Foghat - Biography
By Bill Gerdes
It is perhaps a dubious honor that Spinal Tap, a fictional band from England, suggested it drew inspiration from Foghat, a literal group of Britons. Ever the center of such jokes, the blues-oriented three-chord rockers were in full earnest when they released multiple best-selling albums in the stentorian 1970’s, packing arenas throughout America and beyond.
Foghat has underwent numerous line-up changes over its zany, oft-ridiculed career, but it all got started in January, 1971, as guitarist/vocalist “Lonesome” Dave Peverett, bassist Tony Stevens and drummer Roger Earl—all playing at the time with the blues band, Savoy Brown—hooked up with slide guitarist Rod Price and segued into a harder sound.
Foghat was ready to rock, and this was emphasized when they picked Dave Edmunds as their producer for their self-titled debut release, the boogie rock red carpet treatment of Foghat (1972 Bearsville). Including on the album was a cover of Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” a track that’s fiery intensity stays close to the original but with heavier amplitude. Peverett’s dark raspy vocals synergize perfectly with Price’s guitar licks and the booming rhythm section. The single’s success on FM radio, where the future of rock was already migrating, boded well for Foghat’s future prospects. “I Just Want to Make Love To You” went to #83 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This song—as well as the album itself—was a precursor of things to come.
For the whole of the 1970s, Foghat would be one of the biggest, most ubiquitous acts in rock.
And that started to take shape with their next album, ironically titled Foghat (1973 Rhino) again—which fans and critics subsequently distinguished by appending it the Rock & Roll album. Foghat (Rock & Roll) would be the record to launch Foghat into public consciousness, making them a staple on the arena rock circuit, via a marriage of blues and hard rock. The record went gold on the strength of hard-charging hits like “Ride, Ride, Ride” and “Road Fever,” and the mini-breakthrough single, “What a Shame” (which went to #82). By the time Foghat finished touring in support of the album, they were a force in rock & roll
With rampant success both ahead of them and in the rearview mirror, Foghat next put out the appropriately titled Energized (Bearsville) in 1974. Perhaps most noteworthy on the album are two covers—a thumping version the blues classic “Honey Hush” and Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.” On Energized—which climbed to #34 on the Billboard 200—heavy metal stood out, and blues underlined.
Next up Foghat released Rock and Roll Outlaws (1975 Bearsville). The album, while it didn’t contain any blockbuster tracks, showcased the signature boogie rock elements throughout. Considered by some to be their best, Foghat went in for a more stripped-down, raw sound.
Fool for the City (1975 Bearsville) is the groundbreaking Foghat album that became synonymous with the band. It featured wall-to-wall bluesy rock, and every track hit the ground running. The most enduring track on the album, “Slow Ride,” would go on to become one of the most played songs in rock & roll history, even though it was slow on the take, peaking at #20 on the US charts. Foghat was a talked about in the same breath as the kings of over the top ’70s excess rock, Led Zeppelin, a fact that might make people cringe today.
The sustained success of the English rockers didn’t work as glue in keeping the members together. Bassist Tony Stevens left before the recording of Fool For The City, as the touring became too much for him; he was replaced by producer Nick Jameson as a stopgap measure, and more permanently by Craig MacGregor. Foghat never skipped a beat, touring and recording as prolifically as ever.
In 1976, Foghat released the Dan Hartman-produced Night Shift (Bearsville), which Rolling Stone dubbed the band’s most consistent album. Songs like “Burnin the Midnight Oil” and “Drivin’ Wheel” were some of the more melodious, muscular songs on the album, while others lacked the balls-to-the-wall boogie-down energy that Foghat fans had grown to expect. Nevertheless, Night Shift went gold. Which was modest compared to their next album, Foghat Live (1977 Bearsville), an enormously successful record of the day, selling over 2,000,000 copies. As the 1970s were very much about live performance (see other albums of the era: Kiss Alive and Frampton Comes Alive), Foghat had intensity there in spades, and it was captured that boogie rock on record.
The Eddie Kramer-produced Stone Blue (1978 Bearsville) attempted to gravitate a little more towards the commercial side of art, to capitalize on the success the band had achieved. Though the blues cover of “It Hurts Me Too” and “High On Love” are stand out tracks, much of the sound on this album was considered pedestrian. Nevertheless, the album went gold.
At the end of the ’70s, Foghat still stood at the apex of the rock world. But endless touring through that decade took its toll, and lead guitarist Rod Price—central to the Foghat identity for his slide prowess and driving licks—quit the band. Price was also upset with the musical direction the other band members wanted to take at the time, which made his decision easier. This kicked off an almost comical carousel of roster changes for Foghat that has continued on until the present. Erik Cartwright replaced Price in February of 1981.
The 1980’s were not as kind to Foghat as the previous decade. As the zeitgeist shifted towards new wave keyboard and synthesizer infusions, Foghat—still on whole a blues impression—was out of place. A couple of transitional releases in Boogie Motel (1979 Bearsville), where the band strayed further from the original boogie, and the even more out of place Tight Shoes (1980 Bearsville), where the band is anachronistically stuck tinkering between the netherworld of new wave and punk, were largely forgettable.
Craig MacGregor quit in 1982, was replaced by a host of bassists, including Nick Jameson, Kenny Aaronson, and finally Rob Alter. All of this turmoil happened in the space of a few years. At the start of the decade the band released Zig-Zag Walk (1983 Bearsville), with the declaration being boogie rock again, now and forever—albeit a bit more tired and stripped down. The previous year’s In The Mood For Something Rude (1982 Bearsville) did nothing to set the table otherwise. These were tumultuous years for the band.
The big blow came when Lonesome Dave Peverett left what had become an institution in 1984. From that point on, Foghat became something of a nostalgic act, despite putting out some new material now and then.
A decade later, at the urging of Rick Rubin to avoid the indignity of multiple bands touring as Foghat, the group reunited with the original line-up—Peverett, Price, Stevens and Earl—and put out The Return of the Boogie Men (1994 Atlantic). Some of the old magic was on display, especially in the slide-guitar carried “Jump That Train,” courtesy of Price, and a Muddy Waters’ number, “Louisiana Blues.” The album also contained four acoustic tracks, including a great rendition of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s Alright Momma.” This sparked a little a momentary resurgence with the band, and they later released a couple more live albums.
The band’s last good days were captured in that 1990’s resurgence. Tragically, Dave Peverett died on February 7, 2000, from cancer. In 2005 Rod Price fell down a flight of stairs after a heart attack and died of head injuries suffered during the fall. A version of Foghat with original drummer Roger Earl still tours and performs, even releasing the album Family Joules (Besh) in 2003. In whatever incarnation the band has taken since the rock & roll anthem “Slow Ride” hit the charts, one constant has never changed—Foghat came to define 1970’s arena rock.