Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Roger Earl Interview: ‘Foghat’ Legend talks about Willie Dixon and Honoring the Blues


                                       

By Ray Shasho

Roger Earl is the prodigious drummer and founding member for rock & blues legends Foghat. Earl is the only band member to appear on every album that Foghat has ever recorded. Roger Earl’s ingenuity is responsible for embracing and sustaining the Foghat legacy.

Savoy Brown: In 1968, Kim Simmonds decided that his band Savoy Brown needed a new direction and brought in Chris Youlden as their lead vocalist, Lonesome Dave Peverett on guitars, Rivers Jobe on bass, and Roger Earl on drums with perhaps one of the bands strongest lineups to date. Savoy Brown toured and recorded extensively spawning the albums Getting to the Point, Blue Matter, (featuring the hit single, “Train to Nowhere”) A Step Further, (featuring crowd pleaser, “I’m Tired,”) Raw Sienna and Looking In. Savoy Brown quickly developed a huge fan base in the U.S and became a mainstay on progressive rock format radio and concert arenas worldwide.

Foghat: In 1970, new bassist Tony Stevens, rhythm guitarist and vocalist Lonesome Dave Peverett, and drummer Roger Earl left Savoy Brown to form their new band Foghat. In 1971 they brought in slide master Rod Price (Black Cat Bones) on lead guitar and Foghat was officially launched. The band prominently expressed its British blues roots early on with the release of Willie Dixon’s penned “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” With the addition of their mega hits “Slow Ride” , “Fool for the City” and the commercially successful Foghat Live album, (selling over two-million copies) the band became mainstays on FM Rock radio worldwide.

Throughout the 70’s the band toured extensively, usually supporting headliners, but eventually became the headliners while selling out arenas and stadiums. After numerous personnel changes the original Foghat members reformed in 1993.

In 1994, the original Foghat lineup released their thirteenth studio album entitled Return of the Boogie Men. Foghat also released a live album called Road Cases and an album recorded on the syndicated radio show King Biscuit Flower Hour in 1999.

In 2000, Lonesome Dave Peverett died of pneumonia and complications stemming from kidney cancer at the age of 56 years old. Then in 2005, ‘The Magician of Slide’ Rod Price died after suffering a heart attack before falling down a flight of stairs. Price was 57 years old.

Most recently: Foghat’s current line-up is the strongest since its heyday and features original drummer Roger Earl leading a rejuvenated and talented band of rock and roll musicians. Slide guitarist Bryan Bassett was a founding member of Wild Cherry(“Play that Funky Music”) and also played with Molly Hatchet, vocalist and guitarist Charlie Huhn performed with Ted Nugent and Jerry Shirley’s Humble Pie, while bassist Craig MacGregor shared his musical talents with legendary artists such as Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter to name a few.
Foghat’s most recent release entitled Last Train Home (2010) has received rave reviews. It’s a back to basics rock & blues triumph! Last Train Home is an incredible blend of blues classics and brand new Foghat material. The album also features Roger’s Brother, Colin Earl on keyboards, Lefty “Sugar Lips” Lefkowitz on harmonica, Eddie “Bluesman” Kirkland on vocals and guitar, and Jeff Howell on bass. The album spawned “495 Boogie” which was the foundation for their latest single "The Word of Rock n’ Roll." The lyrics for the song were written by Phil Dessinger one of their fans after winning a contest.

I gave Last Train Home (5) StarsThe album definitely kicks-ass!

Foghat will be performing at ‘Born to Ride Day of the Dead Jam Music and Motorcycle Festival’ on Saturday November 2nd at England Brothers Park in Pinellas Park, Fl. Foghat will be joining co-headliners Paul Rodgers (Bad Company) and Joan Jett &The Blackhearts along with Blackberry Smoke, Molly Hatchet, David Allan Coe and Soul Circus Cowboys. -For tickets and information visit http://borntoridejam.com/ or call 1-877-987-6487 to charge by phone. For additional information call 813-531-4051. Gates open at 11am.

