Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fogerty rocks Milwaukee crowd


Veteran rocker John Fogerty made
a pit stop in Milwaukee last week, playing
material from Creedence Clearwater Revival,
his solo career and the new "Blue Ridge
Rangers" CD.


John Fogerty, perhaps best known as the heart and soul of legendary rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival, brought his Blue Ridge Rangers to a rapturous reception in Milwaukee on Nov. 19.

"Blue Ridge Rangers" was actually the name of Fogerty's first solo LP, released in 1973, a year after Creedence disbanded following a run of hit singles and albums.

Fogerty recorded all the instruments on his solo debut, but recruited a crack band to play on this year's "Rides Again," just the second disc to carry the Blue Ridge Rangers moniker. Both albums feature covers of Fogerty's favorite songs from other artists.

For the date at the historic Riverside Theater, Fogerty was backed by Kenny Aronoff (drums), Billy Burnette (guitar), Jason Mowery (fiddle/mandolin) Matt Nolen (keyboards/guitar), Hunter Perrin (guitar), David Santos (bass) and James Pennebaker (pedal steel).

As my wife Sue and I settled into our seats just a few feet from the stage, a near-by security worker named Fred asked, half-jokingly, if we we going to "bum rush" the stage. Probably not, I told him, although we might have years ago.

Still, an older crowd at the packed 2,500-seat venue leaped up, cheered and applauded as Fogerty and the Blue Ridge Rangers made their way through 16 CCR classics, six songs from Fogerty's 1985 and 1997 "comebacks" and four tracks from the new album. Fogerty even tossed in a long forgotten single as a surprise.

The 64-year-old swamp rocker launched the program with a scorching version of "Up Around the Bend," from the CCR album "Cosmo's Factory."

"Let's rock and roll," Fogerty announced as the band tore into into "Green River," a staple of the Creedence catalog.

The singer/guitarist brought the crowd up to date with "When Will I Be Loved," a stand-out track on his fresh album. Originally a hit for the Everly Brothers, the song was penned by Phil Everly.

Fogerty then returned to CCR's 1969-1970 heyday for four tracks. "Looking Out My Back Door," featured some inspiring guitar work from Burnette. The crowd was standing for "Born on the Bayou," while Aronoff demonstrated his drumming chops on the extended instrumental, "Ramble Tamble."

After talking briefly with a fan, Fogerty strayed from the set list to perform Leadbelly's "Cotton Fields" for "Eddie."

"Rambunctious Boy," from 1997's "Blue Moon Swamp" LP, was the first Fogerty solo offering of the evening and featured mind-blowing fiddle from Mowery. CCR's "The Midnight Special," a traditional American folk song, followed with Fogerty thanking the audience for "singing along."

As the song ended, Fogerty pointed to a woman in the audience wearing a fluorescent green T-shirt with "God Fogerty" printed on it. "Nice shirt, but that title's already taken by Eric Clapton," Fogerty said of the idolized British musician, referred to as a guitar god.

Despite the accolades given to Clapton, Fogerty's guitar and vocal skills rank him among the best on any list of iconic musicians. In top form at the Riverside show, Fogerty seemed fortified by by the audience's response to his singing and guitar playing.

Fogerty led his band through the John Prine song, "Paradise," from the new album, complete with a fine pedal steel performance by Pennebaker.

"Centerfield," Fogerty's 1985 masterpiece, was the source for the next song, "Big Train (From Memphis)," which included another Mowery fiddle demonstration. That was followed by "Back Home Again," a new number, composed by John Denver.

CCR's classic "Commotion" was followed by "Keep On Chooglin'," with Fogerty trading his guitar for harmonica. Aronoff's fierce drumming and Perrin's unbridled guitar playing added to the song's intensity.

The crowd sang along to CCR's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," while Rick Nelson's "Garden Party" followed.

Fogerty returned to "Blue Moon Swamp" for that album's opening track, "Southern Streamline."

Ray Charles got a tip of the hat with "The Night Time Is Right Time," which closed CCR's 1969 album, "Green River."

Fogerty told the audience he "resurrected" the next song for his "Royal Albert Hall" concert, just issued on DVD. "Comin' Down the Road," a solo single from 1973, had a distinct Creedence flavor, but failed to chart when it was originally released.

To close the show, Fogerty alternated between solo and CCR songs: "Rock And Roll Girls," "Down on the Corner," "Centerfield," "Bad Moon Rising," "Old Man Down the Road" and "Fortunate Son." Fogerty played his infamous bat-shaped guitar during "Centerfield," which has become a baseball anthem.

After completing the 25-song set list, Fogerty left the stage with the audience in a frenzy.

Brought back for an encore, Fogerty performed two tracks from CCR's venerable "Bayou Country" album: a rousing take of Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly" and the band's breakthrough hit, "Proud Mary."

I've been a fan of Fogerty's since I first heard "Proud Mary" on the radio, back in 1969. It was the first song Sue and I danced to.

Prolific in his early years, Fogerty wrote, produced, arranged, played lead guitar and sang lead vocals on nearly all of CCR's recordings. The group issued seven studio albums from 1968-1972.

Fogerty's solo career has been equally stellar, but he has released only eight studio albums in the last 38 years.

The Milwaukee concert marked the fourth time we've seen Fogerty perform. The others were Cleveland in 1995, Chicago in 1997 and Mount Pleasant in 2005.

It seems each show is better than the last.

There aren't enough superlatives to adequately describe the veteran rocker's Wisconsin appearance.

Somehow, Fogerty can meld decades of unforgettable songs into an evening in which musicians and fans elevate rock 'n' roll into the the purest and most sublime of art forms.

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