Interview: Roger Earl (Foghat)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: May 2017. We had the honour to talk to a great musician: Roger Earl. He is best known as the drummer and founding member of Foghat. He has also played with Savoy Brown, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix. They recently released “Live at the Belly Up” live album. Foghat’s latest studio album, “Under the Influence” was released in 2016. Read below the very interesting things he told us:


What’s special about “Live at the Belly Up” album?

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It has three live versions of our current CD, which is “Under the Influence”. So, we had three songs of this album recorded live. We have a version of “Eight Days on the Road” which has been recorded live before. So, it was a lot of fun playing at a club on the West Coast. I was really pleased with the way it sounded. It’s as it was really performed.


Was it emotional to play again with Kim Simmonds (Savoy Brown –guitar) on “Under the Influence” album?

It was fantastic playing with Kim. We actually recorded it at Dark Horse Studio down in Nashville, Tennessee. He played on four tracks on this new album, “Under the Influence” and you know it was great playing with Kim. We also recorded at B.B. King’s in Manhattan with Kim Simmonds and Scott Holt who used to play with Buddy Guy, a guitar player. He’s also in another band with me called Earl & the Agitators. That should be coming out probably around Christmas time or the new year as “Foghat: Live at B.B. King’s”. It was actually a release party for “Under the Influence”. That’s why we had Kim Simmonds and Scott Holt there, because they both played on “Under the Influence”. The show was filmed and was recorded. Bryan Bassett, our guitar player is working on its sound as we speak.


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How important was the role of Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Susan Tedeschi producer) in “Under the Influence” album?

I met Tom Hambridge about four years ago. I was in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards and I was a presenter. I presented Buddy Guy with three awards that night: Best Album, Best New Blues Song and Best Guitar Player. Tom Hambridge co-wrote all the songs of his album. I met Tom Hambridge later that evening at the bar -which he is good at- and Tom said that he has always been a big fan of Foghat and that he would love to record us one day. Then, I called him up about two years ago and he did a fantastic work on the album. He’s a great engineer and producer. Also, he is an incredible drummer, so we got on really well. It was the first time Foghat worked with a producer in 20 years. In the last 20 years we were producing our own records. He gave the band a better edge, instead of having Bryan Bassett our lead slide guitar player, who produced and engineered our last four albums. It was pretty exciting to work with Tom and not to work with anybody else. I am really pleased with the way the record it sounds. We will talk again if we want to make a new studio album.


What are the current projects you are involved with?

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I have this other side project called Earl & the Agitators which features Scott Holt (former Buddy Guy guitarist) who sang on three songs and played guitar on 4-5 songs on “Under the Influence”. He and I, formed a band called Earl & the Agitators. We have done half a dozen shows. Scott Holt is a fantastic blues guitar player and an incredible singer. I am working with Scott Holt and Foghat guitarist Bryan Bassett who is our producer and guitarist on an album coming out later this year.


Foghat remain in great form both in the studio and live. What’s the secret?

I don’t know. I have been playing drums for about 60 years. Everybody is a great musician in the band and I just love to play. I am gonna roll ‘til I’m old and rock ‘til I drop. People have asked me: “When are you going to retire?”  and I said: “Never”. I love playing. At the moment, we have about two weeks off, I am working on my house and boat clearing up stuff until I get back on the road.


How helpful was Dave Edmunds’ production on the first Foghat album (1972)?

Dave Edmunds is a fuckin’ genius! I think our first album wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it was, had we not been working with Dave. I really dig Dave Edmunds for his work on our first album. We started recording it with us just producing it. We were both working at the same studio in Rockfield in Wales. Dave Edmunds was working on his own album. He had the night shift from midnight until about midday the next day, and then we would take over in the studio. We were struggling with getting the songs right and the sound of the music and we asked Dave if he could give us a hand. He said: “No problem”. He finished his album in about 3-4 weeks time and then he started working with us. Yeah, I loved working with Dave. As I said before, he is a fuckin’ genius.


Did you expect the commercial success of “Slow Ride” (1975) single?

Yeah. Actually, Nick Jameson was our producer at the time and also our bass player. He and I were finishing up the mixing of the “Fool for the City” album, and we mixed “Slow Ride” and the B-side “Save Your Loving”. We were in Sharon, Vermont when we were recording the album and we drove down to Bearsville Records in New York. We called Paul Fishkin who was in charge of Bearsville Records. We wanted it to be the single. It was the only time that we ever insisted on having a song as a single. He said: “It couldn’t be a single because it’s 8 minutes long”. We said: “Fuck you. It’s gonna be the next single”. I think they had edited it down a little bit to 4 ½ minutes. Yeah, I love playing that song. Of course, we play it at every show and I enjoy it.


