How does a band with eight gold albums, and not only a platinum but also a double platinum record go unnoticed in their own country? In the case of Foghat it transpires, they got blackballed.
Lonesome Dave Peverett (lead vocals, guitar), Roger Earl (drums) and Tony Stevens (bass) had been in Savoy Brown. Following in the wake of fellow UK blues acts Ten Years After and Fleetwood Mac, they were making headway in the USA, but the receipts between the gigs they were playing and the cash in their hands didn’t tally. In 1971 they decided to split. There was no falling out with Savoy lead guitarist Kym Simmonds, but his brother, Harry, their manager, was a different matter and he apparently ensured UK promoters wouldn’t take on this new offshoot band so they could perform live in their homeland.
Did it bother Foghat, as they called themselves? Far from it financially one gets the impression, whereas Savoy Brown’s career, though continuing until Kym Simmonds’ recent passing, never quite rose again. Whereas, Foghat brought in Rod Price on guitar and slide, who’d previously played with Black Cat Bones (whether that’s the same band were Kossoff and Kirke I can’t confirm), and connected with former Dylan manager Albert Grossman who’d just established Bearsville Records, that was being distributed by Warner Bros, so they were making all the right connections.
Cutting their first album, the eponymously-titled Foghat, with Dave Edmunds at Rockfield Studios, you’d most likely imagine it a typical sturdy blues rock album of its time. It was, but there was a sparkle or two beyond that in store too. Unlike most blues rockers where guitars soloing over 12 bars was the goal, and vocals perfunctory at best, in Foghat they had a singer who could more than hold a tune. That he had only recently stepped up from playing rhythm guitar to taking on lead vocals too in Savoy Brown, being all the more impressive and the greater the former band’s loss – Far from a blues shouter, his voice suited the times, frankly you could have stuck him in a pop band like Paper Lace and not notice the difference, save he could give it some in the rock category, and was as tender on a ballad. In Price they picked up a guitarist who listened, played what the song needed, and when applying slide offered infectious upbeat waves of excitement rather than the more dour and earnest approach of many of his contemporaries. The established rhythm section proved just as enthusiastic to this new venture, at least initially – Earl leads a version of the band to this day, while Stevens would leave after a few albums, for reasons you sense were similarly another reason for the Savoy split, and Earl and Peverett having possibly sided with him then, would not do so forever.
When you see the lines: ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ listed as first track on their debut, you tend to sigh and go, oh, well, then ponder how many white boys have had a go at the old Muddy Waters number, credited to Willie Dixon. The surprise here is they totally rearrange it – No longer a slow thumping macho beat this here’s a song about an excitable young lad who wants to get into the nearest good looking lady’s pants, with call and response guitars wailing like cats on a midnight promise and a rutting rhythm making out and already getting on with the dirty deed. You can argue it takes away the black pride of the original but it’s hard to deny this rendition, recorded over forty years ago, doesn’t still sound fresh. The nearest band I can recall who gave a blues number a similar makeover was Ram Jam with ‘Black Betty’, some six years after Foghat. How much of that was down to producer Evans’ commercial hit savvy we can’t say, not least because Todd Rundgren and others dipped their fingers creatively into the finished album.
They perform a not dissimilar reboot, or rather kick up the backside, with Chuck Berry’s ‘Maybelline’ later on, as wild guitars, rampant piano and howling voices run wild. I can partly see comparisons to Status Quo but there’s an added funk and groove, of the kind that Pat Travers would apply, again half a decade or more later. The majority of the album’s songs are penned by Peverett, or co-written with him.‘Trouble, Trouble’ being the first such and is a slide-cheeky boogie rocker, the next was ‘Leavin’ Again (Again!)’ a hoarse-voiced swaying blues rocker about life on the road that had already appeared on Savoy Brown’s Looking In album and was credited as a Simmonds co-write then but here to Stevens alongside Peverett. ‘Fool’s Hall Of Fame’ plays the 12-bar blues game, less innovatively musically, but fortunately Price helps up the game co-writing ‘Sarah Lee’ as post-psychedelic guitars hit country rock with a sound Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers may well have took a shine to as inspiration.
