Foghat first formed in 1971 after three of the members left Savoy Brown and recorded and released their first self-titled album in 1972. Roger Earl was and is the drummer of the band. In fact, he’s the only original surviving member after “Lonesome” Dave Peverett passed away in 2000 and Rod Price and Tony Stevens died in 2005. Since being a creative musician and part of a band is the only life that Roger has ever known he decided to continue Foghat’s legacy with a new lineup and even got help from his former bandleader boss from Savoy Brown, the late Kim Simmonds.
Sonic Mojo is Foghat’s 17th studio album and was released on November 10. Blues Rock Review contributing writer, Bob Gersztyn talked with Roger Earl on the phone about the album and recollections of the past six decades. The conversation began with Earl thanking Gersztyn for putting him in the number six position on the published Top 10 Blues Rock Drummers list. He said that the air was rarified at that level of playing and he felt humbled to be included on the list since he personally knew and played with almost all of the others included. At that point, we began the interview and it went like this.
I wanted to mention I saw you play with Savoy Brown back in 1969 at the Eastown Theater in Detroit, Michigan with B. B. King and Albert King. Do you remember that?
Yes, I do actually and I remember playing at the Grande Ballroom a number of times as well. They were both fantastic venues back then. When we played the Fillmore East and the Fillmore West with other blues players Bill Graham ran it and one thing that was cool about him was that he would put together Savoy Brown with the “Voices of Harlem,” a fantastic blues artist and somebody else. I don’t think that anyone else could have gotten away with it but at that time in the world of music, Bill Graham enlightened so many people about what was going on in the world of music. I just wanted to say something about that because he was an incredible promoter and he promoted music. It wasn’t about anything other than music. He was special and made an incredible contribution to the music scene. Whenever anyone would come and play in any of his rooms he would always make a point of coming in and talking to the artists. He would come in and talk to us and make sure that everything was ready for us to go on. He was quoted one time as saying “I think Foghat likes to play more than they like to breathe.” Yeah, we love to play.
About 20 years ago I interviewed Dave Walker who took Chris Youlden’s place in Savoy Brown when you and “Lonesome” Dave left, did you know Walker?
No, I didn’t, I think that I maybe met him once or twice. I believe he lived in New Mexico. I think I recall meeting him there once but I never met him when he was in Savoy Brown. I think that I bumped into him and talked to him a few times but I didn’t know him. He was a great singer and great frontman.
What was it that motivated you to record Sonic Mojo?
When I first started playing it was back a while and it was always about being in a band playing. It was always about music for me. That’s what got me playing drums in the first place, listening to music. I knew I was never going to be in realms with Buddy Rich. He was something else and a number of other drummers like that but for me, it was always about playing in a band, listening to the vocals, listening to the lead instruments, playing with the bass guitarist and paying attention to the grooves. When I first started learning to play I would play Chuck Berry and all the stuff that came out on Chess. I would try to play to Muddy Waters albums with Francis Clay as the drummer and I wore records out a couple of times. It was always for me about playing in a band, playing music and it’s the same today, that’s why we make music. When we lost Lonesome Dave 23 years ago that was rough and I knew back then if we didn’t find some way to make music it wouldn’t work for me. The whole thing about it is being creative and making music. I love being in the studio. The first record that we did after Dave passed was Family Joules. A friend of ours down here in Florida had a huge warehouse and that was the start of it and then we found a property down here in Florida in the middle of nowhere with 10 acres and a house. We were going to set up in the garage which was still on the property with huge rooms and we were going to turn it into a studio where anybody could use it. That didn’t work out and we just started setting up in the living room. Bryan Bassett the quiet one in the band who is also our producer, chief engineer, lead guitar and he’s a great guitar player. Without Bryan, we wouldn’t be able to manage it but being creative is something in the DNA, you have to do it.
Scott Holt is the primary lead singer, isn’t he?
Yes. Rodney (O’Quinn – bass player) didn’t sing lead on any of these songs but on stage, he sings lead on three or four different songs. He’s a great singer, he just wasn’t here for those. In fact, the guy in Florida turned the barn into a studio and we’re rehearsing 2 record release parties for Sonic Mojo. One in New York at the Iridium on November 12 and one in San Juan Capistrano, California at the Coach House on November 17. We’ll be playing 7 or 8 songs from the new album and some other classic stuff.
How did it happen that Kim Simmonds wrote three songs with Foghat?
