By JACKIE MOE
Roger Earl, legendary drummer of the multi-platinum rock band Foghat, is not putting down his drumsticks any time soon.
It has been over five decades since the English-bred rock icons Foghat hit the scene, but Earl continues to keep the rock band’s legacy alive and well.
Known for megahits “Slow Ride,” “Stone Blue,” “Driving Wheel,” and “Night Shift,” the band just wrapped up their 17th studio album “Sonic Mojo” — set to release Nov. 10. They also released a couple of singles this summer, “Drivin’ On” and “She’s A Little Bit of Everything.”
Foghat has earned eight gold records, one platinum record and one double-platinum record. They have never stopped touring and recording, despite the deaths of members – Lonesome Dave Peverett in 2000, Rod Price in 2005, and Craig MacGregor in 2018.
The band nowadays consists of founding drummer Earl, guitarist/engineer/co-producer Bryan Bassett, bassist Rodney O’Quinn, lead singer/guitarist Scott Holt. Still rocking stages all over the world, the band will have an album release party at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Nov. 17.
Drummer Earl, 77, shares his favorite Foghat memories, how he keeps his love for music and performing alive, and more.
I have to say, I am making my dad so proud for talking to you – he is such a huge fan.
(laughs) We want to make our parents proud. But, you know, if you haven’t really upset your parents a number of times, you haven’t really done a good job as a kid. I was always upsetting my parents. I love them dearly and they love me too. But it’s part of growing up.
Well, I hope this makes up for the times I’ve upset him, because he absolutely admires you. I have grown up on your music obviously because of him, and I love the new single ‘She’s A Little Bit of Everything.’ I feel like it captures your classic sound.
Ah great. Yes, we have a second one out now too called ‘Drivin’ On.’ In fact, I just got a copy of the vinyl today and I just finished playing it. I had my cup of coffee and I played the vinyl and everything sounds great on the vinyl. We’re always a little nervous about that. But it sounds terrific.
I’m really, really happy with this record. It was recorded over a period of about three years actually. But the final six months is where it all came together. We have a studio down in Florida and we go down there in January, February, March, and prepare for the touring season. We always change five or six songs in the set, put some new or old tunes in there. There’s always five or six songs that we’ll always play. We also recorded at our own studio.
So, when we started doing this record, we probably had, you know, maybe a dozen songs already recorded; not finished but recorded. So the process is a little different from how it used to be. You know, we used to have a record, a record and a half every year. There’s no pressure now. We just make music when we want. So that’s been great.
You have personally kept Foghat alive for over 50 years. I can’t believe it, 50 years. How do you maintain that fire?
You can’t believe it? Neither can I (laughs).
You know, it’s like, be careful what you wish for. With our family there was always music in our house. I grew up in South West London and there was always music in the house. The radio, TV. And then of course, you know, records. My older brother is four years older than me. He bought all the early Elvis Presley stuff and Johnny Cash on Sun Records back in like the late fifties.
And I grew up listening to music. My father played piano, not professionally, but he would play in the local pubs and stuff. So he always played. Mum sang, dad sang. My older brother started learning to play piano as… we went to see him in a theater in South West London. And as my mother said, at the time, I was never the same. It led my brain. So, yeah, I have to blame my parents for this. They always encouraged us to do whatever we wanted to do.
You know, we weren’t rich or anything. I had to pay for my own drums and drum lessons. But I worked three nights a week after school and I worked Saturday mornings in a bakery. So I always had my own money. I saved up about a third of the money for my first drum kit, which I bought when I was 15 or 16, somewhere around there. So yeah, careful what you wish for.
When I brought the drum kit home, we only had a small house. It was semi-detached and I set them up in like the living dining room and started playing, and my mother said, ‘Oh, this will never do.’ So, my dad gave me his woodworking shed, which is attached to the house and soundproofed it, so we didn’t annoy the neighbors next door.
I was allowed to play up till nine o’clock at night. Then the light and the grand big tape player that I had hooked up with all the music I wanted to play to was unplugged. That meant time you go in.
Who were your heroes in music at that time?
Well, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard. Johnny Cash. I was a huge Johnny Cash fan. My brother bought Johnny Cash’s early stuff and I’d be riding my bike to school singing Johnny Cash songs. I don’t think my voice was quite low enough back then. I didn’t even know what I was singing about half the time. Johnny Cash had stories. Even though he didn’t have a drummer on his early records, there was always this rhythm going through it. Luther Perkins played guitar and Johnny played guitar and he had a bass player. There was the way the stories fascinated me.
Music comes from America. All contemporary music comes from here. At the beginning when the Africans were dragged out of Africa and put here, there was the blues, and then we had jazz, and we have to thank them for that. And then country music, rock and roll, gospel music, hillbilly music. This is the land of music to the world.
There was this beautiful coming together of all these different folks from all over the world and it was this fantastic melting pot of music. Some of the rhythms and some of the tunes from Ireland, Scotland, England, France as well. And probably Spain. There were the stories that came from there. America gave music to the world. I grew up listening to rock and roll, blues, jazz, country music, of course. So yeah, this, is one of the reasons I live here. It felt like coming home.
Foghat is known for their mix of rock and blues sound. Would you say you are the influence behind the band’s sound because of your love for that genre?
