SHE-WSHE Radio Interview With Roger Earl of
You may know them for their recording of "Slow Ride", "Fool For The City" and "I Just Wanna Make Love To You". You may know them from a concert they performed in your city, especially in the 1970s and 1980s when they were touring quite extensively. Well, that group is Foghat and they're still around! And for a group that formed in London in 1971, that's pretty darned impressive. Their latest release is titled "Foghat Live II", on their own record label (Foghat Records).
Drummer Roger Earl talked with us about the group.
Q - Roger, would I be correct in saying that you're the last surviving original member of Foghat?
A - Original member, yeah. Craig MacGregor is playing bass with us again, fortunately. Craig took some time off from the music business. He got married, had a son. He wanted to bring his son up. I can understand that. It can be pretty hard on family life, especially back like in the 70s and 80s when we were touring on buses. You'd be away from home for nine months of the year. It doesn't really encourage a healthy relationship. (laughs)
Q - With that type of schedule, I don't know how you stay healthy, period.
A - It's alright. Now it's a lot easier. We play maybe one to three times a week. We can pick and choose. They're all fly-in dates. Occasionally we can drive. We bring our guitars, a minimal amount of gear. I bring my snare drum, cymbals, sticks, pedals...stuff like that. And they supply everything to our specs. A large number of bands travel that way. Traveling by bus and carrying all your gear either in a trailer or some other way, apart from being really expensive, you're often taking dates you wouldn't normally take just to pay the gas bills. We were all doing this when we got back together in '92, '93. Dave and I stopped arm-wrestling around America. We were traveling by bus then, and we were just doing it to sort of pay the gas bills. We ended up every year in debt. It was ridiculous because you have to pay the bus driver, pay for the bus, pay for the way you're shipping the gear around. So, yeah, it's a lot more practical now. I really enjoy it. Like this weekend we have three dates, Pittsburgh, Tampa and Oklahoma. One after the other. They're all good dates. The equipment is always great. You get to play really nice venues and you're home for three days, which is nice.
Q - So you're flying and you're trucking the equipment?
A - No. We're flying it. Fly all the guitars, snare drum, my bass drum, cymbals. The venue where we play supplies all our back-line equipment; all the drums except for the snare drum; all the amplifiers, all to our specs. 99% of the time it's great. As I said, a number of bands are touring that way now. We actually end up in the black now, which is good. It's a business, isn't it?
Q - Yes it is. I'm just wondering how it all works with the equipment. Everything has to be inspected and many times the way cargo is handled, it can be broken.
A - It's a fuckin' nightmare. (laughs) You can't have a glass of water. If you got a Starbucks, you pay four bucks for your coffee, you gotta drink it before you get on the plane. I think a lot of that stuff in airports is just an appearance of safety. You've got some eighty-five year old lady who's arthritic and they're telling her to lift her arms up and she can't. They're trying to poke the wand inside. It's pathetic, most of it. Having said that, generally speaking it runs fairly smoothly. I think the water thing and not being able to carry your coffee on the plane is a little strange. It's un-American. (laughs)
Q - Your equipment arrives OK then?
A - We have road cases that we travel with. Craig's original bass that he had, I think it was a '62 Jazz, they cracked the body on it one time. I dunno how they do it. These road cases are well-made. They throw 'em around. The biggest problem we have is them losing stuff. They'll lose your guitar. They'll lose my drum case. Often we'll be paying extra 'cause the equipment will be overweight, so we've gotta pay extra money. And they'll lose 'em! That's rather frustrating. There's a couple of airlines out there that I think really care. Generally speaking, Southwest is real good. They've got this cattle car mentality. You've got an A, B or C ticket. But, I've had no problems with them losing any equipment. Generally, Delta are real good.
Q - Let's go back to the early days, Roger. Could Foghat have broken through without the constant touring?
A - You know, would've, could've, should've. I have no idea. I always loved to play. Dave was always the same. Dave loved to play. That part of it wasn't hard for us, even though the touring was constant and you weren't getting a lot of rest. But, you were young and this is what we wanted to do. Still is actually. But, to answer your question, I don't really know. I know it helped us. I mean it gave us an edge over a lot of other people because we were constantly touring. It was used as a publicity thing because this band's on the road 360 days a year. And when we weren't playing, we were usually in the studio. So, I don't know. It's difficult to say. I think the band made some really good records. We always did stuff that we personally liked. We didn't make records we didn't like. The band always had like total artistic control over what we were recording, much to the chagrin of some record company and management people. (laughs)
Q - That's a rarity isn't it...to have total control?
A - Well, we insisted on it. There was no discussion about it. The first record, myself and Dave put in money that we'd got out of Savoy Brown, which wasn't very much, but we sort of funded the first record. Yeah, we pretty much maintained control artistically. The record paid for everything after that, but as far as what music we were recording, that was our choice. Obviously Dave had a large hand in that. Rod, musically was a tremendous asset to the band.
