, great songs. That can transcend almost everything."
The music of Foreigner will be featured in a new movie, "Rock of Ages," that will be out this summer. The movie is based on a Broadway play built around classic rock and glam metal hits of the 1980s and stars Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Alec Baldwin.
Hansen, who said the Naples show will include many of Foreigner's classic hits and some new songs, said he embraces his role as the focal point for the show.
"As the lead singer, you better put on your confident pants if you're going to go out and do the show properly," he said.
"It's kind of liberating. You get to play this character that maybe you wouldn't be in everyday life."
Hansen said he was at a crossroads in his career before joining Foreigner. He was with the band Hurricane in the 1980s and early '90s.
A producer once told him he was talented but "all you need is a great song."
"Now, I have a bunch of them," Hansen said.