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Sunday, May 4, 1997

Way Beyond Center Field
Los Angeles Times
Review of Blue Moon Swamp

Once upon a time after Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Fogerty wouldn't sing any of his old band's songs. Now he's resurfaced a new man (one who's on tour) and that's changed.

By ROBERT HILBURN

(This article was published in the L.A. Times Entertainment section on Sunday, May 4th, 1997, and was originally posted to the L.A. Times WebSite. The document's time has expired and it's no longer available there. Realizing its importance to John Fogerty fans Worldwide, The River Rising Web has it. Copyright belong to the L.A. Times.)

When John Fogerty steps onto the stage of the Fillmore in San Francisco two weeks from tonight for his first full-scale concert in more than a decade, it will be both a homecoming and a small act of penance. It was a dream come true in 1968 when the Berkeley native first played the famed ballroom with his old band, Creedence Clearwater Revival. The quartet already had one hit, a searing remake of "Suzie Q," and was on a creative roll that would take it to first-ballot induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, thanks to such landmark hits as "Proud Mary" and "Who'll Stop the Rain?" But nostalgia isn't the only reason Fogerty wants to open the tour at the 1,250-capacity Fillmore and then play the sold-out House of Blues club in Los Angeles on May 21, 23 and 24, rather than the larger venues that his fan base would certainly support. It's not lost on Fogerty that a stand-in vocalist will sing Fogerty's songs with a band built around the other two surviving Creedence members, drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook, at the 6,000-seat Greek Theatre on Saturday. (The band's fourth member, Tom Fogerty, died in 1990.) Fogerty is starting out with small venues because he wants to reestablish himself as a live performer before stepping up--and he believes it's a way to pay back some of the fans who were disappointed by the absence of Creedence songs the last time around, in 1986.

He avoided Creedence songs on that tour because of a bitterness growing out of one of the most celebrated and unlikeliest show-biz legal squabbles in years--one involving charges of plagiarism and defamation pitting Fogerty against Saul Zaentz, the Oscar-winning film producer and owner of Fantasy Records. Fogerty, 51, now calls the decision not to do Creedence songs a mistake. "Bless those fans who were so eager to see me on the tour that they would go to the shows under any circumstances, even when they knew I wasn't going to do Creedence songs," Fogerty says. "When I look back, it was wrong. But it was the only thing I could do. I was so consumed by anger." It was that anger that contributed to Fogerty's second lost decade.

* * *

So, what took so long, John? It's late in the afternoon on an outdoor patio at Warner Bros. Records in Burbank and a playful Fogerty opens an interview with the inescapable question that everyone asks him now that he's about to release his first album in more than a decade. It's a good line, but it's incomplete. The real question should be, "What took so long again, John?" When Fogerty returned from a nine-year career hiatus in 1984 with the hit single "Old Man Down the Road," who would have figured that he would soon take an even longer break? Well, it really only took five years to make the new album, "Blue Moon Swamp," which is due in stores May 20. He didn't start on it until the spring of 1992. Still, five years is almost unheard of--even with time out for the Northridge earthquake, which forced Fogerty and his family to move out of their Mulholland Drive home for about nine months. It's especially long for a man who once released three hit albums in the same calendar year: Creedence's "Bayou Country," "Green River" and "Willy and the Poorboys." He and the band were so efficient in the studio that the albums were typically recorded in less than a week and cost under $2,000. By contrast, it took Fogerty 18 months to get even one usable track for the new album because he was so insistent on capturing the precise rhythm and sound that he had in his head. By the time the album was finished in January, Fogerty had brought in nearly 50 musicians and watched the budget soar well into seven figures. "I always knew there was a finish line, and I never doubted myself and my ability to get there," he says, looking as lean as he was in his Creedence days. "But it must have looked strange from the outside . . . me going to the studio every day for years. I mean, if I saw someone doing that, I'd be the first one to ask, 'Are you sure you're OK?' " Fogerty was in a jubilant mood when he resurfaced in the mid-'80s, and the "Centerfield" album had a spirit to match. But the good times didn't last. The comeback turned sour by the time he finished the 1986 solo tour. He felt bad about not doing the Creedence songs and he looked on "Eye of the Zombie," the 1986 follow-up to "Centerfield," as a disappointment. One reason for that album's dark and depressing tone, he believes now, is that he recorded it while facing two legal battles with Fantasy. Zaentz and Oakland-based Fantasy, which released Creedence's albums, still own the Creedence recordings and the copyrights to Creedence's songs. After Creedence broke up in 1972, Fogerty made one solo album under the name Blue Ridge Rangers before going on strike against Fantasy, protesting, among other things, a contract under which he says he owed the label more than a dozen albums. He received his recording freedom in 1975 when David Geffen, then head of Asylum Records, worked out a reported $1-million deal with Fantasy that passed Fogerty's U.S. and Canadian recording rights to Asylum and, eventually, to its sister label Warner Bros. Zaentz, who produced this year's best picture Oscar winner, "The English Patient," claimed that two songs on "Centerfield" defamed him: "Zanz Kant Danz" and "Mr. Greed." He filed a $142-million civil suit in Los Angeles Superior Court. In a separate civil action, Zaentz charged that Fogerty plagiarized his own Creedence composition "Run Through the Jungle" with "Old Man Down the Road," a song on "Centerfield." A San Francisco jury found him innocent of the charge in 1988. Fogerty and Zaentz settled the defamation suit out of court. Hoping to end ties with Fantasy, Fogerty then spent the years from 1989 to early 1992 trying--unsuccessfully--to buy back the copyrights to his songs. The rights were such an obsession, Fogerty says, that he had no energy left to think about music. Asked about the Fogerty-Fantasy litigation, Al Bendich, vice president of legal affairs for Fantasy, took the high road last week: "We have always believed in John as an artist and we are pleased that he has put his feelings behind him and is continuing with his career. We wish him well with the record and the tour."

