Friday, April 19, 2019

Interview -- Roger Earl (Foghat)

"Hold me, roll me,
 slow ridin' woman 
you're so fine."
~ Foghat ~

Roger Earl is the drummer and founding member of the English hard rock and roll band...Foghat.  No smoke and mirrors, this band.  No sleight of hands.  No misdirection.  No frilly surprises.  Foghat is what it is.  They give you what you need.  Every day.  All day long.  Roger Earl has been immersed in the holy waters of Muddy.  Baptized in the raucous fires of Jerry Lee.  Which might explain why Foghat has always been known for being one of the harder working bands.  Roger Earl is well aware that the joy is in the jamming.  And so he does.  The band tours like a junkie.  Always has.  And since 1972, Foghat has been road-mapping the world.  Roger is, indeed, a 'fool for the city.'   Go get you some.

Roger Earl Interview -- April 2019
Roger Earl

Casey Chambers:  Let's jump right into it.  One of my favorite songs from Foghat and one with just a killer intro is your version of..."I Just Want To Make Love To You." How did Foghat's version come about on that first album?

Roger Earl:  Well, I first heard it when it was recorded by Muddy Waters.  Muddy did it first.  It was a slow blues.  It was written by Willie Dixon.  I was probably about 14 or 15 years old.  Something like that.  I used to go see The Stones when I was about 16.  They used to do a fast version of it.  And I first started doing it when we were in Savoy in the late '60s...myself and "Lonesome" Dave (Peverett) and our bass player at the time, Tony Stevens. We would jam it at sound checks when we were in Savoy Brown.   So when we first got our record deal as Foghat in 1971 with Bearsville Records through Albert Grossman...that was the first time we actually got the arrangement down for it.  And we really played it.  The other part of the story is I got to meet Muddy Waters in 1977 when Foghat did a tribute to the blues at the Palladium in New York City.

Casey Chambers:  Oh, now that's cool.

Roger Earl:  Yeah, it was. It was great. And later I also got to meet Willie Dixon who wrote the song. "I Just Want To Make Love To You" was a hit off of the first Foghat album.  So Willie Dixon obviously got a bunch of money for that 'cause we sold over a million or two copies.  And then it was also the single off of our "Foghat Live" album in 1977.  We were touring our live album and playing three nights at the amphitheater in Chicago when we met him.  And what I surmise, (laughs)...since he was getting all this money from this band called Foghat...he was probably saying, 'Who the fuck are these guys?' (laughs)  So he sends his daughter down the first night to see what we got under our fingernails.  And I guess we got a decent report, (laughs) 'cause then I want to say his son, Butch, who later became his road manager, came down with his sister.  And then on the third night, Willie came down.

"Lonesome" Dave introduced him on stage that night and said, 'Without people like Willie Dixon, there would be no rock and roll.'   Which is actually true.  So yeah, I've been real fortunate.  I got to actually meet a number of my musical heroes and actually play with them too.  After the show, we were invited over to his house, but we couldn't go then 'cause we were on the road.  But about six months later, we came back to Chicago and went to Willie's house on the south side and had dinner.  We stayed at his house 'til three or four o'clock in the morning playing music and listening to his stories.  Willie was a really cool man.  A great man.   And there we were...meeting one of our musical heroes.

"I Just Want To Make Love To You" - Foghat / "Foghat" (1972)

Casey Chambers:  You mentioned you were signed to Bearsville records.  Albert Grossman's label.  How did you guys hook up with Albert?

Roger Earl:  We had just left Savoy Brown and we were looking for a label.  We made about six or seven songs of demos ourselves.  Every record company in the country and in the world had turned us down.  We were still based out of London, England and our manager at the time, Tony Outeda... who I'd been friends with for two or three years...knew Albert Grossman.  Tony had already played him a couple of our demos.  And Albert Grossman was coming over to London with The Band and Todd Rundgren.  What we did...we rented a club in North London in Islington one afternoon and Albert came down to listen to us.  There was nobody in there.  It was just Albert and us and our road manager and our management at the time.

