Foghat: A 'Slow Ride' to the top, Part 2

The highs, the lows and the future
By Peter Lindblad

Foghat 2014: Charlie Huhn, Craig MacGregor,
Roger Earl and Bryan Bassett
(Photo by Steve Sirois)
Not everyone survived Foghat's seemingly endless touring cycles. There were casualties of the road, including bassist Tony Stevens, who had had his fill of it in 1974.

Weeks, months and years spent playing show after show after show left little time to record. Despite that they did manage to follow up their self-titled debut with a second self-titled LP – often referred to as Rock and Roll, due to the cover, which featured a bakery roll and a rock – as well as 1974's Energized and a pair of 1975 efforts, Rock and Roll Outlaws and the seminal Fool for the City LP.

All, except for Fool for the City, were recorded during Foghat tours, with the band entering whatever studios they could when they found a little free time.

"It was pretty weird, actually," said Earl. " Anytime you think that [if you spend] weeks or whatever in the studio, everything's getting improved. But we were going to studios for maybe a couple of days to try to lay down the stuff, and then we'd go somewhere else. It wasn't our idea. I think our second album and Rock and Roll Outlaws ... they were a little difficult and were made in a number of different studios and mixed in different places. It was okay, but whereas the first album, we did it all in one place, with the same producer and we had time, I thought that album worked really well."

For a long time, Earl wasn't so keen on either Rock and Roll and Rock and Roll Outlaws. Earl remembers the making of both being rather trying experiences.

Roger Earl behind the kit for Foghat
(Photo by Steve Sirois)
"We did both of those albums kind of piecemeal in different studios," explained Earl. "We didn't know exactly where. We'd go in for a day or two and do it. And then we'd go and do something somewhere else. That I found a little difficult, but having said that, both those albums I had to listen to about a year or so ago, because they were being re-released in Asia and Europe, packaging them all together. I had to listen to them and sort of talk to people about it. And I was surprised how much I enjoyed them. I'd forgotten how they actually sounded, and I thought, 'I don't remember them being this good (laughs).' At the time, you're always very critical, especially when you're in the studio, about whether it's good enough. That's probably the hardest thing to do is to let something go.

Fool for the City was a different experience. Foghat had time, and Nick Jameson, on their side.

Genius level
Along with producing the Fool for the City record, Jameson also took over for the departed Stevens on bass. His musicianship was almost supernatural, and Foghat made good use of it.

Earl became acquainted with Jameson during the recording of Foghat's first album.

"We mixed a couple of songs – a song called 'Gotta Get to Know You,'" said Earl. "He mixed 'Gotta Get to Know You' and he remixed a couple of other things with Dave Edmunds around 1970. So that was my first meeting, and then the second time I met Nick was at Bearsville (Studios in Bearsville, N.Y.). We were just doing some demos and stuff up in Bearsville, and Nick was the resident engineer at the label. Nick and I got real close. I loved the man, an absolute genius as a musician, and I loved working with him, even though that didn't quite work out apparently, but then he came in from time to time over the years."

Living up in Woodstock, N.Y., Earl and Jameson had the opportunity to hang out together often.

"We'd go and play badminton together, or we would go out and jam together at various places, up at the barn, because there were much better musicians up there," said Earl. "I was very closed off up there at Woodstock, and we became very good friends. I loved Nick. I probably learned more from Nick about music and musical things and playing and everything else than any other singular person."

A man of many talents, Jameson wasn't the first choice to replace Stevens, according to Earl's memory.

"So when Tony Stevens left the band in 1974, I think I'd moved to Bearsville, though I shared a house down there on Long Island with Rod Price," said Earl. "Actually, we auditioned (current Foghat bassist) Craig MacGregor, and I liked him, but I think our manager didn't think it would work. So I'm back at Woodstock, and I'm hanging out with Nick, and I said, 'Nick, do you play bass?' He said, 'Yeah, the first thing I picked up was bass.' I said, 'Do you want to join the band?' He said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'All right.' And then he said, 'Hold on. I don't have a bass.' I said, "Oh, so what do we do?' He said, 'I know somewhere we can rent one.' And I said, 'All right. Let's go.' And he said, 'It's 4 o'clock in the morning.' And I said, 'Oh, do you want to hit the bar?' And he said, 'Yes, Roger (laughs).' So then we rented a bass guitar."

Jameson's initiation would have to wait, but when the moment arrived, it was magical.

"At the time I had a 1967 convertible Corvette 427, a bit of a monster," related Earl. "I've always loved cars. I'm a car man. Picking up, we had the top down, and on the way down, the rear axle broke on the car. We were doing about 80 miles per hour, and the rear axle breaks, the swing axle on the back ... one of them broke, all of a sudden. I thought, 'Oh, shit!' Then we pull off the road, and there was a Chevy dealership there. We pull in there, and we could see the car wasn't doing very well at the time. It was sort of stuck up in the rear. They said, 'Well, this is an old car.' And I said, 'Yeah, I know. Can you fix it?' And they said, 'Well, yeah, but it'll cost a bit of money.' Then I call a cab, and Nick and I get in the cab, and we go out to Long Island, and then it started. In fact, we were rehearsing in the house Rod and I shared down there, where we soundproofed the basement. And that's where 'Slow Ride'came from, from a jam."