Fogerty began playing Creedence songs again at benefits in 1987. But he still was doubtful about ever playing them in his own concerts for the same reason he didn't do them on the 1986 tour: He didn't want to put money in Fantasy's pockets. The impasse ended one day in 1992 while he was jogging along Mulholland listening to the radio. A woman was complaining to a psychiatrist on a talk show about a man who after nine years still wasn't willing to marry her. The psychiatrist advised her to forget him because if he hadn't committed by then he probably never would. But the woman kept making excuses for him. "I'm listening to this go back and forth, and after a while I realize that I'm listening to my story," he says, laughing now at his realization. "I kept wanting to get those songs back, but it wasn't going to happen and I had to move on." 'Blue Moon Swamp" is far closer to the high spirits of "Centerfield" than the morose "Eye of the Zombie." The album's most upbeat moments, including "Rambunctious Boy" and "Hot Rod Heart," recall the energy and zest of some of the hit Creedence days. The collection also includes, significantly, Fogerty's first love song. It's dedicated to his wife, the former Julie Kramer, whom he met on tour in Indiana. The couple married in 1991 and have two boys, Shane, 5, and Tyler, 4, as well as a daughter, Lyndsay, 12, from Julie's previous marriage. Fogerty also has three grown children from his former marriage. "I'm sure making this record has been rough on her, seeing it drag on and wondering if I was ever going to finish," Fogerty says. "I felt bad for her at times. . . . I knew I had a sound in my head that I was going to get on record. I just never realized how difficult it would be to match the sound in my head and the sound in the studio."

Fogerty began rehearsals for the tour two weeks ago in Los Angeles, working with a four-piece band that includes drummer Kenny Aronoff, who is best known for his work with John Mellencamp, and bassist Bob Glaub, who has toured with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. On the tour, he expects to do nearly an hour of Creedence tunes as part of a 90-minute show. Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a leading concert trade publication, believes that Fogerty's tour prospects are strong. "You're talking someone who hasn't toured in a long time and whose [Creedence] songs are still staples of classic rock radio," he said. "So there has got to be a level of pent-up demand to see him." Steven Baker, Warner Bros. Records president, is equally optimistic about the audience potential. "With John Fogerty, you have someone like Neil Young, who crosses all sorts of age and musical boundaries--an artist who is already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but still has his power and craft intact," he said. "In a lot of ways, I'm like a new kid on the block and I want to start out on that level," Fogerty says. "Fans who remember me from the Creedence days probably just know me from the records. I feel like I'm very strong live, particularly now, but I have to go out and prove that."

Robert Hilburn Is The Times' Pop Music Critic
Copyright Los Angeles Times

 

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