Foghat will also be performing at the 16th Annual ‘Thunder by The Bay Motorcycle Festival’ on Saturday January 11th, 2014 at 8 pm on Main Street in Downtown Sarasota. -For further information visit www.thunderbythebay.org or call 941-371-8820 Ext. 1800.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of chatting with the original drummer and founder of Foghat, Roger Earl about meeting Willie Dixon, their latest studio release Last Train Home, touring, Kim Simmonds & Savoy Brown, Dave Edmunds, and of course my infamous ‘Field of Dreams’ wish question.

Here’s my interview with the legendary drummer, singer, songwriter, chef, wine entrepreneur, leader and founder of classic rock legends Foghat … ROGER EARL.
Ray Shasho: Hello Roger, how are you doing?
Roger Earl: “Hello Ray, I’m doing okay, how are you doing?”
Ray Shasho: I’ve been chatting with a lot of drummers here of late … I talked with Corky Laing most recently and Billy Cobham before that.
Roger Earl: “I love Corky, he and I are good friends. Billy is a great-great drummer, I saw him a couple of times actually and he does stuff that mere mortals can only dream about.”
(All laughing)
Ray Shasho: So how’s the tour coming along Roger?
Roger Earl: “The tour has been doing great this year; we’ve been all over the place …north, south, east and west and we keep seeming to be yo-yoing a lot from east coast to west coast and that’s okay. Yea, so it’s been a very exciting touring year and it’s not over yet, we’ve still got lots of dates to do.”
Ray Shasho: You’ll be performing in Sarasota, Fl. for the ‘Thunder by the Bay Motorcycle Fest’ on January 11th 2014.
Roger Earl: “We’re also going to be performing at Born to Ride Day of the Dead Jam Music and Motorcycle Festival in Pinellas Park on November 2nd. Actually we have a home down in Florida and also a studio in DeLand, halfway between Orlando and New Smyrna Beach in the middle of nowhere. We have a band house there where we record, rehearse, and kickback in the winter learning some new old songs.”
Ray Shasho: I watched the original Foghat lineup perform six times, mostly at the Capital Centre in Maryland. You guys supported a lot of bands like the J. Geils Band and Black Oak Arkansas before finally headlining the 18,000 plus arena in 1978.
Roger Earl: Two reasons I remember that. We recorded there one time and another time we flew in there and it was back in 1977 when we had our own plane for awhile and I forgot to put my sneakers in my bag and had to play barefoot. It wasn’t such a problem once the pedals warmed up a bit. So that’s why I remember the Capital Centre.”
(All laughing)
Ray Shasho: Foghat’s “The Word of Rock n’ Roll” single is a great tune! This was actually a contest where the fans added the lyrics to “495 Boogie.” How many people actually contributed to the lyrics?
Roger Earl: “We recorded it on our last album Last Train Home and it was an instrumental, my Brother Colin played piano on the album and was really cool. So he came up with the song. He just started playing and I said that sounds great Colin, let’s do that one! So we ran through it once to get the arrangement down and the chords, then the second time …that was the take. Foghat has never done an instrumental. Then a good friend of ours who is a deejay, Charlie Ocean, wrote the lyrics and renamed it “Big American Blonde,” and then recorded it on the song. But it was a little risqué and never really made it on the radio. So the idea was to mention about doing the vocals for it. Unfortunately, Charlie passed away in July of 2011.”

“We decided to run a competition for all our fans to write the lyrics and also had to sing them to some degree or another. Actually the quality of the songs was really impressive and some of the singers were really-really good. It was difficult but we narrowed it down to about three songs. The band, Ken Dashow from WAXQ Radio in New York City, and Jeb Wright a good friend of ours from Classic Rock Revisited were the judges. We picked one, Phil Dessinger was his name, he wrote the lyrics, we redid it and mixed it and there we have it. The song has a very positive lyric line to it about being on the road and enjoying it. It’s kind of like a basic rock and roll song, like a Chuck Berry kind of thing. Where would we be without Chuck?”
Ray Shasho: Where would we be without the early ‘American Blues’ artists?
Roger Earl:I’ve been a big fan of the blues since I first began listening to it. I also got the chance over the years to play with a number of my heroes. I played with Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and went and had dinner at Willie Dixon’s house. Muddy was a beautiful man, really-really cool, and Willie Dixon was just fantastic. What’s really cool is when you meet your musical heroes and they don’t let you down. They were very gracious and had lots and lots of stories.”

