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Foghat side project Earl & the Agitators release ‘Shaken & Stirred’

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Take a few seasoned rock and blues vets, find some classic rock ‘n roll songs that haven’t been covered to death, write some new tunes that sound like they could be vintage rockers, add a little country and then come up with a catchy name. Voila! You have “Shaken & Stirred” - the new album from Earl & the Agitators.

Lead by Foghat founding member and drummer, Roger Earl, the new disc features singer and guitarist Scott Holt (a veteran of Buddy Guy’s band), Foghat’s lead and slide guitarist Bryan Bassett (former guitarist for Wild Cherry – that’s his solo on ‘Play That Funky Music’), longtime Foghat bassist Craig MacGregor, bassist Rodney O’Quinn, guitarist Tony Bullard, and percussionist Mark Petrocelli.

“It just clicked, there was no plan for this,” Roger Earl said with a laugh when I asked about the origins of this Foghat side-project. Well aware of Scott Holt’s reputation on guitar and vocals – not to mention his lengthy tenure with Buddy Guy – Earl says he was introduced to Holt by a mutual friend.

“I invited Scott down to our studio in Florida and we just hung out for a couple of weeks and started writing and recording,” he said. “The chemistry was there. It just worked.”

According to Holt, that chemistry was instantaneous.

“As soon as we started playing, it just felt really comfortable and I felt right at home,” he said of the first song the musicians played together – Foghat’s “Fool For The City.”

Holt laughs as he echoes Earl’s comment that nothing was planned.

“We kind of followed the rock and roll playbook which was to do something and figure out a plan for it later.”

The musicians started writing songs, some of which ended up on Foghat’s 2016 album “Under the Influence.” During the sessions, they told each other about other songs and bands that inspired them.

“Like the Johnny Cash cover and Kris Kristofferson record (“Sunday Morning Coming Down”),” Holt says. “What would it sound like if we played the Johnny Burnette song ‘Lonesome Train?’ Some songs were picked for the Foghat record then we had 13 tracks just laying there by themselves. Now what do we do?”

Roger Earl picks up the story: “That’s when Bryan (Bassett) exclaimed, over a couple of bottles of Foghat Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, ‘It’s Earl & the Agitators!’”

After testing the water with a four-song EP, fan reaction dictated the next move.

“They loved it so we decided to finish the record and do something about it,” Earl said.

Before “Shaken & Stirred” could be released, the musicians endured a painful loss with the death of bassist Craig MacGregor, to whom the album is dedicated. Roger Earl says he misses MacGregor dearly.

“He was my brother by a different mother,” Earl told me. “Craig was the co-captain of the rhythm section with me. When he first joined the band back in 1975, we became great friends. We would always hang out together and listen to music. To know Craig was to love him. He was just one of the best.”

During MacGregor’s three-year battle with lung cancer, Earl says Foghat’s lineup featured three different bass players, but as far as he was concerned, Craig still had that job as long he was living.

“Rodney O’Quinn was actually handpicked by Craig as his replacement,” Earl explained. “Craig went to see Rodney, who was in Pat Travers’ band, and he invited Rodney to have breakfast with him. After they talked about it, Craig came to me and said we should have Rodney in the band. I went to talk with Pat Travers to make sure he was OK with it and that’s how Rodney became the bass player for Foghat as well as Earl & the Agitators.”

Once Earl & the Agitators made the decision to go public with all of the fun they’d been having in the studio, several live shows were booked, including a concert at Chicago’s Aracada Theatre. That show was recorded by Foghat’s front-of-house engineer, Randy Meullier, and is the source of five live bonus tracks on “Shaken & Stirred,” including covers of “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones, Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood” and Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme.”

“The thing I’ve always noticed when you have a juxtaposition of live material with studio material is that the energy level is usually different,” Holt said of the bonus songs. “My wife and I did a road test which was the first time I heard the whole album. We were driving and talking when I realized a live track was playing. I couldn’t tell the difference between the sound of the live tracks and the studio tracks.”

“We were very pleased with the live recording,” Earl added. “The audience loved it and we had a great time, as you can hear.”

As for future gigs as Earl & the Agitators, Earl and Holt both promise more, but admit it will be tricky to coordinate the dates.

“We were talking about it yesterday,” Holt said. “Foghat is a busy band and I’ve been playing with two groups in addition to my own band. But this project is close to our hearts and as much as the fans ask for it, we’re going to do our best to get out there and play.”


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