by Craig Werner
Originally published in GOLDMINE #443, July 18, 1997
Webpublished here by author's permission
The last of Creedence's classic albums, Cosmos Factory
represents what Fogerty calls a "culmination" of the groups 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:
Wed done all these things and it was like Boom! There, I said it
Its a good description. Cosmos 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 theres 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 bands creative decisions. Those concerns played a part in Toms
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 Richards
"Good Golly, Miss Molly" filed a suit, later settled out of court, accusing
Fogerty of plagiarism on "Travelin' Band." Its 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, theres bound to be a lot of family resemblance between songs.
Certainly if Fogerty had a dollar for every time a rock bands written a song as
similar to one of his as "Travelin Band" is to "Good Golly Miss
Molly," hed 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 Fogertys 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.
"Sailors 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 isnt 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 Stones 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 cant escape what you do. Youre better off just being
honest about it. Anyway, its nice that they didnt choose to put that one on
Theres no escaping the fact that the problems on Mardi Gras
grow directly out of Fogertys 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.' Its 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.
Thats 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.Hes still working on his country licks, having
learned to play dobro for one of the songs on Blue Moon Swamp. On the current tour,
hes 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, hes 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 groups 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 brothers 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 Fogertys 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 cant 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, its
the same interval. What am I supposed to do, get an inoculation?"
"I proved that, no, I didnt 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 Fogertys 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
"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,
"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 its 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.
Thats 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, Well 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 Fogertys disgust with the political situation in
Ronald Reagans America. "Headlines," "Violence Is Golden," and
the title cut, which died at #81 as the albums only single, provide a strong sense
of America as a nightmare landscape ruled by the living dead.
But the songs really dont work musically or lyrically, which is
one of the reasons Blue Moon Swamp isnt 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 dont 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
Gods gonna punish you, they rather go fishing."
A decade later, Fogerty isnt 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. Its about the playing. If youre
calling it a rock and roll record and its not rocking, it hasnt got most of
what it really needs. When I was making this album I said, this cant just be a
guys impression of a rock and roll album, its got to be a rock and roll
Fogertys return to the concert stage was spurred both by his
desire to play the new songs for a live audience and his wifes 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. Ive done a lot
of benefits because I believe in them. But theyre sort of quirky. It's a little
strange when you prepare for a month for just one night. And then you come out and
its 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."