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 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 the Lou Gramm 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 One and Vintage Guitar magazines, and he was featured in Gbase.com’s Gearhead Gazette. Michael has become an aspiring vlogger, too, capturing short scenes from life on the road with Lou Gramm Band bassist Ad Zimmer and special guests like Dennis Elliott and Journey drummer Deen Castronovo. (Look for the videos on Facebook.)
“I really appreciate where I am,” Staertow says. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”