Make your own free website on Tripod.com

GOLDMINE

JOHN FOGERTY

by Craig Werner

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


Part  III

 

None of that was on Fogerty’s mind when he embarked on his recent trip to the Mississippi Delta.

"I actually didn’t know what I was doing." he says. "It wasn’t scientific like if a guy got a grant from a university or something like that. I’d 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 didn’t 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 historian.

"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 that’s 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.’ It’s not the same name so you gotta know a little bit."

"It’s part of my reverence for the lineage of things, it's a joy of discovery," Fogerty concludes, "It’s 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 "visitation."

"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 can’t really verbalize, the words get in the way. Your ears either tell you it’s true or it’s not true, it’s right or it’s not right. They got it right."

Early in his career, it must have seemed to Fogerty that he’d 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 Fogerty’s attempts to come to terms with the difficulties at home. Not quite biographical - Fogerty’s father choose to leave home when John was nine- the songs fingers the jagged grain in a way that speaks to anyone else who’s shared the singer’s 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 kin."

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 Creedence’s 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 song’s 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 rock sound.

"We weren’t heavily off into James Brown, anymore than most high school white kids would have been. We weren’t Delta relics at all. That wasn’t 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 Ballard’s sexually explicit classic "We were really gettin’ down."

When asked whether his bands ever had a sizeable black audience, Fogerty shakes his head and offers a description of the groups’s 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. It’s something most white people can't do.There’s 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."

To the Top

To Part  FOUR

 

 

Click Here if this Image is Missing at the Top