‘Highway (Killing Me)’ proves the band’s second travelling number; a hefty four-to-the-floor beat implies the repetitiveness of both journey and routine while guitars squeeze gently off-kilter adding a certain nausea all reinforcing the fact that living your life for an hour or so on stage each night could genuinely take it out on you. Following in a partly similar vein (and therein reinforcing the addictive aspects of life on the road) is ‘A Hole To Hide In’ – Here the backdoor man and ice-cream man of vintage ditties are replaced by a postman told not to hang around Peverett’s woman’s place while he’s away. It’s a cool Quo like rocker with added Climax Blues Band shake-down appeal, and in making such references one continues to decry that circumstances dictate Foghat be strangers to the ‘70s UK pop singles charts.
They wave goodbye with the rhythm ‘n blues sultry slow funky swagger of ‘Gotta Get To Know You’, and I could be wrong but may well be Todd Rundgren or future producer/bass player Nick Jameson on extended groovy jazz-textured piano and organ or mellotron, and while it’s a slight departure from what’s gone on before it continues to add flavour to an album that’s not just a bunch of numbers about your woman doing you wrong in the key of A. The four members worked well together and with some well-crafted songs on offer, the future looked promising.
A year later they were back with another album, also titled Foghat (Rock & Roll) inexplicably, albeit it because of the vinyl edition’s cover of a rock and a bread roll, it became more popularly referred to as “the rock and roll album”. Recorded at various studios, with the Rolling Stones’ horn section, plus Bernard Purdie doubling drums of ‘Helpin’ Hand’, the band continued to draw attention over in the USA.
It opens in the style established on the debut album ‘Ride, Ride, Ride’, but with a more driven force behind it, alongside female backing vocals, rather pre-empting Humble Pie’s Smokin’ album by a year. By comparison, the earnest blues of ‘Feel So Bad’ treads predictably, the lovely tone of Price’s slide aside. Band composition ‘Long Way To Go’ starts building things up again, upbeat, again with comparisons to Quo and Climax Blues Band (whose Pete Haycock’s voice was also similar to Peverett’s) but more interestingly the application of harmony guitars and the use of organ call to mind Boston, most particularly their ‘Foreplay/Long Time’ – Yet again a band who surfaced around 1976, and like so many other US bands you wouldn’t initially expect must have been influenced by Foghat.
‘It’s Too Late’ is a nice departure, a break-up number that while effectively a proto-type power ballad of the kind REO Speedwagon would later score hits with, could to this day prove a good cover version by someone like Rod Stewart. Returning to some dirty blues rock with ‘What A Shame’, Peverett’s voice harsher leading group vocals, with Bobby Keys and Jim Price’s signature sounds honking away proudly. ‘Helping Hand’ misleads us initially as acoustic and slide preclude what turns out to be a Bo Diddley beat, bolstered by Southern rock styled rock guitars,
There’s more dirty blues rock with the driving for ‘Road Fever’, and while we may well laugh now at how many road songs bands got away with singing about back when going abroad was a novelty, the way the horns blow in counterpoint to Price’s wailing slide makes great listening on a lousy rainy day. Peverett hits falsetto notes on ‘She’s Gone’ that mixes blues, country, rock and psychedelics, and, ahem, features the riff that future Whitesnake fans will come to know as ‘Lie Down (I Think I Loved You)’. As with their debut, they sign off with something of a departure in ‘Couldn’t Make Her Stay’ a truly sweet, sad old love song, Peverett sincere vocally, an acoustic, some keyboard all that really act as background early on, a little bass later, then full band but gently as a solo winds its way in but ends abruptly even as you’re looking forward to another minute or so of similar.
