Graded on a Curve:
Fool for the City

Remembering Craig McGregor, born on this day in 1949.Ed.

Here’s an interesting historical tidbit: I was the geezer wot gave Foghat their name. It happened like this: we were all (the band and I) totally pissed in Rod “The Bottle” Price’s bedsit in manky Manchester, when “Lonesome Dave” Peverett rolled a J the size of John Holmes’ John Thomas and set it ablaze. It took some real hyperventilation-level huffing and puffing to get that monster going, and by this time Dave’s head was wreathed in a glorious crown of cannabis smoke, and I cried out, “Lonesome Dave’s sporting a Foghat!” And Bob’s your uncle, that’s exactly how it didn’t happen.

Anyway, I don’t know what you think about Foghat, and I don’t particularly care, because I love them. They may have been your bog-standard, no-frills British blooz and boogie rock band, all meat and potatoes but skimping a bit on the meat, but they had a great name and were likeable blokes and the punters loved them because they played an arse-walloping live set. What’s more they displayed a sense of humor, as proved by the cover of their finest LP, 1975’s Fool for the City, which depicts drummer Roger Earl fishing in a manhole in the middle of East 11th Street in New York City, looking as casual as if he were casting bait along Manchester’s own River Irk, which none other than Friedrich Engels described as “a narrow, coal-black, foul-smelling stream, full of debris and refuse.” All of which leads one to suspect that Earl had a better chance of catching a real, live fish in said sewer than he did back in grim and grimy old Manchester town.

I also have an abiding affection for Foghat because the band’s music features in the final scene of one of my all-time favorite films, Richard Linklater’s 1993 cult classic Dazed and Confused. To wit, when Mitch Kramer, who has just returned home at dawn after having undergone all the requisite initiation rites and rituals (drinking beer, smoking pot, throwing a bowling ball from a moving car) of seventies teenagehood, puts on his oversized headphones, it’s the great opening of “Slow Ride” that brings a beatific smile to his face. Linklater could have chosen any song from the mid-seventies to produce that smile, but he chose Foghat, which raises my estimation of both him and them.

Anyway, Foghat was formed in 1971 by Savoy Brown alumni Lonesome Dave Peverett on lead vocals, guitar, and “heavy breathing”; Roger Earl on drums; and Tony Stevens on bass, along with ex-Black Cat Bones member Rod “The Bottle” Price on guitar, slide guitar, steel guitar, and vocals. Stevens left before Fool for the City, leaving band producer Nick Jameson to take over on bass, whilst also providing keyboards, guitar, and vocals. And perhaps to their surprise, or perhaps not, Foghat found themselves with a platinum album on their hands, and no longer had to go fishing in the NYC subway to put food on their table.

Foghat’s success is hard to explain in rational terms. They had no stars whose names your average rock fan still remembers, no utterly gorgeous faces for the girls to squeal at, specialized in a back to the basics (if not back to the Stone Age) blues and boogie that was most definitely not flash, declined to tawdry themselves up in outrageous clobber and climb aboard the Glam band wagon, and in general were not so different from your mates at the pub. In fact they might have been your mates at the pub, and you’d have never known it. I can think of only one possible reason Foghat became stars in the mid-seventies. Namely, while Foghat didn’t write great songs it did write great riffs. The corollary to that is that Price won hearts and minds with the way he manhandled said great riffs with his barbarous guitar playing, which finally pummeled the record-buying public’s brains into submission, if not mulch.

Album opener “Fool for the City” tells the story of a rustic (although he claims he’s no “country boy”) eager to get to the big city, despite its lures, lares, and filth (“I’m ready for the city, air pollution here I come!”). It’s one great tune, what with the way Price’s guitar leaps out of the starting blocks and never slows down, playing monstrous riffs in response to Peverett’s vocal phrases. And Price plays one blistering solo after somebody, Peverett possibly, delivers a brief monologue (“I’m tired of layin’ back/And hangin’ round/I’m gonna catch that train/And be city bound.”) At around the 3-minute mark the song almost moves into funk territory, what with Stevens’ playing a passable Parliament imitation on the bass, but the guys quickly return to their bread and butter, which in this case consists of bringing it all back home with Peverett repeating the song’s key phrases while the back kicks up the intensity, notch by notch by notch.

Foghat’s cover of The Righteous Brothers’ “My Babe” isn’t my favorite, but the band truly lets rip, from Price’s cool introductory riff to the group vocals to the chorus, on which Price plays some old-school slide guitar before launching into one long and very ecstatic solo. The band even does some natty acapella singing during the song’s false ending, and I’d think more highly of this tune, which has a big bottom and gets wilder than you ever expect it too, if those vocals—or something intangible—didn’t remind me of America’s own equivalent to Foghat, Grand Funk Railroad.

As for “Slow Ride,” I don’t even know where to start. That it bears all the hallmarks of being a Led Zep rip yet transcends them through sheer brutality? Which is a miracle, because no one can out-Visigoth Led Zeppelin? All I do know is that it’s almost as blatant rip as Foghat’s “Honey Hush,” which is basically “Train Kept a Rollin’” with the train surgically removed. Anyway, the drums and primal guitar riff could just as well be by John Bonham and Jimmy Page, Peverett’s “I’m in the mood/The rhythm is right/Move to the music/We can roll all night” is pure undiluted Robert Plant, and Earl’s backing bass line has John Paul Jones written all over it.

