Pittsburgh: Roger Earl Interview by Monica L. Yasher

Posted on 11/21/2009 by Monica Yasher

"This is the world’s musical cauldron, if you will. Everywhere in the world, American music is appreciated and I feel honored to be part of it."

When I got the word that I had an opportunity to interview Foghat, I was excited and not quite sure what to expect. I mean, my brother brought me up on bands like Foghat, Boston, and Styx. Now I was going to get to meet up with a rocker! Oh my! I was wondering are all those stories true? Are these guys really that wild?

As I met up with Roger Earl, he was practicing a bit on his drums. The guitarist, Bryan Bassett, is from Pittsburgh. As Maureen and I sat in the trailer with Roger, Roger was warming up a bit on his drums. The atmosphere was very family like. Bryan’s family was excited he was in town and wanted to hang out with him. I thought it was best that we leave, since it seemed that the band, along with the families, had some catching up to do. Bryan’s Grandma was there! I didn’t want to intrude. So, I got up and was going to give everyone time to do what they had to do and thought it best that I leave. Roger was such a gentlemen and suggested we stick around a bit and chat. I met Roger’s wife and the members of the band. I have to say, they are truly a great bunch of people and I am glad that I met them all.

Maureen and I left shortly after our meeting in order to take photos of the show. I do truly mean this when I say this band has the best stage performance I have seen all year. Charlie Huhn really uses the entire stage in his performance, and his vocals were right on. For those of you studying stage performance, in order to up your game, he would be a great person to take in and get ideas from. He wasn’t afraid to give of himself to touch the crowd and he would stand close to the end of the stage so the crowd could actually touch his guitar, and they did! Great rhythm section. Great slide guitar. Great show!

I met up with Roger a few weeks later and we talked about a lot of things. Roger is a lot of fun to talk to. He has a great sense of humor. When I listened back to the interview, I realized that we laughed more than I put in here. I had fun that day. Thanks Roger! Let me share it with you.

Roger: Hi!

Monica: Hi Roger! How are you doing?

Roger: I’m doing good. How are you doing Monica?

Monica: It’s a beautiful day in Pittsburgh. How about where you are at?

Roger: It’s overcast, cloudy, cool but it’s a beautiful day.

Monica: Those are good fishing days aren’t they?

Roger: That’s right. You got it. I just took the grandkids out the other day and we didn’t catch anything. But, it was still a beautiful day. I need to practice fishing a little bit more. (He laughs.)

Monica: I don’t think you can practice that. The only thing that makes me practice is patience!

Roger: I just like doing it. It is relaxing. Any day out on the water is a good day.

Monica: That’s true, Roger. Are you ready to get started?

Roger: Sure.

Monica: OK. Foghat has been around for a good many years. What do you attribute to the success of the band?

Roger: Free shows are always good. (We laughed.) I think the band always played well. We always put playing and performing at the top of the list. I think a number of bands don’t do that. We rehearse at the beginning of the year in January, February and March and decide what songs we will be playing. I think music is the prime reason I’m doing this. It wasn’t to earn a living or to make money, especially not to make money anyway.

I had a love for music. I happen to play in a band that has written a number of great rock and roll songs over the years. Now I have Craig Macgregor, he is a tremendous bass player and he lights up the stage as soon as he gets up there. Bryan Bassett, I think, is one of the best slide elite guitar players around. Charlie Huhn has some huge shoes to fill. In a lot of ways Charlie is very similar to lonesome Dave. He loves to play, no matter if he is tired or what he has going on. He is always up for playing. We are all there for the right reasons. We are there because we have a passion for music and playing. I have never lost that. I think if I didn’t enjoy playing, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t know what else I would do. I think that is why the band is doing as well as it has. Because when we play, we’re up there and meaning it.

You know, it is a privilege to get up there and do this stuff. There are people who can’t play. There are musicians that haven’t made it with career success, and there are some terrific players out there that don’t have the kind of success that we have. So it’s a privilege and we try not to let the folks down. We give it up at every show, every time we get up there. I think that is why the band has had such longevity. We lost our lead guitar player and we lost our lead singer. Dave was a huge print on this band. He was the driving musical force in the arrangements and playing. It wasn’t always reflected in the writing department. Everybody in the band co wrote just about all of the songs. The band plays so well. I think last year was probably the best year the band has had in probably over thirty years.

Monica: Why drums? You talk about passion and obviously your major role is playing the drums? Why did you choose drums to begin with?

