By: Frank R. Pieper
By: Frank R. Pieper
By: Frank R. Pieper
Roger Earl, founding drummer of Foghat and Savoy Brown, begins the conversation with a polite apology: He's a few minutes late for our phone interview because he was held up by airport security in Omaha.
Yikes! Not another celebrity handgun-in-the-suitcase scandal!
Nope, chuckles the British native, "I had gel in my bag ... It was only two ounces, but airport security was pretty concerned ... "
Whew! Hopefully, Earl and Foghat won't encounter similar problems when they come to town this weekend for a scheduled performance at the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival.
One way or another, it will be a first for all involved – Earl says the classic blues-rock band has been to Illinois many times (and paraphrases the old Hank Snow song: "We've been everywhere, man"), but he can't recall ever visiting Urbana before.
He's pretty excited about playing the festival, though. After all, he says, "I love sweet corn. My wife planted six (sweet corn plants), but the critters ate it all."
Save a buttered ear or two for Earl, then. He's bound to work up a healthy appetite when the four-man group that gave the world such rock standards as "Slow Ride," "Fool for the City" and "I Just Wanna Make Love to You" hits the Miller Main Stage at 9 p.m. in downtown Urbana.
True, it's been 31 years since the release of Foghat's only double-platinum album, "Foghat Live," but make no mistake, this is no one-and-off reunion tour.
According to Earl, Foghat plays close to 80 shows a year – a fact made remarkable as much by nearly four decades of playing together as by the sad knowledge that the group has lost not one, but two founding members over the years: singer-guitarist Lonesome Dave Peverett to cancer in 2000 and lead guitarist Rod Price from injuries suffered in a fall at his home in 2005.
That the band has pressed on after such losses is due in large part to the veteran artists filling its ranks along with Earl: bassist Craig MacGregor, who played with the band from 1975 to 1992 and rejoined it in 2005; lead guitarist Bryan Bassett, formerly of Molly Hatchet and a close friend of Peverett, who has been with Foghat since 1999; and singer-guitarist Charlie Huhn, former vocalist for Ted Nugent, Gary Moore, Deadringer, Victory and Humble Pie.
Though Foghat's heyday was the '70s and early '80s, the foursome released its last studio album, "Family Joules," in 2004, and just last year released a new double live CD titled "Foghat Live II" (recorded in 2005 and 2007). And Earl says the band has a new studio album (as yet untitled) coming out later this year, featuring a return to its blues-rock roots as well as appearances by some guest artists, including Earl's brother Colin on piano.
Piano? On a Foghat album?
Hey, it's not the first time, says Earl, and besides, "the piano's my favorite instrument." After all, he recalls, his father played piano – mainly big-band music by the likes of Fats Waller – when Earl was growing up in London, and "every time people came over, we had a sing-along."
In fact, Earl says the first concert he ever attended was a Jerry Lee Lewis show when he was 13.
Now, a resident of Long Island, N.Y., where he enjoys fishing and playing with his grandkids between gigs, the 62-year-old Earl says, "Life is good ... and the band gets on great."
Although he concedes "the traveling can get you down," he is emphatic in noting that "it's very gratifying to be doing this at my stage of life."
Earl especially thrives on the younger fans, ages 10 to 25, he sees attending Foghat shows these days. "It's refreshing when these 15-year-olds come up to you with this light in their eyes," he says. "They're really surprised that these old bastards can really rock!"
He allows that the new "Guitar Hero III" game, featuring Foghat's "Slow Ride," might account for some of the band's resurgence in popularity with the younger set, although he notes that the game doesn't actually include any of the group's recordings, just the notes and lyrics.
Has Earl played the game himself?
"I had a go at it with one of my grandchildren, age six or seven," he admits, adding with a chuckle, "I was terrible at it. I didn't have a clue."
Which means the game provided Earl with another first: Getting booed off the stage by dissatisfied fans – something he's not likely to experience this weekend in Urbana.
"We've been playing these songs for 40-odd years, so it's about time we got it right," he quips, tongue firmly in cheek.
So, out comes the inevitable question: After countless shows and miles logged on tour, does Earl anticipate ever calling it quits?
Don't count on it. By way of answer, he quotes one of his favorite sayings from his longtime friend and collaborator, the late great Lonesome Dave:
"We're gonna roll till we're old, gonna rock till we drop."