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Interview with Roger Earl from Foghat: Still A Fool For The City

Interview with Roger Earl from Foghat: Still A Fool For The City

—by , January 8, 2014

As the drummer and sole surviving member of the original Foghat lineup, Roger Earl could easily retire and tell never-ending road warrior stories down at the local bar. Instead, he's still on the road kicking ass behind the drums. Beloved vocalist/guitarist Lonesome Dave Peverett and the incredible slide guitarist Rod "The Bottle" Price are both sadly gone but Roger has been leading a great lineup of Foghat for well over a decade. Longtime bassist Craig MacGregor has rejoined the band (that's him on 1977's peak Live album and several other releases) with ex-Ted Nugent frontman Charlie Huhn taking the place of Lonesome Dave. Lead guitarist Bryan Bassett also plays blistering slide and has a great mustache in classic Foghat tradition.

I recently had the great pleasure of speaking to Earl about his love of playing, Foghat wine and their new concert DVD, Live In St. Pete. If you love classic rock, do yourself a favor and take a slow ride down to the Starland Ballroom on Friday, January 10, to see Foghat in action.

Hi Roger. Where am I reaching you today?

I'm here in East Setauket, Long Island. I got home from Miami last night.

How long have you lived on Long Island?

I moved here in 1973. I would commute between Long Island and Bearsville, near Woodstock, which was where our original recording company was. First time I came out here was in 1968 when I was in Savoy Brown. We were doing this tour with The Nice and Family and I became good friends with the guy that was helping promote the tour. He invited me to stay out at his parents’ home on the Island. We went fishing and I said, "This is the life." I felt real comfortable out here. I liked the people and there was a really healthy music scene going on. There were lots of clubs and music everywhere. In fact, Foghat would start off our tours by playing at a local club just to get us in the mood. I love it out here. I'm an Islander, what can I say?

One of my most prized possessions is a 4x12 guitar speaker cabinet covered in white shag carpeting that used to belong to Foghat. The guy I bought it from told me he bought it from you when Foghat closed down the Boogie Motel recording studio in Port Jefferson. What can you tell me about it?

That's right, that was one of our cabinets. We built them around ‘79 or ‘80 when we had an all white stage. Our lighting guy said the lights work really well on an all white stage. I didn't really care, I had an all black drum kit. In ‘83, I didn't know that Lonesome Dave was leaving and going back to England. I just figured we were going to take a break for a year or two, which was fine by me—fix the car, hang around with the kids, go fishing. My wife at the time said, "You know Dave's moving back to England?" I said, "No!" So we had to clear out the warehouse. I lived in a pretty small house at the time and somehow ended up with all these amplifiers and guitars. I probably was the one that got rid of all of them. That was "a time" (laughs).

Moving on to happier topics, tell me about Foghat's new Live In St. Pete DVD.

It was recorded at the end of 2011. We had actually finished touring but a band pulled out at the last minute and we got offered the date. We love to play. This band would have fun playing in a cardboard box. At the end of the tour, everyone was really playing great. They recorded it there and we listened to a rough mix that night after the show back at the hotel. I'm not sure if it was the tequila, but it just sounded really good. Bryan Bassett, our lead and slide player, mixed it. He's also our producer and the general genius in the band. The sound is fantastic and the visuals are really good, so we said, "Let's put it out." The last time we had one out was 12 years ago called The Official Bootleg and the quality wasn't as good. I don't know if we want to put one out 10 or 12 years from now. I'll be 78. Who wants to look at a 78-year-old playing the drums? We're really pleased with the way it turned out.

It really comes across on the DVD how much fun you guys have playing together.

I play drums in a great rock ‘n’ roll band and I get paid for it. How cool is that? The band realizes that. It's like, be careful what you wish for. I started playing when I was about 12 or 13 and that's all I ever wanted to do. I was a commercial artist until I was about 21. Then I joined Savoy Brown and became a professional musician making less money than as an artist. But, yeah, we are having fun. One thing I haven't lost is that appreciation.

So you're on Long Island. Where are the rest of the guys?

Craig MacGregor, our bass player, is in Pennsylvania at the moment. Charlie Huhn lives in Orlando, Florida, and Bryan Bassett lives in Daytona Beach. We also have a studio in DeLand, Florida, which is right in between the two of them. It's a four-bedroom, single-story house on about 10 acres in the middle of nowhere, so we can make as much noise as we want. We can sit out on the porch and play. If we need separation with the amps, we can stick them in someone's bedroom. No red lights. You can have a cup of tea or something stronger if you're in the mood. It works real well and is a lot of fun.

