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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  IV

 

Although they would not make the national charts until 1968, the Fogertys, Clifford and Cook began their recording career in 1964. Tom Fogerty had gotten a job as a packing and shipping clerk at Berkeley-based Fantasy Records, best known for its jazz releases. In 1963, a nationally televised documentary had focused on the label’s success in making the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s light jazz classic 'Cast Your Fate to the Wind' a popular hit. Tom succeeded in getting the group an audition with Fantasy which released 'Don't Tell Me No Lies,' sung by Tom, under the Golliwogs name in November. Neither their debut nor the 1965 follow-ups 'Where You Been' and 'You Can't Be True,' attracted much attention outside the Bay Area. The first indication that the Golliwogs might finally break out of the cycle of local bars and clubs came when 'Brown Eyed Girl,’ released on Fantasy's new teen-oriented Scorpio imprint, sold 10,000 copies in the regional market.

But before they had a chance to capitalize on the success, Fogerty and Clifford were drafted. In 1966, the American public had no yet begun to worry much about Vietnam. The domestic economy was booming; the anti-war movement was limited to a relatively small group of activists portrayed in the media as an un-American lunatic fringe. In public President Lyndon Johnson down-played the extent of American involvement while in private he told advisors: "I don't think it’s worth fighting for, I don't think that we can get out. It’s just the biggest damn mistake I ever saw. This is a terrible thing that we're getting ready to do."

Even though Fogerty was "able to finagle my way into a reserve unit," he shared the GI’s knowledge of how sharply the reality differed from its image.

"It was actually at the height of the war so all the rules were changing," he recalls. "There were National Guard guys whose units got shipped over to Vietnam. It was amazing. Things got real altered, but luckily for me, I didn’t have to go overseas or serve three years in the hard-core Army."

The fact that Johnson attempted to hide the escalation by refusing to call up reserve units -which in effect shifted the burden of the fighting to draftees who were more likely to be from black, rural and working-class background- simply reflects how confused the experience of Vietnam was for everyone who came anywhere close to it.

In 1967 when Fogerty finished serving his six months' active duty as Ft. Bragg, Ft. Knox and Ft. Lee, the "Summer of Love" was establishing San Francisco as the center of a counterculture based in large part on its opposition to what was beginning to be seen more widely as a corrupt and futile war. Like Jimi Hendrix, who served in the Army’s elite "Screaming Eagles" parachute unit in the early '60s, Fogerty never confused hatred for the war with hostility to the draftees who found themselves fighting it. He appreciates the intense response his music received from the 'grunts' -"you weren’t really a vet until after you got back," Fogerty notes- who served in Vietnam.

Although numerous CCR songs have been used in soundtracks for movies on Vietnam and at least a half dozen were adopted by the anti-war movement, Fogerty wrote only two of them with Vietnam specifically in mind: The blistering "Fortunate Son" and the meditative "Who'll Stop the Rain." But there’s no question that CCR's music played a much broader role in the musical culture of Vietnam. Marsh places "Fortunate Son" alongside "Don't Look Now" and "Bad Moon Rising" on his list of the top 15 protest songs of the 1960s; "Who'll Stop the Rain" was used as the title of the movie version of Robert Stones classic Vietnam novel Dog Soldiers; "Run Through the Jungle" appears on the soundtrack of the film adaptation of Ron Kovac’s memoir Born on the Fourth of July.

Fogerty finds it interesting that "Run Through the Jungle" is almost always heard as a song about Vietnam.

"It definitely got adopted by the guys in-country," he says. "But it was really my remark about American society, the metaphor being society as a jungle. When I sang "two hundred million guns are loaded" I was talking about the ease with which guns are purchased in America. And it is a jungle."'

"It's even worse now. To me it's a sad thing. 'Satan cries take aim.' We're all killing each other. That part of it was an anti-gun statement." Fogerty pauses to consider his words carefully. "You may think that’s a paradox because I love to go hunting. I enjoy the ownership of guns. Guns have a history and a lore like guitars and cars and even women," he says with a laugh.

But he quickly turns serious when he asserts that "I'm not confused. I don't need an AK-47 to go deer hunting. It’s pretty clear that if you have something like that, you want to kill people. I think it’s respectable to waste a lot of time with an old hunting rifle or an old Colt six-shooter. That's cool because it’s a kind of American history and lore, But I don't think any true gun freak would mind being regulated." Fogerty speaks with passion when he says, "I think it’s the nut cases that are bothered by that. Charlton Heston scares the shit out of me. A lot of the NRA gays are hunters, but the NEA itself hasn't done the country any good with its. endorsements of Teflon bullets, which were only meant to go through armored plate and kill policemen. The NRA’s just had it all wrong."

During the Vietnam era, garage bands playing for racially-mixed audiences on military bases back home found they could get by mixing in Creedence jams with some Chicago blues and the sorts of R&B standards that began to appear more frequently in the performances of the newly renamed Creedence Clearwater Revival.