“One of the things I remember about Muddy is we did this show called Foghat’s Tribute to the Blues at the New York Palladium. It was to raise money for the New York Public Library; they didn’t have a decent blues record collection. It gave us an excuse to get together with our heroes and actually play with them and we were doing just fine at the time financially. Anyway, we’re backstage and we’ve been in New York City for about a week rehearsing with everybody. Muddy was backstage and looked over at one of the performers on the stage, Eddie “Bluesman” Kirkland and looked over at Eddie and he said … “I know you.” And I said to myself, how cool is that, because you can never remember everybody’s name, you meet hundreds of players, musicians, and people. What a way to greet somebody … “I know you.” What are you going to say, no you don’t! So I stole that from Muddy. If I can’t remember somebody’s name, I go, “I know you.”
(All laughing)

“Muddy was special and a beautiful man. It was a sad day when we lost him. Willie Dixon … I think was one of the greatest influences certainly on blues music and contemporary rock and roll. He was beautiful. We went there …myself, Dave and Rod actually turned up in the Southside of Chicago and had dinner with him and his family. Everybody in the family played guitar or piano. We were all sitting down and eating and talking. Of course we asked Willie about certain songs and stuff and he says …”Yea.” So he sends one of the kids upstairs to bring down a 78 rpm of some obscure tune and I remember Rod Price and Lonesome Dave drooling. But we’ve stayed in touch over the years and it was a sad day when we lost him.”
Ray Shasho: Many of those early blues legends never seemed to get the due praise and credit they truly deserved.
Roger Earl: I think Willie did okay, he had that one issue with Led Zeppelin’s management where he wasn’t given credit, but I think that got settled. But not by Foghat mind you … who was the first to give credit where credit was due. That’s how we got to meet Willie Dixon because he wrote “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and obviously performed by Muddy Waters. That was our first big single over here and came off the first album in 1972. Then in 1977 we released Foghat Live and the single off of that album was “I Just Want to Make Love to You” which was a hit again. By then Willie was saying, “Who are these Foghat guys?””

“We had a three day spell playing in Chicago. On the first night, Willie’s daughter came down to see us. The second night she actually came back with her Brother Butch who I believe later became Willie’s road manager. Then on the third night we played there they brought their dad down. So there we were standing around with Willie Dixon, and as far as we were concerned in the presence of greatness. He was a tall man and had this incredible smile and a wonderful way with people. I remember Dave introduced him on stage and said, “Without Willie Dixon there would be no rock and roll.” And that’s pretty close to the truth. Then Willie invited us over to his house and we managed to talk with him a number of years after that.”
Ray Shasho: I had the opportunity to chat with one of your old bandmates from your Savoy Brown days Kim Simmonds. Kim is such a great guy.
Roger Earl: “Actually, I recently inducted Kim into the New York Blues Hall of Fame. I live out on Long Island and decided to take the train, in case we decided to have a few drinks. I got there and Kim was playing at a place called the The Iridium. Kim and I keep in touch; we talk two or three times a year. So I went inside and told Kim, they’ve asked me to induct you into the Blues Hall of Fame tonight. He gave me a look, like … Oh dear, Rogers inducting me?”