But so what if “Slow Ride” wears its influences on its sleeve? It’s one of the greatest skull hammers ever, wot with that repetitive bass line, Earl bashing away, and Price playing one remarkably sleazy slide guitar. And while I wish they hadn’t added the long, slow mid-section—during which Peverett vamps over the drum and bass and in the process turns a great 5-minute song into a not quite as great 8-minute song, it does allow the band to slowly build the tension necessary for the explosion that occurs afterwards, during which Price’s guitar literally squeals as it picks up speed in time with the rhythm section until the whole shebang comes to an abrupt stop, allowing Peverett to shut things down with a final scream of “Slow Ride!” Two things. One, this song is far smarter than it sounds at first. And two, it’s refreshing to hear a seventies rock song about sex that isn’t sexist. Compare it, for example, to Faces’ “Stay with Me” and Rod “Misogywot?” Stewart’s disdainful litany (“Get down/Get up/Get out”), which given the tenor of the times didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow.

Side Two opens with a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues,” which they pull off with aplomb, thanks to Price’s extraordinary work with both the steel and slide guitars and the rock-steady beat that gives the song its propulsion. Peverett does a handy job on vocals too, bringing Johnson’s great lyrics linking his Terraplane—an automobile with a price tag low enough to lure the thin purses of the Great Depression, and a name designed to attract a public fascinated by air travel—to infidelity, and likely impotency as well. Peverett sings lines like, “I’d said I’ll flash your lights, mama/And the horn won’t even blow/I even flash my lights, mama/And this horn won’t even blow/I got a short in this connection/Way way down below.”

Foghat’s opening is great, going from a stripped-down and authentic tin shack opening before blossoming into a full-on blues rock number, with Price doing the bulk of the heavy lifting in the form of a long moaning solo that gets cut short by some simple drum bash, only to reemerge in time to take the song out. It’s not the greatest Robert Johnson cover I’ve ever heard—that would be Littlestown blues legend Clarence “Two Fingers” McGinty’s otherworldly take on “Hellhound on My Trail,” during which you can hear a phone ring in the background, causing McGinty to call out (with the tape still rolling), “Don’t pick up that phone mama, it’ll be the Montgomery Ward man wanting my guitar back”—but it gets the job done, thanks mainly to Price’s guitar.

“Save Your Loving (For Me)” isn’t the best song on the LP, in part because its lyrics are banal tripe about wanting to spend the night (and just one night) with a woman, and in part because the melody, while likeable enough, is nothing special. But its biggest problem is it sounds muted, with the result that Price’s riffs don’t sound as loud and mean as they should. Even his solo sounds perfunctory, and lines as perfunctory as “Love me baby, till I scream” just can’t cut it without a whole lotta noise standing between you and them.

“Drive Me Home” is more like it: a loosey-goosey rock’n’roller, it features some great Jerry Lee Lewis piano by Jameson and one wonderful guitar solo, as well as some guitar riffs that move the song, albeit temporarily, into Rolling Stones territory. Seems the singer is “stoned to the bone” and has pissed off his baby (“But I cheated, I mistreated, lied with a heart of stone”) and now finds himself without a way of getting home from the pub. There are few things I like more than a song sung by a feckless loser who isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself, and this song goes from funky to farcical when the singer finally succeeds in finagling a ride with a woman who’s even more shite-faced than he is: “Ah, ya haven’t been drinkin’ have ya?” sings Peverett nervously, then follows that with a rather worried “Ya have? Up ahead, slow down/You’re goin’ too fast, look out, oh!/(Crash!)/Fuckin’ hell! What are you doin’?/Oh… oh, look out for that tree!”

As for LP closer “Take It or Leave It,” it’s the LP’s only outright dud, and one egregiously squirm-inducing dud at that. An obvious bid for radio play, “Take It or Leave It” is pure album-oriented schlock, and could just as well be by Toto. With its insipid melody, bad lyrics, exquisitely mediocre organ, and lots of frilly flourishes, “Take It or Leave It” is a terribly misguided attempt to drive down the middle of the road, and sounds as out of place on Fool for the City as “Slow Ride” would on a Carpenters’ LP (although I’d have loved to hear that).

In the end, Foghat was not a thinking man’s rock’n’roll band, and that’s cool. Rock’n’roll was not created to be a thinking man’s medium, and the world has never needed more than one Velvet Underground. Indeed, I’ve sometimes wondered if one Velvet Underground was one too many. Foghat played to the punters, and drove ‘em wild, and they did it without the benefit of silver space outfits, 4-LP concept albums, 473-piece drum kits, interminably long prog progressions, painted faces, talking guitars, or any of the other pretentious accoutrements (keytar, anyone?) that made the seventies both the best, and most ridiculous, of rock decades. In short, Foghat kept it simple and friendly, playing blues and boogie for folks who just wanted to down their lager and smoke their spliffs to the sound of some good-time rock’n’roll. Unlike, say, Sweet, the guys in Foghat needn’t look back at old photos of themselves in glittering silver crotch-high platform boots and say, “What was I thinking? I look like a total git!”

Peverett and Price have both passed over to the other side, but Foghat boogies on, although Earl is the only original member left and I don’t recommend you go see them. That said, the opening of “Slow Ride” will always make me happy, and if I’m happy I know I’m in the presence of music that matters. Now excuse me, for I must be getting out the 4-foot bong, and packing the bowl with some improbable amount of weed, and puffing away until the smoke from that sweet leaf rises, and I’ve got my Foghat on.


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