Monday, 21 March 2011

John Fogerty: the Rock genius with “anger management” issues

When John Fogerty released his multi-zillion selling 1985 solo album,Centrefield, following a ten-year break from recording, the owner of Fantasy records, Saul Zaentz, filed two lawsuits against him. The first was for a track called “Zanz Can’t Dance” about a pig who can’t dance, but will “steal your money” and “rob you blind”. Fogerty settled by retitling it “Vanz Can’t Dance”. 

The other suit – and, for some odd reason, this has always genuinely appalled me – alleged that the chorus on the song “Old Man Down the Road” was the same as the one Fogerty used for his Creedence hit “Run Through the Jungle” (Zaentz owned the copyright to all of Fogerty’s early compositions). That’s right – a record company executive sued a songwriter for allegedly reusing part of one of his own songs.

The judge dismissed the case, and the world tilted back onto its axis.

Fourteen years earlier, Fogerty’s rhythm guitar-playing brother Tom walked out of Creedence Clearwater Revival after moaning about his bro taking the lion’s share of the musical decisions (not that unfair, I’d have thought, as John’s songwriting, lead singing and lead guitar-playing had delivered the group an almost unparalleled run of success from "Proud Mary" in 1968 to “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” in 1971). Once Tom departed, the other two band members went on whining about riding the coat-tails of a musical genius to international superstardom – so Fogerty insisted that the three of them share song-writing responsibilities for what was to prove their final album, Mardi Gras. (They them moaned about having to write their own songs.) 

Unsurprisingly, the album didn’t do well, and marked the end of CCR.

Over the years, Fogerty has undergone anger management therapy – but it didn’t seem to have worked by 1993, when Creedence were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Fogerty refused to allow his erstwhile backing group to accompany him on the three songs he played at the event, drafting in Bruce Springsteen and some session musicians instead. Not, as you might gather, a “turn the other cheek” type of guy. Not surprisingly, Fogerty is a blue collar Democrat – hated Reagan and Bush and opposed US military intervention from Vietnam onwards. ( Odd how often those who espouse the politics of forgiveness and compassion find it hard to put their ideals into practice when it comes to their personal iives.)

For me, Fogerty owns just about the best voice popular music has produced since 1960. As a songwriter, he’s one of a handful of true American geniuses to emerge during the Rock era. His guitar-playing – hamfisted and almost devoid of technique – has produced a host of licks which manage to be both ludicrously simple and astonishingly effective (he took guitar lessons late in his career, but they just made him sound like everyone else). Of all the terrific groups and solo artists operating between 1968 and 1971, Fogerty did more than anyone to keep the true spirit of American Roots music alive.

During the three years of CCR’s unbridled success, only the Rolling Stones matched them for memorable singles. And the single was Fogerty’s real forte. As Bruce Springsteen put it, “As a songwriter, only a few did as much in three minutes . He was an Old Testament, shaggy-haired prophet, a fatalist. Funny too. He was severe, he was precise, he said what he had to say and he got out of there."

If you harbour any doubts about Fogerty (certainly, many considered CCR crude at the time) just listen to what he produced.  “A”-sides during that period included “Proud Mary”“Bad Moon Rising”, “Green River”, “Down on the Corner”, “Travelin’ Band”, “Up Around the Bend”“Looking Out My Back Door”“Have You Ever Seen the Rain” - the “B”-sides weren’t too dusty, either: “Lodi”, “Born on the Bayou”“Fortunate Son”“Who’ll Stop the Rain”, “Run Through the Jungle” and “Long As I Can See the Light”. Every one of them a towering classic. One man wrote and recorded all of those in under three-years, which included six albums, a heavy touring schedule, a divorce and having to deal with an increasingly resentful backing band – little wonder he got a bit ratty.

Fogerty’s post-Creedence output has been patchy and wildly irregular,  but it has spawned three classic albums to date. While licking his wounds in 1973, he recorded the LP, Blue Ridge Rangers, which consisted of nothing but covers of country and gospel classics. He did all the voices and played all the instruments, but his photograph doesn’t appear on the album cover, and his name only appears in tiny letters near the bottom on the back, as part of the credits. It’s one of my all-time favourite albums – the glorious “Working on a Building” is probably my favourite track. It sold poorly.

1975 saw the release of John Fogerty – the first solo album to feature his name and his own compositions.“Rockin’ All Over the World” (a hit here for Status Quo) is the stand-out track – I love the delighted “Ooh!” during the unaccompanied guitar intro, and the ensuing vocal is one long joyous roar. The more reflective “Where the River Flows” is simply beautiful. The album reached No. 73 in the US and failed to chart in the UK.

