Roger Earl from Foghat Hangs Out on the Back Porch

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We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Roger Earl from the classic blues-rock band Foghat. Foghat just recently released their album Last Train Home, which plays to their deep blues roots. You can find our review of Last Train Home here! Roger has a lot to say about their new album, the roots of modern music, the blues, and even wine making! Check it out.

 

Hi Roger. Thanks for the CD and it was a pleasure writing the review. I try not to write a review if I don’t like the music I’ve been asked to review.

I try to do that with life in general. If I don’t like something I
just go away and don’t do it.

I was taught that by my grandparents and it just stuck.

I think they were probably very wise folks. My grandparents were too.

Let’s talk for a minute about Last Train Home, your phenomenal last album. Rose had sent it to me and I was on my way to a rock & roll show and I listened to it in the car and I was completely blown away. It got me totally amped up for the rock show I was going to.

Good, glad it did. You didn’t get you a speeding ticket I hope.

No, I wasn’t driving my friend was who is actually a huge Foghat fan. I secretly put the CD in without telling him it was FH. After we listened to the first track and I told him who it was, he was blown away.

Yeah, we have been doing this for a long time, it is about time we got something right.

I am a huge fan, I grew up with the late 70′s and early 80′s Seattle radio. What’s really cool about you guys is that my 8 and 12 year old sons know who you are. I don’t think that happens enough these days.

We seem to have a tremendous young following, young being 14-25 year old teens and students and I’ve talked to some of these folks when we go out to do our signings. It is usually because of  siblings, parents and Guitar Hero and stuff like that. It’s very gratifying when you have young fans. Makes you realize that what you are doing is worthwhile and you still haven’t lost your touch. That is what it is about really for us as entertainers.

That would be pretty gratifying.

I get the chance to do  something I really enjoy.

Obviously you have all of these hits from back in the day. How different is it now from the mid 70s?? Musically speaking of course.

Everything seemed to explode around 1975 when we worked 365 days a year and if we weren’t working we were traveling or in the studio. We didn’t have any time off from when we started. Tony Stevens left the band in 1974 so we had a little time off. But then it was nonstop and for me it hasn’t ever stopped.

It is a lot easier in lots of ways now. We really have fun traveling and all the dates we do are fly ins. They supply all of our equipment except for guitars, my snare, pedals, sticks, and stuff like that.  And they provide our amp line, lights, and DW drums to my specifications.

It’s like, I don’t have to be on the road for months on end playing in really small, nasty halls just to fill in the days between the better venues. We play 2 or 3 times a week now during the season. It’s great to come home, go fishing, play golf, play with the grand kids. We can even go out and have dinner somewhere in private. Life is good. That is the main difference to the way we tour now. We have our own equipment if we play locally or when we record and practice. It is really good, fun.

It sounds like with the new way of doing the shows you could almost have a normal life as a musician.

Well its not totally normal, we are rock and rollers. But it’s a bit easier sometimes.  Still after 3 days on the road,when you don’t get to bed till way after midnight then have to get up in the early hours of the morning to fly  somewhere else, we don’t get a lot of rest. So after a few days of it, it is time to go home. The guys in the band are terrific. Playing with Bryan and Charlie and Craig is just the best.  We are friends. We hang out afterwards, we see each other when we aren’t on the road. We hang out in Florida in the winter, we have a band house down there where we hang out, record, kick back and barbecue.. Also, we are happy drunks which makes a big difference. If you’re not happy don’t drink.

It definitely helps being friends with the guys in the band.

Not that we weren’t before, but back in the beginning for the first 5 or 6 years, we were always on the road and it got to be very difficult for Rod Price. He found it difficult to deal with his fame and fortune, it wasn’t easy for him. He was a great guy, but very complicated. He was a huge part of this band. It was sad that he had a hard time handling it. Everyone has their up and down moments. He had a moment or two where he lost it and if you haven’t had those, then you probably haven’t lived properly or pushed the envelope as the pilots say. You’ve got to know where it starts to rip and where you need to back off and say hold on, what’s important here? What’s important is  the music and playing. I’ve seen bands who are just going through the motions and don’t enjoy being there. I say get another job then, work at the bank or something. Anyway, he had a really hard time but towards the end of his life he was starting to enjoy it again. He was teaching guitar in New Hampshire. He really seemed happy with his son and his extended family (who we actually keep in touch with still) and that part helped him.

