It all started with Savoy Brown, a classic band that not only pioneered the 1960s British blues boom, but effectively exported it to the States, where they were a massive hit. The band was formed around guitarist Kim Simmonds, a collective more-or-less, with other musicians coming and going at will, but ‘Lonesome’ Dave Peverett had been there on second guitar and Roger Earl on drums since their second album. Bassist Tony Stevens joined one album later, and by their 6th effort, 1970’s Looking In, the band had stripped down to a four-piece, with Peverett taking over lead vocals in addition to his guitar duties. In 1970 though, after a cataclysmic meeting in San Fancisco, Peverett, Earl and Stevens upped and left as a unit, forming their own band soon afterwards.
Simmonds went on to hire another band and recorded the highly successful Street Corner Talking, while the three amigos hired slide guitarist Rod ‘The Bottle’ Price from the recently-defunct Black Cat Bones, becoming Foghat in the process. After the initial acrimony died down, Peverett and Earl maintained a close friendship with Simmonds, and the three were generally to be found slapping each other on the back in cheerful bonhomie, so all’s well that ends well, with Foghat signing with the newly-formed American label Bearsville Records. Now the ever-prolific Cherry Red label have licensed all of Foghat’s early Bearsville recordings and released this stonking new CD boxed set, entitled Road Fever – The Complete Bearsville Recordings 1972-1975. It comprises the band’s first five albums, plus a sixth disc, simply titled Single Versions, and includes a tremendous 20-page booklet by Xavier Russell, stuffed full of interviews and info.
The first thing to note is the distinctly southern USA vibe to it all. The boys played hard-rocking southern boogie, and in an age when bands like Status Quo and Thin Lizzy were massive in Britain, Ireland and Europe, but hardly made any dent in the lucrative US market at all, London boys Foghat, like their precursors Savoy Brown, were lapped up by our transatlantic cousins and made more of an impact in the States than they ever did at home. They played the part of rock’n’roll outlaws to the hilt, their songs lavishly laced with stories of week-long road trips, riding the tracks, and sleazy bars.
The self-titled first album from 1972, produced by Dave Edmunds, kicks off with a version of the Willie Dixon standard I Just Want To Make Love To You, and the boys clearly set out their stall with an extended dual-guitar intro building to a powerful backing riff and a nice twin-guitar solo too. The rest of this nine-song album mostly comprises rockers penned by Peverett in collusion with other members of the band, apart from a manic version of Chuck Berry’s Maybelline, and an epic rendition of Deadric Malone and Andre Williams’ Gotta Get To Know You, with additional keyboards by engineer Nick Jameson (more of him later). To these ears, the best tracks on this debut outing are this one, and the mid-tempo riffy single A Hole To Hide In. The album back cover features a small caricature of a character wearing fog-shrouded headwear – for those that wish to know, the band name is a nonsense word originating in the Peverett household.
Somewhat confusingly, their 1973 second album was also self-titled, although the album cover features photographs of a rock and a bread roll on a simple white background, so Rock and Roll is its de facto name. It continues where the first album left off, although this one comes across as a little tighter and neater; Peverett’s highly improvisational vocals are reined in a little so there is more of a recognisable tune to the songs. Ride, Ride, Ride is a classic example of a hobo-riding-the-tracks southern rocker, while Long Way To Go puts the long, exhausting journey into the context of a car – sorry, I should say automobile. The outstanding highlight of this album is Road Fever, a great, rocking shuffle concerning more blacktop madness, this time with a groovy horn section to power it along.
