Still Got the Mojo: A Conversation with Foghat’s Roger Earl (Part 3 of 4)

Continued from Part Two

1977’s Foghat Live was even a bigger smash than was Fool for the City. It came out during that period when everybody put out a live album. But not everybody had a juggernaut smash hit that sold better than their studio albums. Why do you think that record was so successful?

Actually, as I recall, after we’d finished, I think we’d finished doing the Night Shift (1976) album, on which Rod and Dave were obviously the main songwriters. And I think they were struggling to come up with songs, because we had to do a record every year. That was our contract, which was fine for us. Our front of house sound engineer, Bob Coffee – I’m still good friends with him; he’s still with us – would give me a cassette every night after every show. I would sit down with my JVC Boombox and listen to make sure tempos were okay, because there was youthful enthusiasm. There was a lot of that going around. And I remember talking to the band and saying, “We should do a live album!” Everybody was playing great. The audiences were just absolutely fantastic; we were selling out everywhere we played.

So by this time, Craig McGregor had joined us, of course, and Nick Jameson rented the RCA mobile unit. Foghat Live came from two shows in upstate New York: Syracuse and Rochester. We were playing for at least an hour and a half back then. And I think we did [record] three or four other shows.

There’s a whole bunch of tunes laying in Warner Brothers’ vault. In fact, about seven or eight years ago, myself and Linda, our manager, went there and talked to them about that and said, “Maybe we go down and find them?” They said, “Oh, no, you can’t do that. You’re not allowed down there.” “Well, who’s going to know?” “Well, I’m sorry, you can’t go down there.” I said, “What if I pretend I come in here and I hold somebody up when we go down there?” And all of a sudden they weren’t talking to me anymore! I said, “I’m just kidding.” No humor. No humor.

So I know there was at least another hour’s worth of songs on there. I don’t know. It will probably come out once I disappear and I go somewhere else.

Some bands say that “We’re at our best live on stage.” And the studio stuff, no matter how finely crafted it is, it’s still just an approximation of that. Is Foghat quintessentially a live band, and does the studio stuff do justice to you from your standpoint?

Any time you’re either writing a new material or you found a song by somebody else and you’re reconstructing it and putting your stamp on it, it’s the first time you’re new with a song. You work on it and you think you’ve got it right. But invariably, if you start playing them more and more after you’ve recorded them, they probably get better or take on a real character.

In Foghat we always gave ourselves permission to jam. You make a mistake, you fuck something up, and then all of a sudden you go, “But that’s not so bad, actually!” Maybe you could do with it. And then a three and a half minute song ends up being six. Anyway, there’s that in the studio. 90% of the time was it very organic. We’d all play together. We would record it all: vocals, lead guitars, everything. We’d all play together most of the time.

Occasionally we would have to craft a song. That was usually because maybe Dave and Rod hadn’t quite worked it. On the Night Shift album, a lot of those songs were played to a click track, because the songs weren’t formed. We were working on them in the studio. So Dave would come in and sit and play with myself and Craig McGregor, and then we’d find a tempo, get a click track, and then Dave would play.

But I also think that record, in my opinion, was probably one of the best records we’d made. It was certainly Craig’s first attempt at being in the studio. But the Night Shift album I was really happy with. I love the way we play because, like I said, we gave ourselves permission to jam. I prefer playing organically, but most of that album was done to a click track. There was a lot of two or three, maybe four or five of those songs, right, with some of the best we’d ever done. So there’s different ways to go about it.

And then, of course, the live album, were just up there kicking ass and having a good time.

Can you tell me about a particularly noteworthy or groundbreaking gig that you’ve had with the band?

In 1977, we had more money than sense. At the time. were working on the Stone Blue album, and I think it might have been our publicist who said, “Why don’t you do a show with some of your favorite blues artists?” Because he knew that we were huge blues fans. Certainly myself, Dave and Rod were. Dave knew all things about blues. He was also a closet drummer. He knew every single drummer that played on a blues record or rock record.

Anyway, were playing with Eddie “Blues Man” Kirkland, and it was also my father’s 60th birthday. And I brought my parents over from London and got them a hotel in Park Lane, and they came to the show. So I got to introduce my mum and dad to Muddy Waters! One of my favorite records was Muddy Waters’ Live at Newport. In fact, that was the one record that transformed me as far as listening to records and trying to figure out. I went, it was like, that record, for me was magic. It was pure, unadulterated musical magic. Francis Clay was the drummer on that, and the band was just… it wasn’t just a blues band with Muddy singing and playing, it was magic. That record transformed the way I look at all music. But anyway, Mum and Dad got to meet Muddy Waters, and there’s their youngest son standing there beaming because I’m playing with my musical heroes.

I also got to meet Willie Dixon, and we all went to his house and had dinner for a while. And when you meet these giants of the music world, for me, anyway, and none of them let me down or let you down. They’re just these fantastic human beings and they all. John Lee Hooker was very interesting, actually. Muddy was just this beautiful man who was tickled pink because there were all these English rock and rollers that loved him, that looked to him like he was the genius that he was. Anyway, it was really cool meeting some of my heroes. And I’ve met Buddy Guy as well a number of times. Scott Holt, our guitar player and singer, played with Buddy for ten years!

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