I was talking to Todd Sharpville recently. He went through some pretty serious stuff a few years ago and he explained it similar to you. Its hard to appreciate the good stuff if you haven’t experienced that bad stuff.

Yeah, you need to do that, then decide where you want to be and what you want to do. Be a fuck up or play music? Music is a joyous thing, it is work, don’t get me wrong. I take it seriously but it’s just fun. There’s no uniform or anything and it is a joyous experience. You get to the show and there are 10,000 people who want to scream their heads off for you. Even now, especially when we play the huge festivals you get the chills. That hasn’t gone away. Sometimes if you get certain rooms you play, especially these band shells that are horrific to play on because you can’t hear anything that’s going on, you can press the auto pilot button and you make it through it. But those are few and far between. Our crew has been with us for a long time. We enjoy it. Our Sound engineer, has been with us for about 20 years and he is like the fifth hat.

So the fifth Hat, is he like the fifth Beatle??

Yeah, occasionally we have had to use house sound engineer. Usually for a smaller rooms or something like the South Shore Room at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe. It is set up like a small arena and it is such a cool room to play. We used the house sound engineer there because he has been there for years and he knows every little thing about that room and we just have to play a bit quieter to make it work.  But I wouldn’t want to go out on the road without our sound guy. It is like going out and taking our trousers down on stage. The band can play in a smaller room with amps and a PA but when you get the big places you need someone who knows what to do with a PA system and Carl has been with us forever. We have really good people with our group.

Let’s talk about the blues a little bit. What is the blues to you? A state of mind? A circumstance? How would you describe it??

Foghat's latest album - Last Train Home

Foghat’s latest album – Last Train Home
I don’t know really, let me put it this way. When I first started listening to music I was 9 or 10 years old and at 11 or 12 I’d buy records with my work pay. I went to see Jerry Lee Lewis in 1960. That was my first real concert, I’d see other bands around that time as well. I saw Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry of course. With that I started discovering where Elvis got his songs from. Then came Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. There seemed like an honesty about that kind of music that was really hard to deny. Blues was American… all contemporary music comes from the states as far as I’m concerned. There is city blues, jazz, rock and roll, bee bop, rhythm and blues, Motown. It is American music. One of my favorite bands is Little Feat. They just seem to personify music, American music for want of a better word. A blues record  is more like an approach or a feeling more than anything else. On Last Train Home we did what we set out to do with a blues record. It wasn’t hard at all, it was a labor of love. We picked out more songs than we could record and then we wrote a few songs and there is really no way to describe it. Muddy Waters is a blues singer. We are a blues rock band and always have been.

I think you described it pretty good. That is one of the cool things about the blues, it is sort of indescribable in a way.

John Lee Hooker would play one riff per chord and if he changed, it wouldn’t be in a regular 12 bar form or 16 bar. He would change when he felt like changing. I got to play with him and Muddy as their back up band once. Muddy was a bit more structured than John Lee but it was a real thrill.

I bet! That’s one of the things I like about watching the old guys on video (thanks to YouTube) they were like conductors up there. They would play and when they would decide to change they would just go to it. Maybe a nod to the drummer or bassist.