The next album titled Energized from January 1974, became the band’s most successful set to date, climbing to no. 34 in the US charts, but to these ears, it always seemed to be the weakest of these early offerings. Listening back to it with several decades of hindsight, it wasn’t easy to see why at first; the bass is satisfyingly deep and the grungy guitars appropriately crunchy. Production is a bit mushy though, especially on the vocals; sometimes it sounds as if Peverett is singing through a fuzz pedal. It opens with a rapid-fire rocker in Honey Hush, but the more laid-back Step Outside is an outstanding number, mid-tempo but with a propulsive bass and drum line, and a summery joy that stands in contrast to a lot of the band’s rather claustrophobic lyrics. Home In My Hand doesn’t seem to suffer from the vocal production issues; in fact it’s another excellent, good-time, rocking song – they also pull an unexpected cover of Buddy Holly’s That’ll Be The Day out of the hat; it’s a pretty decent version, but doesn’t do much other than cover the original pretty faithfully. The closer is another absolute belter though; the seven-minute Nothing I Won’t Do starts with a head-nodding guitar line that really should have joined Smoke On The Water and Paranoid in the classic riff stakes. It has a hooky chorus too, but that mushy vocal production doesn’t do it any favours; in fact by the time it’s over, it’s somewhat grating on the ears.
The contrast for the next album is striking; in fact for me, this is where the band really hits its stride, which may be down to the aforementioned Nick Jameson taking over production duties. Still in 1974, Rock’n’Roll Outlaws starts off with another classic guitar riff with Eight Days On The Road, which rocks along at a fair clip, occasionally slowing down for a breather and multiple complex changes, then taking off again at the same energetic pace. It’s a classic number, certainly amongst the best the band has produced, and the vocals are crystal clear; Jameson also bolsters the sound on third guitar. The simple but beautiful country ballad Trouble In My Way makes for a nice change, whilst the (almost) title track Rock And Roll Outlaw gives an indicator of a slight change in direction; it’s a cowboy rock song for sure, but with a melodic basis that puts it into Whitesnake or Bon Jovi territory, although both of those bands were still in the future at this point.
The subtle change to more melodic rock spills over into 1975’s excellent Fool For The City, with its iconic cover of drummer Roger Earl fishing down a manhole in the middle of an urban New York street. With Nick Jameson once again at the helm, they downed tools for a while in order to devote time to recording the album, as opposed to their previous routine of recording a track here and a track there at different times and in different locations during a tour. Jameson also became the band’s bassist at this point, and although Tony Stevens was rock solid on the bass, there’s no doubt that Jameson raised the game somewhat – listen to his expressive and imaginative playing on the epic Slow Ride, with its multiple rhythm changes and manically fast slide solo at the end. The title track is a melodic rock masterpiece, which turns the usual trope on its head, as the protagonist gets fed up with all the laid-back living and fresh air out in the country, and resolves to return to the big smoke where he belongs. The album finishes on another ballad, the wonderfully-constructed Take It Or Leave It, featuring a tastefully tremendous guitar solo – a feedback-sustained note fades in, which Peverett bends and slides, barely touching his plectrum to the strings at all for the first half. It’s worth tracking down just for this passage, 17 seconds of magic. The album became Foghat’s most successful of all time, reaching no. 23 in the US charts and going Platinum, helped along by the classic top-20 single Slow Ride.
This brings us to the sixth and previously unreleased disc, which to be totally honest, is completely expendable, unless you happen to be a mono nut. Named The Singles, it contains shortened versions of all the singles from the five albums, including both stereo and mono mixes of some, just a mono mix of That’ll Be The Day, and no less than three versions of What A Shame from the second album. But none of them are alternative takes or contain anything that isn’t there on the originals, they are just chopped or prematurely faded. In fact A Hole To Hide In, from the first album, is just the original album version as far as I can tell, lifted wholesale and included here because it also happened to be a single. Never mind, the boxed set claims to represent everything the band released from Bearsville from their start in 1972 until 1975, so these are required additions.
In fact the band would remain with Bearsville for 7 more albums, up to and including Zig-Zag Walk in 1983, and they continue playing and recording to this day, with Roger Earl as the lone survivor from the old days – Peverett sadly died from cancer in 2000 at the age of 56; Rod Price died in 2005 at 57 years. Original bassist Tony Stevens plays with his own band; his replacement Nick Jameson became an actor. The early ‘70s were of course glory days for British rock’n’roll, and for rock music in general, and Foghat were right there, reaping the benefits, and that’s something to celebrate – it’s a great set, especially Rock And Roll Outlaws and Fool For The City, which show Foghat at their rocking peak.