“The sound of it! Like a bolt to the brain.” That was John Fogerty’s recollection of the first time he heard a song and it stuck – at 5 years old – still clear for the songwriter on his 70th birthday. And still clear to any fan was the first time they heard that hungry bellow, “Cause Your Miiiine!!!” or surging call “Hay-yah To-night!!” or other ‘utterances’ unique to this man’s voice. During the 70’s he was the maker of his own distinct anthology, a country rockin’, mystical, deep-rooted Americana sound that takes us right there in “Proud Mary” “Green River” “Born on the Bayou” “Up Around the Bend” or “Bad Moon Rising.”
We can thank the timelessness of John Fogerty, and hear his vocals shake us, and the songwriting put us into the backwoods, running scared, foreboding a night, or chasing a riverboat dream. With all these places he takes us, Fogerty becomes a true chronicler of his own creation – of the swampy, dark, reckoning challenge of human fortitude and then reversing the tempo in the very next tune to an upbeat – foot-stompin’, country-flavored rock and blues cut, with guitar riffs, vocal twang and slang grammar (“Chooglin”, “Bye-You”, Boy-Nin”) – all a part of his indelible sound and signature.
Making music and getting noticed in the late 1960’s behind the backdrop of the San Francisco scene of Haight Ashbury, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, was always going to require distinction. We hear that in the country-rockin’ style of this songsmith coming from a “backwater” suburb, El Cerrito, 5 miles from the psychedelic San Fran “happening.” Fogerty created his own world instead, built with these ballads and lyrics so familiar now to several generations going forward. From 1967 to 1969, a remarkable string of hits and 4 Gold albums (in a row) followed this intense period of obsessive perfectionism, a period of time that was to drive the band to friction. But not until Creedence Clearwater Revival sat at the top of a radio-driven audience, most notably for 3 albums (“Bayou Country”, “Green River” and “Willie and the Poor Boys”), which outsold the Beatles in 1969 with 5 hit singles.
Later, after the tumultuous break-up of his band in 1972, and fighting unending legal battles for ownership of his own songs and frivolous lawsuits against the integrity of his compositions, he would then spiral down a very dark hole. Fighting a wall of writer’s block induced by anger and frustration, with loss of ownership of his own material from CCR, Fogerty, by his own candid admission, would nearly self-destruct.
Only by way of his intuition, and pilgrimage back to the sounds, smell and feel of the Mississippi south and its blues roots, did he eventually struggle with his own soul and find his creative vein again. Searching out the origins of black blues musicians he so respected, even visiting the grave site of Robert Johnson, Fogerty found a new will. These struggles with his own internal demons and legal circumstances, and fight to maintain his high musical standards finally produced a Grammy award-winning album in 1998, “Blue Moon Swamp”, after 5 years of exhaustive self-imposed studio work.
He also found love again in the midst of his near miss with recovery. Julie Fogerty became his confident, supporter, counselor and best friend – and they started a new family together. Through a long process of pain and eventual success in his post CCR period, she helped him find his way back and enjoy a re-birth of his professional musical life.
He has been touring to a wide range of audiences since 2000, abroad and in the US. Aside from releasing his memoir, “Fortunate Son”, in 2015(already an inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 1993), Fogerty has remained active composing and staying close to the core of his music. Highlighted events include a benefit concert for American veterans, entertaining President Obama and making connections with other musicians from his generation and earlier including Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Jackson Browne and close friend Bruce Springsteen.
These are the bookends of a career, that hold in between them an amazing story of a school band to chart topping success, and the fall afterwards of betrayal and debt, and final redemption of a kind that rings true to one of Fogerty’s own heartbreak and deliverance songs. The story is a road travelled, long with no easy exits or turnarounds. A foreboding American tale also about the recording industry, the musician and his art. Fogerty’s legacy and life reveals the true nature and backbone of a remarkable songwriter and performer.