Foghat’s Roger Earl Celebrates Their Enduring Live Album Tradition and ‘8 Days on The Road’ (INTERVIEW)

Foghat levelled up in the American mainstream when they released their first live album in 1977, and captured the zeitgeist of interest in live show recordings being released for fan enjoyment at that time. Not only that, but it became their biggest selling album. In the many years since then, both before and after the loss of many beloved band members, Fogat have continued to release high quality live albums in a steady stream, including 2019’s Foghat: Live from the Belly Up and this summer’s 8 Days on the Road, recorded at Daryl’s House Club in upstate New York in late 2019. The release celebrates the band’s 50th anniversary this year and a vinyl version is on the way. 

As with several of their more recent live albums, the band took the opportunity to make a video recording and release it as a DVD, and in this case, it was a lovely choice since the charming and small venue not only made for great acoustics but excellent lighting and a chance to capture the close-quarters interaction between the fans and the band. I spoke with the British-born but longtime Long Islander Roger Earl, drummer, and sole surviving founding member of the band, just before he headed into New York to see Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga perform. We spoke about his experiences recording 8 Days on the Road, reuniting with his band after 18 months apart, and Foghat’s enduring tradition of making live albums. 

Hannah Means-Shannon: I think the release of 8 Days on the Road is really good timing because people really need live shows right now, and this is one way to experience that. 

Roger Earl: This album was actually recorded at the end of 2019 and the last show that we did was after this, at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. Then Covid came with all of its fury and cancelled everything. Then I had a year and a half off. But as it’s our 50th anniversary, we thought, “What are we going to do?” We had this in the can and it was recorded at Daryl’s House Club in upstate New York. It’s a really cool venue. We don’t usually get a chance to play such intimate rooms but they had a fantastic sound system there, as well as recording equipment. It was a terrific venue. 

Normally we fly everywhere, but we had four shows that were all within 350 miles of each other, so we had a Sprinter van and the band was traveling together. We also added a couple of songs that we don’t normally play. Brian Bassett, our lead and slide guitar player, who actually mixed and produced the new album, was the guitar player in the band Wild Cherry, so we would play, “Play That Funky Music White Boy” in soundchecks just for fun. But I suggested, “Why don’t we just DO this in the set? Everyone seems to enjoy it.” There we were, a bunch of funky white boys.

HMS: Have you been able to see the other members of the band at all during the break from live playing?

RE: We had a year and a half off from each other. Three of the guys live down in Florida and I live up in Long Island. It was quite emotional, actually, when we all got together a couple of months back to start rehearsals and get our chops back. We played for about three hours, then had a few libations, hugged each other, and talked about everything that had gone on in the previous year. I would talk to everyone about once a month anyway but it was kind of strange not to be able to see each other during that weird time.

HMS: It’s hard to catch up in a brief period with anyone after all this. If you haven’t seen each other, I find it’s a minimum of one hour of talking just to cover the basics right now. 

RE: It’s true! I haven’t had a year and a half off since I was 12 and even then I used to work weekends! But the way the government has rolled out vaccines has been very impressive. It’s still scary out there. I’ve been vaxxed and I still wear masks when I go out. That’s more to protect other people as far as I’m concerned. 

HMS: I know that you have a number of shows coming up, including one close to home in Long Island.

RE: The Paramount! That’s a beautiful room, actually. We played there a few years back. When I first got off the boat in 1973, I landed in Long Island, so I live in Long Island. When I do shows here I get to see a bunch of people who I haven’t seen in years. It’s like playing home turf. I’m looking forward to it.

HMS: For the show at Daryl’s, had you planned ahead to record and video the performance for later release?

RE: Yes, though, to be honest with you, I had forgotten about that. Our manager set it all up and I was busy with other things. The people there were terrific. It was really professional and a great sounding room. When I took the stage after soundcheck, there were still a few people down front finishing their dinner. I went over to them and said, “This is a Rock ‘n Roll band. If you don’t sweat, it ain’t Rock ‘n Roll, so you better finish your dinner!” They laughed and said, “We know who you are.” It was a great night.

HMS: In recent years, you all have done DVDs with your recorded live shows. What makes you enthusiastic about having the video as well as the audio?

RE: It’s like a moment in time. This band’s always been about playing live. We take our “job” seriously. Though it’s not a real job, the real “job” is the traveling part. It’s important to us as musicians and performers that we play well. This band’s never been about going on stage drunk, though I have played with a couple of hangovers over the years. That’s not a lot of fun.

HMS: Shocking!

RE: [Laughs] We take playing seriously and that reflects in the number of live shows we’ve recorded over the years, like our first live album, Foghat Live, in 1977. That happened because our main songwriter in the band didn’t really have a lot of material at the time. I would listen to our shows every night. Our front of house manager, Bob Coffee, would give us cassettes to listen to, just to make sure everyone was on the same page and the grooves were okay. It helps keep everyone on their toes. I was really excited about the way that the band was playing at that time, and I suggested to the rest of the band, “Why don’t we do a live album?” And we did. We used an RCA mobile truck and recorded five or six shows. That live album came from two in Rochester and one in Syracuse, I believe. 