“At the ceremony I started by saying …Kim gave me my shot and I’m forever grateful. I think Kim might be playing better than ever and his voice has dramatically improved. He sounds like a great singer now. It was a lot of fun, I got up and played a couple of new songs with his band and had a good time that night.”
Ray Shasho: I wouldn’t mind seeing Roger Earl on a Kim Simmonds/Savoy Brown album or Kim Simmonds on a Foghat album.
Roger Earl: “I would do that! We’ve actually discussed it but we’re never quite able to organize it with our varying schedules. There is the possibility though …but time is rolling on.”
Ray Shasho: Roger, I have to apologize for not getting the opportunity to review your last studio album entitled …Last Train Home and especially for not having the opportunity to rave about it … it’s definitely a kick-ass album! So I’ll be reviewing it with this interview and I’m giving it (5) stars.
Roger Earl: “Thank you! Actually we were really pleased with the way it turned out. It wasn’t a difficult record to make. It’s something Dave and I talked about a number of times when Dave was alive but we never got to do it. Foghat always recorded one or two blues songs on their albums and it was something I wanted to do. I said to the guys in the band, everybody pick two or three songs that they wanted to do, then we’ll get together down in Florida and we’ll play them. The ones that work we’ll do and the ones that don’t we’ll just put on the side. It wasn’t difficult; it really was a labor of love. It was really enjoyable; I got to play with my Brother Colin who plays piano. Colin played on our first album and a few others from time to time but was busy with his band Mungo Jerry and then his subsequent band the King Earl Boogie Band. We never really got the chance to play together. Eddie “Blues Man” Kirkland who we played with back in 1977 came down and we played for hours and hours. It was very special and we really had a good time.”
Ray Shasho: The band is incredible and with quite a resume. Slide guitarist Bryan Bassett was a founding member of Wild Cherry and also played with Molly Hatchet, Charlie Huhn played with Ted Nugent and Humble Pie, bassist Craig MacGregor played with Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter to name a few. And of course Eddie “Blues Man” Kirkland contributed on the album.
Roger Earl: “I think what Charlie did with Ted Nugent was certainly some of Ted’s best stuff. And there’s also something to be said for taking over for Steve Marriott of Humble Pie. Unfortunately our bass player Craig MacGregor couldn’t make this record; he had a problem with a nerve in his left hand, but he’s back with us now better than ever. A good friend of mine Jeff Howell who played with numerous bands and Foghat from time to time played bass on it and did a fantastic job. We also had a harp player, Lefty “Sugar Lips” Lefkowitz who is also a good friend of mine. So we had the Foghat blues band.”
Ray Shasho: With the horrible way the music industry has been over the past twenty years or so, it was really refreshing to hear a pure rock and roll album again.
Roger Earl: “The album wasn’t hard or a stretch for any of us, it was actually a real joyous bunch of sessions that we did. We started off with rehearsals here in Long Island and finished everything down in Florida. Most of the songs were done by the second or third take. But there’s an attitude to playing blues and rock and roll. It was a lot of fun doing it … in fact, I might do it again!”
Ray Shasho: Rocker Dave Edmunds was instrumental to Foghat’s debut album. How’s Dave doing these days?
Roger Earl: “I haven’t talked with David in a number of years. Dave doesn’t tour too much; the last time he did was with Ringo Starr. I have a great deal of respect for Dave Edmunds. When we were doing our first album and we basically got a record deal through Albert Grossman, Dave and Foghat were using the same studio. Dave had the nightshift and we were taking over from about midday to midnight. Of course the sessions would crossover and we would go in and listen to him and then he would hangout and listen to us. We were struggling at the time, we could play but we weren’t producing. It may have been our management at the time. We were struggling with the tunes so we asked Dave to help us out. I seem to remember when we started working on “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and it might have been the first song that we started working with Dave Edmunds. He just sprinkled some of that magic dust on it, in fact the whole album I think, even the ones that he didn’t like, finalize, or work on initially. The album wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as it was without Dave. He’s a great musician and producer.”
Ray Shasho: Did you play skiffle music when you were young?
Roger Earl:I was about four years behind on that. But yes, when I was about eleven years old I just moved into senior school and I remember we did have a skiffle group and I had a standup tea chest, a broom handle and a piece of string. I think that lasted about a week. Then after that, it wasn’t until I was about thirteen when I made the decision that I needed to play. My father took me to see Jerry Lee Lewis in South West London and I was never the same after that. Jerry Lee had a huge impact on my attitude to music, what and how I wanted to play. I could never quite master the drum work he had during the early Sun Record days. My father brought home his first records and introduced the household to Jerry Lee Lewis. He’d put them on the record player and say … “This boy can play the piano!” (All laughing) Dad played piano as well.”