We played five or six songs for him and Albert was visibly taken aback because we were probably a bit too loud.  He was only sitting about 10 feet in front of us. (laughs)  And after we finished playing he said, (doing impression), 'Well uh, is there somewhere we can get some tea and biscuits?'  I said, 'Yeah, there's a hotel just across the road.'   So we went across the road and had tea and biscuits and after the tea and biscuits had arrived, Albert said, 'Well uh, let's do it.'  And about four weeks later, I received a check for $10,000. And we started recording at Rockfield Studios in Wales. That's the brief version of it. The rest is going to wait for the book.

Casey Chambers:  Tea and biscuits...and rock and roll.  "Computer.  Tea,  Earl Grey.  Hot...and play some Foghat." (laughs)  Exciting times.

Roger Earl:  It was. (laughs)  It was really cool.  And afterward, I moved to the States in 1973 and I got to meet Albert a number of times.  He lived up in Bearsville. Ya know, Woodstock area. And yeah, he was the only person who could see that we had some talent.  As I said before, everybody else turned us down.  So, thank you, Albert.  Special man.  Really cool guy.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah. That's a great story.  Let's jump ahead to your classic album, "Fool For The City." (1975)  It contains Foghat's signature song, "Slow Ride."  A great summertime jam.  What do you recall about recording that little baby-maker?

Roger Earl:  Well, Tony Stevens, our original bass player, had left the band. Or we'd asked him to leave.  He wanted to take a couple of years off the road and then come back into a light Led Zeppelin or whatever the fuck that meant.  Whereas, the rest of us wanted to play.  Foghat's always had a reputation for being a road band.  I mean, I love playing.  It's all about the music. So, Tony Stevens left the band.  I was living up in Woodstock and Nick Jameson was the chief engineer at Bearsville Records at the time.  And Nick and I had become really good friends.  Actually, Nick had overdubbed some keyboards for us on our very first album and worked with us a little bit on our second album.  We'd go out and jam together.  Play badminton and hang out at various clubs in Woodstock and Bearsville.

Anyway, we didn't have a bass player.  I said, 'Nick, you want to play bass in the band?'  And he said that the first instrument he started playing was bass.  So we rented a bass guitar.  We drove down to Long Island where Rod Price, our lead and slide guitar player, and I...we owned a house together down here.  We had the basement soundproofed and the first song we started working on was, "Slow Ride."  It was just jamming on a riff.  And in fact, the whole arrangement was written in our basement.  And then once we sort of got the basic arrangement to the song, "Lonesome" Dave said, (doing impression) 'Uh, I've got some words that might fit that.'  And that's how it started.

"Slow Ride" - Foghat / "Fool For The City" (1975)

Casey Chambers:  And it's an eight-minute jam, too!  Did you guys know right away that "Slow Ride" was going to be the first single pulled from the album?

Roger Earl:  Yeah, myself and Nick Jameson.  We recorded it at a studio up in Sharon, Vermont.  It was a studio up in the middle of nowhere.  Actually, it was the first time that Foghat had taken some time off the road since the first record to actually record.  The other records were all recorded at different studios in a week or two.  We took two or three months off to actually record that record.  And it was interesting.  We rented a house up there and we had the studio pretty much all the time.  And while we were recording "Slow Ride"...where it comes to the breakdown where the bass and drums play...the power went out! (laughs)  So we had to stop.  I don't know if somebody ran into a power pole or maybe a moose had chewed through the wires. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  That's insane!  Instead of some 'stupid with a flare gun,' you had a wild moose with a hunger pang. (laughs)

Roger Earl:  Yeah. (laughs)  Anyway, the power came back on a week or two later and we went back in and I just played along with the song at the bass and drum break.  And the ending was actually the second part of the song.  Then we started the mixing of the album.  Nick Jameson was our producer and engineer on this one.  I was the only one in the band who stayed up there with him.  Basically, I would get him cups of tea and biscuits and cheese and stuff.  Or I would say things like, 'Can you turn the drums up?' (laughs)

