By David Iozzia
Tony Stevens was the bass guitarist in the British blues band Savoy Brown. In 1970, Tony, along with drummer Roger Earl and guitarist Dave Peverett, departed Savoy Brown to form Foghat. Throughout the 1970's, Foghat released gold albums and toured the world showcasing their "British boogie." Tony Stevens left the band in 1975 and Foghat saw a few lineup changes during the 80's and early 90's. In 1993, the band re-united with its original lineup, releasing a new studio album in 1994 ("Return of the Boogie Men") and a live album in 1998 ("Road Cases"). After the death of Dave Peverett in 2000, Foghat re-formed once again and Tony, Roger, and Rod joined up with two new members to release "Family Joules." Between his stints with Foghat, Tony formed bands called Nobody's Business, another with Scottish blues singer Maggie Bell called Midnight Flyer, another named Cheetah, and he toured with ex-Family vocalist Roger Chapman.
In 2005, Tony branched out to form a new band called Slow Ride, and they plan on releasing a debut album called "Join Together" during the Summer of 2007. I chatted with Tony recently about Slow Ride and the re-release of his solo album "Don't Blame Me... I Just Play Bass," which was originally released in England in 1998.
Dave: Hello Tony. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to do this interview for my website. Everything's good up here in central New Jersey. How's it by you?
TONY: It's all good down here in Florida; I'm in a little village called New Smyrna Beach. It's about fifteen miles south of Daytona racetrack.
Dave: What do you call home?
TONY: I reside in Spain. When I was touring with Foghat, I'd spend about eight months over here in the United States working. Then I'd go back to Spain for four months to put my feet up and relax. Then you start it all over again, and I come back to Florida.
Dave: To NASCAR country! I can't picture you or me sitting in the grandstand watching the Daytona 500.
TONY: A few years back, a friend who works for Chrysler got me tickets in a skybox to watch the twin 125's. That was a few days before the Daytona 500, and I really enjoyed it because the races were over fairly quickly. You're not sitting there for five hours watching the cars go round and round and round.
Dave: I prefer the road course of a Formula One race. My loyalties go to Ferrari.
TONY: The season got off to a good start for you then since the winner of the first race, Kimi Raikkonen, who was with McLaren last year, joined up with Ferrari after Michael Schumacher left. Ferrari's other driver, Felipe Massa, won two of the next three races.
Dave: The drivers do move around a bit in that sport. Your rival one year becomes your rooting interest the next year. An old baseball expression that's also a good fit for Formula One auto racing in recent years is "you don't know the players if you don't buy the scorecard."
TONY: The money they throw at the drivers has a lot to do with it. But I love Formula One. It's faster than NASCAR and Indy Car racing but it's still a question mark in the United States. The other ones still come first. If Formula One would have more than one race a year in the States, it would probably gain more interest.
Dave: We better switch gears, no pun intended, and talk some music. I've been giving your record "Don't Blame Me.... I Just Play Bass" a lot of spins lately. Angel Air Records just re-released it although it was originally released in England in 1998.
TONY: Unfortunately, it didn't get any play the first time. Earl Slick, who as you know is David Bowie's lead guitarist, started up Slick Records. His vision was to take individuals who were in rock bands that created their own solo music and try to push them to the forefront with their albums. His dream was short-lived when he went back out on the road with David Bowie. His record company folded. When Angel Air re-released it in 2006, it got positive reviews from all over the globe. They did a fabulous job pushing the record.
Dave: You've stated how releasing a solo record lets you record a collection of songs you wanted to play. Before I played it, I guessed it would be real bluesy. The funk beats and straight-ahead rock songs really captured your diversity.
