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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 VI

 

The last of Creedence's classic albums, Cosmo’s Factory represents what Fogerty calls a "culmination" of the group’s career.

"It may actually be our best records." he says. "I always thought it was the culmination. By that time, Creedence had all these records and we looked back and put everything on it. It was almost redemptive, you might say: We’d done all these things and it was like ‘Boom! There, I said it again.’"

It’s a good description. Cosmo’s Factory features three Top Ten singles ("Travelin' Band," "Up Around the Bend," and "Long As I Can See the Light"); two of Fogerty's strongest political lyrics ("Who'll Stop the Rain," "Run Through the Jungle"); a shot of rockabilly rhythm ("Ooby Dooby") and a couple shots of blues ("Before You Accuse Me," "My Baby Left Me"); and the extended jams on "Ramble Tumble" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," that let Fogerty stretch out like he had on "Suzie Q."

But there’s little question that the hectic pace of the previous three years was beginning to take its toll on the band, both creatively and personally. Fogerty admits to suffering from burnout.In addition to almost constant recording, Creedence had begun to tour Internationally, beginning with a 1970 tour that took them to London's Royal Albert Hall, where they performed alongside Booker T and the MGs, the originators of "Green Onions." Members of the MGs backed up Fogerty during his 1985 appearance on an A&M Records Soundstage show and again in 1995 when Fogerty appeared at the Concert for the Rock and Roll hall of Fame in Cleveland. Presumably, the shuffle thing worked fine.

By 1971, however, it seemed clear that serious tensions were developing within CCR. Clifford, Cook and Tom Fogerty all expressed desires for greater input into the band’s creative decisions. Those concerns played a part in Tom’s decision to withdraw from CCR in early 1971, ostensibly to spend more time with his family. That September, while the group was in the midst of its second European tour, Clifford collapsed following a concert in Amsterdam, suffering from scarlet fever. But in early 1972, CCR was back on the road, touring Australia and Japan.

In October, the company holding the copyright to Little Richard’s "Good Golly, Miss Molly" filed a suit, later settled out of court, accusing Fogerty of plagiarism on "Travelin' Band." It’s an issue rock 'n' roll has never really come to terms. with. In a field defined by three chords and a half dozen rhythm patterns, there’s bound to be a lot of family resemblance between songs. Certainly if Fogerty had a dollar for every time a rock band’s written a song as similar to one of his as "Travelin’ Band" is to "Good Golly Miss Molly," he’d be set for the next couple of centuries.But for Fogerty, what would become an absurdist drama on the theme of plagiarism was just beginning.

In the midst of these changes, CCR released its last two albums: Pendulum, the last album on which Tom appears, and Mardi Gras, the first album on which John shared producing credits with Cook and Clifford.Highlighted by the uptempo rocker "Hey Tonight" and Fogerty’s moving ballad "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?," Pendulum reveals an increasing interest in instrumental textures that move beyond the four piece rock format CCR had held to from the beginning. "Sailor’s Lament," for examples, incorporates saxophone, and what sounds like some unobtrusive synthesizer effects; "Chameleon" opens with an R&B riff from a horn section modeled on the Memphis Horns. "(Wish I Could) Hideway" with an organ solo. Pendulum isn’t really a bad album, but it was along way down the bayou from Green River.

And it stood head and shoulders above Mardi Gras, the next record. Commenting on Rolling Stone’s selection of Willy and the Poorboys for the top 200, Fogerty laughs and says: "You remember of course that Rolling Stone also had a comment about Mardi Gras back in ‘72. They called it the worst album ever made by a major rock band. And John agreed when he read it." Fogerty smiles again. "You can’t escape what you do. You’re better off just being honest about it. Anyway, it’s nice that they didn’t choose to put that one on the list."

There’s no escaping the fact that the problems on Mardi Gras grow directly out of Fogerty’s surrender of the creative control that had made Creedence Clearwater something special. The only songs that bear comparison with the earlier work are the ones with the distinctive Fogerty stamp: "Someday Never Comes," "Sweet Hitch-Hiker," "Lookin’ for a Reason." The Tom Fogerty, Clifford and Cook materials reveals nothing to suggest bright post-Creedence careers. Before his death from tuberculosis in 1990, Tom recorded several solo albums and played occasionally with Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia. Clifford, who also released a solo album, and Cook, who would join Southern Pacific in the mid-Eighties, would later provide the rhythm section on albums by Doug Sahm and the Don Harrison Band. Enough said.

