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INTERVIEW: SCOTT HOLT of EARL & THE AGITATORS – November 2018

| 27 November 2018 | Reply

According to a recent press release: “If you enjoy your rock with blues, EARL & THE AGITATORS is the band for you!  And fans of the genre have already voiced their approval loud and clear – as the band’s latest release, has rocketed straight to #11 on the Billboard Blues Charts. Led by long-time/original FOGHAT drummer Roger Earl, EATA (a cool mix of rock, blues and a little bit of country) also features the exceptional vocals and guitar of former BUDDY GUY guitarist Scott Holt, FOGHAT members Bryan Bassett and Rodney O’Quinn on slide/lead guitar & bass, plus guitarist Tony Bullard and percussionist Mark Petrocelli.” We get guitarist and singer Scott Holt to discuss new music, touring, and much more…

Toddstar: Scott, thank you so much for taking time out, man. I appreciate it.

Scott: No problem, man. Glad to do it.

Toddstar: Let’s talk about the newest thing going on in your musical world. And it’s the release of Earl and Agitators All Star Band’s Shaken & Stirred.

Scott: Yep, that’s the new record.

Toddstar: What can you tell us about this record that a fan might not grab first or second time through?

Scott: It’s pretty much just the result of the three of us in the beginning, which was Roger and Bryan and I, just getting together at their studio in Florida, writing some music and playing some songs that were written by other people that we all liked and appreciated, and thought we could put an interesting spin on. When you listen to the record, it’s really just a group of musicians get together, and just stretching their talents out, and trying to see what’s out there.

Toddstar: Well, the cool news is, and I just got word this morning that this charted on the Blues charts at number 11.

Scott: Yeah, we were really excited to find that out. That’s a real shot in the arm for us. And I’d say all the reception of it, the comments I’ve been getting has all been positive. And I’m just real proud to be a part of it.

Toddstar: Well, it’s cool because listening through it, I mean, there is some stuff you guys have written, some stuff you guys were able to leverage from other writers or performers. Looking at the tracklist, is there a couple of songs in there that you really feel hit you deep within that really are just well representative of you as a player, Scott?

Scott: I think it was such a group effort to be honest with you. Not to try to sound overly humble or anything. But the way I play in this configuration, as opposed to how I play with my own band, or how I play in other situations is a lot different. I’m not used to having another guitar player to play off of. And Bryan and I play so well together, that it brings out another level of playing in me, and I think it makes me a better player. Playing with Roger, we connected instantly from the first time we met. I mean, it was like we’ve known each other our whole lives. He’s like a big brother to me, and I’m just thrilled to be in the camp.

Toddstar: Well, from the “Upside of Lonely” and through other tracks, and some of the ones that you guys actually hand on, I love “Honey Do List.” I really like “Love Isn’t Kind”, and then it rolls into “Fallen Angel.” Are there any songs in here that you think looking back will stand up against songs in your personal catalog?

Scott: Well, I think “Upside of Lonely” first of all has already proven itself. We did another version of that for Foghat’s last record, and it got a lot of airplay, and was received really well by the public. And it’s a great song. It was written by a guy named Tom Hambridge, who is a well-known producer, and musician. I think that song’s obviously a really strong song. I like them all. That’s like asking me, which one of my kids I’m going to keep? They’re all equally beautiful to me. But I don’t know, man. Trying to decide which song is going to hold up, that’s probably for somebody else to judge.

Toddstar: What’s it about this project that gives you that warm fuzzy? Is it being able to play alongside two friends of yours? Or is just being able to stretch your wings a bit from your normal solo type stuff?

Scott: Both, to be honest with you. I love playing with Roger and Bryan, and Rodney O’Quinn, the bassist. Tony Bullard is involved in this project too. And Mark Petrocelli is involved in it. And even Craig MacGregor, who was Foghat’s bass player, who passed away not long ago. He played on a few of the tracks on this record too. Getting a chance to make music with those guys is just an honor. And really, it makes me a better player. Like I said before, I play differently with them I think, than I do in my solo thing, or when I’m playing with other groups. It’s just a comfortable situation. It feels good. I wish Foghat needed three guitar players, and I’d just go with them all the time.

