Thursday, October 13, 2005

My journey with John Fogerty

A song can take you on a journey, literally and figuratively.

Take "Green River" for example. This swampy classic from Creedence Clearwater Revival evokes visions of the Louisiana bayou even though it was recorded in California.

Couplets like "walkin' along the river road at night; barefoot girls dancing in the moonlight" in vocalist John Fogerty's southern drawl were easy to understand. References to "catfish bite... shoefly, dragon fly..." were a little more opaque.

In fact, I listened to "Green River" hundreds of times before I figured out Fogerty's eloquently slurred vocals.

"Green River" came out of the radio in the summer of 1969 like no other song; a energetic burst of rock 'n' roll lasting less than three minutes. The tune stands out even today and demands your attention.
It's been my favorite song virtually since the first time I heard it.

As the Sixties ended, Fogerty was incredibly prolific. As singer-songwriter, lead guitarist, producer and arranger, Fogerty's CCR released three albums in 1969, outselling even the Beatles. Radio pumped out "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising," "Fortunate Son" and dozens of other Fogerty classics.

CCR toured as their acclaim grew. Many called them America's greatest rock 'n' roll group. Every bar band knew their songs.

I followed Fogerty's career like he was my Pied Piper. New singles came out every three months. Nineteen hits in all appeared in rapid succession.

After the early success, however, Fogerty's bandmates became resentful of his control and brother Tom Fogerty quit in 1971. "Mardi Gras" was more democratic with the other two members writing and singing, but it sold poorly. Creedence broke up in 1972.

Fogerty was feeling pressured by his label, Fantasy Records, for more product. He recorded "Blue Ridge Rangers" in 1973, playing all the instruments himself. A self-titled album followed in 1975, but Fogerty was becoming increasingly dissatisfied. He bought out his Fantasy contract by signing over the copyrights to his songs. Numerous lawsuits ensued.

Fogerty withdrew from the music business. Fans waited decades between albums. "Centerfield" came out in 1985 containing the hit "Old Man Down the Road." The Grammy winning "Blue Moon Swamp" appeared in 1997 and "Deja Vu (All Over Again)" last year.

He toured less, too. For his 1985 gigs he stayed away from CCR chestnuts, but he had a change of heart by the late Nineties when he embraced his classic catalog and played enthusiastic versions during his shows.

Although a life-long fan, the first time I saw Fogerty perform live was at the opening of the Rock 'N' Roll Hall on Fame in Cleveland on Sept. 2, 1995. He played "Born on the Bayou" and "Fortunate Son", but not "Green River." Then, to back his "Blue Moon Swamp" album, Fogerty appeared at the House of Blues in Chicago on May 27, 1997. Finally-- after 28 years-- I heard Fogerty blaze through "Green River" on stage just a few feet away.

My Fogerty journey continued this year when my wife Sue and I saw him on tour with John Mellencamp at the Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant on July 4. He put on an energy-filled show, running from one side of the stage to the other while playing his signature guitar licks. Not bad for a 60-year-old. And yes, he did play "Green River" as a duet with Mellencamp.

Now, Fogerty's own journey takes another turn. He has returned to Fantasy Records where he gained his initial fame. Earlier this year, the label was sold to the Concord Group, owned by TV producer Norman Lear.

The result will be the Nov. l release of the first product to contain both CCR and Fogerty material. "Long Road Home: The Ultimate John Fogerty/ Creedence Collection" will contain 25 tracks. Besides Creedence hits, four of the songs will come from this summer's tour, while six others are solo hits.

Of course, "Green River" will be included. It's Fogerty's favorite song, too.

No comments: