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Foghat still has 'Sonic Mojo'

Jake Coughlin

The band Foghat is known for classic rock radio staples such as "Slow Ride" and "Fool For The City." The group's latest album, "Sonic Mojo," was released to critical acclaim and strong sales.

Veteran rock act Foghat released its latest album, "Sonic Mojo," to strong sales and critical acclaim in late 2023.

The band, which performs Wednesday, June 5, at Riverfest, formed in 1971. Guitarist/vocalist Lonesome Dave Peverett, bassist Tony Steven and drummer Roger Earl all left Savoy Brown, a group led by Kim Simmon, and formed Foghat at the height of the British blues explosion.

Rounded out by slide guitarist Rod Price, Foghat issued a series of well-received albums in the 1970s, including the 1975 LP "Fool for The City." The titular track and the tune "Slow Ride" became radio favorites, gaining even more ground a decade later when the classic rock format commanded the airwaves. Foghat's initial run came to an end in 1984 with the original members pursuing other musical projects.

Present-day guitarist Bryan Bassett first entered the Foghat family when Peverett launched his own version of the band in the 1980s. Bassett, who cut his teeth in the Pittsburgh music scene, experienced chart success with the group Wild Cherry, whose 1976 single "Play That Funky Music" has also become a radio staple. By the 1980s, he had moved to Florida, where he worked as a producer, engineer and studio musician for the small blues label King Snake Records and performed with his own, blues-based outfit.

It was through his friendship with guitarist Pat Travers ("Snortin' Whiskey") that he met Peverett, who invited him to join his band.

"Dave and I really hit it off," Bassett recalls, noting that Peverett would sometimes sit in with his band. "We played a lot of obscure stuff, but Dave, being the blues historian that he was, knew all of our songs and sat in with us.

"Then he invited me to join Lonesome Dave's Foghat. I really had to buckle down. He said, 'You play slide, right?' I said, 'Oh yeah, all the time.' I had played a little bit as a studio guitarist but not much. What's the saying? Fake it 'til you make it?"

The pair worked together until the original Foghat reconvened in the early 1990s. Bassett landed a gig with Molly Hatchet and remained with that outfit until 1999 when Price, who died in 2005, retired. Bassett has remained in the Foghat ranks since, appearing on no fewer than four studio albums and a range of live recordings.

Drummer Earl remains the sole remaining member from the original lineup (Peverett died in 2000, Stevens left in 2005). Earl and Bassett are joined by bassist Rodney O' Quinn and vocalist Scott Holt, who appear on "Sonic Mojo."

Bassett recently spoke with KMUW about Foghat's enduring appeal and its still-promising future.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What made 2023 the right time to make a new Foghat record?

We seem to do a live record and then once we gather up enough song ideas and some covers that we really like, we start thinking about putting out a project if all the material seems to hang together, and we got to that point [with this material]. We do a lot of jamming at soundchecks on old blues songs, and if we come up with an interesting arrangement on a song that we like, we record it at soundcheck on a phone and put it in a bank for later when we get to the studio. We ended up with 15 or 16 tracks that we really liked and boiled them down to 12, and then we put our manager Linda to work on all the hard stuff: distribution, artwork, all of that stuff. It just seemed like the right time.

There are a lot of veteran acts that don't make new music. They argue that nobody buys records or that fans don't want to hear new songs. But you put this out and it really lit up with the audience.

We're pleased and excited about it. We do a lot of pre-sales, so we hope to chart on the day that we drop the record, but this one has been in the top 10 for 25 weeks now, ever since it came out. It charted at number one on the Blues charts in "Billboard." So, we're just over the moon about it. Our fans like the record and everyone we talk to is really enjoying it, so there's not much more you could ask for.

It seems like bands that stick around for a while experience this phenomenon where they start attracting a younger audience at some point. There are the longtime fans but one way or another, a new generation discovers them.

I think we're on three generations now: Our original fans, a lot of them are grandparents now. They raised their kids on classic rock and their kids [did the same]. Several years ago, "Guitar Hero" featured "Slow Ride." I think it was the first song you had to play on one level. That brought a lot of young people to our shows. They brought their little black plastic guitars for us to sign. That game in particular introduced them to a lot of music of many classic bands.

I think the resurgence of vinyl is really having an effect, too. It's crazy. I pulled my old stereo out of storage for my daughters, and they inherited all of my records. I was going to give them to my buddy's record store but [my daughters said], "No, we want them all." So, my daughters' bedroom ended up looking like mine in 1972! [Laughs]. Same stereo, same record collection.

Were there Foghat songs that you hadn't appreciated the intricacies of before you had to play them?

Pretty much most of them. Rod was a fabulous slide player, one of the best ever. He had a very unique style. There's all kinds of slide tones out there. I was a big fan of Duane Allman, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder. They all have such distinct tones. A lot of them being played on Fender guitars with a real clean, glassy sound. Rod, on the other hand, played a Gibson with humbucking pickups through Marshall or Hiwatt [amplifier] stacks. Loud rock 'n' roll amps. It was a whole different technique learning how to mute strings and play cleanly without a lot of extraneous noise in [my] sound. I spent a lot of time studying the way he played and his songbook. He played a lot of difficult melodies in some of the songs, "Stone Blue" being one in particular. That was a real masterclass.

I got to play with him for a year, funny enough, in 1991. We went to Europe with Lonesome Dave's Foghat, and we asked Rod to come along, which he did. I was sort of like a spare tire for most of that year, being the third guitarist. [Laughs.] But I got to stand next to Rod and room with him and become friends with him and pretty much got an up-close masterclass with him every concert.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.