When we finished mixing the album...we had a station wagon and put the rest of the gear that had been left there inside.  This was back in like... '75 when you could get station wagons and could actually put stuff in it.  We drove back to Bearsville where Nick and I both lived at the time and took it to Paul Fishkin, who was the head of Bearsville Records and played it for him.  He didn't think "Slow Ride" was a single.  And he was obviously upset about the fact that it was eight minutes long.  He said, 'No, that won't do.'  And basically, Nick and I said, 'Fuck you, this is the next single.'  It was one of the few times the band actually got involved in that.  Most of the time, it was the record company that decided on the single.  The band, we never really had a problem with producers.  The band always pretty much did whatever songs we liked or wrote or composed.  We were basically in charge.

The producer was basically a fifth member of the band and really just helped out with arrangements and stuff.  I learned a lot from Nick Jameson.  Probably more than any other producers and musicians.  Dave Edmunds, who produced our first album was also just incredible.  Without Dave Edmunds, I don't think we would have had the success we did with our first album if he hadn't had his hand in it.  That's another story.  So yeah, "Slow Ride" was the single.  And a couple of radio stations wouldn't play it.  They would either edit it themselves or just cut it off whenever they figured.  I think Nick eventually did an edit for it.  But the song is an eight-minute song.  They don't have to be two and a half or under three minutes anymore.  I don't think so, anyway.  I never did.  That was all kind of bullshit really.

"Slow Ride" -  "Dexter" / ("Father Knows Best" S:1 E:9 - 2006)

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, it really is.  I can't tell you how many times I hear a song on the radio only to find out later they cut the song up.  I hate that.  "Slow Ride" is such a jam.  And it was cool hearing that song hit us in the face on an episode of "Dexter."  I love it when great songs are used in good shows.

Roger Earl:  Yeah, I get checks very regularly from that.  And of course, a number of our fans will write into us if they hear it somewhere.  Yeah, "Slow Ride" has been very good to me.  So has "I Just Want To Make Love To You."  And "Fool For The City" has been in a bunch of movies too. So yeah, and actually these last couple of years have been the best couple of years we've had in 20 or 30 years.  So, I guess if you stick around long enough, people start to pay attention.  And it doesn't always show up unexpectedly.  Sometimes the movie producers or whoever's involved in doing the score for a movie will get in touch with us or Dave's family.  His estate.  Sometimes they'll ask us to do different things or sometimes if we could just remix it.  Like...take the vocals out because they just want the music.  But yeah, the fact that after so many years, I's been 40 years or something.  The songs are still valid.  They still want to play them in movies and soundtracks.  So I guess maybe we got it right in the first place.  But there again, it's only rock n' roll.  Aah, the Stones.  What a great band.  What a great band. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:   I gotta ask you about the classic "Fool For The City" album cover.  What's the story behind that?  It's such a great cover.

"Fool For The City" - Foghat (1975)

Roger Earl:  One mustn't take oneself too seriously.  You can get serious about making the music...but taking one's self too seriously....ehhh...I'll leave that up to others.  I believe it was Nick's idea.   I think we'd been drinking a bunch of wine one night.  I guess we'd been up...I don't think I slept any that night.  And I have a penchant for fishing.  I used to carry a fishing rod any time I was going to be in a place more than a day or two.  I live on the water out on Long Island.  Anyway, we went into Manhattan early one Sunday morning and we lifted up the manhole cover.   It was in St. Mark's Place down in the Village.  And a couple of New York's finest came rolling by in their cruiser and they put their windows down and they said, 'Hey, you got a license?  You got a fishing license?'  (laughs)  And they come out of their cruiser and say, 'What the fuck are you guys doing?'  (laughs)  We explained that we were taking pictures for an album cover and they were real cool.  They hung around for a little while. They took some pictures of them carting me away in handcuffs.  New York cops are great.  A couple of my stepsons are cops.  They worry about people that are doing nasty shit to each other.  People lifting up manhole covers...that happens all the time.  People live down there. (laughs)

"Fool For The City" - Foghat / Live

Casey Chambers:  What are a few of your favorite albums?  What are a few albums that are special to you?

