Foghat’s Roger Earl Still Not Over ‘Deafening’ Led Zeppelin Shows: Exclusive Interview
For Foghat’s Roger Earl, 2020 was a strange year. He was at home for the longest stretch in decades instead of being out on the road. “I got the vegetable garden working for a change,” he tells UCR, “instead of the animals coming and eating it all.”
He was home for so long that even Earl's elderly neighbors began to get concerned. “We haven’t heard you playing lately,” they told him. “We don’t mind,” the pair added, referencing the percussive soundtrack he brings to the neighborhood.
No worries because Earl and the band he co-founded are finally back where he should be: out on the road.
Foghat celebrated their 50th anniversary with the recent release of 8 Days on the Road, an unusually intimate recording captured in November 2019 at Daryl’s House in Pawley, N.Y. “We don’t normally play such a small room,” Earl explains. “It was about 200 people or so. A great sounding room, all wood – and the people who run the place [Daryl’s House] were fantastic.”
Filmed with five cameras, the three-disc 8 Days on the Road audio and video package offers in-your-face proof that Foghat haven't lost a bit of power as a live group. These days, the lineup features Charlie Huhn (Ted Nugent, Humble Pie) on vocals in place of the much-loved “Lonesome” Dave Peverett, who died in 2000 following a battle with cancer.
Huhn stepped in a short time later and quickly found his groove within the legendary band. Guitarist Bryan Bassett (Wild Cherry, Molly Hatchet), another veteran of 20-plus years, and bassist Rodney O’Quinn (Pat Travers Band) round things out.
We spoke with Earl about Foghat's storied history, including how Rick Rubin, a noted fan, almost ended up producing the band. Earl also discusses being on the same bill with Kiss and traveling with Led Zeppelin during his tenure with Savoy Brown.
Watch Foghat's 'Slow Ride' From '8 Days on the Road'
You've been a part of every iteration of Foghat. When we’re sitting here talking about a band celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, that’s pretty incredible.
I had to write my age down the other day. I went to see my skin doctor, just to have a check up. I went, “75. That can’t be true!” [Laughs.] You know, I’m just one of those fortunate few in this world who gets to earn a decent living at something I really love doing. The band is great; we’re good friends. Bryan Bassett, our lead and slide guitar player, has been with us 24 years now. He played with Dave, as well. Charlie Huhn has been with us 21 years now. Rodney O’Quinn on bass has actually played with us for about five years, after Craig MacGregor couldn’t play anymore.
So where did you first run into Charlie?
Apparently, he’d seen us a couple of times when we played with Ted Nugent and he was in the band, but I didn’t meet him then. He was singing in Humble Pie. Dave and I were real good friends with the previous lead singer of Humble Pie: He was a piece of work, Steve Marriott! I loved that guy. We did a whole bunch of tours with Stevie and became good friends. We used to hang out a lot and stay up really late. He was amazing. Sometimes he wouldn’t sleep for two or three days. Not me! [Laughs.] I like my rest. But we were playing with Humble Pie and Jerry Shirley was the only original member. Dave and I said, “Let’s go down and see what this bloke has under his fingernails, singing our mate’s songs.” I mean, because if he could sing Humble Pie songs, he had to have a great voice. The band started playing, and it was kind of mediocre. It didn’t sound all that good. Then Charlie started singing and Dave and I both looked at each other and said, “Whoa!”
After Dave passed, I was talking to our road manager at the time. People had been sending us CDs and cassettes, and I didn’t really hear anything that I felt would work. You know, you don’t fill somebody like Dave’s shoes. But if the band is going to continue, you need a singer. I recalled how good Charlie was. ... I got in touch with him and he said he was interested in playing with the band. He was a big fan of Foghat and Savoy Brown. I sent him about 30 songs and my wife said, “That’s a lot of songs for somebody to learn.” I said, “If he’s interested, he’ll learn them. If not, he won’t.” He called me up about two months later and said, “I think I’ve got it.” He came to my house out here on Long Island. We sat in the living room and it sounded like Humble Pie had joined Foghat, which I thought, “That’s pretty cool.” Charlie is a real professional. He’s always on time and he’s always ready to play. That was one of the things I loved about Dave. Even when he was ill, he was ready to play. He lived for that moment of going onstage, and Charlie is the same. He’s a little bit shy, I should say, a little reticent about being onstage – but once he starts singing and playing guitar? Again, a little bit like Dave, he’s gone, he’s in for the moment!
