FOGHAT – The Complete Bearsville Recordings 1972-1975

Arguably the most American sounding act to ever come from the south of England, Foghat quickly became big stars in the US, but are often massively overlooked by UK audiences when it comes to classic rock. One of the most underrated bands from the 70s and 80s, their best work comes with plenty of enthusiasm, and a whole lot of muscle. Even at their peak, they never really strove for originality, but there’s so much about their sound that should have placed them in a similar standing with the early ZZ Top. Whereas the bearded ones’ early releases continue to be praised by UK rock fans and press alike – particularly 1973’s ‘Tres Hombres’ – the best that Foghat seem to have been afforded, at least in terms of popular culture, is a song or two on an occasional film soundtrack.

Bringing together the band’s first five studio albums and a disc’s worth of single edits (presented in both mono and stereo where applicable), ‘The Complete Bearsville Recordings 1972-1975’ charts their progress from the stodgy boogie blues of Willie Dixon and Chuck Berry covers, all the way through to their groove laden signature piece, ‘Slow Ride’. Their career into the late 70s and early 80s isn’t without interest, but in terms of the really good stuff, this box set contains pretty much all the Foghat you need.

Issued in 1972, Foghat’s self-titled debut lays some solid foundations for the British blues rockers, making it easy to appreciate why American audiences were enamoured with them from the off. ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ – an old Willie Dixon number and a hit for Etta James – is given a particularly grubby send off with distorted bass, slightly treated vocals and a world of wah-wah guitar. It could have sounded like a pub rock standard in lesser hands, but the way slide guitarists Rod Price and Dave Peverett lock down a groove is immediately impressive, and the whole band’s shift from an early ZZ Top-ish sound into a hard funk driven sound for parts of the track introduces a set of musicians able to take everything in their stride.

Introducing more of a true Foghat sound, ‘Trouble, Trouble’ presents a superb bar-room rocker where clanging pianos (played by Todd Rundgren) and a world of singing slide guitar sounds underscore ragged harmony vocals. Lyrically it’s all very basic, but the music makes up for that with a top notch rock ‘n’ roll guitar solo, not so far removed from the very early REO Speedwagon output and an extra dose of slide giving a hint of things to come. Dropping into a boogie that isn’t so far removed from a Status Quo album cut from 1970, ‘Fools Hall of Fame’ showcases Colin Earl’s stabbing piano accompaniments, and the one-time Mungo Jerry man is a great musical foil for Price once the guitarist launches into a huge solo, but it’s vocalist Lonesome Dave Perrett who’s the real star here, finally getting the chance to unleash a gravelly yet melodic tone that’s pure 70s, but at the same time, sort of timeless. In a more melodic vein, ‘Sarah Lee’ totally rips off The Beatles for a big, jangly intro, before finding its feet as a pop rocker where ringing guitars and a dancing bassline fight for dominance. Previously, bassist Tony Stevens had taken an anchoring role on the album’s early numbers, but here, he’s allowed far more space to share a muscular melody that fills a lot of space. It’s busy without being cluttered, too; there’s still enough lightness within the arrangement for Price to add a guitar break worthy of Derek & The Dominos without anything feeling overdone. Simply put, away from the album’s bluesier material, this captures the sound of a near perfect 70s rock outfit – leaner and less bombastic than Grand Funk Railroad, more tuneful than ZZ Top, and unafraid of an occasional throwback to the 60s to lift a melody.

Reverting to type, a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Maybelline’ sits brilliantly with the earlier Willie Dixon jam. Despite being a lot faster and working drummer Roger Earl much harder, it shows off their approach to rhythm, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll with a no-frills attitude that would’ve been hard to beat at the time. Most of the debut album is an exercise in tightness and restraint – an unusual move for the era, when a lot of blues and boogie oriented bands would take time to jam endlessly – but set closer ‘Gotta Get To Know You’ finally sees the band stretching out a little an eight minute workout where a slow-ish tune fades in like a 70s summer day, and the rhythm guitars lay a soft melody against an uncharacteristically soft vocal. The mood comes close to sounding like a marriage of Allman Brothers circa 1972 and a harder Doobie Brothers, yet at the same time, there are moments that are like neither, further showing how – beneath the standard bluesy bluster – Foghat were busy carving their own niche. Of particular interest here are more dancing basslines, lifting an otherwise ordinary tempo, and organ drones lending a further haze to the album’s slowest but most essential cut. It sounds nothing like the band that had hammered out ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ just over half an hour earlier, but therein lies the charm – it’s a fine finish for a great and varied debut.