TONY: That really is me. I'm more of a commercial writer; I always have been. Just listen to some of the songs I wrote with Foghat, like the straight rocker "Fly By Night." Rod Price and Dave Peverett commanded most of the songwriting in that band, and they tried to keep it in a bluesy-rocky vein. My love is the slightly more commercial short song; you get it in and get it off. If people like that kind of song they play it again and again, unlike the nine-minute extravaganza. I like a three-and-a-half minute song with good verses, a great hook line, and a great little bridge. The record was a labor of love and the re-release by Angel Air was very rewarding with a 26-page booklet listing my discography and biography. Angel Air did wonders for it.
Dave: When you first recorded it, was your plan to show a few different sides of your musical personality and your various influences?
TONY: Yes, that was the plan. In Spain, I live above a place called Café Del Mar which has been going for many years. It's the hub of European ambient, soft-rock, jazz, and fusion stuff. There's no garage or house music played there. You're sitting there watching the sun go down with all of the European kids that come to Ibiza from other parts of Europe. These kids are buying ambient music and the owner of Cafe Del Mar asked me to write a song for a two-album set that he was releasing for the club's 20th anniversary. I wrote "Good Night The Sun," inspired by watching a sunset in Ibiza. Then things started to click. Although I've never been to China, I wrote the song "China" by closing my eyes and imagining what it would be like standing by the Great Wall. There's a line that says "black powder bursts into colored rain." That's a referral to the Chinese making fireworks. It was very exciting and inspirational to make a song about a country you've never been to but had seen a thousand times in history magazines or on television. I also did a few cover versions like "Under My Thumb," where I tried to merge sequenced bass lines and Spanish guitar into one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs. It worked, because when I played it for people in New York and in Spain, everybody was dancing to it!
Dave: It's impossible for a musician to showcase his different musical personalities in a band situation these days. After all, nobody plays three-hour sets that let them improvise or explore other musical directions. The 90-minute set really seems to limit musicians these days.
TONY: I feel the same way Dave. The contract always specifies a 60-minute or 75- minute show. I always call ahead and ask if I can stretch it to a 90-minute show but it's always no when you're playing with different acts. You have to condense it down to your best 60 minutes. I'm always up for extending it; not so much to add other songs but to be able to have a rapport and share a laugh with the audience between songs.
Dave: Your record's title, "Don't Blame Me.... I Just Play Bass," in a subtle way seems to make excuses for your vocals and it lets you understate the importance of your instrument.
TONY: That title was a coward's way out because a lot of people have turned around and told me that they love my songs but that I should know I'm not a singer. When I play live with my new band Slow Ride, people might want to hear a few tracks from my solo album, but I'm content to be the bass player and let a professional sing the lead vocals. I'm a bass player who can sing; I'm not a great lead vocalist who play can play bass like Sting.
Dave: As I listen to your record, every song feeds off the previous track while leading into the next one. It flowed from start to finish. How much thought went into the order in which the tracks were sequenced?
TONY: I tell you Dave, that was one of the hardest things. It was like a jigsaw puzzle. I had 18 songs that I whittled down to 13. I wanted continuity and I keep moving things around and slotting combinations of songs until I came up with the order it's in now. It took weeks to find the right running order and that's what I'm doing now with the upcoming Slow Ride album. You don't want songs in the same key back to back unless a song is so diverse from the previous song. Then it doesn't matter if it's in the same key.
Dave: Many times, solo records are collections of songs that the musician WANTS to play but he never had the avenue, or a bunch of songs the musician NEEDS to play to get out of his system. With your record, obviously it's the first scenario. Is it disappointing when you can't tour following the record's release to play the songs you WANT to play to an audience?
TONY: Not in my case, and I'll tell you why. I have another side of me with Slow Ride where I can go out and play. That takes away some of the angst from me. Hopefully, through that band some people might get to hear about my solo album if they don't already. The record might be out there but it's not in your face all the time. It might be in a section with Foghat in retail stores and it will be at CDBaby and Amazon.com. The record company just gave me a shitload of CDs to bring out on the road to sell at Slow Ride shows. The other thing is that it's more the achievement. I think of the hundreds of thousands of musicians out there who never got the chance to go into a studio to lay down their inner most thoughts and feelings into their songs. I'm lucky that I started it and finished it. I paid for it myself and it was my baby from start to finish. It was like giving birth.
