An Interview with John Fogerty

Categories: Music
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John Fogerty is an AC/DC fan. That's one of the revelations in this interview I conducted with the former leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival late last fall when he was out promoting his first-ever collection that includes hits from both his Creedence era and his later solo work.

 

As is apparent in the interview, Fogerty is an engaging but modest guy with pointed political opinions. The Q&A was originally slated to appear in another magazine, but was cut due to space considerations.

City Pages: You've got a brand new collection of greatest hits from both your days with Creedence Clearwater Revival and your solo career out now; your first comprehensive collection. But some of the songs are live recordings. What made you decide to do certain songs live?

John Fogerty: Because I have been doing them live anyway in my shows recently and this band is a really great bunch of musicians. All of them seemed to have new life and new vitality that seemed to surpass the original tracks. It seemed to be a good idea to add the freshness live. In some cases there were special things that happened in the live setting.

CP: Have you got some kind of psychic Third Eye going? Your political stuff, like "Fortunate Son," and naturally the anti-Iraq war anthem "Déjà vu (All Over Again)" seem more resonant now than when you first wrote them. But in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, your songs about New Orleans, like "Born on the Bayou" and "Proud Mary," seem especially resonant, and the apocalypse-oriented songs, like "Bad Moon Rising," and "Who'll Stop The Rain," are pretty eerie and chilling.

JF: Yeah, well some of that is the cycle of being alive in the world. These things do come around from time to time. Certainly there were big hurricanes back around the time of "Bad Moon Rising"--I think Hurricane Camille had happened right around that time. But yeah, I take note of apocalyptic events both past and present. Natural things like that greatly work into my point of view.

CP: And what about the political stuff? Did you ever imagine a song like "Fortunate Son" would be so apt in 2004. '05, and '06?

JF: I can't say that was the case with "Fortunate Son," other than the fact that it was a condition since time began that rich folks declare the wars and the poor folks have to go fight them. But having a President who seems to fit the description of "Fortunate Son" so well; not only that he himself is the son of a President, but by the way he behaves, with his business connections. It is so noticeable folks around him are obviously more concerned about big business and corporations. My God, he wants to put up oil wells in Yellowstone National Park! I haven't heard something like that since James Watt from the Reagan Administration.

CP: When you went on the Vote For Change tour in support of John Kerry, Bruce Springsteen introduced you as "our generation's Hank Williams" when you came out for your set in St. Paul. Having Bruce Springsteen compare you to Hank Williams must be one of the unique thrills in your career.

JF: Well, Bruce was very nice to me and said some wonderful things about me, and to me, during that tour. I was greatly honored.

CP: Aside from the content of your songs, that's the first time I can remember you doing something overtly political.

JF: Yeah, usually I just let my songs do the talking. As a matter of fact I have long had an aversion to celebrities endorsing politics, and in some cases even other causes. I wonder about their motives. And I have to admit when celebrities get involved in political campaigns I tend to get a little bit sarcastic about it. I am a citizen first--a family man and a citizen--and I have been suspicious when celebrities get involved. So at first I didn't want to do it [the tour]. But this time, with the 2004 election it seemed like an emergency to me. It still does. It is so hard to take that George Bush got elected. I scratch my head about the political process in America. Folks who tried to change our course did the best they could, I guess. Some of us feel that the election might have been confiscated, in Ohio this time and Florida before. You wonder how firm the grasp of the right wing is in some of these processes we hold dear.

CP: Do you have any upcoming songs that deal with those feelings?

JF: None of things I am working on now are in the clear, focused stage, so right now everything is bubbling under, which is how "Déjà" came about. It was unlike any other song I have ever written. It came into my ear when I was trying to do something else and wouldn't go away. The words transcribed themselves into my mind; I didn't know what they were about until the second verse. I tried to brush it away and it was very insistent. And although at the time it seemed to come from another world, I must admit that much of it, or most of it, really were things I had been thinking about for a few years and in the forefront of my mind as a citizen, but not at all in my mind to write a song about it. If anything I wanted to steer away from those things. Things I just said about soapboxes in politics, I really feel the same about in music. When Pete Townshend threw Abbie Hoffman off stage at Woodstock I was in favor of the musicians there. But if song comes that works on me like "Déjà vu" did, I will certaining keep doing it.

CP: When a song becomes so topical again, like the way "Fortunate Son" has taken on added meaning, or the way those hurricane and New Orleans songs can be framed, does it renew your interest in them in a new way?

