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GOLDMINE

JOHN FOGERTY

by Craig Werner

Originally published in GOLDMINE #443, July 18, 1997
Webpublished here by author's permission


Part  I

 

The history of rock 'n' roll bears witness to the power of the unmistakably individual voices bubbling up from subterranean reservoirs of the blues, gospel, and country music. Chuck Berry's ringing guitar; Little Richards's gospel whoops; the young Elvis rockabilly draw; the James Jamerson bass lines propelling the great Motown records of the mid-sixties. If you can name the artists in three notes, chances are pretty good they're going to wind up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Creedence Clearwater Revival was inducted into the Hall by Bruce Springsteen in 1993 mostly because of John Fogerty's distinctive guitar and voice. Patron saint of garage bands throughout America, Fogerty wrote, produced, sang lead and played lead guitar on the records that made CCR's politically-charged "swamp rock" one of the defining sound of the Sixties rock 'n’ roll. Between 1968 -when Credence emerged from nearly a decade of playing bars, high school dances and military bases up and down the west coast- and the band's 1972 break-up, Fogerty and CCR released at least a dozen songs that seem to flow up out of the deepest wellsprings of American music: "Bad Moon Rising, "Green River", "Run Through the Jungle," "Who'll Stop the Rain," 'Lodi", "Fortunate Son," "Proud Mary", if you make it to the end of list without at least a few Fogerty riffs echoing in your head, it's probably time to put this article and locate a copy of Yuppi Nostalgia's special issue on James Taylor.

Like Elvis, Little Richard and James Brown, Fogerty produced music that resonates with the sounds of the American South. Reflecting on his recent "pilgrimage" through the Mississippi Delta, Fogerty pinpoints the curious fact that the poorest, most oppressed and oppressive parts of the nation gave rise to something like a shared interracial heritage.

"I think about what Muddy Waters really did and he's every bit as seminal, as ground- breaking, as epochal as Elvis Presley. It's funny that they're both from Mississippi. It's kind of the same journey, just some years apart. Initially, they went to different parts of our culture, but they ended up in the same place."

When Fogerty's voice drawls out the opening lines of CCR's "Green River" -"Take me back down where cool water flows, y'all/Help me remember things I don't know"- he's staking a claim to his corner of the mythic American soil where, if race doesn't go away, it at least doesn't keep us from hearing each other's voices. More like Springsteen than Elvis and Muddy Waters, Fogerty came to his soulful rock and roll through radio rather than regional upbringing. Fogerty's story belongs to a profoundly American mythic tradition that allows you to reinvent yourself as a way of discovering something better and deeper than what you "really" were. It's a way of imagining community into the broken world. Fogerty's music belongs as much to the Louisiana swamps as to the San Francisco Bay area where he was born and raised.Which doesn't change the fact that Creedence's claim to being the quintessential San Francisco band is as strong as the Grateful Dead's and a whole lot stronger than those of the Jefferson Airplane or Big Brother and the Holding Company.

After nearly a decade away from performance - broken only by appearances at benefits for Vietnam veterans, earthquake victims and AIDS research - Fogerty is bringing his classic sound back to the stage. During a June performance at Chicago's House of Blues, Fogerty created a perfectly seasoned gumbo of songs from his new CD Blue Moon Swamp blended with the CCR classics he hadn't performed regularly for over two decades as a result of sometimes bitter disputes with Creedence's record label, Fantasy.

During an interview with GOLDMINE at his Chicago hotel, Fogerty talked about how a kid from a working class California suburb near Berkeley came by his "Southern" voice.

"It was totally unconscious," Fogerty said in a speaking voice that bears no trace of Memphis or New Orleans. "I didn't even know it was Southern. I knew from the inside that I liked talking about swamps and spooky stuff, but I didn't set out to do anything in particular. It just felt real good when I finished a song like 'Born on the Bayou.' I'd go, 'yeah, I like that, I'd buy a record like that."

Fogerty remembers being somewhat surprised when "people kept pointing out it seemed so Southern, so swampy. I've thought about this for years. Where did that come from? Because I grew up in El Cerrito, California, and there wasn't much Southern about it."

The answer to Fogerty's meditations arrived, appropriately enough, at the 1986 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner where he delivered the Induction speech for Buddy Holly. Holly was part of the initial group of inductees, alongside Elvis, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown and Chuck Berry "That was when I finally got my answer," Fogerty recalls with a smile. "I'd been thinking about this for 25 years. That night I stood there and either the people who were being honored were at the same time or their posters. There were pictures of everybody and I looked at each one of them and realized they were all from the South. The only one I wasn't sure was from the South was Sam Cooke.

"So it was at least nine out of 10," Fogerty continues. "And I found out later Sam Cooke was from Clarksdale, Mississippi, so it was really ten out of ten. Rock 'n’ roll is Southern and that's why I'm Southern. Because what I learned from was Southern. I rest my case." Fogerty frames the question as one of regional roots that impart a distinct Southern family resemblance to rock and roll everywhere.

"If you imitate your father and other people say, 'Hey, you imitated your father,' you don't even have a choice. You just do what you see."

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