Although he shows few signs of the bitterness that developed between him and his former bandmates in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. Fogerty makes no attempt to downplay his central role in the creation of the CCR sound. In a recent interview with Michael Goldberg, Fogerty meditated on "this mythical character that I invented called Creedence. And we all tend to say ‘Oh yeah, Creedence songs.' It’s a cartoon I invented. And basically, it became a recording entity well before it became an in-person entity... Because I created this alter ego thing, this Creedence thing, it was allowed to kind of bubble under in an unspoken way, kind of like a deformed half brother in the closet or something."

The monster in the closet began to emerge after Creedence formally broke up in October 1972. Fogerty continued to work in the studio, pursuing the country sound he had begun to explore on songs like "Lookin’ Out My Back Door." His first solo album, a compilation of country classics released as The Blue Ridge Rangers (#47), featured a cover of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)," which reached #16; a second single, "Hearts of Stone," made it to #37. But Fogerty looks back on the Blue Ridge Rangers as a good idea gone wrong.

"I wouldn't do it the way I did it then," he admits. "Meaning, I wouldn't play all the instruments. I love that music, Blue Ridge Rangers was a really cool idea, it was just limited by John Fogerty playing all the instruments. That’s a dumb idea," he laughs. "But those songs are great songs. It was great to not worry about writing the songs, and then just arrange it through a rock and roll guy's eyes."

"Will the Blue Ridge Rangers ever surface again?" Fogerty asks himself. He stops to think.He’s still working on his country licks, having learned to play dobro for one of the songs on Blue Moon Swamp. On the current tour, he’s performing an updated version of "Working on a Building" from the Blue Ridge Rangers' album "Yeah, I think it will. But with real people. I have every intention of making a record eventually with people like Jerry Douglass who just scares me, he’s so great. I would like some of that on a record I do some day."

Fogerty sounds less enthusiastic about the first post-Creedence album released under his own name, John Fogerty (#78). The strongest cuts on the album, where Fogerty again plays all the instruments, are the two singles, "Rockin' All Over the World" (#27) and "Almost Saturday Night" (#78). Although neither meets the standards established by "Fortunate Son" or "Green River," the compositions had enough going for them to become substantial hits in England in cover versions. Dave Edmunds had a hit with "Almost Saturday Night," while the Status Quo took "Rockin' All Over the World" to #3 on the British charts in 1971. Like other rock immortals, Fogerty has made a strong impact on a range of other musicians. John Lennon praised Creedence for resisting the pretense that infiltrated late '60s rock; Bruce Springsteen has incorporated "Run Through the Jungle," "Who'll Stop the Rain," and "Rockin' All Over the World" into his live performances. Even before Ike and Tina, Solomon Burke and the Checkmates had placed "Proud Mary" on the R&B charts. Country-rock bands associated with the "No Depression" movement -Wilco, Son Volt, the Jayhawks- cite Fogerty as a primary influence. Sonic Youth named an album after "Bad Moon Rising;" an early incarnation of Pearl Jam was named Green River.

During the mid-Seventies, major problems began to develop between Fogerty, his former bandmates and, most crucially, Fantasy Records president Saul Zaentz. Convinced that Fantasy had mismanaged CCR's financial affairs, Fogerty abandoned his plans for an album tentatively titled Hoodoo and retired to a farm in Oregon. Meanwhile Fantasy continued to release packages of greatest hits and live albums, including Live in Europe (#143), which had been recorded during the group’s 1971 tour, and The Concert (#62). Originally released as The Royal Albert Hall Concert, the latter was retitled when Fantasy discovered it had inadvertently mastered the record using from a 1970 Oakland Coliseum performance

For most of the next decade Fogerty remained withdrawn from public life, reuniting briefly with Creedence to play at his brother’s wedding reception in 1980 and a school reunion in El Cerrito in 1983. Two years later, he released a comeback album on Warner which reached #1. A blend of Creedence style rock 'n' roll and Memphis rockabilly, Centerfield demonstrated Fogerty’s undiminished ability as a singer, songwriter and instrumentalist. The first single from the album, "The Old Man Down the Road" reached the Top Ten, and Fogerty followed up with a two-sided hit pairing "Rock and Roll Girls" (#20) and "Centerfield" (#44). Yet another cut from Centerfield, "Big Train From Memphis" hit #36 on the country and western charts. The album also included a song titled "Zantz Can't Dance," a tirade against the Fantasy executive that climaxed with the chorus: "Zanz can’t dance, but he'll steal your money." When Zaentz threatened to sue, Fogerty sarcastically reworked the song into "Vanz Kant Danz."