Just the other day we had a release party for Last Train Home at the Iridium Jazz Club in Manhattan. We made a list of the songs we wanted to play, some we hadn’t played in a while. We were kind of Eddie Kirkland’s backup band for the night. He is 87 years old and did two songs on the record with us and he wanted to do it just like a party. Unfortunately Bryan’s plane was delayed. Everyone else got in the night before on Dec. 1st and  it was horrendous. 50 MPH winds and rain… Bryan couldn’t get in the night before. He tried to land 2x at the La Guardia and he had to go down to D.C. instead. We were all sitting at the club and finally Bryan gets in at 6pm, no guitar, no clothes. He was wearing shorts. He had to go buy trousers and a shirt and a hat. My wife, who is our manager, had to go rent him 2 guitars. Playing with Eddie Kirkland, on the first set we knew the songs but on the second set we played whatever. Totally didn’t know what was going to happen next. But everyone was looking at his hands and what he was doing. We had so much fun. I’m hoping to do a whole album with him but we will see how that goes.

Can we talk a little bit about the big blues show you did in New York in 1977?

That was a benefit concert that Foghat put on to start a blues archive at the NY Public Library.  It was called “Foghat: A Blues Tribute”.    I remember that day! Prior to the show in NY, we had rehearsed for a week or so. That was the first time we met Eddie Kirkland. I had no idea who he was but Dave (Lonesome Dave) did. Dave knew the bands he had played with in Louisiana and Detroit and Eddie was phenomenal. On the show we had Muddy Waters and his band, John Lee Hooker, Paul Butterfield, Johnny Winter, Honey Boy Edwards, Otis Blackwell and Eddie. Foghat was the house band for the night. We got to back up John Lee and Muddy.

By the way, when we were doing the last record I got in touch with our old sound engineer from that time and he had all the cassettes that he had mixed from that show, so we have about 4 hours from that. My next job will probably be trying to put an album together from that. I can’t seem to find the film of it anywhere. What I have is the bootleg edited version. They filmed a TV show with it and put out a CD it has kind of crappy sound. If we wanted to put the film out legally and properly, we would have to get releases from all of the estates of all of the folks who have passed on who played on the show.  It would be a formidable task.  Hopefully we can put some audio together.

On Last Train Home you talk about Eddie Kirkland on the CD liner, obviously you know the guy well, I think it is awesome that he is in his mid 80s and he is still doing this stuff.

Eddie is a trip. We recorded Last Train Home in Deland, Florida and Eddie lives in Macon, Georgia. He called us up and said he was on the way down, he stayed in a hotel we had booked for him and he got here around 11 at night. The next day he got up at 4 in the morning and at 6, he went to the Auto Zone to get parts and replaced his brakes and alternator on his car by himself! I got there at 12 to pick him up and he was on a stool outside the hotel with all his equipment ready to rock. We set up with the band at the house and had introductions. I think Eddie was trying to figure out what was going on. Bryan was playing guitar and doing the control board. After about the second song Eddie got a grin on his face and he realized that everyone in the band was there for him. We played for 8 or 9 hours after that. It was REALLY cool. There were a few more tunes in there but the 2 songs that we did turned out great. We actually had to have Eddie redo the vocals at the end because with everyone playing in the same room it got a little noisy and you want to hear him singing. I would love to do another one with him..

Now, I have a question, right now there are some extremely talented blues rock musicians out there and it is hard for them to get a break because it isn’t rock enough for rock or blues enough for the blues, do you think FH can help muddy up the line a little bit?

Other than talking to younger musicians, I wouldn’t want to be starting out today if you want to play blues. There is not any real money in it. I mean, blues musicians are notorious for not getting paid well. I mean Eddie Kirkland drives everywhere. About a week before the last show in Manhattan, Eddie was rear-ended by a truck on his way to do a gig in Detroit and the whole back of his Ford Taurus got smashed in. When the police got there they were going to take him to the hospital and he said no he had a gig tomorrow and no one would look after his equipment. He has his guitars, amps, the tools to fix the car when he is on the road. He still sleeps in his car! If you want to play music, you do it because you want to play, not because you want to make money off of it. There are no guarantees and you need to be ready for a few heartbreaks and a few headaches. If you want to just make money go work in a bank. Blues musicians play because they want to play. Some of us are fortunate and lucky, but most have to struggle through. I know a number of great players who just can’t make a living doing this. That is one of the reasons this band tries to keep it right and realize how lucky we are. We play to the best of our ability each time we get a chance and never forget that it is all about our fans. It is important. People know that stuff, they don’t care if you mess something up… you can grin or what ever. But people know when your heart isn’t in it. They can tell. They can see these guys are having a great time or these guys would rather be somewhere else. It definitely is very tough for new players to go out there and try to make a living these days.

