There’s a famous line from the motion picture Field of Dreams: “If you build it, he will come.” That thought applies very well to the legion of so-call legacy bands from the 80’s, 70’s and even the 60’s still plying their trade: “If you play it, they will come.” What might be half-jokingly called the county fair circuit can be a lucrative venture for those bands–and why not? If you can still make a living playing music, it beats painting houses.
Those bands have been at it so long they have spawned generations of fans. The band’s original fans, their sons and daughters, and sometimes even their grandchildren show up at concerts.
Foghat is one of those generation-spanning bands. Everyone knows songs such as Slow Ride, Fool for the City and I Just Want to Make Love to You. Roger Earl, drummer for the band and last original member, has been going at it since the band’s inception in 1971. They have a new album, Under The Influence, and Earl sounds excited about both the album and the tour to support it.
Phoning in from his home on Long Island, New York, he apologizes for being a few minutes late, explaining that he was making salsa. What’s a Brit doing in New York making salsa, of all things? Earl lets out a hearty laugh. “Well, I’ve been Americanized, and I’ve picked up on some of the finer culinary delights of America. That means North and South, and all points in between.”
The story of how the new album came to be is rather long, and fans who purchase the CD (yes, they still do exist!) are treated to an illustrated narrative, but here’s the semi-short version. Three years in the making, Earl along with Bryan Bassett (lead guitar), Charlie Huhn (lead vocals/guitar) and Craig MacGregor (bass) were working at their studio in Florida. Earl’s good friend Scott Holt (a member of Buddy Guy’s band for many years) came to visit and started contributing to the songwriting and recording process. Later on, producer Tom Hambridge was brought onboard, and Hambridge ended up playing on the record as well.
“We just really, really liked the people that we were working with. They were just fantastic to work with, so yeah, it was a lot of fun. It wasn’t – how can I put it? – it wasn’t at all hard. There was a really terrific atmosphere amongst all the musicians, and I just can’t say enough about Tom Hambridge – what a fantastic producer he was – just the way he handled everybody. Everybody had a smile on their face. You know, it was serious, but it was fun. Everybody had fun playing. All the musicians had a really good time.”
There’s a lot of interesting variation on the album. A kick-ass version of Heard It Through the Grapevine, and a re-recording of Slow Ride. A cover of an obscure Savoy Brown song, She’s Got a Ring In His Nose, and the arena-rock worthy original Heart Gone Cold.
“Well, Ring In His Nose, we originally recorded that with Savoy Brown back in 1969. When we were rehearsing the songs down in that studio down in Florida, Charlie Huhn – now our lead singer and guitar player – was a huge fan of Savoy Brown, and he just started playing it one day, and I knew the song, as did Bryan and Craig, so we just ended up doing it, and we just loved the way it felt. Everybody’s taken a solo on it. Scott Holt, a good friend of mine who co-wrote some songs with us and is singing on a couple of songs, took some leads on it. Bryan backed it of course, takes leads on it, as did Charlie Huhn. The rhythm guitar was just Charlie, I believe. Everybody’s taking solos. It’s like, you know, we were just jamming, and we liked what came out.” Earl hums a couple of lines from the tune: “He’s got a ring in his nose, and a ring on her hand. I knew a guy, he was real plucky, but that was of course until he got lucky.”
As for Heart Gone Cold, “Yeah, that started with Charlie. We started actually writing it a long time ago. Charlie was going through a particularly nasty breakup with his girlfriend, and I guess it inspired a really good song, so we should be cool about that. But Tom Hambridge really pulled the song together. We started it probably a couple of years ago, but when Tom came down, he kind of straightened everything out and said, ‘look, just play the song, don’t over-complicate it,’ which we were doing. And I think it worked. It’s the lyrics are what’s important, the theme of the song is what’s important. Tom was terrific, I can’t say enough about him.”
One of the challenges for a band with a large back catalogue is deciding how much new material to incorporate into the set list. Everyone’s been to a concert where the lead vocalist says “Here’s one from our new album,” and everyone either sits down or heads for a bathroom break. Earl actually anticipates the comment when he offers “One of the things that’s interesting about this record, compared to previous records that we’ve released, is that we were always a little tentative about playing new songs in their set. But not this time. As soon as we had a chance and the record was finished, we immediately put two songs, Under The Influence and Knock It Off in a set, and we’re going to put some more in and probably change them around. So you know, we could play as many of them that actually work, which is good. We spent too much time and effort, and even finances on this record to not actually play it.”
“Audiences are audiences, whether you’re playing in a theater or a huge rock and roll festival, which we do all of them, and casinos as well, but you’re right. You know, casinos and fairs, they’re like our bread and butter. But we get a lot of people turning up, thousands and thousands, and I enjoy it. You get a really broad spectrum of the audience, from kids to people closer to our own age, and it’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy playing. The band always gets a great reception. It goes down really well. You know, it’s a rock and roll band, so we shouldn’t really have a problem with that. And of course we have tunes like Slow Ride, and Fool for the City, and Just Wanna Make Love To You, so it’s not going to be hard to move them.”
“I would say, you ought to come out, because we’re really, really old, might not be around much longer. Then you can tell your grandchildren that you saw Foghat.”