Roger: I initially chose the piano. My father played piano and my older brother Colin, who is four years older than me, was playing piano. So when I was eight, nine, ten, eleven, around that time, I really started to get interested in music and buying records and listening to stuff. Piano was my first choice.

I went to see Jerry Lee Lewis in 1960. I already had all of his records up to that point. I was a big early Elvis fan and Little Richard especially had a great band. I went to see Jerry Lee Lewis and I think it was then that I didn’t want to play piano and decided drums would be the instrument that was louder than the piano. Naturally I aspired to it. I was about twelve or thirteen when I started taking drum lessons. My father encouraged me. He found my drum teacher. What was his name? Chris….Hayes….That’s it! Funny how I remember these things.

Monica: Wow!

Roger: Yeah how about it!? He was a jazz, big band drummer. I think he got me going on the right track. I didn’t get my first drum set until I was about fifteen. You go up and down with the playing. I probably practice now more than I ever did. I really enjoy playing. I happen to play in a great band with great players and terrific people. We are friends outside. I like what I do. Banging drums.

Monica: I know when I met you in Pittsburgh, there you were banging drums as we first talked.

Roger: I like my drums.

Monica: Cool. I went out there and looked around and I probably don’t have to tell you about your numerous mentions in TV, movies and such. Just curious, have you guys gotten a cameo yet in some of these things? I haven’t seen you out there yet.

Roger: No. Not yet.

Monica: We have to work on that for you!

Roger: That would be fine too if someone wanted to use my mug or my limited acting abilities. I would be up for that!

Monica: We’ll see if someone reads this and gets you going!

Roger: Yeah. That would be fun. Not yet though.

Monica: There are several musicians associated with Foghat. How did you keep the Foghat sound with new musicians coming into the band? Did you try to keep Foghat and at the same time let them have a sense of individuality? Or, how did you accomplish the Foghat sound?

Roger: We can get specific. I think I touched on that. Charlie Huhn was a big fan of Lonesome Dave. In fact he met Lonesome Dave back in 1996. We did a show, ironically, for the Kidney Cancer Foundation in Toledo, OH. The band that Charlie was singing in, which was Humble Pie, was at the same show as us. Charlie fit in real well. He has a different timbre to his voice than Dave’s. He has the same rock ‘n roll spirit that shines through everything. He just loves to get up and perform. Charlie in his ways is really quite shy when he’s off stage. It’s difficult. I don’t think I would want to be on the front line singing, playing guitar and talking to so many people all of the time. As I said, Brian also played with Lonesome Dave for a number of years and also played with Rod Price for about 9 months or so. It wasn’t that hard of a fit. As I said, they are all great players. There have been a couple of other players over the years. Like Craig left the band for a while. But, we always had really good players in the band.

Monica: I agree.

Roger: We hope to do this for as long as we can.

Monica: Cool. Would you like to talk about how two Foghats came about?

Roger: I don’t have a problem with that. What happened is, in 1984 we decided to take a break. We were on the road since 1971 and it was time to take a break. I didn’t know it at the time, but David already planned to move back to England. So about six months later, about the middle of 1985 or 1986, Dave moved back to England and I started to play in a band out of Boston called the Jam Band. So, I took about six months off the road. I mowed the lawn, fixed the car and probably drank too much. I need to be doing something. I can’t sit around for too long. A week or two is good. That’s about it. I was playing in this band called the New England Jam Band. I became good friends again with James Montgomery, a great harp player. Frank Sheehan the bass player of Boston. Just a terrific band that got me started playing again. So I put my band together which was ¾ of the previous Foghat, and we called ourselves the Knee Tremblers. We would go out and play Foghat tunes and I owned half the name. So I started to use the name Foghat. Then Dave moved back to the states sometime in 1991, somewhere around there. I was taking a break for a few months and going through a horrible divorce. I don’t think any divorce is good.

Monica: Probably not!

Roger: Then Dave went out on the road. Then I went out on the road about 9 months, 6 months later and then there were two Foghats out there. Fortunately around ‘93 Dave and I talked…the problem is a bunch of lawyers got involved…so it was taken out of our hands. Dave and I buried the hatchet. Probably the last few tours we did together, we were closer than we ever were. Dave and I got along fine anyway. We are two totally different people. I’m probably a bit more outgoing and noisy. Dave, off stage, was quieter and more reserved. I think we always had a mutual respect for each other and liked each other. We always got on well. We eventually got the original band back together and that was fun for a while…and certainly playing with Dave again…I think Rod Price had a hard time touring. He didn’t enjoy being on the road, where Dave and myself loved it. It was our life’s blood. It was sad when Dave passed. He was far too young. (He paused.) Anyway, we had two bands for a while, which was a pretty horrible time for both of us. We got that resolved and got back together and it was fine.