Even tougher because generally speaking, no one is buying CDs.

We actually sold quite a few of this one for some reason, which is pretty exciting but then again, we do have really good distribution. It’s out there. But it is tough…it isn’t a time to start, but when is it an easy time to start? People play because they want to play. You know that.

Sounds like you really enjoy this?

Actually, a friend and I were hanging out a few days ago and we were having a couple of drinks and he said when are you going to retire? I said, why would I want to retire? I’m never going to retire. He got a grin and let out sort of a sigh of relief and he is 4 years younger then me.

That is the beautiful thing about the blues and what you do. You have a foundation in the blues and  you got to live the arena rock life but you have the sort of music you can play into your 80’s? There are guys like Eddie doing it.

The music we play is timeless, as long as you have the ability to do it. Playing rock and roll is work, once the train gets going, your off. It’s fun. Craig is going to be coming back soon, he had a few issues with his left hand so he didn’t play on this record. Jeff is a fantastic bass player and a great musician. He teaches bass in upstate New York. I don’t think the record would have been half as good without him. It was a tremendous asset. He is a great player.

How long did it take to put the record together?

Really, it started a couple of years ago, we were doing the Mark Klein live radio show at EKO Studios out here on Long Island, I started talking to the guys about doing some old tunes, so we did, “Shake Your Money Maker”. It was great fun relearning things we hadn’t played in a long time. It was live radio so you only get one chance to play. We had our sound engineer, Carl and it worked. They recorded it and gave us a copy. We came back to our house afterwards, sat out on the deck,  had some drinks and I was cooking. We listened to the rough 2 track recording that went out on the airwaves. For some reason we were surprised, it was really good. That is what started it, so we decided to do a blues album, which is something that I have been wanting to do for many many years. Charlie and Bryan came up with some ideas of songs we wanted to do so and everyone else came up with 2 or 3 songs they wanted to do and we started writing our original stuff. Then we came back to EKO studios to do a rehearsal, but it turned out so good that we kept the five songs. Then last winter we went to our house in Florida where we set up our recording equipment and finished the album. So, it took us a couple of years from idea to completion to get it done but we weren’t in a race at all.

Will it be a few years until the next one?

Yeah, I want to work on getting the tapes from 1977, That will be invaluable, people will enjoy it and it sounds really good. Like I mentioned earlier, I want to work on the DVD from all the live shows we have done. It will be FH’s official bootleg part two. That is enough for this year. I have three or four songs, Charlie and Bryan have the same. It’ll be a few years until we get another record out. Then we are going to rock and roll till we drop.

Let’s talk a little more about the blues and how Foghat can help the blues world. You are sort of bringing the classic rock crowd back to the blues or introducing them to it for the first time.

Roger Earl - Foghat
Roger Earl drumming for Foghat

You need to have some of an understanding of where it has all come from. That gives you a compass point. I still love the music I grew up with. Like Little Richard, I am as thrilled today as I was back then. The drumming is incredible and the band was fantastic, one of the best in the studio. You can’t deny that kind of stuff. Linda just read Keith Richards book and whenever I’ve seen him doing interviews, he still talks about where he came from and the music that he loved. All the stuff that came out in New Orleans, the early blues. That is his focus. He has gone on to do some great stuff, like Jumping Jack Flash, that is a great record. Where does it come from? It comes from blues and New Orleans music. Especially that song, I hear it. If you lose sight of what you are about…. Not everyone is going to be like that. There are musicians out there who just go out on their own tangent and make something. Being original is difficult these days. How do you start learning to play guitar when you are dealing with people like Eric and Jeff, Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix? Where does a guitar player start?? But you do it because you want to and it has got to come out, the ones that make it. With the guitar players out there it would be mind boggling to try to pick up that instrument. But people do it, kids are going to do it.

