AN INTERVIEW WITH ROGER EARL
By David Iozzia
Photo by Pete Eliopolous
The British blues-rock band Foghat started their journey on the rock and roll highway in the early 70s after three of its members departed the band Savoy Brown. Ive had the pleasure of seeing Foghat play live at least a half-dozen times. Three of those shows were in the mid and late 70s. Their two original guitarists, Lonesome Dave Peverett and Rod Price, have left planet Earth. While theyre busy jamming in rock and roll heaven with Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and John Lee Hooker, Foghats current lineup, which includes their original drummer Roger Earl, keeps their spirits alive. With a December 2013 live DVD just being released, and a January 2014 show scheduled thats a short walk from my New Jersey home, I eagerly set up this interview with Roger Earl. I couldve talked forever with Roger about Foghats 40-year history, but I decided to concentrate our chat on current events. Unless, of course, Roger would let me ask him about his audition with Jimi Hendrix!
Roger: Hello Dave. Im told youre from New Jersey. Foghats playing there later this week.
Dave: I live in Old Bridge, which is central New Jersey. Im less than a five-minute ride to Starland Ballroom. Ill see you there Roger.
Roger: Ive been in Europe the last three or four weeks. Im really looking forward to that New Jersey show. I was starting to jones to hang out with the guys and play again.
Dave: Starland Ballroom is a great venue. It has only been re-opened a few months. The club was devastated in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy.
Roger: I live on the north shore of Long Island. That storm was the first time in 35 years that we actually had to leave our home because of weather. My office took on a foot and a half of water. My workshop and my tool shed had over four feet of water. The water got into my drum shed and knocked my drums over. I had about 1,000 copies of Foghats double album on blue vinyl stored there and about 300 fell into the water. None of the Foghat wine got spoiled so thats all right.
Dave: I go back pretty far with Foghat, Roger. As a teenager in 1976, I took a slow ride on a bus to Passaic, New Jerseys Capitol Theater twice to see your band. Kansas opened one show. A few months later Foghat headlined over Montrose and Rush.
Roger: I remember the Capitol Theater, and we did some touring with Kansas. We played a lot of shows with Montrose. I believe that was when Sammy Hagar was singing.
Dave: Sammy had recently left the band at the time of the 1976 show. Bob James was singing for that show. Sammy Hagar did the first two albums before he left.
Roger: We did quite a few earlier shows with Montrose where Sammy was still singing. Bill Church was on bass and Denny Carmassi was drumming. The reason I remember is that Sammy, Bill, and Denny would come into our dressing room. We had better alcohol and a big pile of food. I can remember Ronnie walking by, looking into the room, and shaking his head because his band was in there with us. Ronnie was a real cool guy and so was the rest of the band. Im sure you heard about Ronnie passing away recently.
Dave: I had the pleasure of seeing Ronnie Montrose play at B.B. Kings in New York City about a year before his tragic death. Montrose was one of my favorite bands. Even though that show was just Ronnie with a superb backing band, it was really special to hear that music played live again. Hearing about his death was devastating.
Roger: Linda, my wife and Foghat manager, has become real good friends with Ronnies wife and manager Leighsa Montrose. The new tribute DVD to Ronnie had the first couple of thousand copies released on our label because she couldnt get a distribution deal sorted out with somebody else. Have you seen the DVD yet, Dave?
Dave: Not yet, but its on my list.
Roger: Its worthwhile. The sound is fabulous and the playing blows you away. Joe Satriani is great on it. Journeys Neal Schon is incredible. I was really impressed with the way he played. Steve Smiths drumming is unbelievable.
Dave: Another early Foghat show I attended was in 1978. My younger brother Joey and I took a bus from northern New Jersey to Manhattan where we switched buses for a slow ride to Philadelphia. We saw Foghat headline at The Spectrum over Sweet and Cheap Trick.
Roger: The Spectrum was a great sounding venue for our band. I dont know how it was like for you up front.
Dave: Cant say I remember the sound, but I definitely remember the journey and the concert. I cant believe our parents let us do it. Ive seen Foghat more recently doing shows with Blue Oyster Cult, but thats how I got started back in the day with Foghat.
Roger: Well thank you for attending those shows and for sharing the memories.
Dave: Lets leave the 70s behind and jump to 2014. Im in frigid New Jersey today and Im guessing youre on frigid Long Island. It was warmer on planet Mars the other day than it was in New Jersey.
Roger: Yes indeed. We live on a houseboat with permanent moorings. Some of the pipes are frozen. I was defrosting pipes earlier today, but were expecting warmer weather the next couple of days. If you live in a little bit of heaven, sometimes youve got to put up with a little bit of hell. But what the f*ck, it is winter. Right?
