Live II (Metro City Records)
An in-depth interview with founding member Roger Earl
Words: Todd K Smith
I still get chills listening to the intro of “I Just Want to Make Love to You” from the first self-titled Foghat record (1972). When I worked at Burnside records, an independent Blues label in Portland, OR. - we used to crank it up till the boom box nearly fell off the shelf. My association with Foghat goes as far back as middle school when I bought “Fool For The City” as a 45 (7-inch single). I played it until it was so scratched up it was almost unlistenable. My next memory was getting Foghat Live (1977) as an 8-track and cruising the strip with it fully cranked. As the years passed, I saw Foghat so many times I’ve lost count. After meeting them in the mid-nineties I developed a close friendship with original slide guitarist, Rod Price. We would call each other every couple of months and touch base. He was a key contributor to the early chapters of the book I co-wrote with David Clayton on the UK-band Free. I was honored when he phoned to tell me he and his wife had just had a boy, Rory named after one of his favorite guitarists, Rory Gallagher.
I struggled to learn Rod’s slide technique. Late one night in Delaware we sat in the back of the Foghat tour bus as he tried to show a novice like myself how he grouped his fingers to get just the right bend on the strings. A couple years later I watched him play at The Ratskeller on Mt. Hood outside of Portland. After moving there from Philly, I saw him several times at the same rustic club. It was always a barn-burner every night. He ignored curfews and would play till early in the morning. He called when Dave Peverett passed away from cancer, his voice choked with emotion as he described the funeral. Terry Currier, president and BIG Foghat fan himself had signed Rod to his Blues label. It was Terry that phoned letting me know Rod had passed away after a fall at his home. I guess my history with Foghat ended there. It was tough to play their good-time rock and roll after that.
Last summer my wife noticed the re-vamped Foghat were playing a local casino. She talked me into going even though I knew Roger Earl was the only original member of the band. I was slow to warm to Charlie Huhn’s (ex-Ted Nugent) voice but was knocked out by Bryan Bassett’s (ex-Wild Cherry) guitar playing. Craig MacGregor from the late ‘70’s version of Foghat was thumping the bass and the whole thing jelled by the third song. Suddenly, I was enjoying the band anew and by the time they wrapped two hours later, I couldn’t stop my feet from tapping. This month, the band released Live II, their second truly profound ‘live’ record. With its release Roger Earl did us the kind service of calling in from his Long Island home, excited about the band’s legendary body of work.
“We really loaded the CD up,” says Earl as we compare the original Live six track to the current Live II’s 20 tracks. “Back in the seventies it was all about compression. We didn’t want too many songs because it would compress the grooves in the vinyl. You never wanted compressed groove because it would reduce the sonic quality of the songs. But with CD’s, you can forget all about that.” Recorded primarily at the Sycuan Theatre in El Cajon, California in July 2005, Live II radiates all that is cherished and memorable about a Foghat show. The classics are rolled out in full force including “Night Shift,” “Stone Blue” and “Fool for the City” as well as a couple forgotten standards like “Terraplane Blues” and “Take Me To The River”. Huhn does a bang-up job playing rhythm and gets the Blues growls in all the right spots. “Oh, Charlie was a good find for us,” says Earl with pride. “It was very traumatic losing Dave and there for a while we were set adrift. I’d seen Charlie in Humble Pie and thought he had a great set of pipes belting out the old Marriott standards.”
Earl tells a funny story about Huhn’s first night with the band. “Charlie had a terrible time keeping his guitar in tune when we played our first gig in Chicago. We ran through all the numbers and he kept dropping out of tune. Don’t get me wrong, he sounded great singing but I was beginning to wonder about his guitar playing. At the end of the night we found out he was playing the whole show with a broken neck on his guitar. We all had a good laugh and yes, his guitar playing is definitely up to standard.” When asked why this particular show in California was considered for the new live disc, Earl responded, “It’s a nice sounding room plus the management bent over backward for us. They really went the extra mile giving us access to the venue a couple days in advance of the show so we could set up and get just the right sound. It gave the engineers time to balance the room with our gear, which always helps doing a live recording.”
The magic of Foghat’s 1977 Live record was its raw appeal. Their studio records had always had a bite to them, but the live record put you front and center of their balls-to-the-wall blues attack. None of that is lost on Live II. “Recording has come along way,” says Earl. “One of the things we didn’t like with Road Cases (live recording from 2000) was that it was too clean too polished. That’s not us. We’re a live band - warts and all. Granted we take more care in our playing, but we’re still having fun out there every night. I’m fortunate that I can still do this. We have a lust for playing and love to see that joy reach out to the audience.” Added to the new package is a second disc with a handful of new-ish studio tracks including the rumbling, “Trouble, Trouble,” the AC/DC-inspired “I’m A Rock N’ Roller” and the gritty “Self-Medicated” complete with Earl’s driving drumbeat.