Eric Clapton says every time he picks up a guitar and turns the amp on it is just like the first time.

My brother in law has a limo company and he had the pleasure of driving Eric Clapton. Eric was playing in Manhattan and he is a big music fan and a big Eric Clapton fan, he was sitting on the second balcony during Eric’s sound check, and all of a sudden he hears white room and he was just mesmerized by this wonderful guitar. He turned to his left and Eric was standing there grinning. I don’t think any great musician forgets how to be a fan. I think that is one of the most important things in there. If you lose the thrill of listening to some of your early favorites its probably time to take up another instrument.

That’s what is great about British blues invasion and how important it was to what is going on today. It seems to me that all those guys who were there gave credit where credit was due.

Yeah we were fans, we were more than 3000 miles away but I think after WW2 was when records started coming in and American music started coming over to Europe and England and the GIs brought their music and the records. My father started playing in a band because he heard American music and he passed it on to his son without knowing it. After WW2 came big band, bee bop, jazz, there was always Dixieland jazz but then modern jazz started happening. That goes back further to Delta blues and where that came from. It is all so fascinating.

We are just about done here, unless you want to keep going?

I have time, about a half an hour until the football game, my team is playing at Manchester United. It is the only thing I tell my wife that I’m stupid about… other than playing and golf and fishing…

You pay homage to these guys and if we are going to keep this blues thing alive its important that we continue to do this. I was talking to Curtis Salgado recently about how important it is that we bridge this gap..If we are going to keep the blues alive we have to keep talking about these early guys and where it all came from. We can muddy up the line a little bit but we have to show these younger people where it all came from.

That is exactly right . I mean Lonesome Dave… I miss him … was like the historian for the rest of the band. He had great knowledge of music. When a TV game show asked who played on this or that record, he knew who the drummers were on everything. He was a huge fan of music, he took everything a few steps further than most people. His knowledge was amazing. I’m reading a book, called Delta Blues by this guy, Craig G. Have you heard of him?

No, don’t think so.

It is kind of a little flat, but he is also very knowledgeable. He seems to have researched it well. It is about the life and times of Mississippi masters, who revolutionized American music. It is fascinating to read about these players, and what they went through to get to where they are. They have this incredible impact on contemporary music. It is mind boggling how important that Robert Johnson was to music. Also, how little he actually recorded, oddly so. People today even still listen to every note, every piece, every part of it. It really is fascinating stuff.!

I really enjoy going back and “discovering” something that is 40 or 50 years old. How about you?

You can’t deny that music, you hear it and you say “wow listen to that!” One of my all time favorite records was Muddy Waters live at NewPort and when I heard it I was like, that’s it I’m playing the drums! It was in 1960 I think, the record is just phenomenal. Last Christmas Linda bought me the CD because I had been talking about it.

That’s 50 years after it was released, that’s pretty awesome.

I think it is one of the most fantastic live records. The music is undeniable, it is alive and its jumping. You can never forget how to be a fan, you keep that in tact and you will be alright.

What do you think about the new blues music that is out there?

There is some really great stuff out there. Derek Trucks, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Johnny Lang, Cyndy Lauper…. With the amount of new albums that have come out you could spend all day listening to them. The kids would go hungry, the bills wouldn’t get paid and you would say “I’m listening to the blues”!  There’s not enough hours in the day to listen to all the music. I listen to [Bill Wax] Sirius/XM Bluesville all the time. We did a live show / interview with him last August, he was really a nice guy, and VERY knowledgeable too.

I’m Facebook friends with him…[Laughs]

He’s terrific.  Linda is Facebook friends with him too.

What I like about him is he seems to allow other music in.

You gotta keep it interesting. Bill knows that. There was Delta blues and different kind of blues.  Bill will even allow Johnny Cash. Johnny doesn’t even have a drummer! Johnny can definitely sing the blues, I never saw him live but I have his tapes and his TV show.

