When a rock ’n’ roll icon like Lou Gramm sings the praises of an extraordinary session guitarist like Michael Staertow, you better pay attention.
Michael spent years working the northeastern pocket of the United States as an in-demand player who also taught lessons at a private music school in the Rochester, N.Y., area. Then along came Lou, Rochester’s native son and the original singer for Foreigner, in search of a touring guitarist for the Lou Gramm’s band.
“You know, we’ve had a few guitar players in the years I’ve had my own band,” Lou announced during a recent gig. “Michael’s breathed some new life into the instrumental part of these songs, and he sings really well!”
Michael is one of only a few guitar players to work with Lou Gramm, the voice of “Hot Blooded,” “Head Games,” “Juke Box Hero,” “I Want to Know to What Love Is” and other signature songs of the classic-rock era. That makes him a full-fledged member of a significant guitar-playing fraternity that also includes Foreigner founder Mick Jones, Nils Lofgren and Vivian Campbell.
“Lou allows me the latitude to insert some of my personality into the songs,” Michael says. “But I still respect this music, which has stood the test of time.”
In addition to playing venues around the world, Michael has performed with Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Whitesnake), Gene Cornish (The Rascals), Carmine and Vinny Appice (Vanilla Fudge, Black Sabbath) and original Foreigner drummer Dennis Elliott. He also shared the stage with Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers and former Heart guitarist Howard Leese at the “Pandora Unforgettable Moments on Ice” show in 2014, which was broadcast on ABC-TV and On Demand.
In 2015, Michael fulfilled a dream by sharing the stage with one of his own guitar heroes, Neal Schon, when Lou Gramm’s band joined Journey in Puerto Rico. Influences from Neal and other legendary guitarists such as Ace Frehley and the late Randy Rhoads can be heard in Michael’s melodic playing, as well as in his compelling interpretation of Foreigner smashes and the Lou Gramm solo classic “Midnight Blue.”
Michael’s work with Lou has boosted his status in the guitar community. He’s been the focus of articles in Guitar World, Guitar One and Vintage Guitar magazines, and he has been featured in Gbase.com’s Gearhead Gazette as well as being the featured guest on several podcasts including Guitar Player Magazine‘s “No Guitar Is Safe” hosted by GP’s Jude Gold.
Michael has become an aspiring vlogger, too, capturing short scenes from life on the road with Lou Gramm with special guests like Dennis Elliott and Journey drummer Deen Castronovo. (Look for the videos on his social media sites.)
Michael has also added Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp “Rock Star Counselor” to his pedigree.
“I really appreciate where I am,” Staertow says. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world getting to do what I love most.”
Here’s what Michael’s colleagues have to say about him:
Michael was a pleasure to work with at Rock n Roll Fantasy Camp, he is a great leader and inspires people with his positive energy and enthusiasm, he know’s how to be a team player and let people to shine, but when it’s time to turn it up to 11 Michael brings the power and passion. A great player for any musical group that needs the real deal. Gary Hoey recording artist/producer/music director Rock n Roll Fantasy Camp
Gary Hoey – Guitarist and CEO at Wazoo Music Group
Michael is an amazing musician, and total pro. He is always prepared and on top of it, and is an absolute pleasure to work with. Great player, great showman, great talent!
Valerie Ince – Director of Mktg/Operations RRFC
If any musicians need a great guitar player, hire Michael….no auditions needed….just contact him and hire him….he’s GREAT to work with !!!!
Joe Vitale – Drummer at Joe Walsh, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Owner Marinara Music Co.
I’ve know Michael from his work with Lou Gramm, as well as working with him at Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp. He is a great guitar player for sure, but just as importantly, he has great communication skills especially for companies and professionals. In my work as President of Rock Your Business LLC, Michael is a recommended mentor for team building and leadership training events because of his musical history and his ability to relate to people at all levels.
Edward Oates – Rock Your Business LLC Corporate Building and Leadership Training, CEO & Founder of Oracle
As the Director of Marketing and Artist Relations for Whirlwind one can only imagine the variety of musicians I work with and represent. That said, every now and then I am privileged enough to land upon what I refer to as “The Genuine Article” This is a category of musician that is not only insanely talented, but possesses patience, humility, appreciation for the position they’re in, and display that elusive quality we simply refer to as class. This describes Michael Staertow, lead guitarist for Lou Gramm (former singer for the multi platinum rock band Foreigner). In addition to taking the stage for the Lou Gramm band he spends a great deal of time working with other musicians from being a “Rock -n-Roll Fantasy Camp” leader to teaching guitar to aspiring musicians. Michael is, and always has been a joy to work with, and its guaranteed he’ll always greet you with a smile. Perhaps his demeanor will be observed by more musicians and will ultimately rub off on all of them. Expect a lot more in the near future from this humble but rising star.
Will Young – Director of Marketing/Artist Relations Whirlwind Music
My brother is the renowned rock vocalist Lou Gramm. Michael and I have played together for a number of years in Lou’s band. Michael is an extremely talented and totally professional guitarist. His musical contributions on and off the stage always raise the bar, and he is just an all around great band mate.
Ben Gramm – Drummer at Lou Gramm, Peter Frampton, Yoko Ono & Rupert Homes
I’ve had the distinct pleasure of playing with Michael in a couple of musical projects and would relish the opportunity to do so again. In short, he’s a pros pro, the ultimate team player. He plays with passion while maintaining musical integrity. Whether you ask him to learn a cover song note-for-note or to put his musical signature on something new, rest assured whatever he plays will be tasteful and pertinent. He understands the concept of playing in a group and very willingly “stays in his lane”. He sings well and can be trusted with important harmonies. His visual presentation is great, he’s very comfortable with crowd interaction and very relatable. For a guy who brings what he does to the table, he’s refreshingly egoless. He’s also on the short list of people I’d want to be on a tour bus with for long periods of time. Quite honestly, if I had a musical project that I was leading/directing, he’d be the first call I made, fingers crossed he’s available.
Mark White – Founder, Bassist, Vocalist for Prodigal Sons
Michael is a fabulous guitarist/musician and writer. He is the consummate pro, with a wealth of experience from the touring and recording he has done. In my estimation, one of the best.
Bobby Messano – Guitarist, Vocalist, Lou Gramm, Steve Winwood, Gloria Gaynor, Peter Criss, Clarence Clemons, Rodney Atkins
Michael is a top player that is one of my favorite guitar players that is always on top of his game. Great player, great guy, great hang. I highly recommend Michael to any artist, or band that is in need of a well rounded, talented guitar player.
Steve “ Sonny “ Taylor – PM/FOH-Freelance Audio Engineer/Production Manager
Michael’s a great guy and an extremely accomplished guitarist. He and I have both had the privilege of working closely with the incredible, iconic singer, Lou Gramm – me when I played in Foreigner for several years, and Michael as a member of Lou’s solo band for several years. I highly recommend him!
Ron Wikso – Drummer Lou Gramm, Foreigner, Cher, Gregg Rolie, Richie Sambora, The Storm, David Lee Roth, Co-Founder at Circle of Comfort LLC