JF: Well, that other people find renewed interest in them I take note of. But I wrote them at a different time. The original setting of "Fortunate Son" was we had Richard Nixon in the White House and he was not unlike our current president--we had a war and rich folks weren't fighting. Things were similar and I had very much emotion about it then because of the way our foreign policy was being played out. As far as the apocalyptic thing goes, there are emotions but it is just that my heart goes out to the south, a region I deeply love, and certainly New Orleans, which is a city I have a very personal relationship with. I hold it near and dear because so much of my music has been influenced by the south, and particularly by New Orleans. I hope it gets rebuilt and reborn and gets that spirit back. I think America has actually declared New Orleans its favorite city, I think I read that somwhere. I find it the friendliest city in the world really.

CP: After all that turmoil, with lawsuits and acrimony and you not being able to record for about a decade because of the conflict, isn't it sort of weird that you are now again signed to Fantasy, which is putting out this greatest hits disc?

JF: "Weird" is an understatement. Such a huge bit of my life had been spent battling with the old Fantasy, basically because I wanted to protect my songs and my rights. Part of that statement is an attempt to be paid, which never really happened in a complete way. And after all those years and all that struggle, when Fantasy was acquired by new ownership, all those bad people are gone. I could not have foreseen what this meant to me. I don't worry about it now, and it is wonderful. The new people are fulfilling the vision of the old Fantasy: It is a small company with a great catalogue; not only my stuff but some really great jazz. The people who know it really love the stuff that Fantasy has. And the people at Fantasy [now] made it clear that they honor me and honor my music, which I am very happy about. For my wife Julie and I, this is a dream come true because we have long wondered when it would be resolved and when would my music be in a clear and joyous light, and the two of us are very happy about this. This is a first, that we have a mixing of the band and the solo music. Others like Eric Clapton had this happen a long, long time ago.

CP: You've had so many hits and then some really strong secondary material too. How did you decide what made it on to the record?

JF: The material just sort of came together. I had a lot of help from people at the label and they said it is your final decision, but all of the lists were very similar. It was pretty obvious to everybody.

CP: What I noticed is how everything hangs together. You really have a signature sound that hasn't changed that much over the years, that sits at the intersection of blues and rockabilly and pop to make a classic rock and roll sound. And you were always able to make it accessible and radio-ready.

JF: I appreciate that my influences are revealed and you like them. I have messed around with lots of stuff over the years. I have gone far afield and that is what you do as a musician, try to grow. But I must say, I am happiest at the intersection you just named. You handed me a nice gumbo, a nice recipe. A little Jerry Lee Lewis and a little B.B. King and a little Beatles and a little Zeppelin. With the singles, basically, I was lucky enough that I knew how to make a hit single. Even though Creedence burst upon the scene as an "underground" band, we had all grown up with Carl Perkins and [the] Sun [record label] and all the rest. And then The Beatles hit and they were the commercial hit-making factory of all time and nobody put that down; it was a wonderful thing and all I wanted to do was be like that. Someone would come to me and say, "You shouldn't put two singles out at same time"--you know, the doubled-sided single--"it will split," and I would look at them and say, "But isn't my job to give value?" That's what The Beatles did. I still feel the same way about that.

CP: You know the part of your music that nobody talks about much, that you don't seem to get as much credit for, are those marvelous guitar riffs you come up with everyone once in awhile. That guitar in "Up Around the Bend," is incredible, and there are others--"The Old Man Down the Road," "Proud Mary," and others--that are instantly memorable. Do you work at that or does it just happen?

JF: [laughs] Yeah, you basically have to have a guitar in your hands. You sit down and fool around and a feeling comes to you. It is like you're playing around and you get in a certain mood, and suddenly your fingers do something all by themselves. Maybe it is already complete, or maybe you make just a slight adjustment, but the fingers are ahead of your brain and suddenly you notice it, and say, "Whoa! What is that?" and then you try to work on it and work on so you can remember it before it goes away. We tried to record it before, but it was never very convenient to record everything, and now I have an ipod and all I have to do is put in a microphone and push the little button right by my side, so if I get one of those feelings I can record it immediately. You have hit on something near and dear to me, did you know that? I used to have a criteria for what makes a great record. First was the title, you need a great title, and the second was the sound--so you could hold up a piece of the tape anywhere and it would have would have that sound. And then the song; there has to be a song. And the fourth and toughest thing is a great guitar lick, and if you get that you have a great record. A lot of records have a good title, a nice sound and a good song to them but are missing that incredible guitar. And when you have all four it is so rare and so memorable. Like my kids, who are 13 and 14, still play "Back in Black." Their heads snapped just like mine did when they heard AC/DC and that a great lick. A great lick is a great lick. [Fogerty then proceeds to sound out the "Back In Black" opening guitar riff.]

CP: That's great, especially you being an AC/DC fan. So, all these classic songs on the new collection whet the appetite. When is your next record of new material going to be?

JF: My best guess is sometime in 2006.

CP: We'll look for it.

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