Monica: Not that I want to talk about hard times. Roger, when I was asked which member of Foghat I wanted to interview, I chose you because out there I read you were setting up the band. Reading between the lines I couldn’t imagine how tough it was to reorganize the band this successful and contemplate if you should reorganize. That gets me to my question, Foghat is listed as primarily as a blues band rather than a rock band. How would you say the band truly lived the blues, that makes them a true blues band rather than rock?

Roger: I don’t know if we lived the blues. I don’t know if I can actually answer that question honestly. Let’s say when I first started listening to rock and roll music, I started listening to Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis, obviously Elvis Presley. I was a big fan of Johnny Cash. I had all his early Sun records. When I was about sixteen, I was playing for a year or so. During that time, Chuck Barry made some fabulous records back in the late ’50’s early 60’s. I also discovered people like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolfe. That was my introduction to the blues. I wasn’t really sure ½ the time what they were singing about and some of the words I didn’t understand.

But, I still loved the music. It had an honesty about it. A real honesty. It clicked with me like a lot of kids on the other side of the pond. I think that was it. For actually living the blues, I’m not sure I ever lived it. In fact, I went to Clarksdale for the first time last year. Mississippi, which is generally talked about being the home of the blues, the crossroads. That was a lot of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it. We went to a local juke joint called, Reds, and jammed with some of the players there and a friend of ours, Lefty, plays harp. The following day we got up and went to the club that Morgan Freeman has, Ground Zero. We jammed in there, which was OK. We played a couple of songs and were going to leave the stage. The guitar player said, no no, you have to stay here.

Monica: Everybody had fun.

Roger: Yeah we had a great time. But living the blues…

Monica: You just love PLAYING the blues..

Roger: Yeah. It was something I grew up with and gravitated to. I don’t think I had the blues. Maybe a bit down a time or two. I just love the music, the players. I got to play with a lot of my musical heroes. Listen to bands like Bobby Blue Band sing and Muddy of course. It moves you.

Monica: Listening to you talk about the jam and watching you guys on stage, I don’t get the impression that you are jamming. It looks like you guys are really rehearsed. So, do you guys perform pretty rehearsed or are you letting loose and jamming?

Roger: You have a format to the songs. Most of the time if we have an open time we will play for an hour and a half or two hours. But usually they set time limits at an hour and 15 so you have to keep it within those parameters. Jam. Yeah we jam, Certain songs have a framework and there are certain things you have to play, otherwise you aren’t playing the song as is or was. We change the intro of 'Want to Make Love'. 'Slowride' can get interesting from time to time. '59 Boogie', there is stuff we change. That’s one of the things when you play with a band of musicians when you know each other. We can follow each other. Craig and I especially. I’ll do something and Craig will know it’s coming and vice versa. And, there are other times you are up on stage and can’t hear each other. Then you just press autopilot. You then hope all is going well. We have fun. There’s some stuff where we keep loose.

Monica: Roger I have to tell you that I went to an open mic, and the bass player wants me to learn Slow Ride. I’m thinking I’m not sure how we will pull that off with a bunch of people who don’t play together and just jamming. There’s some pretty good changes in that song. I’ll learn it for him, since someone asked me to learn it.

Roger is laughing. Listen. There is some clicky stuff in there!

Monica: I know. I know.

Roger: The bass solo. Nick Jameson of course was the bass player on that. I’m sort of still tight with him and we have remained good friends over the years. He, of course, was a tremendous musician. A great bass player. Yeah good luck with that!

Monica: Thanks Roger. What’s the best thing about being in the band and what’s the hardest thing about being on the road?

Roger: The best thing is we have a genuine camaraderie with everybody. We are all like brothers, especially myself and Craig. My brothers by different mothers. That is terrific. Foghat was always a band. When the four of us got up to play, it was never about one person, or the lead singer. It is still very much that now. We always rely on each other. You can’t have someone not up to it or not giving it their all or their best shot. If you only have an hour or an hour and a half each night, you have to give it everything you got, otherwise I think you wasted your day. That is the best part, playing with these guys and playing this music. I have a blast.

