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Foghat – Interview met Bryan Bassett

Bryan Bassett: “In the late sixties, almost up to the eighties, we just saw every major act that came to Pittsburgh and seeing them was very inspiring as musicians.
Foghat werd in 1971 opgericht door enkele leden van Savoy Brown en begonnen toen zelf geschiedenis te schrijven in het boogie blues rock milieu en rock-‘n-roll. Met meerdere gouden en platina albums tot gevolg (denk maar aan het legendarische ‘Live ‘77’ album). Sinds de jaren negentig zijn ze aan een tweede jeugd begonnen en de zoveelste bezetting (met een aantal trouwe oudgedienden zoals drummer Roger Earl) heeft nu het nieuwe album ‘Sonic Mojo’ uitgebracht. We hadden een bijzonder hartelijk gesprek met Bryan Bassett, ook al sinds de jaren negentig in Foghat, over de creatie van het album en de sappige herinneringen aan opgroeien in de VS in de jaren zestig en zeventig. Foghat is van nature uit een Engelse band, maar hij is geboren en getogen in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania en woont nu in Florida.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 1 december 2023

Hi Bryan! Are you still living in Pittsburgh?
No I am in Florida now since quite a few years, but I am originally from Pittsburgh. I lived there quite a few years and had a lot of my musical offerings in the Pittsburgh area in several bands, before moving to Florida.

Is that also where you joined Wild Cherry and Molly Hatchet in the past?
Yes, Wild Cherry was my first international act. We had a hit song called ‘Play That Funky Music’ in the seventies, and I did that for many years and eventually in Molly Hatchet. I was a co producer and engineer before I moved to Florida for King Snake Records, it was a blues record label and they asked an engineering guitarist and I did that for many years before I met Lonesome Dave from Foghat. We became friends and he and I toured from 1989 till 1992 in what was called Lonesome Dave’s Foghat, which was just another version of Foghat and then came 1992 and Roger and Dave were back together and that’s when I joined Molly Hatchet. I was there for several years.

Which albums did you record with Molly Hatchet?
I made three, recorded in Karo Studios, south of Hamburg in Germany. The first one was called ‘Devil’s Canyon’, the second one was ‘Silent Reign Of Heroes’ and the third one was ‘Kingdom Of XII’. We did three albums with the SPV label and we toured quite a lot in Europe then. Our record company was based in Europe, SPV.

Let us go to the new Foghat record ‘Sonic Mojo’. It has been seven years, can you tell something about that period?
Yes, it has been seven years since our last studio record. It was called ‘Under The Influence’. We had a double live album that we released a few years ago, so that was in between the last studio album and this release. We have been sorting out song ideas and made a list of songs that we liked. I think we could do a nice interpretation of covers so to speak. We came to the point of having fifteen, sixteen songs and started pointing out what would fit together as a package. Then we started recording and finalizing the recordings and doing the artwork. That resulted in our new album, so this is ‘Sonic Mojo’. We recorded them all pretty much in a space of a month or so, but we have been collecting ideas for a couple of years.

That’s nice. So you still have the old school way of working…
We do. I grew up as an engineer at King Snake Studios which is a blues label and we did work for many independent blues record companies. These recordings were on tape recorders these days, two inch tapes. It was actually before digital and before CD’s were becoming a thing, so we were a vinyl based label. We did a lot of recordings and my style of recording was just recording the artist performing. There was not a lot of production, it was almost documentary style recordings, just capture what was happening musically in the room and put these personalities on tape. I still have that same mindset, even though I am a digital engineer now. I engineered the whole record and made it all digital pro-tool sound, but I still keep the mindset of recording while I don’t do a lot of editing. If someone makes a mistake, we just redo the take. I try to record like we did in the seventies.

That speaks for itself I think, because when I listen to the album, it is very organic…
Yeah that’s a perfect word for it. That’s what I was longing for, just the reality and you can hear us playing in a room. I wanted that to be very organic and have that feeling on the record. We are just four guys sitting in a room playing songs and I wanted to keep the songs arranged simply, so that when we are going to play live, they have to be natural, not overproduced on the record and impossible to reproduce live.

You are doing that very well. Because I was thinking: ‘what can I expect from Foghat?’ I have the ‘Live’ album of 77 of course and the records before it, because I am also a senior haha…
So we have all the good music, right? (chuckles) Together growing up….Well, we love to play. I am now in the band over twenty years. The Foghat sound to me – as engineer of the record – it all comes down on Roger’s (Earl – drummer) playing. He has a very unique drumming style which is a combination of playing a blues shuffle, but also a good rock-‘n-roll beat, so that is a unique combination and that drumming style is what sets the tone for all the recordings. It is just the way he likes to play and the kind of grooves he plays in songs we would like to cover… that is all part of the Foghat sound, so in despite of changing members through the years, he still is the foundation and the rest of us were all eternal fans before we joined, so we are all fans of British blues rock.

Yes, I know that drummer Roger Earl happens to be the only original member…
Yeah that’s true and my favourite is a European tour in 1991 I believe, it was an anniversary year when Rod Price, our guitar player joined Dave and I and we played as a five piece. I was sort of starstruck. We got along very well, we became friends and it became as a masterclass for me when I started playing slide guitar in the band. Now he is retired and of course we lost Lonesome Dave and Craig MacGregor, one of the long time bass players. So getting older is not fun, losing many friends, but we try to honour them by playing their songs and do them justice the best we can.