Jameson hasn't been given enough credit for his role in the creation of "Slow Ride," still a staple on classic rock radio.

"He had everything to do with it," said Earl. "And the fact that he didn't get a writing credit for it ... well, that was it. The arrangement was basically everything that we jammed that night. Nick obviously did the bass playing part, also the break ... every break that was there, Nick came in with. In fact, even the intro, although I claim I wrote it, it was Nick who actually suggested it: 'Hey Rog, just go back.' And I said, 'What do you mean, go back?' 'Just go back.' I said, 'Like this?' He said, 'No, no ... back.' I said, "Oh, you mean like ... bang. Oh, okay.' So I did ... got on to the bass drum. And he said, 'Yeah, that's it.' (laughs) It's basically a John Lee Hooker riff. Instead of playing it like a shuffle, you straighten it out. In fact, the jam part was very similar to what ended up on the record. We even sped it up like on the record, and the middle part, Nick wrote, like the rhythm playing and all that stuff. He didn't get credit for it, but he did get credit for producing it."

Around the same Peverett was trying to learn how to play the saxophone. He would practice at all hours in his hotel room and the house where Foghat was working on Fool for the City.

"And when you're hanging out with a bunch of musicians, you don't say to somebody, 'Here, can you shut the f--k up?'" laughs Earl.

When Jameson heard Peverett's sax, Jameson became inspired.

"So the next morning, Nick goes out behind this secondhand store, and he finds a saxophone, and when we got to the studio, Nick had probably had this instrument for maybe an hour or two, if that," said Earl. "He'd already learned to play it. Dave had been practicing for years to learn to play this instrument. So Nick now is writing charts for sax players, and Dave had a song called 'Going to the Mardi Gras' It didn't make it on the record. I don't know where it is, but anyway, Nick and Dave had all these horn parts written. We recorded the song, and I think Nick also put piano on it. So it had that Mardi Gras kind of feel to it. I don't know what happened to it, but that's typical of his genius."

There was cause for jubilation in the aftermath of Fool for the City, as the band garnered its first platinum record, the infectious, galvanizing anthems "Fool for the City" and the slide-guitar slathered "Slow Ride" fueling rising album sales.

Jameson, though, wanted to get off the ride. He had aspirations of working on his own solo material.

Fishing hole
Able to work at their own pace, with a skilled producer and engineer in Jameson always at their beck and call, Foghat made an album for the ages in Fool for the City, and the record-buying public ate it up.

"Fool for the City was an album we actually took time off and recorded in just one place, and it was just the band and our engineer and producer, Nick Jameson," said Earl. "And I thought that worked really well. Anytime we were just in one place, and we could lock ourselves away, I think the music benefited. Having said that, we were a touring band. We didn't have the luxury of time, where we were going to say take six months off and actually make a record. We did take time to do the Fool for the City album ... in the end, it we proved it to be the right decision (laughs)."

As always, Foghat's sense of humor helped ingratiate them with their fans. The cover for Fool for the City is one that's always given Earl and a lot of people a good laugh. Away from rock and roll, Earl loves to fish. Jameson thought they might be able to use that.

"I'm pretty sure Nick was the one who suggested it," said Earl. "I should ask him about it. I think it was his idea, because anytime I had some time off or I was wanting to unwind, I would go fishing. I'd grab a rod and go."

Foghat - Fool for the City 1975
Needing an idea for a cover photo, Jameson liked the idea of having Earl do some angling in an unlikely place.

"I think we'd finished the record actually, and we were out on Long Island, and we got up early one Sunday morning, drove to Manhattan with a pole, lifted up the manhole cover and started fishing," Earl related. "And a couple of New York's finest came along and said, 'Hey, you got a license?' Because I had a pole, and I said, 'Oh, shit.' And he said, 'Do you have a fishing license?' (laughs) They said, 'What the f--k are you guys doing?' And we explained to him what we were doing, and they said, 'Oh, okay.' So they just made sure the taxis and other cars wouldn't go down the manhole or anything. They're New York's finest, and they laughed at it. They were more worried about murderers, robbers and rapists ... not some rock 'n' rollers pulling up manhole covers (laughs)."

The fun didn't stop there for Foghat. In fairly short order, they found a replacement for Jameson, calling back Craig MacGregor to give him the job. In 1976, Foghat released another gold effort in Night Shift, which boasted another classic track, "Drivin' Wheel."