While nothing stood out so grandly as on the first Foghat titled album overall, what we got was a harder driven sound, road tested no doubt as something that would make live audiences takes note. It worked because, they went even heavier next year with Energised, and it proved the right directions as it went gold “straight out the box!” as the invaluable and informative booklet supplied with Cherry Red’s remastered box set states. Pacing themselves at an album a year up till now, and with each one being a heftier sounding release in response to the changing record market, they piled it on heavy for 1974’s aptly titled Energised – That it’s front loaded with, what to my mind, are its best two tracks, might seem a folly, but only because they stand out so strongly.
Racing out the station is ‘Honey Hush’ with a hyped-up blues lick gives way to a heavy righted handed-chug on guitars before promptly inserting a heavy rendition of the riff to ‘Train Kept A Rollin’ with added hip-jive lyrics, before mix and matching said parts with spirited soloing thrown in for good measure – Peverett’s voice has become raspier suiting the rocker end of things they’re now taking, and thus comparisons to The Yardbirds’ rendition of ‘Train’ can be made, where it puts the studio one put down by Aerosmith completely in the shade. This obviously proved a live favourite, later appearing on the double platinum 1977 album Foghat Live. ‘Step Outside’ follows. A group composition, that may have started as a mid-paced boogie rock, but that blueprint gets lost as wah-wah guitars play over a truly bitchin’ funk grooving rhythm section while Peverett leading the band, and female backing singers, repeat the chorus in a euphoric mood and guitars wail on through. It’s the kind of number that would have been the perfect companion to a California sun in the 70s. Love it. Totally. Only, if you slow it down a little, simplify the bass, and sing it a little higher this song becomes The Bee Gees ‘Jive Talking, released a year later in 1975. Seriously, listen. This is miles better. Big beefy 12-bar rock boogie continues with ‘Golden Arrow’, more mainstream rock with ‘Home In My Hand’, excitable Quo-style boogie on ‘Wild Cherry’, a cover of the Buddy Holly hit ‘That’ll Be The Day’ that’s rocked-up with added female backing that’s a bit hit and miss, regains pace with the 12-bar rocking ‘Fly By Night’ albeit being a little similar to the previously recorded ‘She’s Gone’ a little. They then sign off with the nifty blues licked steady rolling ‘Nothin’ I Won’t Do’ built to get you out your seat and dancing, before you get back on the train that brought you here and head off into the sunset as the guitars blaze away, taking up just over seven pleasurable minutes of my life.
Striking while the iron was hot, and with Nick Jameson, who’d helped out in various way since the debut now officially their producer for 1974’s second album, Rock And Roll Outlaws.
The pounding blues rock of ‘Eight Days On The Road’ also continues to incorporate some boogied funk and the odd Humble Pie-style harmony vocal hook, while not straying far from the favourite lyric subject matter, and while there appear to be studio effects in evidence it also encompasses an overall sound you feel is built for stadium rock performances. Not least because of its length.
Heavy stop-starts give way to a tune that’s soulful and rocks, and is charismatic with some fine vocals on ‘Hate To See You Go’. Twin guitar melodies dance through the cruising softer rock of ‘Dreamer’, another six minutes plus number.
‘Trouble In My Way’ begins with evocative echoed voice over an acoustic guitar, electric slide gently applying country rock sounds as it develops. Something of a departure musically, and a good one. Then, as the title suggests, ‘Rock And Roll Outlaw’ plays the mainstream power chord rock game over boogie shuffle beating drums with harmony guitars coming in for good measure. The part atmosphere established, it continues with the fun rock ‘n rolling dance boogie of ‘Shirley Jean’, served with some honky tonk piano on the side. Spikey-riffed blues-funking rocker ‘Blue Spruce Woman’ keeps things on a roll, and it all comes to a head with ‘Chateau Lafitte ’59 Boogie’ that does exactly what it says on the tin, tasty slide guitar playing throughout, and some fun lines sung, but though Peverett claims: “You drank whisky, I drank cheap red wine”, as the sleeve notes reveal Foghat were quite the wine afficionados in their day – Again I’m going to draw reference to another tune that came out later by another band, and I’ve noted similarities with Boston before, as they also appear to have based ‘Smokin’’ on this Foghat number.
