by Craig Werner
Originally published in GOLDMINE #443, July 18, 1997
Webpublished here by author's permission
None of that was on Fogertys mind when he embarked on his recent
trip to the Mississippi Delta.
"I actually didnt know what I was doing." he says.
"It wasnt scientific like if a guy got a grant from a university or something
like that. Id had this feeling for more than a year before I finally went and I just
kept telling myself, you don't know what you're doing so I didnt go. I just kept
pushing the feeling aside, but I finally decided that what was behind it was that I wanted
to understand more about the lineage."
At least initially, Fogerty pursued the blues as a kind of amateur
"I was trying to straighten out who all the people were -John Lee
Hooker and Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters- and what order they came in, who was influenced by
who and who knew each other, who played with each other, that sort of thing," he
says. "When I started out thats all I had to go on. It's like anything you're
fond of but don't know a lot about. You start out making a lot of mistakes."
Especially after the first of several trips, Fogerty began to focus
his search on more specific parts of the blues heritage.
"The first trip was just sort of testing the water and I really
didn't get much done," he recalls, "But when I went back down what I did was to
make an itinerary each day, where I wanted to go and what I wanted loser. So I knew
Charlie Patton had stayed a lot at Duckery's Plantation outside of Clarksdale and I also
knew there were churches in the area with their graveyards. Of course I always ran out of
time and I never did get everything accomplished."
Fogerty takes special pleasure in minor discoveries such as the moment
when he located the grave of Charlie Patton's sister, Viola Cannon.
"I was all excited when I found where she was buried. There's not
a big sign on the road -Charlie Patton's sister buried here, Look," Fogerty laughs.
"I was walking through this sacred place, this graveyard and there was her name. I
went, oh my god. Its not the same name so you gotta know a little
"Its part of my reverence for the lineage of things, it's a
joy of discovery," Fogerty concludes, "Its like a new thing and all the
details became an end to themselves finally. I have to keep telling people I'm not an
expert, I couldn't write a book. I just feel a lot fuller because of those journeys."
Although Fogerty wasn't seeking out inspiration for his own music on
the trips South, at least one song on Blue Moon Swamp grew directly out of the
experience. "'A Hundred and Ten in the Shade," which sounds like it originated
with the Swan Silvertones or Dixie Hummingbirds, came to Fogerty as what he calls a
"It was a direct blessing from my trips to Mississippi," he
says. "It came to me as a complete song, not like this agonizing back-breaking stuff
you go through with a lot of songs. This just sort of landed with a feeling and a sound.
It was a direct memory of Mississippi, the heat and the humidity and the feelings."
Fogerty gives full credit to the gospel group the Fairfield Four,
whose backup harmonies make "A Hundred and Ten in the Shade" one of the
highlights of the new album. "I knew exactly what it should sound like, but it took
from 1992 til 1996 to finally find the Fairfield Four, who had exactly the right
sound. There are things you cant really verbalize, the words get in the way. Your
ears either tell you its true or its not true, its right or its
not right. They got it right."
Early in his career, it must have seemed to Fogerty that hed
never get anywhere near the point where he could take four or five years working on a
simple song. Fogerty grew up in a household where fights frequently broke up.
"I was always ashamed," he told Time magazine in 1969.
"I never brought my friends home. My room was in the basement -cement floor, cement
walls. I just grabbed music and withdrew." "Porterville,"the first single
released under the Creedence Clearwater Revival name in 1967, reflects Fogertys
attempts to come to terms with the difficulties at home. Not quite biographical -
Fogertys father choose to leave home when John was nine- the songs fingers the
jagged grain in a way that speaks to anyone else whos shared the singers
brutal experience: "They came and took my dad away, to serve some time/ but it was me
that paid the debt he left behind/ Folks said I was full of sin because I was the next of
Between 1959 and 1968, when CCR seemed to come from nowhere to become
one of the most popular and successful American bands -they received $10,000 for their
appearance at the Woodstock Festival- the band went through several name changes,
appearing at the Blue Velvets, the Visions and the Golliwogs, the latter monstrosity
foisted on them by the executives at the Fantasy record label, who thought it sounded more
in tune with the British invasion.
During Creedences long apprenticeship, Fogerty saw an awful lot
of the places described in "Lodi," which became the anthem of garage bands
throughout the United States: "If I only had a dollar for every song I've sung/ Every
time I've had to play while people sat there drunk/ You know I'd catch the next train back
to where I live/ Oh lord, stuck in Lodi again." As rock critic Dave Marsh observes,
the songs complaint about having been on the road for a whole year without making it
sounds curious once you realize that Fogerty, his brother and rhythm guitarist Tom, bass
player Stu Cook, and drummer Doug Clifford struggled almost a decade before finally
breaking through with "Suzie Q" (#11) in 1968.
Cook, Clifford and Fogerty formed the earliest version of Creedence
while they were attending El Cerrito's Portola Junior High in 1959. John had learned
guitar chords from a Burl Ives Songbook. He invited Clifford to sign on as a
drummer despite the fact that Clifford had never played the instrument.Converting an old
pool cue into a set of drumsticks and buying a used snare, Clifford became the drummer of
a band that soon included Cook on piano and John Fogerty on bass. Before long the group
was performing as Tommy Fogerty and the Blue Velvets with the older Fogerty singing lead.
When the younger members graduated from high school in 1963, the group expanded its
geographical range, playing in numerous clubs and bars around the Bay Area.
Fogerty remembers the early incarnations of the group as "a very
typical American band, your basic high school rock and roll band," whose playlist
included Duane Eddy, Johnny and the Hurricanes, "a little bit of Ventures, Wipe Out,
Louie, Louie, right down the rock and roll line." In the early days, the group
performed little of the R&B or soul music that emerged as a major part of the swamp
"We werent heavily off into James Brown, anymore than most
high school white kids would have been. We werent Delta relics at all. That
wasnt in our consciousness at the time. We did Midnight Hour, but then
everybody did," Fogerty says. "We never did Mustang Sally. For some
reason we skipped that one. Going back to 9th grade we did Hully Gully and
Annie Had a Baby." Fogerty smiles as he remembers the Blue Velvet version
of Hank Ballards sexually explicit classic "We were really gettin
When asked whether his bands ever had a sizeable black audience,
Fogerty shakes his head and offers a description of the groupss performance at the
tenth reunion of El Cerrito high school class of 1953.
"We played Green Onions, and this black guy came up,
his name was R.B. King. He would have been about 28 years old. And he says, "You boys
do that rock and roll pretty good. But when you do 'Green Onions' there's this in-between
you're missin'." Later, he would have said 'soul.' He was trying to compliment us,
but it was absolutely the truth. We were high school kids and we couldn't play a shuffle
to save our lives. Its something most white people can't do.Theres that little
in-between you're missing, when you get that, then you'll have 'Green Onions' down. I
thought about that a lot over the years."