The following year’s ‘Foghat’ (aka ‘Rock & Roll’, to avoid confusion) works very much on the “if it ain’t broke” principle, and finds the band indulging in another solid set of blues based rockers and 70s sounding jams. Set highlight ‘Road Fever’ is another lollaping boogie tinged affair where Rod throws out slide guitar against a pumping bassline, and Dave’s lead vocals waver between a natural grit and bluesy cry. If anything gives this track a major lift beyond the norm, though, its a full compliment of brass, where the horns approach the arrangement as if at a Delaney & Bonnie session. The marriage of bluesy guitars and sassy horns very much evokes the early 70s, yet at the same time conveys the kind of timeless appeal that sets this album in good stead. Almost equally good, ‘Long Way To Go’ captures a dirty guitar sound, and by applying that to a groove that sounds like a Free cast off, it wrongfoots the listener almost immediately. The arrival of a second riff and a vocal shifts the track into something distinctly more American, and Foghat show their mettle at recycling bits of Grand Funk and the Edgar Winter Band on a track that’s heavy on the dual guitar and even bigger on thumping drum sounds. Heard decades after the fact, it sometimes runs the risk of sounding a little generic, but the layers of slide guitar and another enthused vocal go a long way to making the number another solid example of Foghat’s finest wares.

Loaded with lyrical clichés and stomping riffs, ‘What A Shame’ is the archetypal 70s blues rocker; a denim and leather, all sweat and no subtlety sound allows Peverett and Price plenty of opportunity to lock down a groove, and despite horns being very present once more, this is solely about the guitars and the attitude. By the time Price hits upon an aggressive lead break, of course, it becomes easy to overlook the arrangement’s most generic elements, as his playing is on fire, and by the track’s end, the interplay between the guitar and sassy sax conjures such a party rock vibe, it’s hard not to love it. In contrast, ‘It’s Too Late’ revisits some of the band’s quieter tones, and its a track that utilises a fine shimmering guitar sound against a slow groove that sounds like Foghat playing one of Faces’ quieter numbers, albeit with a slightly more American slant. Granted, it doesn’t have the sheer drive of the band’s best numbers, but in time, its world of underplayed harmonies, optimistic melodies and tasteful lead guitar work will get under the skin.

For those hoping for something a little bluesier, ‘Helping Hand’ applies a ballsy sound to something that’s derived from ‘Born To Hand Jive’, and although the potential cheese factor is quite high, Price’s fuzzy guitar tones lend the melody a genuine weight, and – as expected – a round of slide guitar solos boosts something ordinary into a blues rock tour de force. With Tony Stevens playing a hefty lead bass during the track’s coda, the recording shows a band clearly having fun. A cover of the Chuck Willis number ‘I Feel So Bad’ joins a selection of self-penned numbers, allowing Peverett plenty of opportunity to wail. Foghat playing something so bluesy should have resulted in another highlight, but unlike the Willie Dixon and Chuck Berry tracks on the debut, this sounds more like a record company obligation. The lead guitar work is solid, but the rhythm comes across as far too slow for the job in hand. It sort of sounds like a half stoned ZZ Top: something that’s never terrible, but far from top tier Foghat.

With several enjoyable numbers presented in a lean thirty eight minutes, ‘Rock & Roll’ shows no sign of being a “difficult second album”, even with ‘I Feel So Bad’ lowering the batting average. Although Foghat could occasionally be accused of already falling into a comfort zone, it’s mostly enjoyable fare. Its best moments are perhaps even better than a couple of well established classics from 1973, so if this box set brings it to the attention of a couple of new ears, that’s all to the good.