What should have been a moment of triumph rapidly came to resemble a Kafka parable when Fantasy, supported by Clifford and Cook, brought suit against Fogerty for plagiarism. Citing the similarity in sound and structure between "The Old Man Down the Road" and "Run Trough the Jungle," the suit forced Fogerty into the bizarre position of having to defend himself in court against charges of sounding like himself. At one point in the trial, after demonstrating the relatively limited harmonic structure of swamp rock on his guitar, Fogerty said in exasperation, "Yeah, it’s the same interval. What am I supposed to do, get an inoculation?"

"I proved that, no, I didn’t copy myself, I invented something new that really sounds a lot like me," Fogerty told Goldberg "Do you find fault with Elvis for sounding like Elvis? When McCartney sounds like McCartney or Dylan sounds like Dylan? No one else ever had to go through that." Ultimately the main legal issues were resolved in Fogerty’s favor, but persistent appeals kept the final financial settlement in litigation until 1993. As a result, an angry Fogerty refused to play any Creedence material on his 1986 tour.

Looking back on the battles with Fantasy today, Fogerty sounds at peace:

"The real reason that I'm not going to hide under a rock again is that I feel a lot better about myself. I'm not going to worry about the things Saul Zaentz has done, or the other guys from Creedence. Mostly what they've done is lack support." Fogerty pauses, "Abandonment is a pretty strong word in that situation. But a lot of the things that hurt me personally, or even in a professional way, caused a lot of diversions. I have to go this way. I have to go that way."

Fogerty credits his recovery primarily to the influence of his wife, Julie.

"With the help of my wife," he says, "I've gotten past worrying about that too much any more. They are the way they are and things I'm sure will continue because it’s their nature. But me being me is more important. I should be writing songs, making music, singing in front of people rather than defending myself. That’s my real job in life."

When someone in the audience called out a request for "Vanz Kant Danz" during the House of Blues performance, Fogerty laughed and responded, "I ain't that pissed off any more, We’ll save that one for some other tour."

Between Centerfield and Blue Moon Swamp, which Fogerty once vowed "won't sound sort of like a Creedence album, it'll sound exactly like a Creedence album," he recorded only one record, Eye of the Zombie (#26). Released as the conflict with Zaentz was heating up, Eye of the Zombie sounds not at all like a Creedence album. An interesting if unsuccessful experiment with Stax-style Memphis soul, the album expresses Fogerty’s disgust with the political situation in Ronald Reagan’s America. "Headlines," "Violence Is Golden," and the title cut, which died at #81 as the album’s only single, provide a strong sense of America as a nightmare landscape ruled by the living dead.

But the songs really don’t work musically or lyrically, which is one of the reasons Blue Moon Swamp isn’t filled with explicitly topical songs. "I made a conscious effort not be so heavy-handed as Zombie was," he says."I'm a rock and roll guy and a music maker first. I consider Zombie kind of an overindulgent mistake. Just too much preaching, too much soapboxing. Where do I get coming off with all that stuff?"

"It was just too much and the album became something almost unlistenable," Fogerty says, overstating his case considerably. "It wasn't something you'd gravitate back to. If I was lucky somebody's buy it and maybe listen to it once, I mean I could barely listen to it. I don’t listen to it now. It has some moments, but it's not well constructed and I don't encourage anybody to buy that record. Life is a learning process and the foremost lesson being that what I do should be entertaining. You don't scare people to death or overpreach them. You tell a kid ‘God’s gonna punish you,’ they rather go fishing."

A decade later, Fogerty isn’t worried about repeating that mistake. On Blue Moon Swamp, he set out "to make it just right," to make "a record that really rocks." A great rock and roll record, Fogerty observes, "is about more than just the songs. It’s about the playing. If you’re calling it a rock and roll record and it’s not rocking, it hasn’t got most of what it really needs. When I was making this album I said, this can’t just be a guy’s impression of a rock and roll album, it’s got to be a rock and roll album."

Fogerty’s return to the concert stage was spurred both by his desire to play the new songs for a live audience and his wife’s suggestions that he return to music.

"She ribbed me saying 'when are you going to play something where you actually earn some money?'" Fogerty laughs. "It's true. I’ve done a lot of benefits because I believe in them. But they’re sort of quirky. It's a little strange when you prepare for a month for just one night. And then you come out and it’s all over."

Looking ahead to his summer tour, Fogerty underlined the connection between his old and his new material.

"I didn't just walk out one day and say ‘Hey, I'm gonna go play the old songs, that'll put me back with the in crowd, that'll save my career.’ It wouldn't have been honest for me to play the old songs until I could make it all one life again, which is what I think I've done now. The old John and the new John are realty the same guy."

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