The hardest thing. Traveling. That’s the hardest part. You have to hurry up and wait. The airlines treat you like second and third class citizens now. They’ll take your money for extra baggage and the guitars won’t make it to the event. They will send them off to somewhere else. There are a couple of airlines that are just absolutely horrendous, and we have had some really tough times. And, there are a couple of airlines that genuinely work hard to pull it together, like Southwest airlines. I really have great luck with them. If they do go amiss, they get it to you right away. I really like the attitude they have. Sometimes the cattle call is a bit difficult.

USAir out of Philadelphia is an absolute horror show. It’s horrific. Always losing your bags. United will charge you fifty or a hundred for extra bags like our guitars and drum equipment and then lose it. I don’t know. That’s the hard part. I think most of the time they try hard. The crews, the pilots are fine. But the baggage handlers…I think they should look into it if they are going to charge you all this money for the service. Having said that, I think it is hard for a lot of traveling bands. The airlines obviously have to make money. But, they should take care of the people and not treat you…they do…they don’t welcome you anymore. You are a dollar bill. That’s the hard part.

Monica: What’s your favorite place to play?

Roger: I have fun just about everywhere. Detroit, New Orleans and the people are great. Midwest like Chicago, we play there two or three times a year usually. Boston.

Monica: What about going back to Europe?

Roger: We did the Swedish rock festival a few years ago and that was fantastic. Other than that, no one is making us offers that we can’t refuse. I would love to go to Europe and the whole band would love to go. But, we get so busy here, especially in the summer. The band isn’t that well known over there. We have a number of fans over there who requested stuff and I did an interview with one of the blues magazines over there. But, it doesn’t seem to work out.

Monica: Is that still home for you or is New York home?

Roger: New York’s home. I’m an American. I just talk funny. (We laughed.) This is home. I wanted to live here ever since I can remember. I even talked about…I was nine or ten years old…I talked about stowing away on a boat. Wouldn’t have been a good idea.

Monica: No it wouldn’t have been.

Roger: I always loved everything American, everything about it. America has given music to the world…the whole world…jazz, blues, big bands, rock n’ roll, rap, country and western. It came from here. This is the world’s musical cauldron, if you will. Everywhere in the world, American music is appreciated and I feel honored to be part of it.

Monica: We’re glad you are here with your music. Thank you.

Roger: I always wanted to be here. We first came here late ‘67, ‘68 with Savoy Brown. Then we started coming here in ‘72 with Foghat. In ‘73 I moved here and applied for my green card, and now this is home. I love it.

Monica: Roger, with so many accomplishments, what advice would you give to upcoming artists?

Roger: I think if you are playing music you have to have a love and a passion for what you do. You don’t do it for the money or possible financial rewards. They are married to the music. If you are going to do it, you just have to give it everything you got. Tomorrow may be too late.

Monica: That’s are great words Roger. Any artists you want to play with but haven’t yet?

Roger: It would be really nice to play with the Stones. But, I hear they have a really great drummer already. (We both laughed.)

Monica: I read where you met up with Willie Dixon. I was wondering how that meeting was?

Roger: Willie was a beautiful man. Musically he was a giant amongst men. He did the arrangements and production on the early chess records for Muddy and Chuck Barry. He co-wrote a lot of those songs. Obviously, he did ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You‘.

I have a story. ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You’ was a hit off of our first album. So Willie is getting all of this money from us. Unlike some bands, that I won’t mention, we would credit the writer. Then we did it on the "Live" album. The first record was ‘72 and ‘77 we re-released it. So Willie is getting all of this money from this band called Foghat. He doesn’t know WHO we are.

We were in Chicago for three nights and the first night he sent one of his daughters down. Her name is Shirley. I know his wife’s name is Shirley too. We treated her like a princess. The next night she came down with one of her brothers, Butch. He later became Willie’s road manager. We treated him like a prince that he was. He was a fabulous young man. And, the third night they brought their Dad down. What I think he did was he said to his kids, go see what these Foghat boys are up to. I guess we were OK, and he invited us to his house the next time we were in Chicago, which was about 6 or 7 months later, maybe a year.

