Roger Earl isn’t content merely to keep time as the drummer of Foghat. He also keeps the band’s flame — and its legacy — burning.
Earl, the only founding member still in the Foghat fold, unites the various chapters of the band’s history and connects the dots between its songs and its stories.
Springboarding off stalwart British blues band Savoy Brown, Earl formed Foghat with singer-guitarist “Lonesome” Dave Peverett, guitarist Rod Price and bassist Tony Stevens. Through the 1970s, Foghat steadily built its reputation as a proficient live act and churned out hard-edged versions of traditional blues forms. Songs such as “Slow Ride” now qualify as rock canon, surviving to delight multiple generations.
One of the band’s enduring tunes, a hit twice over on its 1972 debut and 1977 live opus, was Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” Reflecting on that era, Earl remembers a three-night stand in Chicago in which Foghat’s connection to Dixon went from merely musical to flesh-and-blood. Dixon’s daughter came to hear the band their first night in town.
“We treated her like the princess that she was,” Earl said. “And the next day, she comes down and she brings her brother ... we treated him like the prince that he is. And then on the third night, Willie came down.”
The legendary bluesman sent his family first, Earl said, to check out this British band making him so much royalty money, to see what was "under their fingernails." On a return visit to the Windy City, Foghat dined at Dixon’s house and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning making music together.
“What a beautiful man he was — he was really something,” Earl said.
Foghat’s deep devotion to its blues forebearers could easily be lost to the din of classic-rock history. With great reverence, even 40 years later, Earl recalled a New York City show in which Foghat served as the “house band” for the likes of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Eddie Kirkland, Johnny Winter and Paul Butterfield.
To introduce his parents to Waters or stand next to Hooker “and all he wants is a bologna sandwich — it’s a little surreal, but it’s the best because they were all really great, cool people,” Earl said.
Both the Earl and Foghat family trees boast numerous, hardy branches connecting the drummer to much of the rock history made in the last half-century. His brother, Colin, played keyboards for “In the Summertime” hitmakers Mungo Jerry. The current Foghat lineup, one which dates back 20 years, features former Humble Pie singer Charlie Huhn and Wild Cherry guitarist Bryan Bassett.
The original Foghat lineup endured tumult and separation, only to reform long enough to make new music together. Peverett died in 2000, Price in 2005. Earl feels all of these losses deeply, but made it clear he still hears a higher calling.
“Music’s in the blood. Things change — I miss some of my fellow players, but you have to carry on,” he said.
The 2018 version of Foghat owes a great debt to its original roster — both in its songs and structure. Huhn was the only singer Earl would consider to replace Peverette; he and Peverette were collectively wowed by him during his run with Humble Pie.
“Anybody who can sing Stephen Marriott songs has to have a great set of pipes,” Earl said.
In that way, Earl is still relying on the tastes of his original frontman, an artist he credited with an encyclopedic knowledge of rock, jazz and blues.
“We would often defer to him about listening to stuff,” he said of Peverette. “In fact, he was the resident DJ on the bus.”
The Foghat machine is tried and true, but isn’t tired. Earl and this later lineup have made several studio and live records together, and several members of the band are working on new music with former Buddy Guy guitarist Scott Holt under the name Earl and the Agitators. Creating new music, and taking the stage before thousands of people, still gives Earl chills, he said.
“The Good Lord hasn’t seen fit to take me just yet. So I’m still here. So I have a bit more rock ‘n’ rolling to do.”