It’s surprising that, for all their desperation, the Grammys, Rockys or American Music Awards haven’t come up with the category Consort of the Year. Not that it would be easy to pick. Though Gov. Jerry Brown may be too busy running for reelection to enter, Cher became a strong contender by boogeying nonstop from Gregg All-man to Gene Simmons of Kiss. But the last waltz has been Britt Ekland’s. After leaving Rod Stewart to her lawyers, Britt fetched up in the rent-a-Learjet ferrying perhaps the hottest touring band of the season: Foghat. “Until now,” pronounces Britt, giving her ex the cruelest (non-LP) cut of all, “I never knew what good rock was.”
Her judgment may be colored by her new relationship with Foghat drummer Roger Earl (whose rooster hairstyling resembles Rod’s), but the lady does also have a discerning set of ears. The estimable English-bred Foghat has almost singlehandedly preserved the endangered species of blues-rock, and along the way they’ve caught on commercially, minting five gold and two platinum albums, including Stone Blue, in just six years. They have grossed $30 million, not counting the more than $5 million this year’s extended tour is expected to rake in.
Playing blues, though, is historically nothing if not preceded by paying dues, and even Foghat came on little cat feet. The quartet toured, often obscurely, in the early ’70s, opening for now defunct acts like Edgar Winter and visiting towns like Oshkosh, Wis., which several group members believed to be a fictional place. Once there, reports the co-founder and lead singer, “Lonesome” Dave Peverett, “we got three encores.”
The real cross-cultural incongruity is that rock’s leading interpreter of Mississippi Delta and Chicago blues is a band born in England. Peverett, now 28, grew up around London, where his father was an engineer turned insurance salesman. He first fantasized about becoming a cartoonist, but instead heard R&B greats like Fats Domino, Little Richard and Chuck Berry on jukeboxes, “and that’s where it started for me.” By 16 he had delved into blues originals like Robert Johnson and Otis Rush and dropped out of school. He bought a guitar “and spent all my time perfecting my moves in front of a mirror, working out chords and melodies on one string. I had no idea what the other strings were for.” About then Peverett, who co-writes most of the group’s songs, acquired his “Lonesome” prefix “because I was always with my guitar and records.”
After playing with blues bands in London clubs, “Lonesome” Dave in 1967 joined the Savoy Brown group, which later included Earl and bassist Tony Stevens. Three years later they split off to form their own band. Lead guitarist Rod Price, whose riveting slide guitar now carries the group, joined after answering a classified in an English music mag, and in 1976 American Craig MacGregor became the new bassist. (Foghat, says Peverett, is a jabberwocky word he and his brother once spelled out on a Scrabble board.)
The Foghatters now all live in the same area of Long Island’s North Shore. Dave, less lonesome now, has an English wife, plus Jason, 9, Lucy, 7, with a third due within the month. Earl, 32, is divorced and visits his 10-year-old daughter here and in the U.K. MacGregor and Price are both 28 and single.
At home Peverett fusses over a catalogued collection of thousands of old blues recordings, which he buys by the bushel. As their way of squaring their debts with the founding fathers, Foghat sponsored a tribute concert last year with guests like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Otis Blackwell to raise money for a New York City Public Library blues collection. “The business that you have to be poor and down-and-out to play the blues is bullshit,” Peverett believes. “Most blues is about human relationships, not politics or economics. Anybody who has lived through a painful relationship can sing the blues.”