Toddstar: Well, that’s what was cool. It was years ago, and I was related to a different website at the time, and I interviewed you a long time ago. And when I saw the Foghat album come out, and I was able to talk to Roger about it, and I started going through the liner notes, and I find you, and I thought, “Holy shit. This is awesome.” And you guys being able to put that together, and then rolling into this project. For me, the fun of this project is also those live tracks at the end of it, that you guys recorded at Club Arcada in St. Charles, Illinois.

Scott: That was a fun night, man.

Toddstar: What’s it about especially the chemistry of you three that kind of bridges the gap to where you guys sound better live than you do in the studio, where you can fix everything?

Scott: The live thing has always been a seat of your pants type situation for me. And my first gig was with Buddy Guy, and I spent ten years studying under him. And I’ve never had like setlists, and there has never been like a specific arrangement for a song. Everything was always on the fly. With Buddy, he never called out song titles, or keys, or anything. You just had to be on the balls of your feet all the time to know what was coming next. So that’s how I was trained. Since then I’ve played with other groups. Some people have setlists, some don’t. Some have very definitive ideas about an arrangement for a song. It goes this way, and this happens every single time at this point in the song. Foghat’s very organized. They do setlists, and they have arrangements of their songs. Because the fans are coming to hear “Slow Ride,” they want to hear “Slow Ride” like they heard it back in the 70’s. Not your new jazz interpretation of it, you know? They have a certain responsibility to their audience to stay in their lane. And I’m blessed with a certain degree of anonymity, so I don’t have any responsibilities. I’m actually the black sheep of the family that comes rolling in, and goes, “Yeah, but what if we do it like this?” Kind of just messing everything up. But I think maybe to a degree, me coming in and coloring outside the lines kind of allows them to loosen up. Especially, since I’m the guy standing upfront. If it all comes crashing down, I’m the one standing there holding the rope. They can all back off and go, “Oh, look, it’s his fault.”

Toddstar: The live material – it’s really just a bonus for the record. Right now I’ve got “Where’s the Rock n’ Roll” playing in the background. Just the groove of this thing is amazing. But looking over the songs that you guys kind of covered on the live material, what songs are up there that you guys would like to cover, that you either just haven’t? You did a killer version of “Wild Horses,” a killer version of “Knock on Wood.” You’ve got a Willie Dixon’s “Let Me Love You Baby” on here. What songs are out there, that you guys have messed around with, that just sound amazing, but you haven’t been able to bring them to the fans yet?

Scott: The way we came up with the cover stuff that we did on the record, like the Johnny Cash tune, and the Johnny Burnette song, is Roger and I are hanging out, and we start talking about music that we like. And he and I are both big Johnny Cash fans. And he goes, “I’ve always thought “I Guess Things Happen That Way” would be a cool song to do.” And I’m like, “Well, what if we did it like a punk song, and we really revved it up?” And so we tried that, and that worked. That’s kind of been sort of the M-O of the whole thing with the cover tunes. I would back up and say that any song that interests us is fair game to be given the Earl & the Agitators treatment so to speak. Just to see what it would song like coming from us. I don’t know that there is a song that we’ve attempted, that we haven’t really pulled off. I know we pulled kind of a dirty trick on Rodney on that live show. Bryan Bassett was the original guitar player in Wild Cherry, and their big hit was “Play That Funky Music White Boy,” which everybody knows. The afternoon sound check of the show, we turn to Rodney, and go, “Hey, let’s do “Play That Funky Music,” and you sing it.” He’s got two hours to learn the words to the song because everybody knows the song. But like most songs that are that popular, a lot of people know the first half of the first verse, and then it sort of tails off after that. When you’re singing alone in your car it doesn’t matter. But boy Rodney had to try to remember all these words to the song. And there is three verses to the song. I don’t know all the words to it either. I was just glad they weren’t asking me to sing it. There is stuff like that where we pulled it off. It sounded great. But it wasn’t probably up to our standards. And it was only because we were really winging it too much probably at that point. And we should have just said, “Ah, you know what, let’s give this one a couple of weeks, and let’s all learn the words, and then we’ll be able to really chop it up good.”

Toddstar: That said, what is it about your tone, Scott? I love listening to you play. You bring a different tone. How do you get that kind of different feel, groove, or tone? What do you kind of chop that up to?

Scott: I guess, I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years, Todd. I’ve been playing music and trying to figure out the guitar, and I’m still trying to figure it out. I still have a guitar in my hands all the time. And one thing that I learned later on in my career was the fact that in the first part of your career you spend all your money on new guitars, and new amps, and new pedals, and new cords, and strings, and trying to figure out what’s the secret combination. I would read an article, and it would say, “Well, Jimi Hendrix used these strings. And I want to sound like Jimi Hendrix, well let me go get those strings, and put them on my guitar. And let me buy this Eric Clapton signature model, so it’s exactly like what Eric Clapton plays because I want to sound like Eric Clapton.” And you go through all that stuff, and then you realize one day that the tone that you have comes from your hands, and your heart, and your head. And nobody else has got that. But you can’t be anybody else either. Some people can come close. They can work at something until they get to a point where they sound very similar to their hero, or whatever. But once you discover your identity, and you embrace it, and you fold into that. That’s all I do now is I play like me. I play what I feel like I sound like, and my tone, and it just comes from my hands. I can do it. I’m going to sound like me on anybody’s guitar, through any amp. And I just play me. Good or bad. I’m not saying it like it’s a really great thing. I’m just saying I’m stuck with this guy.

Toddstar: Scott, based on everything I’ve been listening to – and it’s been a while now – it’s definitely on the good side. With Shaken & Stirred, I think you’re numbered Earl #1 through Earl #6. How did you guys decide that you were going to be Earl #1?

Scott: I tell people all the time we used the classic Rock N’ Roll playbook for this whole project, which is no plan whatsoever. We wrote all these songs while we were writing songs for the last Foghat record. These were the leftover songs from that. And we had all these songs, and so what are we going to do with it? Well, let’s make a record. Let’s put it out. Okay, well we need to call it something. What are we going to name the band? Let’s call it Earl & the Agitators. All right, let’s call it Earl & the Agitators. Well, I’ll be Earl. I have a feeling there might have been some wine involved in this. They called me up, and they go, “Okay, you’re going to be Earl #1.” And I’m like, “Why?” And they go, “Because you’re the guy in the front.” I said, “But Roger.” And they said, “No, Roger is Earl #4.” And I said, “Well, why is he four?” And he said, “Because I’m the drummer, I have to count to four.” I was like, “Oh, okay. There is a theory to it somehow.” I’m going to stick with so there was a lot of wine involved. That’s usually where the good ideas come from, and a lot of the bad ones too. You never know.

Toddstar: You guys are at #11 on the charts, which is amazing in this day and age because who knows even who is buying records anymore. But what else has Scott Holt got in the hopper? I mean, you did some work with Foghat. You guys did the Under The Influence, and there was a live package. Now there is this. What’s next for you?