Dave: I've always seen that as the ultimate irony of solo records. The musician finally gets a chance to make a musical statement from his heart yet not enough people get to hear it if you can't tour. Plus, it's hard to walk back into your main band and work a song from a solo record into the setlist. A solo record becomes both the most challenging musical project that somebody can take on, and one of the least rewarding.
TONY: It will work out with Slow Ride because everybody has been so supportive. It's been a struggle, and they've stood by me through all the legal crap that's gone down between me and Roger Earl from Foghat. Once I'm a bit more comfortable with Slow Ride, only because we haven't played that many gigs, I'll look at adding a song or two from my record with me singing vocals to the set. Why not? The lads have been encouraging, and a few of those songs will be a good fit.
Dave: Before I forget, please introduce your band mates in Slow Ride.
TONY: Billy Livesay is a great singer and slide guitar player. Eddie Zyne is a powder-keg drummer and he complements me so much in the rhythm section. Tommy Hall plays guitar and keyboards. I love using organ. It's great to have that facility and to use it. It opens up the band a little more than Foghat, who used keyboards in the studio at times, but never wanted them to be a part of the stage show.
Dave: What type of material has been written for the debut record?
TONY: On our debut record, I allow Billy and the rest of the lads to over-ride me in the songwriting. I've shaken off the Foghat, and I'm getting back into a more commercial mode. That fits Billy's and Tommy's styles of songwriting. With Slow Ride, I don't want to be limited to one style of music. Foghat will always be a great band. They're out there on the road playing their music but they are limited. Foghat will always be Foghat. Slow Ride, a new band with new songs, gives me a new and exciting place to go with an upward spiral.
Dave: I've added links to the band's website and MySpace page so that fans can be on the lookout for live shows in their area and hear three song clips at the Slow Ride MySpace page: "Redemption," "Heat of a Full Moon," and "Magic Hat."
TONY: Those three songs are all Billy's. They have the heaviness of Foghat yet they're a little more commercial. Steve Gordon handled the production and he worked with Joss Stone. We're pulling out all of the stops for this album.
Dave: Is the fourth song clip a Slow Ride version of Foghat's classic "Slow Ride?"
TONY: Yes, it's a brand new version. I thought our new version of "Fool for the City" was uploaded. They must change the MySpace page around every now and then. My mates are canny lads, and I let them handle all of the electronics. Listen carefully when you get a chance to hear "Fool for the City." We've turned it into a very swampy, country, bluesy track, and you can hear gospel singers wailing at the end.
Dave: The MySpace page also has a Slow Ride video of "Louisiana Blues."
TONY: That's right. That's an old Savoy Brown tune. I do that song because I can and because it's part of my heritage. I wanted to go back further in rock and roll history prior to my time in Foghat. There are probably some people who don't realize that I was one of the original members of Savoy Brown.
Dave: What's the status of the band's debut album "Join Together"?
TONY: Hopefully, we'll release it in July or August, but not until I'm completely satisfied. It's in the hands of Mike Fuller, the mastering king. We want it to be right. We want to give it every possible shot with the right production, the right songs, and the right mastering.
Dave: What other material does Slow Ride use to balance the setlist when you perform live?
TONY: Don't get me wrong; we play some of the classic Foghat material like "Fool for the City" and "Slow Ride." We have to let people know of the heritage there and I'd get lynched if we didn't play a few Foghat songs. We're not afraid to play The Who's song "Join Together" as a tribute to John Entwistle. It's rock and roll and it doesn't matter who bloody wrote it. As long as you play it with feeling and conviction you can sway any audience. I wanted to pay tribute to one of my peers. If the album takes off, we'll work more of the new material into our live performances. Billy's a real proficient slide guitarist and he does five minutes on his own. That's a great part of the show and it really works. All of the bands we've played with over the last few years have turned around and told us we're a great band. We've been told that we can all bloody play, that the new material is wonderful, and they've seen us on stage laughing and having a good time. Now our challenge is getting the agents to believe it because they all say it would be easier to book Foghat.
