A dedicated rock’n’roller most closely associated with the 1960s and 1970s as the guiding force behind Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and who since then has pursued a stellar solo career, John Fogerty celebrated his 73rd birthday on May 28th. He is an accomplished guitarist (number 40 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists), singer (number 72 on its list of 100 Greatest Singers) and songwriter inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 and the artist responsible for such hit singles as “Proud Mary,” “Down on the Corner,” and “Fortunate Son.” On his own Fogerty most likely will be remembered for composing “Centerfield,” an anthem for America’s pastime played at baseball games to this very day.
The path that would eventually lead to the formation of CCR and musical renown for Fogerty began in the late 1950s and early 1960s while he still was a student in junior high and high school. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, principally in the towns of Berkeley and El Cerrito. A cover band called the Blue Velvets came into existence in 1959 when Fogerty teamed up with bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford. John’s brother, Tom, later joined the group; with that addition to the lineup the final piece of what would become CCR and emerge as one of rock’n’roll’s finest creations seemed primed to carve a niche for itself in California. But it would take several years before the four band members acquired any attention and literally became a singles machine that transformed the face of popular music.
In 1964 the Blue Velvets signed with Fantasy Records. A record executive at their label came up with the bright idea of changing the band’s name to something known as the Golliwogs. Undoubtedly not helped by getting saddled with such a crazy name, Fogerty’s group released seven singles that did nothing commercially and disappeared without a trace.
Amidst this sea of uncertainty and rough beginnings, Fogerty had to worry about the Vietnam War and the possibility of doing military service. He received his draft notice in 1966 and without any delay reported to a local Army Reserve recruiter. By all accounts this individual apparently sympathized with the young man and took actions that kept Fogerty out of harm’s way. He decided to make sure that the aspiring musician got placed in a Reserve unit immediately and, at least in Fogerty’s eyes, may even have dated the paperwork a few days before the arrival of his draft letter. It meant he could achieve the required military service by doing stints at Fort Bragg, Fort Knox, and Fort Lee; there would be no military action for him in Southeast Asia.
Things started happening in quick succession in 1967 upon Fogerty’s discharge from the Army and the change of the band’s name from the Golliwogs to Creedence Clearwater Revival. Fogerty, in essence, assumed control of the group, becoming its lead singer and guitarist, primary songwriter, and only decision maker. CCR released seven studio albums during the relatively brief period of 1968-1972. They were, in chronological order, Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968), Bayou Country, Green River, Willy and the Poor Boys (1969), Cosmos Factory, Pendulum (1970), and Mardi Gras (1972). Altogether these LP’s have sold 15 million copies as certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), with five of them peaking in the Top Ten of the Billboard 200.
During its short time as a band CCR became known primarily for the hit singles Fogerty churned out on a seemingly constant basis. A songwriter who wanted to appeal to everyone, he always put words to paper with the goal of striking a tone best described as “general and epochal,” making the composition not just about me but something “lots of other people could look into and see themselves in it, too.” Fogerty and CCR achieved a certain notoriety with their string of charting singles. According to Wikipedia, “CCR holds the record for the most singles (5) to reach #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever scoring a #1 single.” The five songs that never achieved #1 status were “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Green River,” “Travelin’ Band,” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door.”
Sung with great fervor and intensity and featuring a smoldering guitar solo, “Fortunate Son” is perhaps Fogerty’s greatest songwriting achievement as a member of CCR. The flip side of the #3 charting single “Down on the Corner,” it is an anti-war song that Fogerty apparently penned the day he received his final discharge papers from the U.S. Army. Dave Marsh, the author of the definitive biography of Bruce Springsteen, describes “Fortunate Son” this way in The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made:
He [Fogerty] rasps out the lyrics. . . in a voice filled with bile and uses his guitar as a weapon to run machine-gun stitches right through everybody who’s ever abused a privilege. I don’t know if that’s a good definition of rock’n’roll, but it’s a hell of a start to my idea of democracy in action.
The final years of CCR proved to be a contentious period for Fogerty. The other members of the group wanted more of a say in decisions they perceived as effecting everybody’s welfare; resentment began to build over Fogerty’s insistence that his opinion counted for more than those of his brother Tom, Cook, and Clifford. These festering issues caused Tom Fogerty to leave the band in January 1971. Everything sort of came to a boiling point during the sessions for what proved to be CCR’s final studio album, Mardi Gras. The record clearly wasn’t up to their previous standards, but it sold enough copies to be deemed a commercial success. Still, nothing could hide the hostility within the group; CCR officially disbanded on October 16, 1972.
Mention should be made of the distinctive lyrical content of Fogerty’s CCR songs as well as the voice he used to sing many of them. In more than a few of the works he composed while in CCR, Fogerty refers to places in the South he admittedly had never visited prior to writing the song in question. For instance, in his memoir, Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music, published in 2015, Fogerty makes no bones about having not visited Mississippi prior to composing “Proud Mary” and doesn’t try to refute the assertion he did not set foot in Louisiana before coming up with “Born on the Bayou.” In his defense, Fogerty declares, “Somehow it all just seemed familiar to me.” Music critics took him to task for the phony accent he used when singing these rootsy songs. Marsh referred to Fogerty’s “total immersion accent” and pointed out how in “Proud Mary” work became “woik.”