Following Rock And Roll Outlaws, Foghat parted company with bass player Tony Stevens. Peverett and Earl having sided with him back in Savoy Brown, when Kym Simmonds had problems with him. Now, it was a case of him requesting first travel to fly in for a live performance on the all-important Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert TV show (Something we Brits knew nothing about until we saw all the clips decades later on Youtube). With that, Jameson took another step forward, not only producing the band, playing infrequent keyboards but now also their bass player. Mind you, Stevens would return on bass from 1993 through to 2005, for the line-up would slowly begin to change much with the years.
Thus, it was that in 1975, a million copies of Fool For The City, were sold, it becoming a platinum album in the process. Why it rocketed so highly, is a little hard to pin down. Listening to these records consecutively one can see how they redefined their sound, looking to put on a high energy live act rather than the more earnest blues affair history might tend to have us belief. Each album thus far, while not always having standout tracks, stood out overall from the one that had come before.
With Fool For The City there was a certain streamlining of the writing, ensuring more potential commercial clout – But in stating that one ignores the epic ‘Slow Ride’, a staple for rock radio over in the USA to this day, but where these ears didn’t hear but in passing, this millennium while watching the 1993 film Dazed And Confused late one night on TV, and making the sage decision to check out if Foghat were actually any good. Obviously if you waded this far my review, you know I did indeed find much to like about them.
So, more concise song writing, also a more radio-friendly production, and while Jameson in the booklet that comes with this collection states he added a funk bass groove to the sound, I’d Stevens did alright on that score himself, but in being part of the band now he undoubtedly added to the arrangements.
The album cover features drummer Roger Earl sitting on a crate, holding a fishing rod over a manhole in the middle of New York. Crazy, fun, it did the trick and suits the title track that opens the record. Lonesome Dave may be singing “I’m coming home to stay this time” and have us tick ‘Fool For The City’ off as yet another Foghat hard-life-on-the-road track, but its lyrics are upbeat, fun, partly putting down preconceived blues stereotypes with lines like: “I ain’t no country boy” but also how he’s “a fool” loving the city. A catchy bopping rocker with radio-friendly singing, there’s a bar or two where it gets funky then it’s all out soloing before returning back for a full-on chorus and fade-out.
While I wasn’t enamoured of their previous Buddy Holly cover, their take on The Righteous Brother’s ‘My Babe’ is a fantastic bubbly, raunchy and comical rendition of the partial doo-whop original. Slides park up with noisy feverishness, there are call and response vocals that await future audience participation, and they play up many a rock and roll cliché tongue-in-cheek.
The eight minutes plus ‘Slow Ride’ that follows is actually the simplest of songs, but it’s the way they perform and stretch out the number that makes it work. Ostensibly your typical car cruising number, but with the obvious play on its sexual implications. At its most basic a slow blues, given a rock backbeat, a pumping bass that integrates some slap and pull, Price’s slide work careering softly through and pretty much group vocal choruses. That proves a compelling groove, then things get funkier, things slow down as Peverett offers a stronger come on and things rock up immensely with Price wailing out all over the shop, the pacing varying entertainingly. Admittedly, you have to be in the mood for the number, edited as a single, it made the grade played on US rock radio to this day, while getting even further extended live.