Scott: I’m waiting on whatever God has got in store for me I guess. The last couple of years I’ve been doing this stuff with Foghat, I’ve been working on this Earl & the Agitators project. I worked with a girl named Hurricane Ruth, who is a rock and blues singer out of St. Louis. I just got through doing some stuff with Tim Williams, who just put out a country record. Tim is the Trivago guy, on the Trivago TV commercials. He put out a country record. I came on board with him to play guitar, and sing harmony vocals with him. I’ve been doing that, and I told my wife, I said, “I’m at a point in my career where I’m just going to start saying yes to everything. I said I’ll probably end up painting somebody’s fence because I’ll say yes before I find out what they’re asking me to do.” But you know, God let me play the guitar, and sing, and entertain people, and I’m grateful for it. And I’m trying to embrace it and appreciate it more, and just enjoy the ride. I’m going to make more records. I’m still touring with my band. I’m definitely going to be doing some stuff. I’m writing songs all the time, and they’ll have to come out at some point. For the immediate future, I’m looking forward to this Earl & the Agitators thing, and just seeing what we can do with it.

Toddstar: Any plans to take this out on the road and spread the joy of Shaken & Stirred?

Scott: I would love to. We’ve got some real preliminary plans. I know we’re doing a rock cruise in February. I know we’re going back to the Club Arcada in March of next year. And there is tentative talk of trying to put together a tour maybe later in the winter, or maybe after the first of the year. It really depends on the demand, if enough people want to see it, that we can mount some kind of run, then it’ll happen. And I’m always looking for an excuse to play with those guys. I mean, if they call me after you and I hang-up, and say, “Hey, we’re leaving in 20 minutes.” My shit’s packed. I’m ready to go.

Toddstar: It’s funny, Scott, because you mentioned one of your first gigs was with Buddy Guy, and now you’ve done stuff with the Foghat guys, and you’ve got your own band, and everything else. What’s amazing in your personal repertoire, when’s the last time you were star struck and who was it?

Scott: Really the only couple of times that I’ve really got tongued tied was when I met Prince. And probably the first time I met Stevie Ray Vaughan, where I was just almost immobile. You just couldn’t get words out. I mean, I had it a little bit with Clapton, but I managed to ask him about fishing, which sort of broke the ice, and we were able to get off. With Prince, I had nothing. I was just this blubbering little idiot. And with Stevie, I met Stevie for the first time right after I started playing guitar, so he was a big hero, big influence. And there he is standing in front of me, and I was like, “Ah, blah, blah, blah.” I couldn’t come up with anything. Other than that, I mean, I got used to it. With Buddy, I had the opportunity because we crossed paths with everybody. I got to meet and know B.B. King, and John Lee Hooker, and Albert Collins, and Albert King. You know, Willie Dixon, and Koko Taylor, and Lonnie Brooks. I mean, the list goes on and on. Luther Allison. I met everybody – all my heroes that were still alive. Junior Wells, I got to know real well. And so with Buddy I had the opportunity to meet them as human beings. When you’re a fan, you sort of have this pedestal type attitude towards artists, where you kind of appreciate them from afar. And you don’t really think about them as human beings. But with B.B. King, we traveled together. We did tours together, especially over in Europe. We had the same lobby calls, and we were on the same buses together, and we were doing the same stuff together. And you could see them in the day-to-day existence, and it humanized everything for me. Then when I would meet Eric Clapton, I was able to say, “Hey, I understand you like fishing.” I think the other thing I asked him, he had just quit using Soldano amps. This was in the 80’s I think, or the 90’s. And I said, “Man, why did you quit using those amps?” He goes, “Well, I couldn’t heard the rest of the band.” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m trying to hear you.” You know, stuff like that. That was one of the real blessings of being with Buddy was getting to meet all those people, and getting to know them on that level. I mean, walking into John Lee Hooker’s dressing room for the first time with Buddy, and hearing that voice that I had heard on records like Burning Hell, and all these great John Lee Hooker records. And then here’s this guy, and he loves Buddy, so he’s cracking up laughing. He’s got this real high pitched laugh. And he’s talking to Buddy, and all he wants to do is crack Buddy up. He’s trying to make Buddy laugh, and so they’re both just cackling. And it was so cool because I thought, “Well, John Lee Hooker is going to be this very serious man.” You listen to “I’m in the Mood,” and there is some danger in that song. Then you go meet the guy and he’s hilarious. It was a really cool blessing that I got from Buddy on that trip.