Dave: Yes, but this winter has been no wonderland with all the snow, ice, and sub-freezing temperatures. Foghat treated its fans with a Christmas song in 2013. Its an instrumental version of Winter Wonderland.
Roger: Weve been talking about writing and doing a Christmas song for ages. By the time you get around to thinking about it, its November or December, and its too late to get it released. We made a special effort this time to get into our Deland, Florida studio, Boogie Motel South. I was in the kitchen getting some food ready and the guys started playing Winter Wonderland. It sounded like shit; not a song. I said it wasnt working. Then Bryan Bassett, Foghats lead guitarist and engineer/producer, suggested playing it like a funky New Orleans thing. When I joined in and we played it in that style, it began to take shape. The truth is that Bryan is a brilliant guitar player. Anything he plays sounds great.
Dave: I always felt the slide guitar was Foghats calling card, and Bryans slide on that song is top notch.
Roger: Once we got into it, we had a lot of fun. Towards the end, after the arrangement was down, we had a couple of glasses of wine. We were in the spirit.
Dave: Foghat is a band with roots dug deep into the blues and boogie. Yet the band only did one other instrumental track, 2010s 495 Boogie, in its 40 plus years of recording.
Roger: Over the years, wed jam or rehearse with instrumentals. Slow Ride started out and was arranged as an instrumental. Then guitarist Lonesome Dave spoke up and said he had some words for that song. Winter Wonderland was a conscious effort to do as an instrumental. The other one was basically my older brother Colins song. When Id travel to Europe and sit in with his band, wed play these great piano instrumentals.
Dave: On December 13, 2013, Foghat released a live DVD titled Live in St. Pete. I assume that it is St. Petersburg, Florida, and not Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Roger: Nick or nyet, whatever word means no in Russian! Actually, Foghats old bass guitarist Nick Jameson portrayed the Russian president on the TV show 24.
Dave: I didnt realize he had an acting component on his multi-faceted resume. Ill have to look that up.
Roger: He played a scientist on Seinfeld. He was the psychologist on the TV show Lost. Nick also does voiceovers. Hes very talented. Let me tell you a story. Foghat was doing the Fool For the City album in Sharon, Vermont. We were stuck on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Lonesome Dave a year or so earlier started carrying around a saxophone. You always knew where his room was by the strange sounds going on. Nick said that hed get a higher sounding saxophone so that he and Dave could add horn parts to our record. The next morning Nick drove down the mountain into town to a second-hand store and bought his horn. Within ten minutes, after never playing that instrument, Nick was writing horn parts. I hate people like that!
Dave: It would take me ten minutes to figure out the ass end from the business end of a saxophone.
Roger: Us mere mortals have to struggle and practice every day of our lives, which is okay. Foghat had a song called Going to the Mardi Gras with Lonesome Dave and Nick playing horn parts. I dont know what ever happened to that song.
Dave: What venue in Florida was the DVD filmed in?
Roger: Jannus Landing. Its a huge courtyard in the old part of town. Foghat had finished touring for the year. We all hung up our rock and roll shoes. The owner called us up and said he had a cancellation and he wanted Foghat to play. Three of us were already down in Florida. I think the DVD turned out really well. We had a lot of fun doing it. Bryan had to work on it a lot, but the sound came out terrific. The visuals were real good. We hadnt had a DVD out in about 10 years. We had recorded parts of shows and planned to release that. But this came out so much better. It documented a Foghat show as opposed to a bunch of songs culled from different tapes. Were all pleased with how it came out.
Dave: Where can music fans reading this interview purchase the DVD?
Roger: They can visit our website at http://www.foghat.net/merchandise.htm and all the other places like Amazon.
Dave: The setlist on your DVD ranges from the bands 1972 debut record to a song from your 2010 release Last Train Home. How much effort does Foghat put into the song selection for its live setlist?
Roger: Every year we join up in the Florida studio to write and rehearse. We try to add four or five songs we havent played in a while to the set. Theres obviously a half-dozen songs that we have to play or people will get upset. A couple of times we put something up at the website asking fans for their suggestions.
Dave: The DVD opens with a song I can remember Foghat opening with on many occasions. Road Fever from your 1973 release Rock and Roll is the perfect opening song.
Roger: Among the changes in Foghats 2013 set was going back to Road Fever as our opening song. Im sure in 2014 that things will change up again.
Dave: A cover of Al Greens Take Me to the River follows. Foghat first recorded that song on their 1976 album Night Shift. I always felt that an R&B cover was a curious decision given the bands blues roots.