Q - Would you have been in Savoy Brown when they opened for Deep Purple in Syracuse in March 1974?
A - No. Dave and I left Savoy Brown the end of 1970. 1971 was when we formed Foghat. It wasn't actually called that then. Here's one for you; I think we recorded our 'live' album at the Syracuse War Memorial.
Q - You did?
A - Yeah. It was Syracuse and another place in upstate New York. It was taken from two dates. That used to piss me off a bit as well that they didn't put where it was recorded and all that stuff. It's a bit sad. I love all that info.
Q - What did it mean to get Frank Barsalona of Premier Talent as your booking agent?
A - Yeah, it was great. Frank was a terrific agent. The agency was terrific. He elevated the band. I'll give you an example. We were off the road. We were writing and rehearsing for the "Stone Blue" album. Frank calls up our manager and says "I've got some dates with Peter Frampton coming up. We want Foghat to open for him. Our manager said "Foghat doesn't open for anybody anymore, but they're busy, so we can't do that." So, Frank calls up about a week later and says "Look, we need Foghat to open up for Peter Frampton. We'll give you $100,000 for two shows or three shows." Our manager comes in and says "they want us to do these shows with Peter Frampton for a hundred grand. That's a lot of money." We said "We're writing. We're busy here." I think it ended up about $225,000 for the two or three shows. In the end we acquiesced and said alright. It was a lot of fun actually. Peter was a great performer. I think J. Geils was on the bill as well.
Q - Those were stadium shows?
A - Yeah. On the West Coast, Seattle, L.A. and somewhere else I can't remember. Peter was a great artist. He was great 'live'. He had a great band.
Q - I read that before you signed with Premier Talent, you were earning $500 - $750 a night. When Mr. Barsalona entered the picture your asking price went up to $5,000 a night as a headliner. True?
A - No. We were never earning that kind of money. In fact, the very first gig we did over here as Foghat, we played Municipal Park in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin. We got paid $1,350, but we couldn't take the money. Now, why you ask? Because we didn't have our work permits. But we were there. We said "We can't take the money. You can pay us as soon as we get our work permits. We played. We were earning anywhere between $1,000 - $3,000 a night.
Q - What year would that have been?
A - '72 when we started touring. I'm sure there were a couple of $500 gigs though. (laughs) To be really honest with you, I don't remember a lot about the finances back then. We were struggling, but each year we managed to keep our head above water. The records started selling more and more. It was a struggle.
Q - Your deal was with...
A - Bearsville (Records). That's another story as well. We started writing, recording and rehearsing once we got Rod Price into the band. We probably did about six or seven songs that are on the first album. Our manager was shopping it to all the major labels around the States and in Europe and everybody, everybody turned us down. It was too Rock 'n' Roll. They didn't like this. They didn't like that. They wanted somebody like James Taylor or Carole King. They're two very talented human beings. (laughs) So, Tony Ovteda, who was our manager at the time, had an association with Albert Grossman. I have a feeling that maybe Albert probably felt he owed our manager some kind of favor. He was the manager of The Band, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Peter, Paul and Mary. This guy had some clout and obviously picked some very successful acts. So, he was on tour with The Band in Europe and Todd Rundgren as well. We rented this club in North London in the afternoon. Albert came down, just Albert. There was no audience there. The band and our manager. We played like five or six songs for him and said "Is there somewhere we can get a cup of tea and biscuits?" So, we went across the road to this little hotel. And he said "OK, let's do it." (laughs) He was the only one who could see something there. In fact, recently we were up in Bearsville. We took a trip up there and went to his memorial there. Said hello to Albert. Without Albert...who knows?
Q - All it takes is one person.
A - And he was the only one. Everybody else said no. We made a lot of money for him.
Q - Let me quote from a Rolling Stone Magazine article dated March 11th, 1976. This was regarding your tour with Black Oak Arkansas and Montrose. Do you remember that tour?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - This is what Butch Stone, the manager of Black Oak Arkansas had to say about you guys: "Foghat is a weak headliner, so being with us definitely gives them the boost. But the way they've been quoted in some articles, you'd think this was their tour. That kind of B.S. can sour a package. Well, with all the exposure we obtained for them, if they don't make it now, their ass will never make it." He goes on to say that Foghat was equal or stronger in popularity to Black Oak Arkansas at that time in only a few locations...Boston, Chicago, New York.
A - I don't think managers should talk. (laughs) Hold on a second, what's Butch doing now?
Q - You tell me.
A - I don't know. I haven't heard from him in a long time. In fact, we're still doing alright. I don't know what Black Oaks doing. I think their touring a little bit, but they're certainly not in our league at the moment. Our manager, whom I've remained friends with over the years is retired and did quite well. I have a roof over my head too. (laughs)
Q - What about this part of the quote where you were giving interviews. What was that all about?