Toddstar: That’s cool. What’s it like for you, Scott, when you’re on the other side of the coin, and a fan comes up to you, and they’re that blubbering idiot?

Scott: Well, if it does happen to me, I try to defuse it. You know, empathize with them, and then just say, “Man, I’m just trying to pay my rent like everybody else.” It’s more fun to converse with somebody on an even level. The handful of times that I’ve had somebody that was really kind of fan-sy with me. It’s uncomfortable for both of you. It’s hard for you to receive something like that, as hard as it is for them to try to articulate. It’s like when I met Stevie for the first time. Or when I met Prince, that’s a better example. Prince was a huge influence on me, and I had been a huge Prince fan since the very beginning, since I ever heard of him. And so you meet this person, and you’ve got a 20 year relationship with them because you’ve been listening to them, and buying all their records, and you’ve been going to their concerts, and you’ve been doing all this stuff. Here’s you 30 seconds to say something to that person. How are you going to tell them what they mean to you in 30 seconds without sounding like a psycho? When you meet a celebrity, or you meet an artist, and it’s somebody that you admire, that’s the challenge that you’re up against every time. It’s like what I’m going to say to you that’s going to convey to you exactly what you mean to me, or should I even bother? That’s kind of the fan thing, and I’ve been on both sides of this. I know how it feels from both sides.

Toddstar: I am lucky enough I get to speak to guys like you. And it’s like I am a fan – how do you put that fan boy aside for a second, and say, “Nope, I’ve got to do an interview.” I can’t sit here and go, “Oh, my god. I love this album. I love that song. How did you do that?” You know what I mean? I get where you’re coming from, you’ve got to draw that line somewhere.

Scott: Did you ever the thing in Saturday Night Live with Chris Farley, when he was interviewing Paul McCartney? He’s like, “You know when you did that “Yesterday,” that was a real good song. Wow, those Beatles were really good. You guys were great.”

Toddstar: Exactly. It’s just that whole vibe. And that said, and I know you’re a busy guy, and I got to let you go. But I’ve got one more for you. And from that fan side for you, Scott, what’s the one album you can think of that influenced you enough, that if you had the opportunity, you’d have wanted to be a part of it? Whether it was recording on it, singing on it, playing on it, or just sitting in the damn room while they recorded it.

Scott: A Man and the Blues by Buddy Guy. “One Room Country Shack” was the first Buddy Guy song that I heard. And it absolutely just floored me. That and Jimi Hendrix was my idol. He was the guy that made me start playing guitar. I heard Jimi Hendrix, and I said, “That’s what I want to do.” And up until that point I had no sort of career awareness, or even just any awareness at all of anything that I might be interested. You know, I had no idea. I was just fresh out of high school, no goals, no nothing. I pick up a Jimi Hendrix tape randomly, and listened to I think “Purple Haze” is the first song I heard. And it was like somebody flipped a switch. All of a sudden everything was in Technicolor, and I was like, “That’s what I want to do.” And I went home to my parents, I said, “I’ve got to get a guitar, I need to take lessons. I want to learn how to do this.” And it all started from there. But those two records jump to my mind as the two most influential and early on that really caught my attention, and made me pick a guitar up, and say, “I want to do this for a living.”

Toddstar: Awesome. Well, Scott, man, I appreciate the time again. I had the opportunity years ago to speak with you, and again it’s a pleasure as a fan. Not only you, but your music, and especially the new album Shaken & Stirred. We wish you well with this album. We hope the next press release I see says that this hit the top 10. And hopefully you guys will get some dates on, especially here in Detroit, and get you guys up here.

Scott: I really appreciate it, man. I appreciate talking to you. And I hope it’s not so long before we get to talk again.

Toddstar: Me too, Scott.

Scott: All right, man. Well, you have a good one.

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Todd ‘ToddStar’ Jolicoeur

Category: Interviews

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ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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