He did a previous studio album that I did the intro to and Tom Hambridge was the producer of that, in fact, he came over to our studio just to see if we could work together. I met Tom a number of times at the Blues Awards in Memphis and I was a presenter one night and Buddy Guy I think won everything, best piano and he doesn’t even play piano, he won best song, best blues guitar player and best album. I met Tom Hambridge there because Buddy and Tom were locked in together and Tom said to me that he really would like to do a Foghat record and I put that in the back of my mind for a while and anyway for Under the Influence we’d already recorded maybe a half dozen tracks here at the studio. We decided, the band decided that we wanted to give Bryan Bassett a break to be just the guitar player and Tom is an incredible producer and great songwriter too and an excellent drummer I might add. So we got on like a house on fire. I invited Kim Simmonds to come down and play on that record. He played on four tracks and it was absolutely brilliant. He played on stage in the studio around 8:00 O’Clock at night. He played on one song, just one take and he got a standing ovation from everybody who was in the studio. I loved working with Kim, he’s a brilliant, brilliant blues guitar player and we’d been friends since we left the band Savoy Brown in 1970, 71 and we re-connected around 1976 and we stayed friends ever since. I don’t think that him and I ever had cross words, we really didn’t. We always got on really well. It was a mutual admiration society because Kim in my opinion was probably one of the best blues guitar players to ever come out of Great Britain. He played on there and after we finished the sessions up in Nashville we were hanging out together and he said, what I’d really like to do is a couple of songs for Foghat and I said that would be fine Kim, so long as you’re playing on them. He laughed and it’s been maybe four years now he sent me four tracks. He’s singing, guitar playing, and with the film, Little Richard. Unfortunately, though Kim became ill and couldn’t play anymore, so we had to do them without Kim. He sent me four and we did three of them on this album. I talked to him about two months before he passed. I wasn’t allowed to go see him because the COVID restrictions were still on. We remained good friends with his wife Debbie and the tracks that Kim wrote for us I think are some of the best on the record and are some of my favorites.
Why is “She’s Dynamite” by B. B. King on the CD and digital download but not on the vinyl record?
I’ll tell you, that’s a technical issue because with vinyl the grooves have to be a certain distance and a certain way for 180 gram vinyl. It was just about 3 ½ minutes over on the record and that would have meant closing up the grooves and losing some of the dynamics on the record, so we had to take one out. We were really sorry about that but that’s the reason why it’s on the CD but not on the vinyl. We made too many songs. It was difficult to choose like who is your favorite child?
What are some of your other favorite songs on the album?
All of them. There were probably about seven or eight or more songs that we didn’t put on the record. We just picked what would be the best in our opinion. I’m really happy with the way that this record turned out and the way it sounds. My humble opinion is that Bryan Bassett, our lead slide guitar player, our producer and engineer is absolutely brilliant. He’s been doing this now for 30 or 40 years, being an engineer. He’s produced a number of blues albums for other artists over the years and other bands as well, so we’re real fortunate to have him and that gives us an excuse to make records which is real fun, since being a musician and being creative, I haven’t lost the thrill of going into the studio and being creative and listening back to it. It’s all fun especially because we have no red light in our studio. It’s a place where we can hang and be creative and make music. There is something to me about the way that you function as a band that you have to be creative and have somewhere to rehearse and work on what we’re doing.
How did you happen to co-write “I Wish I’d Been There” with Colin Earl from “Mungo Jerry”?
He’s my big brother and I have to tell you he stopped beating me up when I was about 12, obviously because I could start to handle him and he probably went, not a good idea anymore. He’s four years older than me and he was the one who initially started buying music early. Some stuff from Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash. I grew up and am a Johnny Cash fan. One thing I love about Johnny Cash was there was always a story. There was always this wonderful rhythm going through it. When I was about 12, riding my bike to school I’d be singing Johnny Cash songs. I didn’t really know back then what the lyrics meant but I knew I loved the music. There was always a story with Johnny Cash, there was always a story and the rhythm was always great. Luther Perkins on guitar, Johnny on guitar, the bass player, probably another guitar, the bass player I don’t know his name, Johnny Cash, yeah, a great, great American songwriter. He influenced me and does to this day.
What would you say is one of the craziest rock star stories that you were part of or observed?