"'Drivin' Wheel' is probably one of my all-time favorite songs," said Earl. "I love the way it starts, and I thought Craig MacGregor played really cool bass on it.

Foghat - Night Shift 1976
Night Shift was not an easy birth, as Earl remembers it.

"That was a learning experience on that record," said Earl. "In the end, it turned out well, but you know, sometimes the music comes easy and everything sort of flows, and other times, you have to really work at it."

According to Earl, Foghat would lay down basic track in Long Island in a mobile unit, while also working on backing tracks in Manhattan. Dan Hartman served as producer.

"We'd been working with some stuff, and we went over to his studio, and I really like the way he plays," said Earl of Hartman. "He's a very talented musician, and he has great ideas. He's an excellent recording engineer, and we recorded in his house. And it is was this really nice big house, huge big rooms for the drums."

The accommodations were wonderful. Earl said, "What happened on that album was we were really working, but we were working in a really nice environment," said Earl. "We stayed in that house, and we'd get up anytime we wanted and play, and Dan had this fabulous cook ... I remember she was from Jamaica. This woman was absolutely beautiful and made some of the best food."

They ate well, but Peverett and Price were at loose ends, as Earl recalled. "The problem with doing that album was Dave and Rod, I think would come up against a brick wall." Still, it was an enjoyable time for the band, especially with guests like Edgar Winter lending a hand on backing vocals and keyboards.

Foghat - Foghat Live 1977
All of this was prelude to the biggest-selling album of their career, 1977's Foghat Live. It exceeded 2 million copies in sales, but Foghat wasn't about to rest on their laurels, as the band released Stone Blue in 1978, the studio tension between the band and producer Eddie Kramer resulting in a more aggressive sound.

Change of fortune
As Foghat headed into the '80s, however, their commercial fortunes waned and wholesale lineup changes added to their frustration. Price was the first to leave in November, 1980, and MacGregor followed him out the door in 1982, only to return two years later. Jameson came back, playing on In the Mood for Something Rude and Zig Zag Walk.

The biggest hit of all came in 1984, when Peverett departed and went back to England. That one forced Foghat to disband, but only for a short while, as Earl, MacGregor and Price's replacement, Erik Cartwright, regrouped with a new guitarist/singer in Eric (E.J.) Burgerson. Peverett returned to the U.S. in 1990 and formed his own Lonesome Dave's Foghat. Bassett was a part of it.

Three years later, producer extraordinaire Rick Rubin negotiated a reunion of the original Foghat lineup, which released a couple of albums in the '90s. Price would leave again after a second tour of duty, leading to Bassett being welcomed into the fold for good.

Joining forces again brought Earl and Peverett closer than ever. They spent a great deal of time together reminiscing and finding out that when they were much younger, they'd gone to a lot of the same concerts.

"Yeah, we talked about that on our last tour that we did together," said Earl. "It was kind of cool, because we had calmed down somewhat over the years, and afterward, we'd sit in the back of the bus and Dave would put on some music. He was the resident DJ. And we'd sit there having some cheese and crackers and drinking some wine, and we'd talk about stuff we did when we were kids, and who we'd go and see. And it would be like, 'Oh, were you there?' It was strange, because we'd been together since 1967, or something like that, playing together and we'd never really talked about it, seeing Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry."

Peverett died in 2000, complications from kidney cancer being the cause. Price shuffled off this mortal coil five years later. In 2010, the Foghat lineup of Earl, MacGregor, Bassett and Charlie Huhn – the one that's been together now for years and continued the band's legacy of busy touring – finally completed a project that Peverett and Earl had always dreamed of doing: the blues album, Last Train Home.

And Foghat is working on something that might just top it.

"Well, we've already done a couple of weeks of rehearsing and recording and writing, and we're going to start writing and recording again," said Earl. "We've already picked out a number of songs that we want to do. I've got three or four tunes, with lyrics and stuff, that are written, as I'm sure Bryan and Charlie and Mac do. And we're going to probably have some guests on this album. I find that rather refreshing. When (blues legend and longtime friend of Foghat)  Eddie Kirkland came up it gave us the idea (on Last Train Home). Eddie is no longer with us. I think we'll have some guests and other players joining us. It's always fun when somebody else sort of joins the band for a while, whether it's my brother (Colin Earl, electric keyboard player for Mungo Jerry) or somebody on harp singing or playing guitar."

For Earl, that's the good stuff.

"Playing music is a joyful thing, so playing it with someone else has got to be joyful, right?" said Earl. "Charlie and I were talking the other day about maybe doing a couple of blues songs, or maybe another thing I did back when I was in Savoy Brown. He's a big, huge Savoy Brown fan, so we might resurrect one of them as well. It worked. The idea of sitting down and picking out the songs you really like, and then there's also something to be said for four people being productive and writing original stuff, as well. It will probably be a year along similar lines, but hey, who knows?"

No comments:

Post a Comment