For a guy who grew up in England, Foghat drummer Roger Earl has plenty of connections to the Steel City.
“Pittsburgh has always been one of my favorite areas. Our road manager is from there. My drum tech is from there. So it will be like coming home for everybody,” he said about the band’s Aug. 16 concert at the South Park Amphitheater.
That includes lead guitarist Bryan Bassett, a Pittsburgh native who in 2019 is marking two decades with Foghat. And when he took some time off from touring a couple of years ago, Peters Township resident Matt Barranti stepped in to take his place.
Plus Baranti, whose band is opening the South Park show, happens to be related to Earl’s wife, Linda.
Pittsburgh, in turn, is familiar with Foghat and its perennial favorite “Slow Ride,” one of five Top 40 hits the band scored in the 1970s.
Unfortunately, the two guitarists who founded Foghat with Earl in 1971, Rod Price and “Lonesome” Dave Peverett, since have died. But the drummer, now 73, continues to tour frequently with a lineup that also includes vocalist-guitarist Charlie Huhn and bass player Rodney O’Quinn.
“I’m one of the fortunate few who still get to play regularly and earn a decent living at something I really love doing,” Earl said.
Speaking by telephone, he talked about how he met Bassett – as a member of Wild Cherry, he played the opening lick on the 1976 megahit “Play That Funky Music” – through Peverett.
“I have to thank Dave for that, because Bryan is just an absolute gem as a human being,” Earl said. “And he’s probably one of the very few guitar players who could nail Rod Price’s slide parts, especially.”
He and Peverett had seen Huhn when he was performing with a latter-day version of Humble Pie, after the band’s legendary lead vocalist and co-founder departed.
“As soon as Charlie started singing, Dave and I looked at each other and said, ‘Whoa! Anybody who can sing Stevie Marriott’s songs like Stevie Marriott is a fine singer.’”
Huhn joined Foghat shortly before Peverett’s death in 2000, at which time the lineup also included the founding bass player, Tony Stevens. Replacing him in 2005 was Craig MacGregor, who had been in the band on and off from 1975 through the early ’90s.
O’Quinn took MacGregor’s place after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, from which he died in 2018.
“When Craig was still with us, he went to see Rodney with Pat Travers’ band,” Earl recalled. “The next day, he had breakfast with Rodney, and he called me up that afternoon and said, ‘Roger, you need this guy. He’s like a mini-me.’”
So in effect, MacGregor chose his replacement.
“He knows all the stuff that Craig did, all the parts that Nick Jameson played,” Earl said about O’Quinn. “So it’s worked out really well for us.”
Jameson produced and played bass on “Fool for the City,” the 1975 album that features the full eight-minute version of “Slow Ride.”
“It came from a jam, sort of like a John Lee Hooker riff,” Earl said. “Nick Jameson had all the arrangements down. We arranged the whole song, but it didn’t have any words. Then Dave said, ‘I’ve got some words.’ And that’s how that came about.”
Other hit singles for the band included “Drivin’ Wheel,” “Stone Blue,” “Third Time Lucky (First Time I Was a Fool)” and an edited version of Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love To You” from “Live,” Foghat’s 1977 album that sold more than 2 million copies.
By then, Earl had been performing with Peverett for nearly a decade, first as members of the British blues-rock band Savoy Brown, which is led to this day by lead guitarist Kim Simmonds.
“I had an absolute blast,” the drummer said. “Kim and I are still good friends. We do a number of dates together and we’re with the same agency.”
In fact, Simmons played on several tracks of Foghat’s most recent studio album, “Under the Influence.” And Earl gave high praise for Savoy Brown’s latest, “City Night,” released in June.
Earl, Peverett and Stevens all departed from that band to stake out on their own in 1971, joining Price in a new quartet that initially failed to draw much attention, with one highly notable exception: the late Albert Grossman, at the time one of the most influential managers in the music business.
“We played in a little club in the afternoon in Northwest London. We’d rented the club. There was nobody there except Albert. We played four or five songs for him, maybe six songs,” Earl recalled, after which Grossman suggested everyone go for tea and biscuits.
Then he announced: “Let’s do it.”
“I still get chills when I say those words, because Albert Grossman managed Bob Dylan, The Band and Janis Joplin,” Earl said. “I mean, this is a man who made things work.”
His belief in Foghat eventually paid off in eight gold records, “Fool for the City” certified as platinum and “Live” as double platinum.
For nearly half a century, Earl has been the one constant in the band. And he continues to have a blast.
“Obviously, being a drummer hammering metal and wood with sticks for 60 years takes its toll on your fingers and stuff,” he said, acknowledging he has had a few operations on his hands and knees. “But it’s all working. So I should probably thank my mom and dad for having such good genes.”
The Aug. 16 show featuring Foghat with special guest The Matt Barranti Band begins at 7:30, and admission is free.