There are competing versions of how the band's name was put together. Everyone agrees that "Revival" was chosen to symbolize the band's new direction. But at different times Creedence has been attributed to either the band’s belief in themselves or the name of Tom Fogerty's friend Creedence Nuball. Similarly, some have said "Clearwater" came from a commercial praising a beer's "sparkling clear waters" despite John’s 1969 statement that it indicated "something deep, true and pure through which the light always shines."

Fogerty remembers the period leading up to the release of the group’s first album as a period of self-definition. After "Porterville," which despite a strong lyric falls has a somewhat generic blues rock feel, failed to attract much attention, he set about creating a more distinctive sound.

"I wanted the band to sound mysterious, to have its own definition," he remembers. "So I decided to mess around with 'Suzie Q', which was a cool rock and roll song by Dale Hawkins. I kind of did the same thing with 'I Put a Spell on You,' Those songs took us to another place than where we'd been for ten years." When a demo version of 'Suzie Q' began to receive extensive airplay to the Bay Area, Fantasy decided to re-record an extended version of the song, which was released as both sides of CCR’s first hit single (#11).

The group’s debut album Creedence Clearwater Revival (#52, 1968) reflected Fogerty’s interest in moving beyond a straight rock and roll sound. Alongside "I Put a Spell On You," which reached #58 as the follow-up to "Suzie Q," the album places several Fogerty originals ("The Working Man," "Get Down Woman," "Walk on the Water") that would have sounded at home on an album by blues rockers Canned Heat or the Paul Butterfield Band. A cover of Wilson Pickett’s "Ninety-Nine and a Half" provides evidence of the band’s continuing attempts to find that "little shuffle." Later CCR and Fogerty albums included versions of Jackie Wilson’s "Lonely Teardrops" and the Motown classic "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." Despite some nice moments in the extended guitar breaks on "Grapevine," the relatively static rhythms made it clear Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight had nothing to worry about.

The liner notes to Creedence Clearwater Revival provided a peculiar, and somewhat lukewarm, introduction. Written by Rolling Stone consulting editor Ralph J. Gleason, a leading jazz critic who had enthusiastically embraced rock 'n' roll, the notes present a panoramic overview of San Francisco's emerging scene. Praising area groups as "the dominant force in a popular music which is the most universal expression of attitudes and ideas we've ever seen," Gleason divided San Francisco groups into three echelons, the top one headed by the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Moby Grape. According to Gleason, the bands performed in venues divided into "three concentric circles," descending from the gaudy heights of the major ballrooms in small clubs like the Lion’s Share, Deno-Carlo and the New Monk.

Creedence, who Gleason gets around to naming only in the final paragraph of the lengthy essay, had spent most of its existence playing in spots Gleason would have placed somewhere between circles eight and 14. Belatedly getting around to the business at hand, Gleason closes with a tepid endorsement of CCR as a band "which gives every indication...of keeping the strength of San Francisco sound undiminished."

"It was nice of him to mention our name in the very last sentence. On our own record," Fogerty says with a lingering touch of exasperation. "The whole rest of the thing went to declaring San Francisco the center of the universe. Airplane, Dead, Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger Service. ‘In future years everyone will know the San Francisco sound permeated the world, one of the greatest influences, Creedence Clearwater Revival is a fine example of the third generation." Fogerty breaks from his professor's voice. "What?? We'd been there when those guys were off in Texas or someplace. So it kind of pissed us off."

"San Francisco sound, great. You mean like Peter Wheat and the Breadmen? San Francisco sound? You mean like We Five," Fogerty names two of the numerous groups active in the Bay Area long before the Summer of Love. "It was all sort of a concoction. I have to say I looked at it with a bit of a jaundiced eye. We knew that many of those people came to San Francisco later. I thought the whole myth, the mythology of the San Francisco sound, was a concoction, almost like a Chamber of Commerce thing."

Creedence had relatively little contact with Gleason’s "first echelon" bands: "The Grateful Dead were always a little off from our circle. They did things differently. And the Airplane, at least in those days, gave off his vibe, this attitude like Creedence somehow didn’t fit into those circles. It was very real. I could never put my finger on what it was, but we were considered outsiders in our own town."

Once CCR records began to appear, their peculiar outsider status didn’t keep them from advancing into the top circle of bay Area venues. In May 1968, as "Suzie Q" began to appear on the radio, the group made it’s Avalon Ballroom debut on a bill with bluesman Taj Mahal; in July they played the Fillmore West along with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. In September, with ‘Suzie Q" rising on the national charts, they played the Fillmore West three more times. In early 1969, they were back at the Fillmore West on bills with Fleetwood Mac, then in its Peter Green-era blues incarnation, and Jethro Tull.

Fogerty emphasizes Creedence admired and developed friendships with some San Francisco-based bands. He expresses a special admiration and fondness for Santana.

"Carlos and the guys in the band were up and coming at the same time. Carlos was a smoking guitar player and the band was hot. They were doing something quite different from everyone else. They were relaxed and genuine, really nice people. That was fun. I was meeting guys with a dream in their eyes, guys who were going someplace."

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