That’s true, because on this record there are also three songs written by Kim Simmonds…
He was the band leader of Savoy Brown, the famous sixties blues rock band   Kim Simmonds surely had a huge influence on me as a guitar player, also on Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac, on Savoy Brown, on John Mayall’s guitars, a big influence on me as player. It was one of the influences we listened to back then, concerning live music. It is funny how American blues inspired the English and then they came to America and taught us about our roots. Kim became a friend of Roger. He played with Kim. Savoy Brown made five albums and that is where Foghat came from, since two members of this band started Foghat back in 1971. Roger knew Kim Simmonds all his life, Roger and he maintained their friendship over all these decades and he actually preformed as a guest star on our last studio album seven years ago. That’s where I actually became friends with him. I started hanging out with him and got to know him well as a person and a player. In ‘Under The Influence’ he was a guest star. We really enjoyed each other’s company and we did several live concerts over the years, which was continuing Savoy Brown then. When we were preparing ‘Sonic Mojo’ we asked him if he had any songs and he liked us to check out several things. We wanted to do the same thing and invite him to our studio to perform on this record. So he sent us four demos, just him on guitar and they turned into songs on the album we really love. Unfortunately his health began to fail and he could not perform on the record when it got worse. He passed away not too long ago, in December 2022. Yet we are blessed to have some of his compositions on this record. We are really proud to feature him.

It is a kind of red thread through your career during the years let us say…
Yes, we just love the songs, we can play the songs on stage every time and it will remind us of these guys. Kim is not forgotten.

One of the songs is ‘Drivin’ On’, the current single…
It is one of my favourites, although it is a very common song from lyrics. I really have a special feeling for that song and then the very first song on the record ‘She’s A Little Bit Of Everything’ is another song from Kim Simmonds. We decided – and I am pretty sure it is true – that is was dedicated to his wife Debby. The lyrics are about all the great things you can see in another person, I am pretty sure it was written for his wife.

The single ‘Drivin’ On’ reminded me a bit of ZZ Top…
Yeah right. We played several shows with them, with ZZ Top, this year. They always were an influence on me, ever since I was really young. I was a huge fan of ZZ Top when their first records came out and it was only four or five years later when I had a hit record with Wild Cherry, but I am a fan forever along with the English players that we admired. They all had an influence on me and my playing. Of course some of the giants of the pop music were so individualistic that no one will copy them. They were seen as giants, for example David Bowie and people like that, but bluesrock guitar players and blues music and blues musicians in general, I think it is an ongoing tradition from one generation to the next one. One generation learns from the previous generation and adds their personality to it and it is a tradition that goes on, particularly in the blues and in bluesrock as well at least.

The song ‘Wish I’d Been There’ reminded me a bit of ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ from Creedence Clearwater Revival… do you agree with that?
It is catchy and we have a little bit of a country influence on that song and also our cover of the Chuck Berry song ‘Promised Land’ has a little bit country to it. Speaking of the blues and country combining, we now have Scott Holt as singer and second guitarist and he used to play with Buddy Guy, so he is pretty well seated in the blues tradition and also, he is from Nashville. So he is a bit into that country music area. Roger and I, we all love Johnny Cash, that is one of our heroes that we listen to on the road while we are travelling. That song, ‘Wish I’d Been There’ was written by Roger’s brother. He was the piano man of Mungo Jerry, do you remember that song ‘In The Summertime’? Well, that is Roger’s brother and he gave us those lyrics. I wrote the song around the lyrics and it came out a little bit country-ish, but the song is about him lamenting about not being able to see Hank Williams Sr in concert. What must have been your feelings when you are in the audience before Hank Williams? So it is a lament about not seeing one of your heroes. It is a fan song and we go a bit to our country roots.

Did you see Hank Williams Sr live?
I saw his son of course Hank Williams Jr. Actually when I was in Molly Hatchet, I did several festivals with Hank Williams Jr but I never got to see his father’s band.

That’s why I regret that I never saw The Who or The Doors…
I did get to see The Doors, so I can say we were blessed. We grew up in Texas. We had a fantastic concert promoter and three really nice venues, so in the late sixties, almost up to the eighties, we just saw every major act that came to Pittsburgh and seeing them was very inspiring as musicians.

What can you tell about the cover songs on this album, because they might be important as influence or your roots?
That has always been a sort of tradition for Foghat, on every album Roger or someone else picked out their favourite blues songs and rocked it up a little bit and see how to play it… like ‘How Many More Years’ I think is a great track on the record. Even that is an old blues song. Scott sings it well and we play it well, so… it is fun. When we play soundchecks, we are always doing jams and start playing something out of the blue and then we join in and sometimes we discover new additions for an old song. That’s when it comes on the list so we might be able to cover it. We never do a direct copy of a song, we want to do something with Foghat’s sound included and rearrange a little bit. The whole band decides on the covers and we always play them during soundchecks and the ones that stand out come on the list. ‘She’s Dynamite’ for example. ‘Mean Woman Blues’ is another example. Recorded by many, like Elvis Presley and Dave Edmunds I think. We rewrote the lyrics and tried something different with it. Things like that are big fun to do. We like playing songs like that.

What about the production of your records? Did Roger Earl always produce it?
Since I am in the band, all the Foghat records are engineered by me and we as a band produced it. Dave Edmunds did the first records, Eddie Kramer did some too. When we regrouped in the nineties, we had a great producer planned, but it never happened. He had too many records in line. The band has always been active in that process, but I am not really directing them, more organizing and engineering than telling people what to play. We sat down as a band as self-producers in the end. But I do all the mixing, so that’s why you see my name on the cover.

What are the plans for the near future to tour, maybe in Europe?
I can’t wait to come over and play again in Europe. It has been a while. I am so used to do it every year with Molly Hatchet and we got only over there occasionally with Foghat. We are striving to come over there really soon. For me it is like a paid vacation. We were in Scotland to talk with some promoters and hopefully we will manage to put a tour together that makes sense for us. It is always so much fun to come over in Europe and there are so much fine music bands. I have really nice memories on the reactions on shows in Europe, so we are hoping to come over in 2024.

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