Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Slow Ride Fast Tracks Foghat On The Charts

Popular music has a way of transcending entertainment mediums like no other art form. The classic rock track ‘Slow Ride’, by Foghat, serves up a prime example of this, through it’s incursion into a myriad of film, television and advertising vehicles over the last twenty years. From providing inspiration for Elaine Benes to reprise her ‘Little Kicks’ dance in Seinfeld, to assisting eccentric billionaire Jimmy James out of a coma in ‘News Radio’, to motion pictures like ‘Wild Hogs’ and ‘Dazed And Confused’, the song has taken on a life of its own in popular culture, well and truly extending past its original run on the charts during the mid 70s.

Considering the rock-boogie quartet Foghat enjoyed the majority of their chart success in the U.S., you could be forgiven for assuming they originally hailed from that part of the world. But ‘Lonesome’ Dave Peverett (vocals/guitar), Rod Price (guitar), Tony Stevens (bass), and Roger Earl (drums), originally found each other in a London mist during January 1971. At the heart of Foghat was Peverett, who had been a key component of British blues-rock outfit Savoy Brown during the second half of the 60s. Peverett had also played alongside Stevens and Earl in later Savoy Brown rosters, and it was during this period that the band shifted toward more of a hard-rock boogie style. They also spent extensive periods touring the U.S., which became the hub of the group’s fan base. In late 1970 a major split in the Savoy Brown ranks, resulted in Peverett, Stevens and Earl all splitting from the group to form Foghat, whilst Savoy Brown front man Kim Simmonds continued his outfit with various and sundry combinations of players (literally hundreds over the course of the band’s history).

‘Lonesome’ Dave Peverett, Tony Stevens, and Roger Earl, hooked up with guitarist Rod Price to form the original line-up for Foghat - the band’s name was a reference to an imaginary childhood friend of Peverett’s called Junior Foghat. The quartet soon undertook a relentless touring schedule, particularly across North America. Their incessant touring paid off, as they were quickly offered a recording deal with the Bearsville Records label, and released their eponymous debut album during the latter part of ‘72 (OZ#23/US#127). The album featured the hit single ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ (OZ#31/US#83), a hyped up blues-rock cover of the 1954 US#4 R&B hit for blues legend Willie Dixon, and was produced by roots-rock impresario Dave Edmunds (see Jan. post). Edmunds remained at the helm for Foghat’s sophomore album, also titled ‘Foghat’ (US#67), released just six months later. More popularly referred to by the title ‘Rock And Roll’, the album’s title differentiated from the first by the cover art, which featured a picture of a rock and a bread roll - ten out of ten to the art department for that one. The album found Foghat incorporating more of a hard rock element into their blues-boogie base. Edmunds beefed up the production levels on tracks like ‘Ride, Ride, Ride’ and ‘Road Fever’, and even manages the power ballad ‘It’s Too Late’. The only track from the set to chart as a single was ‘What A Shame’ (US#82), but it was clear that Foghat were angling towards a new, more commercial hard rock sound.

Foghat’s base of operations was now firmly planted in the U.S. (Long Island was home), and they quickly honed a formula of high energy, three chord power rock that was a perfect fit for the American market of the mid 70s, thirsty for arena style rock bands. The band averaged eight months a year on the road, with the scale of venue ever on the increase. They had just enough time in between, to do some jamming, pen some songs, rehearse said songs, record them, and hopefully remember to put out the cat. It must have consumed copious amounts of energy to maintain such a frenetic lifestyle, which is as well they directed some of that energy toward their next album, 1974’s ‘Energized’ (US#34), Foghat’s first gold accredited set. The album’s name aptly reflected the product within, as the band delivered a storming fusion of blues based, high energy rock (with more than a hint of heavy metal). The surging rhythm tracks, and killer guitar riffs ran rampant throughout, and the album featured one of Foghat’s soon to be fan favourites, the semi-autobiographical tale ‘Home In My Hand’. Late ‘74’s ‘Rock And Roll Outlaws’ (US#40) became Foghat’s second gold album, but found them winding back the hard rock intensity a tad, and revisiting more straight up boogie rock territory. I do write winding back, and not abandoning, as tracks like ‘Chateau Lafitte ‘59 Boogie’ are still imbued with more than their share of rock vigour.

By 1975, the unyielding touring schedule finally took a toll on the Foghat machine, when bass player Tony Stevens left the group due to that very reason. He was temporarily replaced by producer/ musician Nick Jameson for the recording of Foghat’s next album ‘Fool For The City’ (US#23), which would become the band’s highest charting studio effort. Success well deserved too, as the set perfectly captured Foghat’s ‘live’ energy on record. The hard charging, riff laden rock courses throughout, and Foghat were now commanding more radio airplay time than ever, with tracks like ‘Take It Or Leave It’, the hard rocking title track (US#45), and arguably their best known track, ‘Slow Ride’, which became the band’s first major hit single (US#20) late in ‘75.

