For more than a decade, the man who gave the world "Proud Mary" and "Fortunate Son" was silent. But now John Fogerty is back-and he's got a chooglin' new album.
By Harold Stienblatt, with Chris Gill
John Fogerty has returned. Blue Moon Swamp (Warner Bros.), his first album since 1986's semi-disastrous Eye of the Zombie, will restore the faith of all those unreconstructed Creedence fans who walk the streets proud with the knowledge that flannel shirts originated, not in Seattle or even with Neil Young, but on the back of the man who sang "Born on the Bayou," "Proud Mary" and "Green River."
Thank God, Blue Moon Swamp won't disappoint Fogerty's dedicated followers. The 52-year-old rocker hasn't lost his touch-the album is filled with tight Fogerty rockers like "Southern Streamline" and "Bring It Down to Jelly Roll," plenty of pithy guitar and Dobro playing and, after all these years, those still-soaring vocals.
But the question remains: where has he been? Before Fogerty is allowed to answer, some brief history is in order. Back in the late 1960's, Creedence Clearwater Revival-featuring singer, lead guitarist, songwriter and producer John Fogerty, his brother Tom Fogerty (rhythm guitar), Stu Cook (bass) and Doug Clifford (drums)-was one of the biggest bands in the world. Creedence, which recorded for Fantasy Records, dominated the Billboard charts with an incredible series of hit singles, a run that began with their 1968 cover version of Dale Hawkins' "Suzie Q." (Creedence Clearwater Revival) and ended in 1972 with "Someday Never Comes" (Mardi Gras). In 1971, following the release of the album Pendulum, Tom Fogerty left the band. Then, thanks to some long-festering internal dissension-apparently Clifford and Cook wanted more creative input -the band broke up after the release of their final album, Mardi Gras.
Fogerty's solo career has been spotty, to say the least. In 1973 he released The Blue Ridge Rangers, an album of country cover tunes, on which he played all the instruments. Though some of the songs-particularly Fogerty's exhilarating take on Red Foley's "Hearts of Stone"-were quite fine, the album went nowhere, sales-wise. In 1975 Fogerty, now with Asylum Records, released John Fogerty. Once again, he played all the instruments. Though this record featured two bona fide great Fogerty songs, "Almost Saturday Night" and "Rockin' All Over The World," it too flopped.
Then began the first of Fogerty's great silent periods. Ten years were to pass before he made his impressive return, in 1985, with Centerfield. The comeback album sold over two million copies, and Fogerty enjoyed hits with "Rock and Roll Girls" and the Creedence-like "The Old Man Down the Road." In what amounted to an embarrassment of riches for his fans, Fogerty took just one year to follow up Centerfield with Eye of the Zombie. Unfortunately, "embarrassment" is the operative word here; unfocused, and featuring few of Fogerty's tasty guitar hooks, Zombie stiffed. And that was that, recording-wise, until Blue Moon Swamp.
After Eye of the Zombie was released, Fogerty went on tour for the first time in years. Sadly, he put no "Creedence" in his own performances-that is, he played no CCR tunes at his shows. His decision to boycott his own greatest music was a direct outgrowth of the fact that, in 1975, Fogerty had to surrender his artist's royalties to Fantasy in order to be able to move to Asylum. Fogerty's antipathy toward Fantasy and its president, Saul Zaentz, knew no bounds, and he exacted some rather questionable vengeance by not performing his Fantasy-owned Creedence material.
But time heals all wounds, and Fogerty will be touring in support of Blue Moon Swamp, and says that he's fully comfortable with the idea of performing his old hits.
Fogerty's fans may take some convincing that he's really here. But it's true-he's just up around the bend.
GUITAR WORLD: Why did it take you 11 years to put out this record?
JOHN FOGERTY: I ask you, who says you have to put out a record more often than every 10 years? [laughs] Well, it was a long time. But there were a lot of diversions. Some of them were just about making the music, and some of them weren't. Eye of the Zombie came out in `86. I had a self-plagiarism trial in `88, and, even though I was victorious in the trial, that inspired me to try and resolve everything-all the b.s. between me and Fantasy Records and between me and the other members of the former group Creedence Clearwater. So I spent a good three years in that endeavor. And it didn't come to fruition.
GW: These were legal matters?
FOGERTY: Basically, I wanted to get Saul Zaentz to sit down with me and try and iron out our differences. I enlisted [the late concert promoter] Bill Graham to be the mediator. The two sides had two very lengthy and detailed meetings in June and July of `89. Then Bill Graham proceeded to have a lot of phone conversations, and it didn't get resolved. My efforts failed, and Saul basically reneged on everything we had shaken hands on. I had given him a large amount of money, and Bill was beside himself that somebody could be that way. My efforts at resolving all the disputes between me and Saul and me and the other members of Creedence Clearwater just didn't work. But I wasted three years trying to do it-expecting to come to an end where we would all feel better. It just didn't work.
GW: That accounts for part of the time, but were you also unhappy with the music you were writing or recording?
FOGERTY: All the bad stuff that happened from about `86 to `91 made the writing difficult. It wasn't flowing. During all that talking with Saul Zaentz-conversations where I was sorry that I even called-there were days that I'd get so angry.