Roger: I dont think Take Me to the River was much of a stretch for Foghat. For us, blues and R&B went hand-in-hand. I loved Al Green; his songs were great. Obviously we changed the attitude on that song. I love listening to those types of music. Occasionally, Foghat will take one of those songs and ruin it. Our 1982 album In the Mood for Something Rude was all covers.
Dave: Charlie Huhn, Foghats guitarist/lead singer, stands out vocally on this track. Its one of my favorite highlights from the DVD.
Roger: Yeah, Charlie got that one right.
Dave: Nobody knows better your partner in the rhythm section, bass guitarist Craig MacGregor. What would you pick as Craigs favorite moment on the DVD?
Roger: Weve been together since 1975, other than a few breaks hes taken. He played on the Night Shift record, so Take Me to the River might be his favorite. Craigs a tremendous bass player.
Dave: No doubt.
Roger: I was always blessed that every band I played in had a great bass player. The first band I was in was with Mungo Jerrys singer Ray Dorset when we went to school together. Our bass player was Dave Hutchins and he was great. When I joined Savoy Brown, Tony Stevens was there. With Foghat, Ive been blessed to play with Tony, Nick Jameson, and Craig MacGregor.
Dave: On the DVD, a cover of the Willie Dixon-written My Babe follows. How did you discover the music of Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters when you were growing up in London, England?
Roger: I was listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and of course Chuck Berry. In 1960 or 1961, I got a hold of Muddy Waters Live in Newport. Thats one of the greatest live records of all time for me. I belonged to a record club out of Chicago and they would send me over a list of records they had every couple of months. Thats how I discovered Howlin Wolf. You had to be great with a name like that. Then I found John Lee Hooker and Willie Dixon and I was off.
Dave: My Babe was recorded by many, including the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, and Elvis.
Roger: Elvis really did that song?
Dave: Its on his 1969 live album From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis.
Roger: Very interesting, I did not know that. I had Elvis Presleys early recordings from Sun Records and they were fantastic. He was a great singer and he had a fantastic band.
Dave: Foghats smash 1975 album Fool for the City had what vinyl aficionados call the perfect album side. Sandwiched between Fool for the City and Slow Ride is My Babe.
Roger: Funny you should say that Dave. When we were going through the list of songs for the DVD, we had five songs from Fool for the City. I guess it was a good record!
Dave: Back in the day, did Foghat ever play those three songs in sequence to replicate the album side?
Roger: To be perfectly honest with you Dave, I dont remember. Its quite possible though.
Dave: So many bands these days will play a classic album live start to finish. Has Foghat given that any thought?
Roger: We discussed it, but without Lonesome Dave there, it didnt seem worthwhile. Re-learning the songs could be useful. Foghat never played Terraplane Blues with Lonesome Dave and Rod Price. That was interesting.
Dave: My favorite Foghat song, Drivin Wheel, is next up on the DVD. Thats a song NASCAR could have grabbed by the horns to utilize during a racing broadcast.
Roger: Have they done that?
Dave: No, but they should have. They bombard you with senseless music that has any reference to words like car or driving.
Roger: There was a 2008 comedy about wine called Bottle Shock. They used Drivin Wheel because I started receiving royalty checks. I cashed the checks and had almost enough money to go out and see the film. I think a lot of Foghat songs would be a good fit on film soundtracks.
Dave: The title track from the bands 1978 album Stone Blue is up next on your DVD. I must admit its nice to be saying the word album instead of CD.
Roger: When Foghat did Last Train Home, we took a long time to complete an entire album. It took a lot longer than it used to. When Foghat was under contract in the 70s, we had to put out a new record every year. I dont know where we found the time. I guess when youre young, you do find the time. Plus, they were paying us hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Dave: I dont want to knock CDs and their 80-minute capability. Foghat Live, your 1977 smash, was only six songs long.
Roger: Foghat Live was supposed to have been a double album. We were touring so much back then. Our sound engineer, Bob Coffee, would give me cassettes of the shows to keep an eye on the tempos, what we were doing, and how we were doing. Invariably, tempos were a bit quick given our youthful enthusiasm. Craig MacGregor was in the band a few months and had his chops down. I suggested that we do a live album. Our sets were usually a minimum of 90 minutes but vinyl limited us to 40 minutes or so. It wasnt our fault because Foghat wanted to do a double live album. Warner Brothers, the parent company of Bearsville Records, in their infinite wisdom said live albums dont sell. We had to pick and choose the six songs to squeeze in on a single album.
Dave: Thirty years later, the Foghat Live II double-CD lets the band include 20 songs. That better documents a Foghat concert.
Roger: Theres not only that Dave. These days, were in charge. We have our own record company. That was then and this is now. The world has certainly changed. CDs and computers changed music. Only in recent years did I manage to get all of my albums on CD and apparently thats sort of old. But they do play well in the car, which has become my main listening room.
Dave: Speaking of cars, your DVD has Foghats take on Robert Johnsons delta blues classic Terraplane Blues. The Terraplane is a classic car made by Hudson Motors in the 1930s.
Roger: Yes, the Terraplane was a car. If you listen to Robert Johnsons version, its completely different from how we played it. Foghat was often accused of bastardizing a perfectly good blues song.
Dave: And how do you plead Mr. Earl?
Roger: Guilty! But we had to play it somehow. Nobody could play it like Robert Johnson. He was an amazing player; all the chords and arrangements back in his day were spectacular.
Dave: Whats your favorite cover song played by Foghat?
Roger: I have a great affection for Willie Dixons I Just Want to Make Love to You and the way Foghat recorded it. The way we played it had a lot to do with Dave Edmunds who engineered it. He did an incredible job. Dave Edmunds is responsible for Foghats success with our debut album. I havent seen Dave in a few years but hes an absolute genius. He played guitar on a few tracks and piano on a few others. We had a lot of help on that first album. Todd Rundgren stopped by and played guitar also.
Dave: Foghats new DVD closes with three songs from the soundtrack to my youth. Fool for the City was a great song from a great record that had a great album cover. It featured you fishing into a manhole on New York Citys Lower East Side. Did you catch anything?
Roger: I caught a few cockroaches three inches long! Nick Jameson was producing the record and he came up with the idea on an early Sunday morning. We pulled the manhole cover open and started taking pictures. A couple of New Yorks finest rolled by, stopped the car, and rolled down the windows. They looked at me and I thought oh shit. Im going to get arrested. I told them we were taking pictures for an album cover when they asked whatcha doin? They asked if we had a license. To do what I asked. They sarcastically responded A fishing license! They got out of the car and hung out a while. They had to cover their badges when we took photos of them carrying me away.
Dave: Do you still find time to fish these days?
Roger: Not as much as Id like. This past summer I caught a few small striped bass that I had to throw back. I caught a few nice-sized bluefish. I fished on the West Coast once and caught a few salmon. Any day fishing is a good day.
Dave: Next up on the DVD is the Willie Dixon-penned I Just Want to Make Love to You. A Foghat fan can find 20 versions of the band performing this with different lineups from different eras. None are better than this version for me.
Roger: Thank you Dave. Weve been playing it for almost 50 years so its about time we got it right! Over the years, weve played different variations of it. You have the basic song and then you do other stuff with it. Its a lot of fun playing that song. Thank you Willie Dixon!
Dave: Your DVD ends with Slow Ride. Im glad you had the space to play it as a 15- minute encore. Foghats classic song was a Top 20 single, originally eight minutes long but later trimmed down to a radio-friendly edit.
Roger: When we first recorded Slow Ride, Nick Jameson and I finished mixing it. We drove it from Vermont to the Bearsville studio. We declared it as the next single. A Bearsville executive said you cant do an eight-minute single, but Nick and I refused to edit it. A number of radio stations played the full length version. Then some radio station, or maybe it was actually Nick, edited it down. Bastards! But thats okay; its only music.
Dave: Slow Ride was discovered by a new generation of music listeners when it was used on the video game Guitar Hero III and later heard on the TV show American Idol.
Roger: Youre right Dave. Many of the teenagers and twenty-somethings coming to our shows probably discovered Foghat that way. Its refreshing. Maybe we did it right and had the right attitude when we made music. I dont know how to describe it but rock and roll has a certain honesty about it thats let it survive in one form or another for 60 or 70 years.
Dave: When Foghat released Slow Ride, radio or live performance was the only way to get the song heard. MTV changed things in the 80s, but its a different game being played by todays bands when they try to get heard.
Roger: I dont envy them and how they are trying to work. The three bands playing before us at Starland Ballroom had to jump through hoops and probably pay to play. When I first started as a teenager in London, wed rent a room above a pub and charge people to get in. We didnt know anything about insurance. Today its difficult to find a venue to play. If youre young, you cant play where they serve alcohol. I was fortunate to grow up in a time when music was king.
Dave: I watched a television interview with singer Linda Ronstadt recently. She called todays over-abundance of music ear pollution. Its in the background everywhere: restaurants, elevators, and retail stores. Linda stated that listening to music should be elective.
