You’ve written some of the greatest rock ballads of all time for Foreigner. As a songwriter does it help to have loved and lost many times?
It’s definitely been a source of information for me [laughs]. When I wrote those songs I could think back on the different experiences I’ve had with women, all the emotions.
Did you have much success with women before you became a rock star?
As a kid I was very much a romanticist. If I met a girl I’d fall in love with her immediately. And really, I’d be in love with the fantasy of the girl.
In the late sixties, you enjoyed what you refer to as your ‘French period’ – when you were playing guitar for French superstar singer Johnny Hallyday. Presumably you were beating the girls off with a shitty stick.
Well, yes, it was a little crazy back then. French girls had mystique. They were quite hard to handle, fiery but very seductive.
Jimi Hendrix supported Johnny Hallyday on one of those French tours. Was Jimi the biggest fanny magnet you’ve ever seen?
It was amazing. Women would be squished up at the front of the stage, and they’d have this blissful expression on their faces. It didn’t take much imagination to realise they were having a sexual experience. It was a beautiful thing to see.
And after playing the field as a young man, you eventually got married.
I’ve been married three times. I’m on a reasonably friendly basis with all of my ex-wives, but it wasn’t always that way [laughs]. Time has mellowed things a bit.
When you wrote I Want To Know What Love Is – your most famous ballad – was it for one of those wives?
This is a funny story. I was with my soon-to-be-wife. I was in my music room at our apartment in London and I played that song for her. When I told her the title of the song, she said: “You want to know what love is? What do you mean? Don’t you love me?” Let’s just say that encouraged me to look at it more as a spiritual song than a specific relationship song.
How many children do you have?
I have four natural children and three stepchildren. My eldest son is forty two; my stepson, Mark Ronson [DJ and producer for Adele, Amy Winehouse, Paul McCartney], is in his thirties. So are his sisters Samantha and Charlotte. And I have Christopher who’s in his thirties, and Alexander and Annabel are in their twenties.
Is being a stepfather a difficult thing to do?
It’s not easy. When parents break up it’s very traumatic for the kids. It’s hard, emotionally, for the parents too. But I didn’t do too bad a job.
As a touring musician did you miss some of the important moments in your children’s lives?
Oh yeah. It was partly to do with the lifestyle, the schedule, but also partly from being too bombed to get up in the morning to take them to school. But eleven years ago I made the decision to get my house in order. I stopped drinking. Everything became a lot clearer, and I’ve had a much better and deeper relationship with the kids.
Would you marry again?
I think I’m done after three marriages. I’m currently not married. And while I believe that marriage is a great institution, it doesn’t really work if you’re spending more time with your guitar than with your wife and family. I refer to music as my mistress, because it’s got such a hold on me. I’ve been wandering around the world playing music since I was seventeen. I’m a bit of a vagabond, a scallywag.
And at sixty-nine years old are you still an incurable romantic?
Even more so [laughs]. I love watching beautiful girls walking by. For me that will never change.