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Talking 'Under the Influence' with Foghat drummer Roger Earl

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Foghat drummer Roger Earl at a performance in 2013. Foghat drummer Roger Earl at a performance in 2013. (photo courtesy of Foghat/Steve Reinis)

(Note: This is part one of a two-part story. Part two will be an interview with longtime Foghat bassist (and former Maine resident) Craig MacGregor.)

'We've been practicing for about 50 years. It's about time we got it right,' laughed founding Foghat drummer Roger Earl, while discussing his band's just-released 17th studio album 'Under The Influence' (Foghat Records).

Over 54 minutes, the album's 12 freshly-recorded tracks bring to mind Foghat in their 1970s heyday, with blues-based groove and boogie, slide guitars, gritty and passionate vocals and, most importantly, memorable songs.

The British-born but American-based band worked on the record on and off for more than three years with two high-profile producers.

'Brian Bassett, our lead and slide guitar player, had produced our last three records as well as our live CDs and DVDs. He started producing this new record but we thought it would be great if Brian could just concentrate on being the guitar player because he's incredible,' Earl told me in a phone call from his Deland, Florida recording complex (AKA Boogie Motel South.')

Four years ago, Earl presented three awards to blues legend Buddy Guy at the Memphis Blues Awards. With Guy that evening was his producer Tom Hambridge.

'Later, at the bar, I spoke with Tom and he told me that he was a big fan of Foghat and would love to produce an album,' Earl recalled. 'I asked him if he'd like to produce our next record and he said he'd love to.'

Earl invited the producer to spend a few days at the studio to find out if they would be a good fit for each other. The band had a batch of freshly-written songs and ideas on how to arrange them. That meeting went better than anyone could have hoped; the producer returned nine months later with some songs he had written specifically for the band.

The cover image for 'Under The Influence' gives the listener a clue about the contents within. We see Earl kicking open what appears to be aging casks of bourbon or wine. Instead of spraying spirits, the casks release dozens of pieces of vintage vinyl - presumably records that have influenced the members of the band.

'When we started writing the record,' Earl continued, 'we talked about the music that had influenced us the type of music that we loved. Tom said, It sounds like you're under the influence.' I told him about influences including Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. The next morning, he came out of his bedroom with lyrics to the title song written out.

In addition to Foghat originals, 'Under The Influence' sports some well-chosen covers, including a ripping version of a Motown classic.

'Charlie and I were jamming in our Florida studio, I started the drums off and Charlie started singing, I Heard It Through The Gravevine,' Earl recalled. Brian Bassett heard it and said Let's put it down.' [Bassist] Craig MacGregor came down and put the bass on it and then we put the vocals on.'

Singing with Foghat on 'Grapevine' is singer and actress Dana Fuchs, probably best known for her role as Sadie in the Beatles-inspired film 'Across The Universe.'

'A really, really cool lady and an incredible singer,' Earl told me. 'She also sings with Scott Holt on the song Honey Do List.''

The capper for 'Under The Influence' is a reprise of Foghat's biggest hit, 1975's Slow Ride' in a new version which includes the voices of dozens of the band's fans who helped make the record possible.

A Pledge Music campaign was launched late last year and included a variety of incentives to get involved in funding the record. One of them gave patrons a chance to have their voice appear on the song. 'You can actually hear the individual voices,' Earl said. 'Brian Bassett is our resident genius and somehow matched them all up.'

Roger Earl turned 70 in May but plays drums with the power and passion of a musician half his age.

'I practice just about every day,' he said. 'Any musician needs to practice to stay on top of stuff. I love what I do. I didn't practice this much back in the 70s and 80s because we were working every day. It's not hard like it used to be. I get to see the kids and the grandkids. I get to go fishing.

'I'd like to come back to Maine to play a show and fish,' he continued. 'I have some wonderful friends up there and I wish I could visit Maine more often. Anytime there's water nearby, I try to dip the rod.'' He laughed. 'Or dip the line,' I should say.'


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