How Foghat Hit the Big Time With ‘Fool for the City’
The members of Foghat were clearly born to boogie. Unfortunately, for the first few years of their existence, they seemed destined to do so for a cult-sized audience.
Things started picking up for the group with its third album, 1974's Energized, but with a catch: While audiences in their native U.K. remained somewhat indifferent to Foghat, American record buyers cottoned to the brand's band of slide-assisted electric blues rock more quickly, meaning many more miles traveled for the hard-touring lineup.
"The last gig we did in England was over two years ago," bassist Tony Stevens pointed out in a 1974 interview. "It's just not worth it, going up and down the country working your bollocks off. Unless you're the front page of Melody Maker, you can only make enough money to pay your scotch bills, because there are only the very big concerts and the small clubs that hold under a thousand people. When we're in England we stay at home and take it easy, although we'd love to play there."
The group's grueling tour itinerary contributed to Stevens' departure the following year, leaving drummer Roger Earl, singer "Lonesome" Dave Peverett and guitarist Rod Price to quickly fill in the gap by enlisting Nick Jameson, who'd produced their most recent album, 1974's Rock and Roll Outlaws. As Earl later recalled, Jameson would exert an immediate impact — including urging him to pose for the photo that would later become the cover for their next album, Fool for the City.
Released in September 1975, Fool continued the growing tradition of tongue-in-cheek Foghat album titles and/or covers with a shot of Earl seated next to a manhole, into which he's dropped a fishing line. It was the perfect distillation of the gritty, good-humored groove the group had settled into, and like a number of the record's key ingredients, it probably wouldn't have happened without Foghat's newest member.
Listen to Foghat's 'Slow Ride'
"It was a Sunday morning and I hadn’t slept. Back in the ‘70s, we didn’t sleep that much," explained Earl in a 2014 interview with the Aquarian. "It was Nick Jameson’s idea. He had just joined us playing bass. He’d been our longtime producer before that. It was his idea since I have this penchant for fishing."
That spur-of-the-moment joke, Earl added, could have backfired in a big way. "Anyway, we lift up the manhole cover and I’m sitting on a box. Almost immediately a couple of New York’s finest come by in their patrol car. They’re looking at us and they wind the window down. We’re like, 'Oh shit.' They yell out, 'Hey! You got a fishing license?' and then start laughing. So they come over and say, 'What the fuck are you doing?' They took some pictures with them handcuffing me. I love New York’s finest."
Jameson contributed much more than the idea for the Fool for the City album cover. As Earl told Vintage Rock, the record's biggest hit and the band's signature number, "Slow Ride," came out of Foghat's first jam session with their new bassist.
"The first song to come out of there was 'Slow Ride.' We were just jamming," he recalled. "Nick had a cassette player and he would record whatever we played there. As I recall it, the whole song was written — the middle part and the bass part and the ending were all Nick’s ideas. Basically, Nick wrote the song, but we just jammed on it, and Nick cut the stuff up so it made sense as far as the song goes. And then Dave said, 'I’ve got some words.'"
Looking back, Earl noted that while "Slow Ride" ended up resonating on a larger level than many Foghat tracks, it was really cut from pretty much the same cloth as the rest of the band's catalog — right down to its blues roots.
Listen to Foghat's 'Fool for the City'
"A lot of Foghat songs came about with just us sitting around jamming and recording it, and we would take parts we liked and glue them together," he said. "A song would be formed. Actually, a song like 'Slow Ride' is a John Lee Hooker riff, just played in a 4/4, as opposed to a shuffle. Thank you, John Lee. There’d be no boogie without John Lee Hooker."
Having already managed to tap into Hooker's blues from half a world away, Foghat remained far from their hero's Mississippi homeland when it came time to record Fool for the City. With Earl and Jameson living in upstate New York, they opted to stay fairly local, renting out Suntreader Studios in nearby Sharon, Vt. — a small town whose bucolic vibe added to the album in some very different, and decidedly unplanned, ways.
"About halfway through it the power went out," laughed Earl. "We only had half a song. We came back to it a week or month later or something and had to pick it up where we were. So we’re listening to it, trying to get the drum sounds similar, doing the last three minutes of the song. That happened a few times: The power would go out – somebody would hit a [power] pole. We were out in the middle of nowhere – it was like a small mountain or a large hill, but it was in the middle of nowhere. Deer would run into the car; bears would be in the garbage can. It was a lot of fun. We got a lot done. That was really enjoyable doing that record. I learned a lot from that."
The band's enjoyment paid off in a big way when the album arrived in stores: Fool for the City became Foghat's first platinum album, selling more than a million copies and notching a personal-best chart peak of No. 23. "Slow Ride" established itself as the group's biggest hit single, rising all the way to No. 20, while the title track landed just outside the Top 40. After lodging thousands of miles and churning out a handful of albums, they seemed to be well on their way to lasting success.
As it turned out, the good times kept rolling for a few years, but by the end of the decade — and following the first of many subsequent lineup changes, with Jameson exiting in 1976 to be replaced by Craig MacGregor — Foghat were pretty well spent on the charts, and after opening the '80s with a string of mostly ignored LPs that found the band briefly taking a poppier detour, they disbanded in 1984.
You can't keep a good boogie band down, however, and before the '80s were out, Foghat were back — and they've stayed active ever since, even following the departures of Price, who retired in 1999, and Peverett, who passed away the following year. The band released its most recent studio recording, Last Train Home, in 2010, and continues to tour — much to Earl's delight.
"Everyone is ready to go out and party. The band is doing great, the band plays really well. I’ve been practicing for 50 years — it’s about time I got it right," Earl joked to the Aquarian during the 2014 interview. "We get on real well and hang out together. We’re a bunch of happy drunks."