You were talking about Bill Wax and how he is open-minded in the blues. He will bring in a Foghat where some of your stuff may not be quite blues traditional. Some of the blues purists aren’t quite as receptive to it. How do you feel about that?

Everybody has their own ideas, when I was 16 or 17 years old I thought maybe playing blues songs that way was not really right. But music is music. The musicians are the ones who interpret their music they way they want to. If someone doesn’t like it… fine. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. The incredible diversity that we have is a great thing. I went to see Jeff Beck a while back at this rock and roll party and it was fantastic. Bryan is a Jeff Beck fan but he is just as comfortable backing up Buddy Guy. Two very different styles of music. Did you see Jeff Beck backing up Buddy Guy on an HBO special? You gotta see Jeff’s face, he is just grinning from ear to ear.

If it was a Hall Of Fame thing, I probably didn’t watch it. The Hall Of Fame pisses me off. There are so many people in there that…..

What pissed me off was the Rolling Stone [magazine] about a year or two ago, had the worlds top 100 guitar player, but they didn’t have Billy Gibbons in there. No Gibbons but they have Patty Smith… She plays guitar???

Some of the stuff they try to ram down our throat… I tell yeah.

Yeah, I guess you can’t take yourself too seriously.

That’s true,but if they pass up a band like Heart to put Donna Summer in I shake my head. No disrespect but Donna Summer wasn’t playing any rock and roll I was listening to, that’s all I’m saying.

You just have to walk away. As the saying goes, “Wouldn’t it be a drag if we were all the same” It’s like where did that come from?

Back in the day, Ted Nugent and Foghat helped us survive disco.

We played a few songs with him. He is an interesting character, you know he does that stuff just for effect. So he can stir it up and get people to say something and he is happy with that. About 3 or 4 years ago we did a festival with him in Montana. After we got off stage he came into the dressing room, said hello to Charlie, talked for a while, we were talking about hunting and I said I preferred fishing. I think he called it hunting with a hook. He was promoting his kill it and grill it book. You need characters like Ted just to stir it up. He isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but he is alright.

I’m very fortunate to be a part of this business. I’m blessed. I think I got the genes from my mom and dad. They both played an instrument and ever since I was a kid we heard music in the house. It was always around. Then I started to figure out what I liked. It is nice to be here.

I know you will. I can’t wait to hear the next stuff. You were talking about the blues concert. I’m interested to see where that goes.

The Blues thing is on the burner.  But it is going to take a while to go through, and then you gotta get the clearances from all of the families and publishers and record companies and stuff but we will see.

Foghat Cellars Wine
Foghat Cellars Wine

You have own wine called Foghat Cellars, how’s that going?

It’s a lot of fun, we get out there and work the fields and pick the grapes.

You pick the grapes yourself?

Yeah we aren’t just a name you know! We picked 4 tons of Chardonnay for our 2008 Chardonnay which is out now. We were just out there picking some Pinot Noir for a friend who owns the vineyard that our Chardonnay came from. We are working on a 2007 Cabernet coming out shortly.  Linda is finishing up the artwork for the label.

Do you have your own vineyard?

No we buy the fruit from the farmers but we like to help pick it and help harvest it ourselves. We aren’t nearly as good as the professionals, but we have fun.

Our winemaker, Steve Rasmussen, has been doing this for over 30 years.  So he is winemaker consultant for several vineyards, and we work with him to find the one that is right for us.

I had no idea you actually go out and do that.

Yeah the farmers are great. The cool thing about farmers and grape growers is they share their knowledge. If there is something that is going on that is good for the grapes they tell everyone else. If there is a problem they let them know. They are friendly and they are all generous almost to a fault. There is always music and wine.

Yeah I’m going to be around for a while.

Thanks again Roger for the great chat. I will definitely be looking for the DVD and next CD and I’m going to go do a little homework on a couple of things.

It has been a pleasure.

Absolutely.

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