Foghat played a gig in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with Kiss as the opener in November of 1974. What sort of memories do you have from that gig?
They were really cool guys, other than the mess they made onstage. In fact, my older brother Colin was our tour manager at the time, I believe he spent some time talking to Gene Simmons, who explained to my brother that they were going to be famous. [Laughs.] Lo and behold, they were. But they were really great guys. It’s just, they leave an awful mess on the stage. That’s why they have to close the show now. Nobody wants to play with them with the fire and blowing up stuff.
Watch Foghat's 'Road Fever' From '8 Days on the Road'
Foghat has shared the stage with so many bands and had interesting moments like that. For you, what are some of the other memorable tours or gigs that Foghat got caught up in?
There was a lot of them. As I said earlier, I loved playing with Steve Marriott. He was this beautiful stick of dynamite. What was he, about five foot tall? But his voice and his guitar playing, he was real special. He was actually also really kind to us. We started touring with them in ‘72 or ‘73. They were huge anyway, Humble Pie. For some reason, their crew were giving us a hard time. They wouldn’t let us use all of the lights and sound. The stage was never open for us to do any kind of soundcheck. I can’t use all of the words that Stevie used, there was a lot. He said, "Give Foghat whatever they want, and stop fucking with Foghat." So he endeared himself to me forever. [Laughs.]
The J. Geils Band, what a great band they were. We did a ton of dates with them and they were probably one of the best bands I’ve ever played with. They were fantastic.
Savoy Brown did a run of shows opening for Led Zeppelin. We’ve all heard the records and they’re stamped inside of our brain as music fans now. What was it like being inside that Led Zeppelin ecosystem?
I really hung out with Bonzo [Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham] a couple of times. I remember a couple of soundchecks we did. It would be Bonzo, and Zeppelin of course were headlining. Bonzo, Clive Bunker, myself and one or two of the guitar players, either [Savoy Brown's] Kim [Simmonds] or maybe Jimmy [Page] was playing, we’d do soundchecks. Bonzo was deafening. The only one you could hear was him! The dates we did with them, they were fantastic. I mean, they sounded great. I’ve heard stories about them having some issues onstage, but the times I played with Zeppelin, they played great. They were incredible and really powerful. They were impressive. I mean, Bonzo kind of rewrote the book on rock 'n' roll drumming. The way he played, it was traditional in so much as he understood the basics of drumming, but it was how he played. His application and his footwork, playing triplets – nobody had done that before. He changed it for a lot of people, a lot of drummers, anyway. You know, you can do anything you want, so long as you play in time. And his time, it was Bonzo Time. It was special! [Laughs.]
I’m interested in the story that’s out there about the original lineup of Foghat coming back together in the ‘90s. It’s something that was apparently influenced by Rick Rubin. Can you share that story?
Actually, I do have some more knowledge of it. Our original manager tried to get the original band back together. Lonesome Dave left in 1984 and went back to England. I carried on playing. I played in a couple of different bands and also with Foghat, which it was three-quarters of the band at the time – Erik Cartwright on guitar, Craig MacGregor on bass. Dave came back in 1990 and started his own band. I went to see him and I said, “Look, why don’t we put the original band back together?” Dave didn’t want to do it. So our original manager talked to Rick Rubin and said, “Look, if I can get the band back together, would you produce their next album?” Rick said, “Yes,” as I understand it. That was it. That sort of planted the seed. Once we got back together again – especially myself and Dave, who were the owners of the name, because we were the last two surviving members – it was good. The last tour we did before Dave passed, we got real tight.
After the shows, we would sit on the bus and drink some wine, having some cheese and crackers and stuff. We would talk about growing up in London. We didn’t know each other at the time and we went to all of the same shows – Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, we were both big Jerry Lee Lewis fans. That part of it was really good. So yeah, we can thank Rick Rubin, but we didn’t actually work with Rick, because apparently he was busy. I think he was doing something with Johnny Cash. Well, and quite right, too! I’m a big Johnny Cash fan. [Rubin, through his publicist, was unavailable for comment.] I must have been the only 13-year-old kid in Southwest London singing Johnny Cash songs when I’m riding my bike to school. My voice wasn’t quite that deep then.