John Fogerty - The 1993 Rolling Stone Interview- PART TWO of Three
by Michael Goldberg
|... How did you find your singing voice?The difference
between how you sounded on those Golliwogs singles and then on the first Creedence
recording is startling.
I was very self-conscious about my voice. What happened was that me and some other guys went up to Portland, Oregon, of all places, during the summer of 1964. We found a drummer and got a two-week engagement at a club called the Town Mart. At that point, this guy named Mike Burns was the singer. Well, one day I said, "I'm going to sing." And since I was out of my hometown, away from my parents and any of my friends, I kind of just told myself to go ahead and try it, don't be shy. And I had taken a reel-to-reel tape recorder up there. I would record whole sets. Then I'd stay up until sunrise listening to myself And I heard myself improve. I'd try something like a scream or a hard-edged "Well!" I'd hear myself try to do it on the tape, and the next night I'd go back and try something else. As I used to say, I developed a scream in Portland.
The first record you made as Creedence Clearwater Revival was "Suzie Q." Didn't you have a very specific purpose in recording that song?
This little underground San Francisco radio station, KMPX [the first progressive-rock station in America], would play all kinds of weird things. I told the other guys that the quickest way we could get on the radio, therefore get more exposure and get this thing going was to specifically go in and record an arrangement of "Suzie Q" that could get played on that station. It's been said that what we were doing seemed very far removed from the rest of San Francisco, but that's not quite true. ''Suzie Q" was designed to fit right in. The eight-minute opus. Feedback. Like [the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's] "East-West." And especially the little effect, the little telephone-box [vocal] in the middle, which is the only part I regret now. It's just funny sounding. But, lo and behold, it worked!
So the tape got played?
Yeah, they started playing it a lot. That broke the ground for the rest of the stuff.
Creedence didn't seem to fit in with the psychedelic lifestyle in San Francisco. Were you guys pretty straight?
[Laughs] Well, I never inhaled. I was really Mr. Straight. I was scared to death of LSD or any kind of pill. Yeah, I'd smoked some marijuana, and the other guy's, I think, were certainly more experimental than me. But I didn't like it as an image. Since I was the leader, I was the guy with the whip saying, "No, we're not going to push this as an image thing." But at the same time, I didn't feel that made us the Osmond Brothers either.
As Creedence was experiencing some of its first Top Forty success, the Band came along with its album Music From Big Pink' and got a lot of media attention. They were one of the first bands on the cover of Time' Magazine.
To be really honest, I'd say I was a bit envious. There were a few songs they did that I really loved, like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Up on Cripple Creek." But they got all this validation from the critics. Here I was, a competitive guy trying to make my band the biggest thing in the world, and here these guys [are getting attention] just 'cause they're from New York or Woodstock or Big Pink or Bob Dylan or whatever. I was definitely envious of all that, which just shows my own pettiness. Because actually it was a great band, and they made good records.
What did your brother Tom do in the band? Did he actually play rhythm guitar on the records?
Yeah, pretty much. Probably ninety-nine percent of the tracks we did as a quartet are played live with all four guys playing at the same rime. I've heard the rumor over the years that "after they left the studio, John went in and re-recorded all the parts." No. I think the charm of what you hear on those records is four guys really playing.
Let's talk about some of your best-known songs. "Proud Mary" was the first of your original songs to become a hit.
In the middle of July of'68, I got my honorable discharge from the United States Army after much consternation. I was overjoyed. This envelope containing this little thing that's like a diploma had been sitting on the stairs of my apartment building for a couple of days. It said, "Official Business" or something. Well, I didn't bother to look close at it. Finally, one day I was coming into my apartment, and I look on the stairs, and, "Hey, that's got my name on it!" Well, son of a bitch, I opened it up, and I'm discharged from the army. Holy hallelujah! I actually went out on the little apartment-building lawn and did a couple of cartwheels. At that one moment it was like "Wow, all the troubles of the world have been lifted off my shoulders !"
If it didn't happen within five minutes, certainly within a week and a half I had written "Proud Mary." That one event that led to doing the cartwheels, that's where "Left a good job in the city" comes from. I just felt real good.
Although I didn't recall it at the time when I was doing "Rollin' on the river," there is an old Will Rogers movie about these old paddle wheelers, and I believe at one point they actually sing, "Rolling on the river." I know that buried deep inside me are all these little bits and pieces of Americana. It's deep in my heart, deep in my soul. As I learned in English 101, write about what you know about.
What inspired "Born on the Bayou"?
I would sit there, kind of look at the blank wall in my little apartment, and I just kind of pictured this story. Now around this same time, because of "Suzie Q" getting played on the underground radio station, we played the Avalon Ballroom, in San Francisco. We were onstage for a two-minute sound check. I started doing this thing with the guitar, and I started screaming into the microphone what would later become a refined melody but at that moment was just noise, and I had Doug and Stu just play along. I just wanted to hear this energy thing. Anyway, that mythical thing that I was dreaming up at night and that burst of energy on the stage at the Avalon came together. "Born on the Bayou" is almost the Gordian knot or the key to what happened later. As I was writing it, it occurred to me that there was more power than just this one song. If there was a way to tie it all together on one album, kind of cross-fertilize, cross-relate the songs, you would have a much more interesting and maybe more powerful image. So that's what happened. "Born on the Bayou" sort of relates to "Proud Mary." It certainly relates to "Keep on Chooglin" and "Graveyard Train."
"Green River" also fits right into what critics started calling bayou rock.
"Green River" is really about this place where I used to go as a kid on Putah Creek, near Winters, California. I went there with my family every year until I was ten. Lot of happy memories there. I learned how to swim there. There was a rope hanging from the tree. Certainly dragonflies, bullfrogs. There was a little cabin we would stay in owned by a descendant of Buffalo Bill Cody. That's the reference in the song to Cody Jr. The actual specific reference, "Green River," I got from a soda pop-syrup label. You used to be able to go into a soda fountain, and they had these bottles of flavored syrup. My flavor was called Green River. It was green, lime flavored, and they would empty some out over some ice and pour some of that soda water on it, and you had yourself a Green River.
"Fortunate Son" it one of your more political songs.
It was written, of course, during the Nixon era, and well, let's say I was very nonsupportive of Mr. Nixon. There just seemed to be this trickle down to the off- spring of people like him. I remember you would hear about Tricia Nixon and David Eisenhower. . . . You got the impression that these people got preferential treatment, and the whole idea of being born wealthy or being born powerful seemed to really be coming to the fore in the late-Sixties confrontation of cultures.
How did you come up with "Bad Moon Rising"?
I got the imagery from an old movie called The Devil and Daniel Webster. Basically, Daniel Webster makes a deal with Mr. Scratch, the devil. It was supposed to be apocryphal. At one point in the movie, there was a huge hurricane. Everybody's crops and houses are destroyed. Boom. Right next door is the guy's field who made the deal with the devil, and his corn is still straight up, six feet. That image was in my mind. I went, "Holy mackerel!"
My song wasn't about Mr. Scratch, and it wasn't about the deal. It was about the apocalypse that was going to be visited upon us. It wasn't until the band was learning the song that I realized the dichotomy. Here you got this song with all these hurricanes and blowing and raging ruin and all that, but it's [snaps fingers] "I see a bad moon rising." It's a happy-sounding tune, right? It didn't bother me at the time.
"Have You Ever Seen the Rain" was the last bit the group had before your brother quit Creedence.
That song is really about the impending breakup of Creedence. The imagery is, you can have a bright, beautiful, sunny day and it can be raining at the same time. The band was breaking up. I was reacting: "Geez, this is all getting serious right at the time when we should be having a sunny day."