‘Energized’, released in January 1974, is a little less inspired – the covers include a fairly solid rendition of ‘Honey Hush’ and a really horrible mauling of Buddy Holly’s ‘That’ll Be The Day’, which really didn’t need turning into a sub-par bluesy rocker – but when it’s good, it still advertises Foghat as a solid, no-nonsense act. The full throttle rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Wild Cherry’, in particular, captures plenty of musical fire by amping up some brilliant buzzsaw guitar sounds which, coupled with a semi-agressive vocal, makes the Foghat boys sound like a souped up Rick Derringer. Despite being very much within the band’s hard and fast rock ‘n’ blues template, it presents some spirited piano work and a really sharp slide guitar solo along the way. Of particular interest is the punchy bass sound, used effectively by Stevens throughout in a way that gives the track a real muscle, but never dominates. The album’s other genuine highlight, ‘Nothin’ I Won’t Do’ marries a simple boogie blues template to elements of Montrose’s no-frills hard rock, and in doing so, suggests Foghat could hold their own with the rock scene’s very best. With another great bass part anchoring a brilliant groove, this seven minute workout delivers highly on both swaggering riffs and unfiltered solos. Played loudly, it just doesn’t get old.

With distorted vocals and hard, bluesy guitar licks traded throughout, ‘Golden Arrow’ returns to the rhythm and blues guts of the debut, but despite playing things easy in terms of style, the musicians aren’t taking it easy themselves, and with Peverett and Price sharing some massive riffs, it recreates the bulk of the band’s live sound brilliantly in the studio environment. With a more radio friendly melody providing its core, the brilliant ‘Home In My Hand’ is best likened to an old Bad Company number bolstered by the Muscle Shoals horns. It’s predictable, sure, but when played with as much conviction as Foghat can muster, it quickly becomes an album standout. Likewise, the fat free ‘Fly By Night’ makes almost equally good use of horns and guitar riffs in tandem, whipping up a very 70s sound. Armed with a hard drum sound and some sleazy harmonies, the track also presents a great contrast of toughness and melody on a tune that might please fans of the Winter brothers. The vocal, on the other hand, is rather lax. The distortion doesn’t hide this; instead, it seems to draw further attention to some wobbly wailing. Somehow, this never kills the track, but instead, appears to amp up Foghat’s booze and blooze, and by the time Rod breaks into his second slide solo, you might just be charmed enough to consider this a semi-sloppy classic.

It’s fair to say that ‘Energized’ is half-decent Foghat fare even with the band drifting into autopilot mode, but about half of the swiftly issued follow up ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaws’ is much better. Released released just ten months later, it’s an album that’s bigger on riffs, even when the lyrical hooks aren’t always as sharp. The six minute stomper ‘Eight Days On The Road’ finds the band in a slightly chunkier frame of mind, as the two guitarists chug through a hardy boogie blues, but the embellishments are still first rate. Rod’s soloing throughout the second half of the number captures a really fiery sound, and set against a hard struck rhythm, there’s plenty of fun here for cowbell fetishists everywhere. With a muted riff and a few unexpected harmonies fleshing out the end of the track, it’s also possible to hear hints of ‘Slow Ride’ just over the horizon. In terms of opener, it’s epic, and ‘Hate To See You Go’ is potentially even better when applying a harder edge, sounding like an early ZZ Top jam reworked with Jimmy Page’s mid 70s tone. On a track where such a riff could dominate, it’s great to hear Peverett in top vocal shape, and a massive squealy solo lifts the piece even further. In short, it’s a track that should grace every Foghat compilation.

In terms of straight up guitar grooves underscored by cowbell – very much the meat and potatoes end of the Foghat sound – the title track doesn’t disappoint, with a semi-aggressive vocal weaving in and out of the most 70s of riffs, whilst a stabbed piano and rolling bass get busy. In terms of bass work, this is Tony’s finest hour – a fitting swansong for his time with the band. Even though some of the lead work seems like a more immediate candidate for your attention – as is Foghat’s wont – it’s worth listening to this track very closely, as there’s some superb work from the rhythm section.
Elsewhere, you’ll find ‘Dreamer’ a track where Foghat bravely try and fuse their trademark blues rock with a funky yacht rock bassline, and ‘Blue Spruce Woman’, a number that recycles some of the band’s earlier blues rock sounds well but is hampered by a horrid vocal. It’s good to hear a couple of numbers with different elements thrown into the mix, but they’re unlikely to ever be considered fan favourites.

‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaws’ is a mid-tabler in the band’s 70s catalogue. It isn’t as good as the debut or ‘Fool For The City’, but is much better than ‘Energized’, most things considered. It makes you wonder how much better things might’ve worked out, had they not rush released a product to capitalise on their huge US popularity. The best bits of their two 1974 releases could well have created one of the finest Foghat releases ever…

As if realising things could do with a little shake up, 1975’s ‘Fool For The City’ presents a more melodic and slightly more varied sound. ‘My Babe’, in particular, juxtaposes big harmony vocals with a sharp rhythm on a track that takes the boogie and shakes it into more of a pop-rock sound that teeters on the edge of glam rock at times. The production values even show off a greater separation between the instruments – particularly the two guitars – and that shinier sound really benefits the layered vocals. Naturally, you’ll still find something very familiar here, and particularly so once the slide guitars kick in, but there’s no doubting it sounds more enthused than anything on the previous two LPs. Also venturing somewhere more sophisticated, ‘Take It Or Leave It’ reworks the hints of yacht rock from ‘Dreamer’ and bravely take them into full-on AM radio territory. The result is a shiny piece of mid tempo yachtiness where a smooth bass dominates and occasional harmonies tease with more of a pop sound than ever before. With an equally smooth guitar solo put through filters and a fine electric piano filling an extended instrumental coda, the song sounds more like Sherbet than anything from the Foghat back-cat, but it has a brilliantly sophisticated edge that, decades on, sounds absolutely marvellous.

Those looking for a couple of full scale blues rockers in the Foghat tradition get their wish, too. The title cut could have found a place on any of the earlier records with its overdriven guitar riffs and hard drumming, but much like ‘My Babe’, an increase of harmony vocals makes the track feel like the band are moving forward, and an unexpected funk interlude further suggests more thought has gone into the arrangement. ‘Terraplane Blues’ goes deeper into the blues without losing the rock, and on this slow groover, there are hints of the noisier elements of Ten Years After and Grand Funk, whilst the noisier bar room trashiness of ‘Drive Me Home’ cranks the tension via some angry guitar lines, yet still clings on to a classic Foghat sound.

All of that makes the ‘Fool For The City’ LP a bona fide Foghat classic, even without ‘Slow Ride’. …And as for the band’s best known anthem, it’s here in all of its eight minute glory. The 7” edit more than does the job, but the album version truly celebrates a 70s excess when a slow and sometimes sleazy groove is stretched out as far as possible, allowing for a wealth of call and response lead guitar work and pumped bass sounds, which latch onto a funky, slapped tone, lifting some of the track’s stodgier elements very effectively. Those who’ve made it this far into the band’s career are guaranteed to find musical thrills when atonal slide breaks cut through the vocal hooks and, during the lengthy jam that fills several minutes, the band completely rock out on an infectious blues rock knockabout where the speed increases and pre-empts some of Rose Tattoo’s early rockers. It’s a genuine classic.

There was always so much more Foghat than ‘Slow Ride’ – brilliant as that is – and this release is the proof. As box sets go, this isn’t particularly flashy – it takes the usual Cherry Red/HNE Recordings approach of bundling the albums into card sleeves and a clamshell box, as per their Montrose reissue – but it’s the music that counts, and there’s so much gold here for an affordable price. In that respect, and given some of these albums’ often out of print status, this isn’t so much a release of a cheap box set as a genuine public service. Whether you’re a fan aiming to fill a couple of gaps in your album collection, or a novice looking to explore beyond the three or four tracks you’ve heard time and again, ‘The Complete Bearsville Recordings 1972-1975’ should be considered essential.

Buy the box set here: FOGHAT – The Complete Bearsville Recordings 1972-1975

January-March 2023