Fogerty’s solo career can best be characterized as fitful and sporadic in nature. However, there can be no question about the overall excellence of the albums released by the 1993 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of CCR. Releasing a new album on the average every 4-5 years, Fogerty has managed to put out nine LP’s during a forty year period (1973-2013). His initial foray as a solo artist, The Blue Ridge Rangers (1973), featured him as arranger and producer; he was also credited with playing all the instruments on the record. This album consisted of country and western covers and turned out, on the whole, to be a modest success. What can be viewed as Fogerty’s first official solo album, John Fogerty saw the light of day in 1975. His debut did only marginally better than its predecessor, but the LP spawned “Rockin’ All Over the World,” which peaked at #27 on the singles chart.
Probably the most commercially successful of all Fogerty’s solo efforts, Centerfield received rave reviews when it first appeared in 1985. Coming after nearly a ten year hiatus from the music scene, the album gave the artist his first bonafide hits away from CCR—the title track, “The Old Man Down the Road,” and “Rock and Roll Girls” graced the singles chart for a considerable period of time. “Centerfield” quickly became a national treasure; the song was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame located at Cooperstown, New York, in 2010. To date Fogerty is the only musician to have a song of his so honored. Undoubtedly the lines nearly everyone remembers from “Centerfield” are “Oh, put me in coach, I’m ready to play today/Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today/Look at me, I can be centerfield.”
Although Centerfield did put Fogerty’s name back into the spotlight, it also created legal troubles that hounded him for a number of years. Two songs on the album, “Mr. Greed” and “Zanz Kant Danz,” were thinly veiled attacks on Saul Zaentz, his former boss at Fantasy records from CCR days. Specifically, “Zanz Kant Danz” contained lyrics about a pig unable to dance, but who would “steal your money.” These songs go back to the time when Fogerty, a young and naïve artist, signed a contract that gave away his immense songwriting royalties to Zaentz and Fantasy Records. Zaentz filed a lawsuit against Fogerty. He responded by eventually changing the title of the offensive song to “Vanz Kant Danz.”
The final decade of the 20th century witnessed the bad feelings and ill will that had caused the dissolution of CCR returning to haunt Fogerty. To begin with, his brother Tom died in 1990 of complications from AIDS at the age of 48. At the time of his untimely demise, Tom wasn’t speaking to John. The falling out between the brothers went back to their time in CCR and the fact that Tom sided with the record company in the royalties’ dispute. In the eulogy he gave at Tom’s funeral, Fogerty declared, “We wanted to grow up and be musicians. I guess we achieved half of that, becoming rock’n’roll stars. We didn’t necessarily grow up.”
Perhaps the most public display of the ongoing acrimonious feud between Fogerty and Cook and Clifford occurred in 1993 when CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Fogerty refused to perform with his former bandmates during the musical portion of the induction ceremony. Cook and Clifford watched stunned as Fogerty utilized session musicians on drums and bass and called on Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson of the Band to join him for the three CCR hits “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Born on the Bayou,” and “Green River.”
The question that dogged Fogerty when he started touring as a solo artist was at what point CCR songs would become part of his performance. All throughout most of the 1980s Fogerty refused to include CCR material in any concerts he did. However, Fogerty relented from this steadfast refusal on at least two occasions—on July 4, 1987 in Washington, D.C. at a show for Vietnam veterans and on May 27, 1989 at Oakland Coliseum for the Concert Against AIDS. Fogerty didn’t begin doing CCR songs on concert tours until well into the 1990s.
Fogerty’s final solo albums, all worthwhile additions to his repertoire, earned him even further kudos he richly deserved. Coming out after another hiatus of ten years or so, Blue Moon Swamp (1997) won a Grammy for Best Rock Album. Déjà vu All Over Again (2004), while only 34 minutes in length, did strike a nerve with his audience. The title track, according to Rolling Stone, “is Fogerty’s indictment of the Iraq war as another Vietnam, a senseless squandering of American lives and power.” Released three years later, Revival (2007) continued his attack on the Bush administration and the conflict in Iraq with the songs “Long Dark Night” and “I Can’t Take it No More.” The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again (2009) is mainly Fogerty performing the songs of other artists. One of the stand out tracks from the record, “When Will I Be Loved” (written by Phil Everly) features Springsteen on accompanying vocals. As of this writing, Wrote a Song for Everyone (2013) constitutes the last of Fogerty’s nine solo albums. He takes classic CCR hits and collaborates with recording stars of all genres in playing them. Fogerty joins with his sons, Shane and Tyler, to give a good rendition of the CCR golden nugget “Lodi.”