Dave: The record industry has changed since you first released the record in 1998, and obviously it's changed so much more from when you got started on your musical journey. The Internet and today's recording technologies are such that anybody can make a record. Can you comment further on the struggles of getting a record heard in the 21st century?
TONY: You've hit the nail right on the head. It's so difficult. Sometimes a radio station that you send the record to will pick up on a track and play it a few times. You can become a little breakout in certain areas. In this era of music, MySpace can spread the word but downloading in general has killed the sales of records. Slow Ride needs a little bit of luck. I know we're at the right place with our record company and hopefully we'll be there at the right time, not behind the times or ahead of our time.
Dave: The record industry changed, as did radio and the live concert industry. How has your chosen instrument, the bass guitar, evolved over the years?
TONY: My instrument may have evolved but I'm glad to say that I haven't. In the 80's, while out on the road with Roger Chapman, I met a bass player called John Davis. I was still playing Music Man basses and John showed me his bass and it was a Warrick. After I contacted their company, I started promoting their basses. My first five basses from Warrick were all headless, the wood was perfect, and the necks were perfect. Warrick's service was second to none. I now have over a dozen of their basses. As a musician starting out, although I was weaned on jazz and R&B, I made a decision to be a straight blues player. I was a very simple lead guitarist in a blues band as a teenager. When I made the decision to switch from lead to bass, I wanted to be simple and not too busy. I just wanted to lay it down with the drummer. Many of today's bass players, with all the pedals and all of the effects, to me are simply frustrated lead guitarists. When a lot of bass players went for the heavy percussive sound with their thumb and fast finger picking, they lost their soul. They put speed in front of soul. I'm glad I stayed the way I was. It's the notes that I don't play that make the difference.
Dave: How has Tony Stevens evolved as a musician professional to keep up with all of those changes in modern technology?
TONY: I'm old-school and I'm old-fashioned; I let the new guys handle the computer and recording technologies. They are web-literate and electronic-literate. Tommy and Billy have their own studios where we've done a lot of the tracks. They know what to do. They're professional and they'll get it done three times faster than I could, and with a lot more gusto. God love them. Trying to catch up now, and to stay savvy because the technologies change daily, would be very difficult. If I started now, I'd be out-dated by the end of the year. I've been a professional in this business for over 40 years. Where I have changed is in my attitude. You have to deal with a lot of mental pygmies in this business. Recently, we played with a band called Jackyl who tried to hold back on the sound and the lighting. They were nervous about sharing the stage with a real band. I left behind all of that stupidity many years ago. I give leeway to all the new bands coming up. Too many established bands are stuck in their own funk. People like myself want to see the other people succeed. If a band supporting you goes down well, it enhances your show. Others, unfortunately, see it as a threat and not a bonus.
Dave: Thanks again Tony. Foghat was one of the first bands that I saw play in concert in the mid-70s. It was an honor to speak with you. Are there any other aspects of either your solo record or Slow Ride that I've neglected to address that you'd care to mention?
TONY: I'm just so lucky to have found these guys. The lads have stuck with me and stayed through thick and thin. When we were playing as "Tony Steven's Foghat," the legal battles with Roger Earl and Lonesome Dave's estate were costing me hundreds of thousands of dollars. We decided to call it a day and start up something new with a new name. In the beginning it may be a struggle getting it off the ground but we'll stick with it. I'm a very happy camper with the musicians I've got. Now all I need is a really good agent who can get this band up and running concurrent with the CD being released. Slow Ride is a band for the future. We may be old and wrinkly, but when we lay it down, we lay it down with the best of them.