A - I do recall us having some problems, not with Ronnie Montrose. We got on great with Ronnie and Sammy Hagar. We had some problems with them (Black Oak Arkansas). They kept sort of not wanting us to use full lights and sound, which is pretty stupid isn't it really? We have full use of it...so do you. It was a co-headline tour. We used to do a lot of work with Humble Pie and J. Geils. We would be supporting those acts. Either of those bands... never had a problem with. Steve Marriott, who was the singer in Humble Pie said "give Foghat whatever the fuck they want. Don't fuck around with 'em." (laughs) J. Geils Band were just tremendous. Never had a problem, and they were headlining. They never said you can't do this and you can't use that. It's like it's all about the music. If you can't get out there and pull it off... I think Butch Stone was just taking himself a little too seriously. It's all about the music, not the manager.
Q - How about the cities he names where you were equal or stronger in popularity to Black Oak...was that true?
A - You know, it's such a long time ago. I've got no idea why he would even talk like that. At the time, I can remember them having some problems because Foghat is a pretty tough act to follow. (laughs) If they wanted to close the shows, that was fine with us. I remember us not having a problem with us going on in the middle. That's the best slot anyway. Foghat was always a great Rock 'n' Roll band. Lots of energy. I think they just had a problem trying to follow us and he was just trying too...I don't know. You should really talk to him. We, the band Foghat were only interested in playing. We weren't interested in what was going on with the management. It was all about the music. Still is. Although we do manage to stay in the black now.
Q - It must be nice to know that at year's end you actually made money.
A - We're doing fine. In fact, we turn down work now. We're sort of fussy about who we play with. This week I think we have a date with Journey or Foreigner or Styx, and two of the dates we're headlining. The band's doing fine.
Q - Is there a significance to the band's name?
A - No real significance. Lonesome Dave threw out the name when he was like twelve or thirteen. He was playing like kind of a scrabble game with his brother and Dave came up with a name and insisted it was a name. Dave eventually was right. We were on our way into the studio to do the artwork for the first album and we didn't have a title for the band. (laughs) So, we had to decide.
Q - What did the record label refer to you as?
A - We had a couple of strange names to start off. We had some problems working in Europe at the time in England. We'd left Savoy Brown and the manager for Savoy Brown, who was Kim's brother, also managed Chicken Shack, who was very big in England and Europe...and Savoy Brown. He told the agency if they booked us he'd take Chicken Shack and Savoy Brown to somebody else. So, he basically stopped us from working in England. We did a couple of clubs. We did a couple of dates. We struggled along until Albert came along and saved us.
Q - Did you write "Fool For The City", "Slow Ride" and "I Just Wanna Make Love To You"?
A - No. "I Just Wanna Make Love To You" was written by Willie Dixon. It was first recorded by Muddy Waters. "Slow Ride" actually came from a jam. Rod and I used to share a house out in Long Island. Nick Jameson had just joined the band. He was our long-time producer. He joined the band to play bass. We were just jamming in the studio. That's where the music came from. Nick also wrote all the middle parts, the middle eights. Dave wrote the words. Dave is listed as the writer, but in fact, the whole band wrote it. But "Fool For The City" was Dave and Rod. Foghat was always a band where everybody contributed to the recording, even if you didn't get the credit. Dave was the main writer of the band.
Q - There was a time when Foghat broke up and you re-united, wasn't there?
A - Yeah, basically at the end of 1984 we decided to take a break, ostensibly just for a year, but Dave moved back to England. I took about six months off the road and started playing in a band in the New England area called The Jam Band. We put the original band back together in '93 and carried on from there.
Q - Rod Price. His death was a freak accident? He fell down stairs?
A - No. Rod actually had a heart attack. He had a heart attack a week or two before-hand, which I didn't know about. Rod and I weren't particularly close. Rod was somewhat of a troubled soul. He actually started to find some real joy in life. He was teaching blues guitar locally. He was third base coach for his youngest son's softball team...a baseball team. He seemed to be doing fine. He was very overweight and sedentary. He really didn't do too much and I think he'd had a heart attack a week or two before-hand. He had a heart attack 'cause they had to do a post-mortem on him. It was very sad. Linda (Roger's wife) and I went to the memorial. In fact, we were the only ones from the music industry who were there, which is rather sad. Dave's death was tragic. When he was first diagnosed with cancer, we came off the road. We sort of would talk from time to time. He was going through chemo and radiation. He had kidney cancer. They took one of his kidneys out. Then he called me up sometime around 1990 and said he wanted to go back out on the road. Rod Price didn't want to go out on the road. So, he didn't call me or Dave. He called our road manager. That's when Brian joined the band...Brian Bassett. He was a long-time friend of Dave's. He played in Dave's band and also had written a number of songs with Dave. On a regular basis I thank Dave for giving us Brian. Brian is a tremendous guitar player, a wonderful human being and a lot of fun to play with.
Q - How many concerts do you perform a year?
A - This year (2006) we've done more than we have in a long time; 60 - 70 dates a year. Something like that.
Q - That's just the U.S. or overseas included?
A - We did the Sweden Rock Fest a couple of years ago, but generally in the U.S. and Canada.