Roger: Im somewhat hearing challenged. After playing drums in a rock and roll band for 50 years, my ears are nowhere near as acute as the used to be. I cant be involved in mixing like I used to. I just got back from visiting family in England. They had music on in the background everywhere. It annoyed the shit out of me. Its just noise at that level. I want to sit down and listen to music. Linda Ronstadt is right with that comment.
Dave: As I was agreeing with Lindas comment, I put myself into the situation. There is background music playing all day where I work. I can hear the same song three times in an eight-hour shift. But Ive learned to tune it out. I might HEAR a song I like, but I dont LISTEN.
Roger: A few days ago, I put some different CDs into my car. I told you earlier that the car is my main listening room. I have a decent sound system in the house but I like to listen to stuff in the car. It gives me a better feel.
Dave: Plus the phones not ringing and the dogs not barking. Nobodys knocking on the door. In the car, its just us and the music.
Dave: So whos music did you load into the car?
Roger: Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, and some Little Feat. I got to have Little Feat in the car. Whats the world without a little bit of Little Feat?
Dave: Its ironic that you mentioned Hank Williams.
Roger: I love Hank. His stuff is fantastic. I keep hoping Ill hear something that Foghat can record. Ill call Bryan Bassett and ask him what he thinks about a certain Hank Williams song. Hell laugh and remind me that 3,000 people have already recorded it.
Dave: Have you come across the music of Hanks grandson, Hank 3? Its a lot different than his grandfathers music. He calls it hillbilly. It definitely has an edge and attitude about it.
Roger: Yes, Ive heard some.
Dave: I interviewed Hank 3 a few years ago, and I coincidentally re-read my interview last night. He plays guitar, he plays bass, he sings, and he also drummed for the New Orleans hardcore punk band Arson Anthem. I quoted Hank 3 saying drums are my psychiatrist. They make me feel like a seventeen year old child in an old mans body.
Roger: People always ask me when Im going to grow up and I say never. Why would I want to do that? I have become more sensible over the years. I love my job; playing drums in a rock and roll band, and getting paid for it. You cant get better than that! What was his name again Dave?
Dave: Hank Williams III, but hes better known as Hank 3.
Roger: My brother in England has one of his CDs. Theres a song in there somewhere with the drum comment he gave you. Maybe the Red Hot Chili Peppers could do it. Music is my aeroplane and drums are my psychiatrist. But it will be hard to rhyme something with psychiatrist.
Dave: If I have to play double bass drum, Ill need a second podiatrist. Other than finishing the song we just started writing, what else does Foghat have planned for 2014?
Roger: February, March, and April Ill be down in Florida. Foghat will do some writing and recording. I like to head back to April once the weather changes. Were hoping to have some guest musicians contribute to the next Foghat record. We did that when the late great Eddie Kirkland joined us on the Last Train Home record. Being creative and making music, you need to have fun with it. Having some musicians weve met join with us to write and play would let us have fun. Music needs to be a joyful experience.
Dave: Roger, do you have a moment for a pre-Foghat question?
Roger: Certainly Dave.
Dave: Will you please give me some details on your audition with Jimi Hendrix?
Roger: I was 20 years old and I had just joined Savoy Brown. I got a call from his manager, Chas Chandler, asking if I had heard of Jimi Hendrix and if I wanted to audition. Of course I had heard of him; everybody had. We auditioned at a London club just off Piccadilly Circus. I think it was called the Blue Bird. Its lunchtime, 12 or 1 oclock, and I was outside waiting for the club to open. I had borrowed my fathers car to bring my drums. Its raining in London as it always does. And Jimi Hendrix walks up to me and starts talking about some songs hed written the night before. I was the fifth or sixth drummer to play, and Jimi started playing his Fender Stratocaster in front of a Marshall stack. To be honest with you Dave, I didnt have a clue as to what I should do. I never heard anything like it. It was like music from another planet. Jimi was very kind and generous with his time with me. He played a slow blues song like red House and a Chuck Berry song. It was very cool. A short time later on the west coast of the United States, everybody was jamming in a club. Eric Burdon got up to sing with Jimi, and I sat in for a few tunes on drums. Its very sad that Jimi didnt make it. Who knows where the world would have been had Jimi stayed around longer? He was an incredible guitar player.
Dave: Thanks for the interview Roger. And thanks for sharing that story, so few people that Ive talked to actually played with Jimi Hendrix.
Roger: Well Ive been around a while. My time hasnt come to depart. Not yet anyway. In the immortal words of Foghats Lonesome Dave, Im gonna roll till Im old, and rock till I drop.