Robert Johnson’s ‘Terraplane Blues’ and is more your standard white boys rock up an old blues number. It’s tight, nicely distorted, with Price again applying his bottleneck to strong effect. ‘Save Your Loving (For Me)’ that follows proves a more mid-paced gentler singalong rocker, and arrives at the right time to offer a little respite, and maybe light a doobie before ‘Drive Me Home’ is a rock ‘n roller with great swirls of boogie piano and party atmosphere. Finally, closing the album is ‘Take It Or Leave It’. Keyboard led, it finds the band returning to including ballads after a few albums where they concentrated on the rockier end of the market. Peverett sings sincerely, tender for the most by the end of the song he’s screaming out using the full range of his voice. There’s a bit of proto disco bass in there, and the rest of the band tend to accompany in the background, but as a song works well, and may well have added crossover appeal at the time.
Well-rounded, building on the growing foundation of previous albums, while also looking outwardly as the music scene over in the US began to change, the success of Fool In The City, makes perfect sense, but, to us Brits, how many were aware of the band beyond a derogatory two paragraph review in one of the weekly music papers for the time? Of course, no band can maintain such levels for long, but this collection ends neatly where Foghat reached their studio pinnacle. A sixth disc is filled with the singles they brought out during 1972 through to 1975 – The early ones offering both mono and stereo mixes, the former because it still cut through hen listening on the radio best, the latter because department stores were investing in hi-fidelity equipment to sell to a relatively more affluent clientele. The CD also proves a decent greatest hits style package, not overly repeating tracks.
Foghat sure as hell didn’t revolutionise rock music, but they were far beyond being just a 12-bar boogie band which is how they were too often portrayed on these shores in my youth – That I note in this review many a song sounds incredibly similar to mega-selling act hits that came along some five to six years later questions where chance, influence, rip-off, and indeed timing, comes into play. Foghat gelled tightly as a band, wrote some damned good songs, and knew how to entertain, probably do the latter still to this day. Cherry Red has produced a fantastic collection, from packaging to sound content, and is more than worth getting hold of.
- Reviewed by Paul H Birch
- Road Fever: The Complete Bearsville Recordings 1972-1975 is released via Cherry Red Records on 31st March 2023.
Disc One: Foghat (1972)
- I Just Want To Make Love To You
- Trouble, Trouble
- Leavin’ Again (Again!)
- Fool’s Hall Of Fame
- Sarah Lee
- Highway (Killing Me)
- A Hole To Hide In
- Gotta Get To Know You
Disc Two: Foghat (Rock & Roll) (1973)
- Ride, Ride, Ride
- Feel So Bad
- Long Way To Go
- It’s Too Late
- What A Shame
- Helping Hand
- Road Fever
- She’s Gone
- Couldn’t Make Her Stay
Disc Three: Energised (1974)
- Honey Hush
- Step Outside
- Golden Arrow
- Home In My Hand
- Wild Cherry
- That’ll Be The Day
- Fly By Night
- Nothin’ I Won’t Do
Disc Four: Rock N Roll Outlaws (1974)
- Eight Days On The Road
- Hate To See You Go
- Trouble In My Way
- Rock And Roll Outlaw
- Shirley Jean
- Blue Spruce Woman
- Chateau Lafitte ’59 Boogie
Disc Five: Fool For The City (1975)
- Fool For The City
- My Babe
- Slow Ride
- Terraplane Blues
- Save Your Loving (For Me)
- Drive Me Home
- Take It Or Leave It
Disc Six: Singles Versions (1972-1975)
- I Just Want To Make Love To You (Mono Edit – 3.14)
- I Just Want To Make Love To You (Stereo Edit – 3.14)
- What A Shame (Single Edit – 2.50)
- A Hole To Hide In (Single Edit – 3.50)
- What A Shame (Mono Edit – 3.24)
- What A Shame (Stereo Edit – 3.24)
- Ride, Ride, Ride (Stereo Edit – 2.59)
- Long Way To Go (Stereo Edit – 4.06)
- That’ll Be The Day (Mono Edit – 2.52)
- Step Outside (Stereo Edit – 3.12)
- Slow Ride (Stereo Edit – 3.45)
- Slow Ride (Stereo Edit – 5.55)
- Fool For The City (Stereo Edit – 3.10)