Are children going to be listening to this? I can’t talk like that. It’ll be in the book. I can talk about some of the highlights of my career being in the music business. I got to play and meet a number of my musical heroes. Jerry Lee Lewis, I didn’t get to meet him but I saw him every time he came to London when I was a kid. In fact, that’s what started me on my journey, Jerry Lee Lewis, he just blew me away the first time that I saw him when I was 12 or 13 years old I think. Then coming to the states I met Muddy Waters and played with Muddy, John Lee Hooker that we would hang out with a number of great blues musicians. Johnny Winter, we did a tour with Johnny and he was just an absolute riot. It was like about 73 or 74 and we got to hang out with him and he was on fire and had a fantastic band as well. The one thing that was a real highlight for me was that in 1977 the last album had just come out and we were playing in Chicago at the amphitheater there. We were there for three nights and the first night Willie Dixon’s daughter came down to see us and she was about 17 or 18 at the time and we treated her like the princess that she is and was. The next night she came down with her brother, Butch who later became I think Willie Dixon’s road manager as well and on the third night the man himself, Willie Dixon came down. Of course, our now first album in 1972 had his song, “I Just Want To Make Love To You” and it was a hit, and of course, Willie Dixon wrote it and it was also the single off the Live album that sold over double Platinum or something silly. Anyway so Willie is getting all this money from this song “I Just Want To Make Love To You” and I think that what happened is he sent his kids down to see it and said go down there and see what this Foghat has got under their fingernails. I think we got good reviews because he came down on the third night and Lonesome Dave introduced him and said that without Willie Dixon there would be no rock & roll. Willie invited us over to his house that day but we couldn’t go that night because we were leaving the next morning but we went back about six months later and we spent an evening at Willie’s house on the South side of Chicago. We were up until 3 or 4 in the morning listening to music and talking about music and absolutely mesmerized by Willie’s stories. I mean he produced so many great artists and wrote so many records. That was the highlight of my life, meeting one of your musical heroes and far from letting you down they mystify you even more because he was such a cool man and such a brilliant producer and songwriter.
Do you have a favorite Kim Simmonds story?
Yeah, I got one, Kim and I always got on really well and when we left Savoy Brown it was basically that Tony Stevens got fired and Dave and I decided to leave anyway. It was just time for a change but we told Kim that we would stay in the band until he was ready, you know until he got another band together. It didn’t take him long, anyway so the following morning after we had this discussion we told his manager that we would be leaving and we’d stay as long as Kim needed us. He in turn told us we’d never work in the States or in England again and black balled us. It was a nasty piece of work and his name was Harry Simmonds, Kim’s older brother but he was nothing like Kim. I mean if you’re going to lose three of the band, that are leaving the band and he’s the band manager, why wasn’t he bright enough to say I’ll manage you guys and we would have jumped at the chance but he didn’t instead he wanted to like stop us from working.
Anyway, that’s another story. We went on to be Foghat and around 1976, Savoy Brown played Sunnybrook University which is just down the road from where I live out on Long Island and Dave and I went to go see him and we hung out, and we hadn’t seen each other since we left the band and it was really cool to reconnect. We went back to my house. This was back when Kim still drank as did all of us. Anyway, we went back to my house and we were playing music, putting records on, singing until the early hours of the morning having a really good time. I can’t remember exactly when Kim fell asleep or when I did. So later the next day he was still there, a little hung over and we reconnected and after that, we stayed in touch with one another and about 10 or 15 years ago started to do shows together. Savoy Brown went through the same agency as us, “Paradise Artists,” so I would get up and play drums with his band and Kim would get up and play with Foghat. I would say that we were good friends and never had a bad word to say about each other. We got on really well, I miss him and he was really a great, great blues guitar player and songwriter.
Is there anything that you would like to add that I didn’t bring up?
No, I think that we covered all the bases. I’m really happy with the new album. Like I said, we’re actually here in Florida at the studio and we’re relearning all the songs that we’re going to be playing for our record release parties in New York and California, so that’s why we’re here and the record’s actually getting played on some radio stations, which is unheard of, so maybe we got it right.
One last question I almost forgot is that you have Eddie LeFebvre listed as playing percussion. Did he play on all of the cuts?
I played on a number of them and Eddie played on some. Actually Eddie and I have been friends since 1985 I think when I first met him. He’s a terrific drummer and guitar player. We’ve been friends for a long time and what happened was my long-time drum tech left to work with STYX because they offered him more money than I could afford. I called Eddie and said can you come and be my drum tech and he said yes. He’s a percussionist as well as a drummer so I said do you want to play percussion and he said yes please. So on the record he played percussion but I can’t really remember which ones. I probably did the most of it and Eddie did some.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to Blues Rock Review.
One other thing, I just wanted you to know that I am the official maracas player in George Thorogood and the Destroyers. George and I have become good friends over the years and also with his band, his drummer and the rest of the guys in the band. A quick one, I went to see, I was down in Florida, we had a day between rehearsals and they were playing here in Central Florida where we were. They were playing on the East Coast and on the bill was Sammy Hagar’s band, he played in the show. Now I hadn’t seen Sammy in like 35 years or more. George Thorogood, they are a fantastic band and a great, great act, but Sammy Hagar’s band lit the place up, as Jason Bonham is playing drums and the bass man used to be with Van Halen, a fantastic bass player and their lead guitar player, what was his name, Vince? Anyway, after an incredible and Sammy singing and playing like a 25-year-old. We did a bunch of dates together when he was the lead singer with Montrose. So that’s where I knew him and I got to hang out with him after the show and before the show. Sammy Hagar’s band and the band he put together was absolutely incredible and anybody out there who wants to go and have a good time go and see Sammy Hagar’s new band, they are outrageous!
Alright, we’ll check him out. Have a great rest of your day!
Alright, thanks, Bob, bye.
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