We went to his house on the Southside and had dinner with him and his family and it was a fabulous evening. Dave was there. We played music all night long. Guitar, Piano. Throughout the evening Willie would send one of his sons upstairs to the attic to pick up records from artists from the thirties and forties. He had this huge record collection. It was just a fabulous evening. I’ll be eternally grateful to Willie. He was a great man. It’s really cool when you meet your musical heroes or idols. They turn out to be these really cool people as well. Willie Dixon was a giant in his field definitely. Willie was special.

Monica: You have a new album coming up-covers or originals? What would you like to tell me?

Roger: Well, we were writing originals. But, right now it’s all covers. We just haven’t gotten around to doing them yet. Right now we have a blues record in the works. Some tracks on there are Otis Rush’s, ‘So Many Roads‘. We did an old Savoy Brown Song. ‘Needle and Spoon‘…‘Feel so Bad‘. There are six studio tracks. One instrumental. We have four or five live songs from some shows. That should be out at the end of the year. Next year we will start to work on a new studio record down in Florida. Each year we do something. We have a DVD in the works of live performances we have done over the years. Yeah, we are going to keep doing it. How does it go? We’re going to rock ‘til we drop.

Monica: Who does most of your arrangements of the cover songs?

Roger: The band. It is always a band effort. I’ll give you an example, like 'Slow Ride'. That was myself and Rod. We used to have a house out here in Long Island and we turned the basement into a rehearsal room. Nick Jameson, our long time producer, joined the band on bass. This is probably 1974/1975 around there. We were just jamming. Virtually the whole song, 'Slow Ride', came out of that. But, it was just the four of us playing. Then Dave said I got some words. The arrangement, the musical arrangement, was done by all of us. It was a band effort. ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ was a band effort. Myself and Dave would jam to that song in sound checks when I was in Savoy Brown. It’s a band thing. We have playing a long time and have a lot of experience, so everyone should use it, you know? Everyone has their say in this band.

Monica: Etta James did that song to. Did you ever meet up with her?

Roger: Once in a club in London, this was after our first album, she did a similar version. I thought it was really cool. She did our kind of version to the song with the guitar. You know, when you have a great artist like her want to do your version of a classic blues song, that’s really cool. In fact, a good friend of mine, who was at the Chicago Blues Festival, told me that most bands basically do our arrangement. That’s so gratifying when you hear something like that.

I met Etta, I bet she wouldn’t remember, but briefly. She has a fabulous voice. I met Koko Taylor at Willie’s house. Willie Dixon’s house. I’ve been privilege to play with some great players. John Lee Hooker and Muddy of course. It’s terrific.

Muddy was a great man too. He was special. In fact, I kept one of the lines from him. We did this show in NYC called, Foghat’s Tribute to the Blues, and we were back stage after the show. My parents were there and I introduced Muddy Waters to my parents, which was really cool because he was such a musical hero of mine. There was another guitar player there, a fantastic performer;guitar man, and I believe he played on John Lee Hooker’s early records. But, Muddy saw him from across the room. Muddy has the most beautiful face and wonderful way about him. He looked over and said, I know YOU! He couldn’t remember his name but knew him. And I thought, what a cool way to introduce yourself, if you can’t remember their name!

Monica: That works. I’ll use that. Roger, anything else you want to get out there?

Roger: One other thing. I’m working on a project with some friends out of Detroit. A guy called Daniel Wentworth, a guitar player. Derrick St. Holmes who used to sing with Ted Nugent, right? We are doing a blues project there. In fact, Daniel is a great player and sent me a song that he thought I should play. So, I had a couple of days off in Detroit so I did it on the first take. I knew the actual arrangement and then we ended up doing nine or ten tracks in the next three days. We had an album. Derrick listened and came on board as a the singer. That was a lot of fun. For this, I had a totally free hand. It was exciting to play with some other musicians. It was a blues album and it appealed to me.

Monica: Cool. Congratulations on that effort. Roger I won’t ask you if you really threw a TV out of a hotel window.

Roger: I don’t know where that came from. We never did stuff like that. (We laughed.)


Just so you, the readers, know. I believe Roger never did anything like that. I truly do. He told me he glued chairs to the ceiling. Now, I don't believe that! Who has that kind of time to wait for glue to dry a chair on the ceiling? But, then again, Roger fishes!

If you enjoyed reading this article, perhaps you would enjoy reading other artists from the blues british invasion:

Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, Robin Trower Part I Interview

Thank you for reading American Blues News!

Copyright © 2009 Copyright Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photograph Copyright © 2009 Maureen Ceidro. All Rights Reserved

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

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Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

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