Actually, there was an hour and forty-five minutes of live music, but the record label, which was Warner Brothers at the time, suggested in their infinite wisdom, to put out only five songs on the album. It’s sitting in the vaults at Warner Brothers. I was out there a few years talking to someone at Warner Brothers, and I said, “Why can’t I go down there and we’ll find the tapes and remix some stuff?” In 1977, Foghat also did a tribute to the Blues at the New York Palladium. Foghat was the house band for Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Winter, Paul Butterfield. It was a great evening. But that’s sitting in the vault at Warner Brothers, too. I asked if I could down there and find that recording, too, and they said, “No, you can’t go down there.” Never mind! It’ll come out some day. There is a bootleg that was done in the Netherlands, but the sound quality isn’t as good. I have all the recordings on CD that my front of house manager gave to me. That would be cool to put out.

HMS: Wow! In my view, that first live album really reconquered America for the band and did something electrifying. Not all bands can do that with live albums. But since then, you’ve always had success with live albums. 

RE: That’s your moment in the day, your hour and a half. The rest is all hurry up and wait. Even to this day, I still get chills taking the stage. We just played the Moondance Festival in Minnesota and Todd Rundgren was on the bill. He was on the same label as us, Bearsville, and he also helped us out with our first couple of albums, playing keyboards and stuff. I hadn’t seen Todd since 1974 or 1975, but he was fantastic at Moondance. His voice and his band. It was incredible. His stage presence was amazing. Kudos to Todd. 

HMS: That’s awesome to hear that he’s as great a live performer as he is in the studio. That seems hard to be both of those things.

RE: It is. But if you’re on top of your game as a musician, hopefully the engineers get it right. We’re lucky because Brian Bassett, our lead and slide guitar player has produced and engineered all our records for the past twenty odd years and he’s the resident genius.

HMS: The sound on this album is great and people can get a feel for the venue by watching the video that’s been released for “Road Fever”. 

RE: I know that DVDs aren’t a particularly big thing these days but I thought it really worked  really well. With the stuff that we’ve released prior to this, it was always a big stage, and I’m not sure the sound was always the best. But the visuals, and especially the sound, really worked for this.

HMS: What made you pick 8 Days on the Road for your title aside from it being one of the song titles? I did feel like there were some travel-related themes to this set, though maybe that’s just because you’ve written a number of songs about travel. 

RE: Right, yes, like “Home in My Hand”, “Road Fever”, and “8 Days on the Road”. That’s what we do. Willie Nelson writes road songs as well, so I guess we’re in good company. I think that’s what Rock ‘n Roll is about. You write about your sentiments, your feelings, and what’s going on, somewhat like our inspiration, which is the Blues. I grew up listening to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. That’s always about what’s going on in the day, so in some ways we haven’t really changed. 

I grew up in Southwest London, but my inspiration was always American Rock ‘n Roll and Blues singers. But America is the land of music, with Blues, Jazz, BeeBop, Rhythm and Blues, Country and Western, Gospel. All those forms of music have come together in this land and become this beautiful melting pot of wonderful noises and stories. While some elements may come from Africa, from France, from Ireland, it comes over here and you have this beautiful noise when that happens. It was unique to America. As far as I’m concerned, America has given music to this world, even to this day. I think all contemporary music stems from the US due to its beautiful melding of people. It’s the land of music and that’s why I wanted to live here.

HMS: That’s a lovely thing to say. 

RE: It’s the truth!

HMS: Do you think that this melding of elements has contributed to the longevity of the music? After all, everyone thought Rock ‘n Roll was going to die out, initially. 

RE: I think so. Even Country music takes a lot from Blues music. The whole foundation of contemporary music is there. Even today with rappers and contemporary R& B music, it’s still about stories, it’s still about what’s going on in peoples’ lives. I think music shouldn’t stay the same, though. I think every generation has its music. It means certain times to people. I remember a number of years back, I was riding my bike with my girlfriend at the time in Colorado, and we stopped off at a music store. Above the music store, there was a sign that said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” I’m not sure everyone would agree with that, but I did. I saw that and said, “That’s the truth, isn’t it?” 

HMS: With all the touring that you’ve done, and I think you must be one of the most toured-out people in Rock ‘n Roll, do you get the sense that stories are as important as sound for audiences?

RE: I think every person treats the song differently. I think certain songs people just grab onto and it stays with them forever. I remember with a couple of Little Richard songs growing up, like “Good Golly Miss Molly”, it was the sound of those songs that really inspired me, initially. When I decided I wanted to play drums, I discovered who the drummers were on all those early records. I think when people hear something that really reaches them, whether it’s the rhythm, the melody, or the words especially, it’s a personal thing. You think, “It’s mine. I’ll keep that one. I’ll put that in the file in my mind or in my heart.” I think everybody views it differently.

HMS: I hear that the band is thinking about a new record. Do you think it will be inspired by being able to get back together again?

RE: We’ve got about seven or eight songs that aren’t original, some R&B and Blues songs that we’re working on. What that does is get the juices flowing. We sit down and work out new arrangements to some songs that we’d like to try. It gets the band in the room and we start jamming. I’ll start playing something and then Brian or Charlie will start playing something, and it just gets everything going. We have specific songs we’re going to work on, but everyone writes stuff, and we’ve got some guests who are going to be on the next album, like Kim Simmonds from Savoy Brown. He played on our last studio album, Under the Influence. He has a couple of songs he wants us to try that he says he’s written specifically for Foghat. That should be fun. 

Photo credit: Elijah Shark

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