Do you feel lucky that you got to play with John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters at the Palladium in New York City in 1977?

(Laughs) You’ve done your homework, haven’t you? Yes, it was a thrill. I grew up in London and everybody was listening to John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters.  Actually, when we recorded that concert it was my father’s 60th birthday. He came over from London and he was staying with me. Then my father and my mother watched me with Muddy and John Lee Hooker. Because when I was young, I was playing Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and John Lee Hooker records. Then my mother and father could see their youngest son playing this music with his heroes. Yes, it was a thrill. I saw Muddy a number of times and I saw John Lee Hooker a number of times. I think without those two people, without Chuck Berry, there would be no rock ‘n’ roll. Yes, it was fantastic playing with my musical heroes. They were absolutely fantastic. Muddy was a really-really beautiful man.


How did you feel when Willie Dixon came to your concert in Chicago?

That was another time. We played three nights at the Amphitheatre in Chicago. The first night, Willie Dixon’s daughter came down to see us and we treated her like a princess. The second night that we played there, Butch, who was Willie Dixon’s son and later became his road manager came down to see us. What Willie had done was to send his children down to see us because he was getting all these royalties from Foghat because we recorded “I Just Want to Make Love to You” on our first album, and he got a whole bunch of royalties from that. We had just released the “Live” (1977) album and “I Just Want to Make Love to You” was released as the single. So, he got all those huge checks from this band called Foghat and he had no idea who they were. He sent his children down and on the third night Willie himself came down and I have a large picture of me and Willie Dixon hanging on the wall in our studio down in Florida. He was a fantastic guy and he invited us to his house in the south side of Chicago. The next time we were in Chicago we went there and we stayed until 4 o’clock in the morning playing music. Willie Dixon is responsible for some of the greatest music ever made, with Chess Records in Chicago with Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and a whole bunch of other artists. He has influenced so many artists.


Are you proud of the Foghat Cellars?

Wine has always been my beverage of choice. All the grapes come from Central Coast in California: Monterey, Santa Barbara, around that area. I go out and help picking the grapes. Our winemaker, is from that area. I go there during harvest, in late August. Last year, I didn’t go because I worked. I’ll try to go this year. Our winemaker’s name is Steve Rasmussen. He has been in the wine industry for about 30-odd years. He has his own bottling company too. Yeah, I’m very proud of them and the wine is fantastic. In Greece, you produce great wine. In fact, I had a dinner at a Greek restaurant two nights ago in the place where I live now, in Port Jefferson in Long Island. I would love to go to Greece. Foghat have never played there. I would love to go there but no promoter really asked us to go there. We played Sweden Rock Festival two or three times and in London once. That’s about it. I would love to come to Europe, especially Greece. Our oldest daughter has been there on holidays for a number of years. I haven’t been there yet. I would love to go to Greece.


Is Fred Below (Willie Dixon, Little Walter, Chuck Berry) your biggest influence on drums?

He is one of them, yes. He played drums for Chess Records. I got to meet him one time in Chicago. He used to play there. Yes, he was fantastic. He wasn’t a jazz drummer, but obviously Chuck Berry invented rock ‘n’ roll and he played with him and other artists of Chess Records for many years.  I also like some drummers coming from New Orleans. There is a number of famous drummers. There is another drummer that I would like to mention: Earl Palmer. He played on the early Little Richard records that he made when he was in New Orleans. He is probably one of my favourite drummers.


Do you think social media like Youtube and Facebook have helped younger listeners to learn about the music of Foghat?

I think it helps out. Actually my daughter, Jessica, is helping us out with the social media. But I don’t do social media myself (laughs). So, Jessica is in charge of social media, not me.


Do you have happy memories of the tours with Steve Marriott and Humble Pie? Your crew had some problems with the Humble Pie crew.

(Laughs) Yes, Stevie Marriott was absolutely fantastic. I think Humble Pie were probably one of my favourite bands ever. I loved playing with Stevie Marriott. They were an incredible rock ’n’ roll band. I will tell you that story. I think it was during Foghat’s first tour in 1972 or 1973 and we were opening up for Humble Pie. I believe it might have been in a Bill Graham show on the West Coast. Their crew was just giving us a hard time about the lights, the stage and the sound. I mentioned it to our road manager at the time and he went and talked to Stevie Marriott. We were on stage trying to set up and Stevie came out and said: “Give fuckin’ Foghat whatever the fuck fuckin’ Foghat want! Stop fuckin’ with Foghat!” After that everything was fine. Stevie Marriott endeared himself to me. We used to hang out a lot and play music. He was something special. He had an incredible voice and also he was a great guitar player.