Centrefield arrived in 1985, and suddenly our hero was back where he belonged – at No. 1. For me, it isn’t a classic - but the aforementioned “Old Man Down the Road” is a real treat; and the nostalgic “I Saw It On  TV” is a poignant mid-tempo chugger. Most of the other tracks are indifferent. (The follow up, Eye of the Zombie, saw Fogerty in dreary Mr. Angry mode - probably because of the court cases: it was a bit of a turkey and fared poorly.)

When Fantasy Records was sold in 2004, the new owners restored the royalty rights Fogerty had given up 30 years earlier to gain his freedom, and the ageing rocker returned to his true home. That seemed to release something in him, because 2007 brought us Revival, an aptly-titled LP as good as anything he had ever produced – and that’s saying something. To all intents and purposes, this is a Creedence Clearwater album – the roaring rockers are still there, but the overall tone is one of wistful cheerfulness, and the main impression is of tons of superbly melodic, choogling swamp rock. (It’s so good, I’ll even forgive him the anti-Dubya sentiments expressed on “Gunslinger” – a double shame, because it’s a great track). “River is Waiting” and “Don’t You Wish It Was True” are particularly lovely, but “Creedence Song” is the stand-out – it signals an old rocker making peace with his past: “Heard the waitress tell a guy/ Over by the jukebox/ Hey, you can’t go wrong/ If you play a little bit of that Creedence song”. Indeed.

Sounds like the anger management sessions finally paid off. 


  1. You risk becoming a laughing-stock if you keep failing to acknowledge Vince Hill’s contribution to popular music.
    Have you noticed that not one of the Fogerty songs you chose is a conventional love song? Dead keen on his Green River and that Mississippi paddle steamer – but where are the women? A quick glance at a discography shows that almost all his male-female relationship records are covers of other people’s songs…I Put a Spell On You, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, My Baby Left Me. Low sex drive? Fear of commitment? Embarrassed talking about lurv? I’m not complaining at all…it's refreshing, really.
    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 - 02:42 PM

  2. As opposed to edgy, wild Vince who got down dirty n'funky with the street babes on "Edelweiss" and then went into cabaret.

    One lesson from the great Creedence is that being in a band with your brother is not a recipe for longevity. The Everlys loathed each other, Steve Winwood left his brother Muff (don't ask) behind to go into management. The Louvins fell out. On the less highly evolved level, Liam and Noel took the music away from our hearts and the pain is still there.

    Just off to Spotify Bros's Greatest Hit.
    Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 08:11 PM

  3. Interesting point, Vince Hill Fan (and who isn’t a Vince Hill fan? – his singing has often brought helpless tears to my eyes). I’d never realised till you mentioned it that Fogerty doesn’t do all that gloopy luurvvv stuff – what an interesting observation!. I will look into this.

    Ex-KCS, in the late 1980s my mother started receiving calls from extremely thick young girls – invariably Northern – asking to speak to Mutt or Leeook. She kept telling them that she didn’t know any Mutts or Leeooks, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Are you his girlfriend?” she kept being asked. “Tell ‘im ah loov ‘im” was a frequent request.

    I was visiting her about a week after this nonsense had started up and – as she had stopped answering the phone – picked it up when it rang. “Is that you Leeook?” “No.” “Is it Mutt?” “No.” “Ah know thur thur!”. “Who are ‘they’?” “Oh, please!” she wailed. I couldn’t get any sense out of her. So I resorted to abuse ands threats of involving the police (!) and slammed the phone down. It rang again immediately. More abuse. I left it off the hook.

    In a perfect example of synchronicity, Top of the Pops came on and some arse of a DJ introduced “Matt” and “Luke”. The penny dropped. Bros. These girls thought my mother’s phone number belonged to Bros. Just before I left for home, I put the phone back. It rang immediately. Same exchange, only, instead of abuse, I told the caller that she couldn’t speak to her heroes because I had just killed both of them because I couldn’t stand their records.

    Mean, I know, but it cheered my Mum up no end.

    Anyway, Ex-KCS, let me add Ray and Dave Davies to your list. But at least the Osmonds always got on very well – and that’s a comfort.
    Saturday, March 26, 2011 - 07:27 PM

  4. Oh come on Scott. No one can have failed to notice the uncanny resemblance between your Blog photo and publicity shots of Matt and Luke.

    It was the 70s. We were all young, wild and free. There's no shame. How the Mersey girls tracked you down is one of life's mysteries.
    Sunday, March 27, 2011 - 12:14 AM