Bassist Craig MacGregor was recruited to the line-up in 1976, and debuted on the album ‘Night Shift’ (US#36), Foghat’s fourth gold album in succession. Ex-Edgar Winter bassist Dan Hartman (see previous post) sat in the producer’s chair for this one, and once more Foghat offered up a thumping, adrenaline inducing, hard rock suite. The single ‘Drivin’ Wheel’ delivered up the band’s second American top forty hit (US#34), whilst the ballad ‘I’ll Be Standing By’ (US#67) provided a bit of lighter waving relief. By the mid 70s Foghat were one of the biggest arena rock drawcards on the American music scene, right up there with KISS and the like. Their huge popularity as a live act, was reflected in the sales figures for their first official concert album ‘Live’, released in 1977, which brilliantly showcased the band’s mastery of stage delivery. ‘Live’ peaked at #11 on the U.S. mainstream album charts, received a platinum accreditation, and went on to rack up sales of over two million. A live version of Foghat’s first ever hit, ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’, outperformed its studio template on the U.S. charts (#33). During 1977 Foghat remembered their blues-rock roots, by staging a benefit concert in support of the New York Public Library’s blues collection, enlisting the services of blues legends Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker for the show. The ‘Live’ album represented the high watermark of Foghat’s fortunes, as the disco, punk, and new wave phenomena were about to threaten the ‘rock dinosaur’ population with extinction.

Foghat were no doubt aware of the ‘survival of the fittest’ concept, and with 1978’s album ‘Stone Blue’ (US#25/OZ#82), there was somewhat of a conscious attempt made to apply a layer of commercial gloss to the band’s solid undercoating of blues-based hard rock. The title track ‘Stone Blue’ (US#36) provided a solid commercial vehicle, imbued with all the surging performance energy of classic Foghat, but the rest of the album choked in places on an uncomfortable, and at times incompatible, mixture of stylistic fuels. It was to be a tightrope walking dilemma that would confront most of the arena rock species - stay true to the established formula and watch the sales wane - or attempt to adapt to a radically changing musical environment and risk losing a degree of credibility. Foghat opted for more of the latter option on their next album, 1979’s ‘Boogie Motel’ (US#35). The lead out single ‘Third Time Lucky (First Time I Was A Fool)’ (US#23/OZ#86), was a power ballad that was indicative of Foghat’s shift toward bland radio friendly slickness, and an increasing dilution of their rock dynamism.

Peverett and Foghat openly embraced facets of the stripped down new wave, and power pop movements for 1980’s ‘Tight Shoes’ album (US#106), which yielded the band’s final incursion into the U.S. singles charts with ‘Stranger In My Home Town’ (#81). It was the final straw in stylistic compromise for guitarist Rod Price, who soon after the album’s completion left the band. In February ‘81 Erik Cartwright joined the Foghat fray for the 1981 album ‘Girls To Chat And Boys To Bounce’ (US#92), the band’s last set to reach the top 100, a continuation of their flirtation with contemporary stylistic influences, that possibly ended up falling into the cracks between new wave minimalism and blues-rock traditionalism. Bassist Craig MacGregor upped and left soon after, and Nick Jameson returned for 1982’s ‘In The Mood For Something Rude’ (US#162), which ditched the new wave experiment in favour of a return to R&B infused blues-rock. For hardcore Foghat fans, the chameleonic shifts in style must have been disconcerting, if not alienating. They touched base once more with some bare bones boogie rock on 1983’s ‘Zig-Zag Walk’ (US#192), which proved to the swansong album for the Bearsville label, and Foghat’s last outing for more than a decade.

Several line-up changes ensued, prior to Dave Peverett quitting the band in 1984, and returning to England. Soon after Foghat disbanded, but MacGregor and Cartwright revived the band in 1986, with new vocalist Eric Burgeson, and toured solidly over the next few years. Peverett returned to the U.S. in 1990 and formed his own touring line-up of Foghat, but by 1993 the original line-up of Peverett, Stevens, Price, and Earl, reunited, and the following year released a new album, aptly titled ‘The Return Of The Boogie Men’. Following Peverett’s death in February 2000, the original line-up of Foghat disbanded for good, but in subsequent years various Foghat alumnus have kept the flame alive for one of the 70s great arena rock acts, and a damned fine blues-rock outfit.

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