Can you describe to us your audition for the Jimi Hendrix Experience?

It was a rainy day in London town. We were just off Piccadilly Circus and we were going to rehearse at a club called Birdland. I had a day job at the time as a commercial artist and I borrowed my father’s car to bring my drum kit. I was standing outside because the club wasn’t open. It was at lunch hour. Jimi came out and he started talking about the songs he wrote the night before. I didn’t get the gig. Mitch Mitchell obviously got that. It was something special to play with him. I actually got to play with Jimi a couple of times here in the States with Savoy Brown. Jimi was special to me. He was a beautiful man and an incredible guitar player. He re-wrote the book on how to play guitar. It was a sad day when we lost him.


Do you miss Dave Peverett (guitars, vocals; died in 2000)?

Yeah, I miss Dave. He is still kind of with us. Because we play his songs and he had a huge influence on this band. I stay in touch with his son, Jason. Yes, I miss Dave. There are pictures of him all over the place here. He’s always here.


Why did you stop buying the Rolling Stone magazine?

(Laughs) Actually, I’m not through with it. I still get it from time to time. I mean, how don’t you have Billy Gibbons (ed: ZZ Top) in the top 100 guitar players? They have some ordinary guitar players, but they don’t have Billy Gibbons on that. Billy Gibbons is certainly in the top 10 guitar players ever, as far as I am concerned. He’s also a really cool guy. I’ve met him a number of times and we have done a number of dates together. I think Rolling Stone got it wrong not having Billy Gibbons in the top 100. I think they changed their mind a while later.


Did you feel comfortable when you toured with a progressive rock band like Rush?

Rush? It’s a fantastic band. Oh yes, I loved touring with Rush. We got on really well. When I first came to America back in the late ‘60s with Savoy Brown, one of the things that I enjoyed was that especially Bill Graham, a promoter over here, he would put different bands on the same show. There would be like: Savoy Brown, Freddie King and Harlem Choir or Buddy Rich’s Big Band. They would put a lot of different bands together. I really enjoyed that kind of eclectic attitude to music itself.


Are you happy with the comeback of the vinyl records?

Oh, yeah! I think the sound quality of vinyl is very good. I’m really pleased with the way it sounds. Vinyl! We manufactured vinyl on our last two studio albums, “Last Train Home” and “Under the Influence”.


Is it a bit strange that Tupac Shakur and Madonna are in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Foghat are not?

No, no. I am not worried about that. Madonna is a fantastic artist.


But she isn’t rock ‘n’ roll.

You are right, but I think it changed: From Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame it becomes the Music Hall of Fame, which I don’t have a problem with. Maybe one day someone will say: “We should have Foghat in there”, that would be fine. And if they don’t, that’s ok too. We are still here, we are still making music, we are still creating and touring. That’s what we are for these days. That’s all what I wanted to do ever since I started playing music until the day I am gonna die with my drums on: Being a band guy. We go out, we play, we come down, we eat. Life is good. We have a lot of younger people coming to see us, which is incredible.


Did you like Arsenal this season?

(Laughs) They are playing in the FA Cup Final on the 27th of May. I have been an Arsenal fan ever since I can remember (ed: I mentioned Ginger Baker and Roger Waters as fellow Arsenal supporters). I know Roger Daltrey is, as well. I think Arsène Wenger, their manager, is a great manager. I don’t agree with a lot of the fans who are saying that he should go. Managing a football club is a huge responsibility, especially a club like Arsenal or any club in the Premier League. People say that he should leave just because the team is not doing as well as it had done. He has been the manager of Arsenal for 20 years. The manager has a responsibility but if the players are not doing what they can, I am not sure what role the manager plays while the players are on the pitch. Apart from that, I am still a fan and I will be ‘till the day I depart this earth.


What is like to live in Long Island for 44 years?

I love it. This is my home. This is my daughter’s home. I feel a lot more American than English because I grew up in London listening to American music. This is all I wanted to do. I had the chance to play with my musical heroes. America was the place to do this. I am not sure how President Trump would feel about all that (laughs). It’s a wonderful place and it’s an incredible opportunity to be here with such generous people. I can tell you a number of stories when I first came over here. Yes, this is home and I love this land.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Roger Earl for his time and to Rose Nangano for her valuable help.

Main Roger Earl photo by Steve Reinis

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