GW: What eventually rescued you from all this?
FOGERTY: While this was going on I had this urge to go to Mississippi, and I wasn't really sure why. I went to Mississippi about six times in `90 and `91.
GW: Had you ever been there before?
FOGERTY: No. When I was growing up, pre-rock and roll, I listened to two stations in the San Francisco Bay area that played a lot of rhythm and blues and I heard a lot of straight blues music -Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins. I learned that there was a music called "blues" before I learned any other kind-except classical, maybe. Later I started learning that there was country music-they called it "Country and Western"-and there was pop music, which was Patti Page. But blues was the most exciting thing for me, and I listened to it a lot.
GW: What kind of epiphany did you have there, and how did that affect your return?
FOGERTY: It wasn't so much a light bulb over the head thing as much as an evolution of knowledge. There were so many more people I'd never heard of-like [early Delta bluesman] Charlie Patton. I'm ashamed to admit that, but he wasn't commercially accessible, I guess. I read about him, and about a month or two later, I realized there were recordings of his music. To me, that was like if Moses had left behind a DAT with the Dead Sea Scrolls or something! "You mean you can hear him?! Oh my God!" And then when I did hear Patton, he sounded like Howlin' Wolf, who was a big influence on me. When I did "Run Through the Jungle," I was being Howlin' Wolf, and Howlin' Wolf knew Charlie Patton!
GW: Did you spend a lot of time between Eye of the Zombie and Blue Moon Swamp working on your guitar playing?
FOGERTY: Yeah. Mississippi caused that. Mississippi influenced me to write the song "110 in the Shade." I had already written five of the songs that appear on the album before I started recording. The sixth one, "110," was written two months later and was heavily influenced by my experiences in Mississippi. I mean, I was there. I stood there with Pops Staples, I'm wearin' black, it's 110, he's wearin' white cotton-guess who's from the city? The minute I finished that song out by a dirt road here in Southern California, I went, "This is above me." But then I thought it needed something else-some bottleneck slide. So I practiced bottleneck all the time at home for about a year. I tuned my guitar to an open D chord and kept practicin' and practicin' and practicin'. After about a year I was pretty good, so I went in the studio and tried it on that track. But when I heard it, I went, "That's not it. That's not the sound I heard in my head." It turned out that the sound I heard was Dobro. So I put the bottleneck away, found my old Dobro, which I had put away for 25 years, and started practicing like a mad dog.
I became obsessed. I would wake up at three in the morning, go in my little room and practice, practice, practice. It literally took me three years to be able to play the way I wanted to. I suppose I could have not done "110 in the Shade," but, as it worked out, the Dobro was actually part of my healing, besides being something I needed for that particular song.
All that work kicked open the door to the guy who at the age of 14 had looked up and seen Chet Atkins, Scotty Moore and James Burton and said, "I wanna grow up and be like those guys. I wanna be a really, really good musician." The problem for me was that I became famous before I became a good player, so I concentrated more on songwriting than I did on woodshedding. Then all the bad crap happened, and it took the heart out of me. I have to admit that my playing really didn't progress after that-I just went sideways. I stayed the same, sometimes got a little worse, but I hardly learned anything new for almost 20 years-from 1970 to 1990.
GW: You produced Creedence's records at a time when it wasn't common for artists to produce their own records. How did you come to do that?
FOGERTY: We were recording for this little hole-in-the-wall label, Fantasy Records, with no money, and we had to get somebody to do it. I did it because I had to. Nobody else was gonna do it.
GW: At that time most rock albums were quite big sounding, but Creedence albums had a much more intimate, even simple sound. And you kept things that way on Blue Moon Swamp. Were you ever tempted to make a lavishly produced record?
FOGERTY: I used to joke about that. I recognized the syndrome early on in our career, when "Suzie Q." became a hit and "I Put a Spell on You" became a minor hit. We came down to RCA studios to record the next album, Bayou Country. We were facing the sophomore jinx. You've got the spotlight now and it's either you make it or you're out of here forever. Sometimes I think it's better to be unknown early in your career; at least you've got a chance to develop. Once you're known, and they write you up, you're gone. I used to joke, "Well, gee. On the last record we had four musicians, so that means we should have eight musicians now. And by the next album we will have 16!"
Actually all this over-production is funny to me. It doesn't make it mo' betta when you add more junk. The older I get, the more I believe that. Blue Moon Swamp is a testament to that idea. It's dominated by a simple line, which means it's got to be the right line. It's got to be powerful enough to carry the song. If you add a bunch of horns it becomes actually less powerful.
GW: Your guitar solos with Creedence have often been lauded for their economy and tunefulness.
FOGERTY: Yeah-you can sing them. Duane Eddy told me a story that I think is very apropos, because he likes to play simply too. The story was about a guy painting vases who would just decorate them with a simple line. He worked with a couple of younger boys, and they drew these lines all over the vases. One day someone watched the man and the boys working, and he said, "Look, they're doing many more lines. They should be paid more." The man said, "No. This line has to be absolutely correct, because it is only one line. That is a bunch of lines. You can't tell if each line is made right because there are so many lines on there." Duane and I chuckle over that imagery. Our playing is so simple that it is really going to be noticed, so it had better be right.
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