August 24, 2017

From the Vaults: Fog Tap

 

    It was a toss up between ‘Fog Tap’ or ‘Spinal Hat’ so I flipped a coin to decide what to call this installment of FTV.  The band Foghat was named years before the band even formed when guitarist/vocalist ‘Lonesome Dave’ Peverett was playing Scrabble with his brother.  The nonsense word stuck in his subconscious until his new band needed a name.  They didn’t intend to become the template for the hilarious ‘rockumentary’ This is Spinal Tap, but the team that made the movie said that is who they patterned their faux band after.  During the 1980s, Foghat’s career had descended to near punchline status, but that era is but a few chapters in the middle of a very long book.  Considering their explosive start and the longevity of the band’s career, one can forgive those ‘Fog Tap’ years.

    In 1970, the future members of Foghat were playing on ‘hired gun’ status with Kim Simmonds’ Savoy Brown.  They were touring behind Brown’s Looking In album when Simmonds fired bassist Tony Stevens and then offered Peverett and drummer Roger Earl points (basically, a raise) on the next record.  They weren’t excited by the direction Savoy Brown was taking and decided to exit with Stevens and form a new band that would include Rod “The Bottle” Price on lead and slide guitar.  Thus was born one of the tightest blues-boogie bands of the decade.  They proceeded to record, tour, and repeat the cycle until they were all over rock radio.  With the advent of disco, things changed but they kept on chooglin the boogie, just not to stadiums and large auditoriums.

    Foghat made an appearance at Lakeview Arena in Marquette on July 19, 1980, placing it in the middle of our move back to Ontonagon after spending the 1979-80 school year finishing up my Master’s degree at NMU.  I have tried to find a listing of concert dates held at Lakeview but was disappointed when the Parks and Recreation Office in Marquette informed me that they have no record of the concerts held at that venue. Fortunately, an extensive listing of Hat concert dates from 1973 on provided me with the date, the tour name (Tight Shoes Tour) and the gigs bookending the Marquette show (Green Bay and Minneapolis).  Both the Rock and Roll Outlaws and Fool for the City albums were released in 1975 and both were featured prominently in the show I saw.  They were even introduced as “the Rock and Roll Outlaws – FOGHAT” at the start of the show (for the life of me I can not remember who opened for them).  There are several things that stand out in my mind about this show.  First, was the contrast between Foghat and their former band’s mode of outfits and stage presence.  When I saw Savoy Brown a couple of years earlier, it was all blue jeans and flannel shirts with the band pretty much rooted to the stage.  Foghat came jogging on stage wearing colorful, shiny stage togs that would not have been out of place at an Earth, Wind & Fire concert.  They looked like rock stars and they moved about but not in a way that detracted from the music!  Secondly, the music they delivered was driving and original sounding.  There are only so many ways to package a blues-boogie, but they managed to squeeze in a lot of different styles.  Roger Earl was a powerhouse drummer, but in his own quiet way, Lonesome Dave was the driving wheel that kep things on track and did most of the talking for the band.

    When their record sales dipped in the 1980s (about the time the Spinal Tap rumours began),  Lonesome Dave decided to return to England and the band decided to call it a day.  As Earl told Classic Rock Magazine, “Every dog has his day, right?  Well, this dog has been barking for a while.”  Six months later, drummer Earl and bass player Craig MacGregor (who had replaced Tony Stevens) reformed first as The Knee Tremblers and eventually as Roger Earl’s Foghat when the places they played kept advertising them as Foghat.  They proceeded to run through a series of guitar players in much the same way Spinal Tap ran through drummers (although it should be noted none of the guitar players exploded).  When Peverett eventually returned to the states in 1984, he began touring with a band called Lonesome Dave’s Foghat and nothing confuses the concert going public more than having two versions of the same band touring at the same time.  

    Although he ended up not being involved in the actual recording project, it was record producer Rick Rubin who suggested getting the original line up get back together in 1993.  Drummer Earl told CRM in a 2007 interview, “Dave and I talked and we said, ‘Let’s stop arm-wrestling around American.’  We buried the hatchet and moved on.  We called Rod Price and he said ‘okay’ and then we got Tony back in.”  The album (Return of the Boogie Men) came out in 1994 followed by a live album in 1998 (Road Cases).  This final album featuring this foursome was released in May of 1999 as part of the King Biscuit Flower Hour radio concerts but was actually stitched together from live shows previously recorded in 1974 and 1976.  This classic lineup continued on for six more years until Price decided to hang up his slide and retire.  His spot was filled by Bryan Bassett (ex- Wild Cherry and Molly Hatchet) who had been a member of the afore mentioned Lonesome Dave’s Foghat.  I have not heard Road Cases yet, but I picked up Return of the Boogie Men when it came out and it is a great album.  Both Return… and the King Biscuit albums have been featured many times on WOAS’s Pete and Zenith’s Blues program.

    The 2000s have not been kind to the members (current and former) of Foghat.  Lonesome Dave succumbed to kidney cancer early in 2000 at the age of 56.  Price followed in 2005 at age 57 after a fatal fall caused by a heart attack.  Things remained somewhat stable for the next decade but bassist MacGregor was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer which had been detected in 2012 but not brought to his attention until 2015.  Rodney O’Quinn from the Pat Travers Band has been filling in for MacGregor as he undergoes chemotherapy and pursues legislation requiring test results to be passed along to patients in a timely manner.

    The loss of Lonesome Dave would have killed the band in 2000 if not for Earl recruiting guitarist/vocalist Charlie Huhn.  Huhn had been working in the rock and roll trenches since his Michigan root’s had put in Ted Nugent’s band.  Before joining the Hat, he had been touring with Jerry Shirley’s Humble Pie and was honored to join Earl, MacGregor, and Bassett in the post Lonesome Dave Foghat.  It was the current version of Foghat that released Last Train Home in 2010 featuring three Foghat originals, some of their favorite blues songs, and two songs by their longtime friend Eddie Kirkland who was 86 at the time.  They had met and performed with Kirkland in 1977 at a “Tribute to the Blues” show at New York City’s Palladium.  Earl described the album as “a testimony to Lonesome Dave.  We always planned to do this.  I am so fortunate to have partners in band members Charlie Huhn and Bryan Bassett who share the same passion for the blues,  It was not hard work putting this album together;  playing this kind of music is joyous.  We had a blast.”

    Foghat may only count Earl as their surviving original member, but the band continues to record and tour.  They released Under the Influence in June of 2016 and their 2017 calendar shows them playing all over the map.  Perhaps Huhn’s 2007 explanation as to why they are still at it makes the most sense:  “One thing that is interesting in being in a band at my age, in my 50s, is that everyone is more mature, and all over with these petty issues we dealt with when we were younger.  There’s no baggage.  It is wonderful.  And everybody’s like that, all survivors of this rock and roll pension plan that we’re in.”  Almost as an ‘amen’, Earl added, “In the immortal words of Lonesome Dave, ‘I am going to roll ‘til I’m old, I am going to rock ‘til I drop.  That’s my plan!”  Ten years after they described their ‘rock and roll pension plan’ they are still out there paying their dues and living the dream.

Top Piece video – Foghat circa 2012 before they started losing members due to death . . . rip!