“As far as the drummers go … Earl Palmer from New Orleans was one of my earliest influences for playing and also Fred Below who was on most of the early Chess Record recordings. You’ve got to give the drummers some credit too. (All laughing)”

“Around the same time we met Willie Dixon in Chicago, we had a night off somewhere and Dave and I went out to this place called Mother Blues. Dave and I walked in and I go over to the bar like I often do. Dave is just in the doorway transfixed and looking at the stage. So I get my drink, wonder back to Dave and hand him a glass of wine. He says to me, “Do you know who that is playing drums?” I said no. He said, “That’s Freddie Below.” We went up and talked with him during the break and shook hands. Dave was more mesmerized than I was. We both got up and played a few tunes. I’ll never forget Dave saying … “You know who that is?” I think it’s imperative in music to never forget about being a fan. It’s the joy of music why we do it for. At least that’s why I do it.”
Ray Shasho: Roger, I thought it was interesting that you auditioned for both Jimi Hendrix and Arthur Brown.
Roger Earl: “Actually, the reason why I auditioned was that I was already in Savoy Brown and at that point hadn’t been paid. It was a blues band. I still had my day job, I was a commercial artist. We were doing about two or three shows a week and came in to work looking very tired. After about two weeks, I went up to the manager’s office which was the same as the booking agent and his name was Harry Simmonds, Kim’s Brother. So I said Harry, I haven’t been paid yet, am I going to get paid? Harry said, “You haven’t been paid, we’ll have to see about that.” This went on for about six weeks and I thought maybe I’d better start looking for work. If they don’t want to pay you there must be a problem.”
Ray Shasho: So the real reason you left Savoy Brown was because you weren’t getting paid?
Roger Earl: “I think it was just time for a change. We both did well after that. Kim’s band Savoy Brown went on and made some terrific records and Foghat did the same. It probably wasn’t a bad move in either of our parts. Kim’s still here and he’s a great player and I’m looking forward to playing with him again sometime. Things have a way of working out.”
Ray Shasho: Bassist Tony Stevens had rejoined Foghat for awhile, what is he up to lately?
Roger Earl: “Tony Stevens was always difficult to work with; he was always getting fired from whatever band he was in. He was the only one who got fired from Savoy Brown. He went off to England one time when we were supposed to be starting a new tour. Basically it was not a happy relationship and it wasn’t working. So he got fired and then sued us for the name and went out as Foghat. He had been bought out of Foghat for thirty-five thousand dollars back in 1974 … and that was a lot of money back then. When he was invited to join again, he didn’t get any rights to the name Foghat and he decided he wanted to be Foghat. So we were in a huge lawsuit and we won. Half a million dollars later … I’m on the road again and he’s in Thailand or somewhere. Let me put it this way, there’s no love lost there.”
Ray Shasho: In the summer of 2010 …Bobby Rondinelli replaced you for some gigs?
Roger Earl: “I took a fall and broke my back across three vertebrae. That’s never happened before; we were playing this Casino in Oklahoma and I went on stage to check the monitors and the drums and I went to step up on the side of the drum riser and there was nothing there. So that wasn’t a lot of fun. Promoters live on a rather thin profit margin these days so I called Bobby. Bobby Rondinelli is a great drummer and can do just about anything … and we’re good friends. So, he did a good job for awhile. I got back ASAP because I didn’t want anybody taking my place. (Laughing)”