Roger Earl:  I'm kind of stuck where I was when I was growing up.  I think it's still true today.  I think it's the people that remind you of a time when, you know, music meant something to you.  When I was growing up, I was listening to early rock and roll obviously.  Muddy Waters.  John Lee HookerJerry Lee Lewis was probably one of my first introductions to real music. Early Elvis Presley from Sun was probably some of the best music that was ever recorded.  And of course, Little Richard's band.  Little Richard's band was fantastic.  That was probably one of the greatest rock and roll bands ever.  Had a great drummer.  Earl Palmer was the drummer with Little Richard.  Probably one of the greatest rock and roll drummers that ever lived.

I'm a big fan of Buddy Guy.  I've met Buddy a number of times.  I have a Muddy Waters CD in my car.  "Muddy Waters At Newport" from 1960, I think.  And it's probably one of the greatest live records ever made.  That's what I still listen to.  And probably Chuck Berry's early work with Chess Records had a huge influence on the way I actually started learning to play.  I still listen to that stuff.  I don't think I got it right at the time, but you know, that's what inspired me.  Basically, you know, I was off listening to early rock and roll.

"Muddy Waters At Newport 1960"

Casey Chambers:  I'll have to track that Muddy album down.  What was one of the first rock concerts you took in?

Roger Earl:  The first one I went to...  Well, my father was a piano player.  His day job was working at Aston Martins.  He was a panel fitter.  Very close to where we lived near the London airport.  And he used to come home for lunch and would often bring one of the cars that he would have to road test and make sure they weren't rattling or whatever.  And one day he brought a record home.  I think it was, "Great Balls Of Fire."  It might have been "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On."   Dad said, 'Have a listen to this boy, son.  He can really play the piano.'  And about six months later, Jerry Lee Lewis came to do his second tour in England.  I was probably 14, maybe.  Anyway, dad took me to see him and I was never the same after that.  He was fantastic.  I saw Jerry Lee about two years ago. He played in Manhattan at B.B. King's which is now sadly shut down.  But yeah, Jerry Lee Lewis was one of my biggest influences as far as starting me on this track.  In fact, my mother said that after seeing him...' he addled my brain and I was never the same.'  (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Y'know, I've heard Jerry Lee sing that line a thousand times, but I never realized how really cool the phrase, 'addled my brain' was until hearing you say it just now. (laughs)  Your folks sound like they were pretty dang cool.  A lot of parents were uncomfortable with their kids listening to rock and roll.


Roger Earl:  Well, there was always music in our house prior to that.  I mean, mom and dad were big fans of Les Paul and Mary Ford.  There was always music in our house ever since I was a kid.  My parents came from the East End of London and I remember I would go over and visit my grandmother there.  And I was like four or five, six years old.  She had a record player.  You know the ones with the little dog on it.  RCA.  There was always music.  In fact, my grandmother really liked The Ink Spots.  But she didn't know they were black. (laughs)  It was interesting.  Yeah, the whole family was involved with music playing.  My older brother Colin was the piano player in a band called Mungo Jerry.  They had a big hit over here..."In The Summertime."  They probably had 10 Top 20 singles in Europe.  In fact, the lead singer in Mungo Jerry...Ray Dorset...was the lead singer in the first band I was in.  I joined his band when I was 16.

Casey Chambers:  How cool!  The world really is small.

Roger Earl:  Yeah, music was always around.  In fact, I remember I was riding my bike out in Colorado one time...I had a couple of days off...and I was riding my bike and doing some fishing.  And there was a record store that had this sign above the door.  It said, 'Without music, life would be a mistake.'   And I kind of adhere to that.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, I'm right there with ya.   Roger, this has been a pleasure talking with you this morning.  Thanks so much for hanging out.  I really appreciate it.

Roger Earl:  My pleasure, Casey.  It's been a pleasure talking with you.

"Drivin' Wheel" - Foghat / Live 2007


Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed hearing from Roger Earl. Keep them coming!