Sounds like what every band should have.

I know how fortunate I am.

Foghat touring is a lot different than it used to be, right? It's mainly weekend fly-in dates and not months on the road in a bus.

One of the issues you have on the road is that you have to take these midweek dates just to pay for the bus, pay the driver, pay the crew. The cost of diesel fuel is another big reason. We haven't done a bus tour since the last tour when Lonesome Dave was with us. It works real well because there are so many back line companies all over the country now and 99 percent of the time it's first class equipment, everything that we want.

I'm endorsed by DW and they supply the drum kit to my specs. I carry my own cymbals, snare, pedals and sticks. The guys in the band carry their own guitars and pedals and they supply the amps. We don't have to tour in a bus and drive this stuff all over the country, which makes it really expensive. We go out and do a few shows a week. It's slowing down a bit now to about once a week. We'll play on the weekend and then have the week off to play golf, go fishing, hang out with the grandkids.

That's a pretty nice life. If you're a musician you don't want to go out on the weekend anyway. It's amateur hour everywhere.

Playing on the weekends is great. Everyone is ready to go out and party. The band is doing great, the band plays really well. I've been practicing for 50 years, it's about time I got it right. We get on real well and hang out together. We're a bunch of happy drunks. We don't drink before we play but afterwards it's whatever you want to do.

That reminds me, is the Foghat wine still available?

Yes it is. We just got distribution for it here on Long Island and it's going great. The wine itself is fantastic. When you're producing wine you can't just sell it anywhere you want. The laws go back to the days of prohibition but we're starting to get it into stores and restaurants here in New York. In California, where we produce our wines, there are a million wine makers. But it's going well.

One thing we insisted on from the beginning is that it be world-class wine. The reviews we've had on the wines has been fantastic. We have a 2010 Pino Noir and a 2010 Chardonnay that are absolutely delicious. I'm tasting a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon once a month that we'll probably release sometime next year. They come from the Santa Maria Valley in California. It's good fun. I go out there and pick the grapes and crush them. Clean all the dead snakes and rats out (laughs). We work with professional pickers. They're amazing. My parents made their own wine when I was growing up in London. My brother Colin told me that it was pretty potent. He's a great boogie woogie piano player.

Is that where you got the boogie?

No, John Lee Hooker!

He was the big inspiration? Foghat always had a lot more rock ‘n’ roll energy compared to British blues artists like John Mayall or early Fleetwood Mac.

Lonesome Dave and I were out-and-out rock ‘n’ rollers. We were huge Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry fans. Rod was more interested in blues. Dave had a great knowledge of American music—jazz, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, all sorts of stuff. I learned a lot from Dave. He was like the resident DJ on the bus. In the late ‘60s, when we first started coming over with Savoy Brown, we'd come over with one suitcase and leave with three or four full of albums.

Do you still have those records?

No, there's been a couple of divorces and they're long gone. I replaced most of it with CDs but now apparently that's old hat. But I have all the Jerry Lee Lewis stuff, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Hank Williams. Always have them playing in the car.

I was lucky enough to have an older brother who was heavily into Chuck Berry, James Brown and The Temptations. I didn't have to work backwards from the Rolling Stones.

There'd be a lot of bands out of work if it wasn't for Chuck. I used to go see the Stones. They're a year or two older than me. I used to go see them at the Marquee and the Richmond Club. It was a great time to be growing up in London. Really cool bands. There was one band that really stayed with me, an English band called Cyril Davies And The Rhythm And Blues All- Stars. That was a fantastic band. I used to go see them every Thursday night at the Marquee and they were incredible.

It was a time when we were discovering a lot of stuff. I belonged to this record club in Chicago. I already knew about John Lee Hooker, but I found out about Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Back then, we sort of attempted to emulate the American musicians but it got changed in the translation from the way our heroes were playing. I got to play with Mud and John Lee, backed them up. Such an exciting time.

I've seen the footage on YouTube of Foghat with John Lee Hooker at the Palladium in 1977. It's a great performance. Any chance of that getting an official release?

We have a master of it, a 3/4" tape of the edited version that's about 45 minutes. A bootleg has been put out by a company in Denmark and it's horrible. I think they filmed it off the TV or something. Our original sound engineer, Bob Coffee, who mixed that show, recorded everything to cassette. A few years ago, he got in contact with me and said, "I have all this stuff on cassette." And I said, "Really?" He put it on CD for me. There are some really interesting jams on there. We might be able to put it out but the problem is getting releases from everybody. We'd have to get a release from John Lee Hooker's estate and Muddy's estate. Johnny Winter was on that show, too.