“Then another time we were in Canada and I went down to sit on my drum stool and it collapsed underneath me. But I’m doing fine now; I work really hard on keeping healthy.”
Ray Shasho: I heard you’re quite a connoisseur of wines?
Roger Earl: Not really a connoisseur, I just like to drink the stuff. We do make some fantastic wines called Foghat Cellars. We just released a 2010 Chardonnay, a 2010 Pinot Noir, and also have a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon coming out. It’s a lot of fun. I met Steve Rasmussen in 2007 when we played the California Mid State Fair, we did two shows there, both sold-out, and then he sent an email to our manager saying … you’re probably already doing this but would you be interested in making some Foghat wine? I started giggling and drooling and said …Yes please! Yes please! You can visit Foghat Cellars at www.foghatcellars.com.”
Ray Shasho: I understand you’re also a great cook, I watched ‘Roger Earl’s Rockin’ Kitchen’ on You Tube recently, what is that all about?
Roger Earl: “I do like to cook any chance that I get. I have in my house about a dozen people to cook for. About six to eight people is the perfect size because you can talk and hear each other. It came up …Why don’t you do a TV cooking show? So we did a couple of pilots and it turned out interesting … so we’ll see. But I like my job of playing drums… that’s my favorite. Craig MacGregor our bass player is also a chef. So the band doesn’t go hungry when we’re recording or rehearsing down in Florida.”
Ray Shasho: Roger, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview … If you had a “Field of Dreams” wish, like the movie, to play or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Roger Earl: “Give me a minute, that is like your wish list isn’t it. Hands down I would love to play drums with Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry on guitar and Willie Dixon on bass. I might have a contemporary singer, someone like Paul Rodgers who is probably one of the greatest singers out there or one of my favorite early singers is probably Chris Youlden of Savoy Brown. Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon on bass and me playing drums … that would have been a ‘Field of Dreams’ for me.”
Ray Shasho: One of my favorite singers is also a favorite of yours … Humble Pie legend Steve Marriott.
Roger Earl: “Oh, I can spend an hour talking to you about Steve Marriott. We toured incessantly with Steve Marriott and Humble Pie and the J. Geils Band. Stevie particularly endeared himself to me. It might have been one of our early big shows and we were supporting Humble Pie. For some reason the crew was giving our crew a hard time about the sound and the lights, about what we had or couldn’t have. I think either our road manager or manager had mentioned it to Steve, who was five foot something, and he walked out on stage and said… Alright, don’t give f*ing Foghat any f*ing problems, give f*ing Foghat whatever the f*ck- f*ing Foghat wants, alright? And we never had another problem. We became good friends with Stevie after that. Dave and I would hang out with Stevie into the early hours of the morning, listening to music and getting ripped. Stevie was special and I loved the man.”
Ray Shasho: Roger, thank you so much for being on the call today, but more importantly for all the incredible Foghat music that you’ve given us and continue to bring. We’ll see you in Pinellas Park on November 2nd and in Sarasota on January 11th.
Roger Earl: “I look forward to it Ray and it’s been my pleasure.”

Foghat will be performing at ‘Born to Ride Day of the Dead Jam Music and Motorcycle Festival’ on Saturday November 2nd at England Brothers Park in Pinellas Park, Fl. Foghat will be joining co-headliners Paul Rodgers (Bad Company) and Joan Jett &The Blackhearts along with Blackberry Smoke, Molly Hatchet, David Allan Coe and Soul Circus Cowboys. -For tickets and information visit http://borntoridejam.com/ or call 1-877-987-6487 to charge by phone. For additional information call 813-531-4051. Gates open at 11am.

Foghat will also be performing at the 16th Annual ‘Thunder by The Bay Motorcycle Festival’ on Saturday January 11th, 2014 at 8 pm on Main Street in Downtown Sarasota. -For further information visit www.thunderbythebay.org or call 941-371-8820 Ext. 1800.

Foghat official website www.foghat.net
Foghat on Facebook
Foghat on Myspace
Foghat on Twitter
Visit Foghat Cellars “Music & Wine… Passions Combined” at www.foghatcellars.com
Purchase Last Train Home the latest release from Foghat at amazon.com

Very special thanks to Chip Ruggieri of Chipster PR and Rose Nangano

Coming up NEXT … My latest interviews with the legendary John Mayall of The Bluesbreakers and Julian Lennon chats about his incredible new album.

Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at rockraymond.shasho@gmail.com

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