Yeah, very much so. I mean, without the blues, there would be no rock and roll. Without the blues, there would be no contemporary music I think. They’re related. I remember when my brother first started playing, actually, when I first started playing in bands and stuff, he said, hey, Rog, anything other than three chords has to be viewed with a certain amount of suspicion.
So, actually there was a quick story. When we were doing the Fool for the City album, we were up in Sharon, Vermont and it was the first time since the first record that we actually took a break; we took about three months off the road to actually record this record. Nick Jameson had joined us on bass and producing, and we had a house up there, and each day we would go into the studio to work out the arrangement for the song Fool for the City. And in the evening we went back to the house and Dave and I were sharing a bottle of red wine. And I said it, Dave, how many chords were in ‘Fool for the City’? And he knew where I was going with this. He said, ‘There’s only three chords, Rog. There’s some parting chords, but they don’t matter.’ (laughs) Good ol’ rock and roll humor.
As one of the most admired bands in the 70s and 80s, what do you think separated you from other bands of that era?
Being in the right place at the right time. Good fortune. I think with any band that I think makes a dent in the world of music, or has a degree of success, it’s because they have something different to say. Maybe no matter how slight it is or the variation on something. It also has something to do with being in the right place at the right time.
I mean, ever since I’ve been playing, and even in the last sort of 10 or 20 years or 30 years, there’s many fantastic musicians and bands out there who never get a shot at success. People make records all the time. It’s good fortune really. I mean, our first record was all really the reason we had a degree of success. Because a famous manager from the States came over to see us in England. His name was Albert Grossman. He managed Bob Dylan, the band Peter, Paul and Mary, and Janis Joplin. He came over to see us and he liked what he heard, so he gave us a record deal. And by the way, at that time, everybody else in the world had turned us down. So we had a major record company and the minors had said no. So, we got fortunate Albert liked us.
Your perseverance played a big part too, I’m sure.
Yeah, we would have played anyway no matter what. But it was one person who made the decision to book us and to sign us to his label. As I said, everybody else said no. They didn’t hear it, but Albert Grossman did.
Amazing. I love hearing that it all came down to having the right person believe in you. And now here you are, 50 years later. Like a Cinderella story, but with rock ‘n’ roll.
(Laughs) Life can be a Cinderella story for some of us. Life is wonderful. I’ve always enjoyed it. I’ve tried to stay positive, even in some of my darkest moments when I’ve lost friends and fellow musicians and stuff like that. But I’ve always tried to stay positive. I’ve had a lot of fun.
Also, I think musicians are – certainly musicians that are successful – are inherently selfish about what they do. Playing music comes first. I’m not saying that they’re nasty bastards or anything, but it’s like they put music first. And I think sometimes, you know, relationships can suffer and a lot of things you hold dear. But music takes you over.
I mean, like playing drums. I always wanted to be the drummer in a band. Playing music was almost foremost in my mind. It wasn’t about doing drums – though those can be good fun, you know, kick and crash – but playing in a band is what I wanted and I’ve always wanted to do. I love playing in a band. I think even from my earliest days, I always played with really great musicians and people of a similar taste in music and similar attitude about playing. Getting to the gig and playing comes first before everything else. I love my job.
Can you share your most memorable experience over the course of your career? I know this is a ridiculous question because I’m sure there are millions, but the one that is most dear to your heart.
There were a number that were really special, but one that always comes to mind was in 1977. We just finished the Stone Blue album, and we were looking at ways to help promote it, and I think it was a publicist who came up with the idea of doing a tribute to the blues in New York. We were based out of Long Island, so that was the foundation of all our music and what got us into music.
So we rented the New York Palladium. and we invited Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Winter, Eddie Kirkland. Um, who else? Paul Butterfield. And we were basically the house band. Everybody got paid except us. But we were getting paid, because we were playing with our musical heroes. It was also my father’s 60th birthday and they came over from England and I got them a hotel for a couple of weeks in Park Lane New York and treated them. They came to the show and we were backstage.
I introduced mum and dad to Muddy Waters. Now they knew who he was because I wore out his records at the house. My favorite record was Muddy Waters Live at Newport Jazz Festival. It was 1960, I think. So they knew who he was and there’s their youngest son playing with his musical heroes. So that was probably one highlight that stayed with me forever and ever. It’s a shame that never came out, and it was recorded and filmed. But Warner Brothers in their infinite wisdom haven’t put it out, but we’re still working on that. That might come out one day.
And the encore was ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You.’ The song that Muddy Waters first recorded, it was written originally by Willie Dixon, but the encore was that, with everybody joining in. So there was Muddy, John Lee Hooker, Paul Butterfield, Johnny Winter. It was the highlight of my life.
Absolutely amazing. Your band has always had the reputation of high energy shows. How do you keep that up nowadays?
I personally try and stay healthy. I’ve done my fair share of everything that’s ever been out there. But I love playing and a drummer has to be physically fit. I’ve had a lot of work done on my hands, my feet, my knees, my shoulders.
In fact, whilst we were doing this album, my left arm rotator was off and I couldn’t take the time off to have it fixed, so I would use these straps and strap up my left shoulder for the making of this record Sonic Mojo. But when you’re playing music, you forget about the pain until afterwards. I try to take care of myself, and the day that I can’t play is probably the day I’ll stop playing. But up until then, I’m gonna roll till I’m old and I’m gonna rock till I drop.
Where: The Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano
When: 6 p.m. Nov. 17
More info: https://foghat.com/tour/