We'll get it out eventually. The film we have is only the edited 45 minutes. I don't know if there's a full, unedited version somewhere. We haven't been able to locate it if there is. Over the next year or so, maybe we can get a CD out from the show. I just have to go through it. There's one jam with John Lee Hooker that went on for 24 minutes!

Was that your first time playing with John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters?

I'd been to see them many times in the audience but that was the first time we all played together. Foghat was basically the house band. Muddy had his band there but I joined in on a number of tunes. Willie "Big Eyes" Smith was playing drums for him at the time and I jumped behind my drums, too. It was the highlight of my career and I know Dave felt the same way.

That was your first encounter with Eddie Kirkland, right?

Yeah. Dave knew who Eddie was and that he played on a lot of John Lee Hooker records but didn't get real credit for it. We wanted to give something back to the New York Public Library. They didn't have a decent collection of blues records back then, it was very limited. It seemed like a good idea and maybe give us a chance to play with some of our musical heroes.

When Eddie's name came up, Dave got visibly excited. We rehearsed one day with Eddie and he was a riot. So much fun to play with. A great guitar player and a great singer as well. I think he stole the show that night with his performance, to be honest with you. We stayed in contact over the years and he played on a couple of tunes on our album Last Train Home (2010). We played about eight or nine songs and we only had room to put a couple of them on there. Maybe we'll put the others out at some time. I loved Eddie Kirkland. He was a great blues musician.

Was the photo on the cover of Fool For The City taken in New York City?

I can't remember the street but it was down in the Village. It was a Sunday morning and I hadn't slept. Back in the ‘70s, we didn't sleep that much. It was Nick Jameson's idea. He had just joined us playing bass. He'd been our longtime producer before that. It was his idea since I have this penchant for fishing.

Anyway, we lift up the manhole cover and I'm sitting on a box. Almost immediately a couple of New York's finest come by in their patrol car. They're looking at us and they wind the window down. We're like, "Oh shit." They yell out, "Hey! You got a fishing license?" and then start laughing. So they come over and say, "What the fuck are you doing?" They took some pictures with them handcuffing me. I love New York's finest.

They wouldn't let you get away with that now.

Yeah. The city's gotten a lot better. The ‘60s weren't so bad but in the ‘70s it was pretty dangerous. Manhattan is such a cool place. I love New York City.

What about the cover for Rock And Roll Outlaws? Where was that taken?

That was in the Mojave Desert. That wasn't our Learjet, actually. We borrowed it for the day and put a Foghat sticker on there. I'm giving away all the trade secrets here (laughs). We were out on the West Coast recording and it seemed like a good idea. It was a lot of fun doing that record.

Felix Cavaliere from The Rascals wrote the song "Rock And Roll Outlaws." I remember going into Manhattan where Todd Rundgren had a loft and a recording studio. Felix Cavaliere was in there and he sat down at the keyboard and played "Rock And Roll Outlaws" for us. Then he said, "I've got to wash my mouth out with soap and water after singing those lyrics." Felix Cavaliere, what a talent he is.

Any tips you can offer to drummers to keep playing as long as you have?

The best advice I can offer is to play with a great bass player. They make you look good. I've always been fortunate to have played with great musicians, especially bass players. Even in my very first band, I played with really good musicians and not people who were struggling like myself. I practice at least an hour every day. I have practice pads in the house and a drum room outside the house with a kit set up. On show days, I practice on a pad in the hotel for an hour or more, then I play for another hour or more before show time. I'll usually get about 20 minutes on the drums I'm using that night at soundcheck. But even more than that, I have a passion for music. I love to play. Music is such a joyful thing.

Do you ever run into Corky Laing from Mountain? He lives out on the North Fork of Long Island.

Corky and I are friends. We keep in touch. Such a great drummer and a total nutcase. I love him.

Last question: Is the mustache ever coming back?

No! I like kissing my wife.

 

Foghat will play at the Starland Ballroom on Jan. 10. Live In St. Pete is available now. For more information, go to foghat.net.

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    reader responses
  1. Loved this interview with the best and most talented drummer my husband and I know. Love you Roger Earl you can always rock our world!

    JoAnn DeCicco on 1/8/2014 at 10:20 PM 


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