John Fogerty Looks Back at His 50-Year Trip: Exclusive Interview
John Fogerty is on a break right now from a summer-fall North American tour – something he calls My 50 Year Trip – that resumes Sept. 13 at Telluride, Colo. It wraps up with a six-date Las Vegas residency from Nov. 6-16. And then there’s a New Year’s Eve gig in Thackerville, Okla.
The man’s been having a blast, playing pretty much everything you’d want to hear and then some. He dings the nostalgia bell loud and clear, but he is clearly in the here and now, especially during the guitar leads, which he often plays with a big smile and mouth agape.
An August show in Boston with his nine-piece band – one that includes his son Shane on guitar and sporadically features another son, Tyler, on vocals – was a 100-minute joy ride. Fogerty, who is 74, scampered around the stage like a man a third his age. With the same hairstyle and color, and similar kind of fringed jacket, Fogerty could actually be the same guy he was in 1969.
Fogerty was not born on the bayou (it was actually Northern California), but fans could be forgiven for thinking the former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman was. He is quite proud of that fact.
“That was obviously what I was trying to do,” Fogerty tells UCR. “There are, in some quarters, the so-called jam bands or album bands, people who took offense to someone having a Top 40 hit. I didn’t. I was raised on that – Elvis [Presley], the Beatles and the rest of rock ‘n’ roll. I was very honored to be considered a singles band.”
He says the "first rock ‘n’ roll I was hearing was pre-Elvis. I was listening to rhythm and blues. We had a great R&B station in Oakland. I really loved Fats Domino and Little Richard. 'Tutti Frutti' and 'Long Tall Sally' blew me away – that might have predated Elvis. I literally heard ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ by Elvis Presley on that station. By the time Elvis came along, there was already kind of a structured thing, this stuff called rock ‘n’ roll, and I was very much taken with the persona of Elvis and the whole dangerous thing he projected.”
As to the born-on-the-bayou sound of his voice, Fogerty says, “I think I just absorbed all of that music. I’ve thought over the years maybe reincarnation explains it more than anything because I was always fascinated with the South. It just seemed really magical to me, the music and the art. I’d seen a few films that seem to be set in the south and there was a lilt, a wonderful difference from the life I was living, and in particular the music much of which I imagined coming from the South. Rock ‘n’ roll in the beginning was mostly a very Southern thing.”
You’re playing a lot of material that’s decades old. How do you inject the fresh fun and the spirit into songs you created but have been living with for so long?
I learned this from my friend Brad Paisley. He had been talking with another artist who’s a singer and the singer was grousing about, "Oh, I’m gonna go out on the road again." He asked Brad if he was charged up. Brad said, "Sure." What Brad said to me was, "I think it’s because we’re guitar players." It always gets to be new. We can do more than just sing the song; we come up with a new solo and that makes it fresh. I’m always working on guitar. I’m always trying to get better. I’ve kind of made it my life-long project, and so when I get some new stuff going on, I get to trot it out onstage and get to show off.
So, you see yourself more as guitarist than singer?
I think my first attraction was guitar, as it related to me. Obviously, I think when you’re a little kid ... music just took me by the collar and grabbed my heart and I was interested from the get-go. Really, really young, almost before I could walk.
What song or artist snared you first?
Well, my mother brought me home when I was about three and a half and she sat me down and was about to give me a present. It was a kids' record. One side was "Oh! Susanna" and the other side was “Camptown Races.” She explained to me these were both songs written by Stephen Foster. And I’ve always found that very fascinating. I’m sure at the time I thought Stephen Foster was on the record. If I remember it right, it was a group singing of both songs, and it was hard to pick out which one of those people is Stephen Foster. But she explained to me he was the writer. That would have been somewhere in 1948.
Let’s skip way ahead, to when the hits just kept on coming for you. Certainly, with “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Run Through the Jungle,” “Fortunate Son” and many others, your music has been associated with Vietnam War and the protest movement. Is that a good feeling?
I don’t know that I would call it a "good" thing. I’m very proud of the association. It was a very unique time in American history, and my songs are still identified with that. The protesters took those songs to heart but so did the guys [who] were GIs and had to go to Vietnam. That was a fact. Because I was [earlier] in the Army, there was an insight I had that a lot of the protesters didn’t have. They’d argue with my acquaintances, and I’d say, "That guy that you’re hurling epithets at, that soldier over there. He’s 19 years old. He likes all the same stuff you like. It’s just that, there but for fortune, he has to go fight because the government tells him that’s what he has to do. So, he’s doing it." It’s just silly to be protesting your policy differences toward the soldiers. He doesn’t have a choice in the matter. It’s the president who has the choice. Go do your thing to him.
Listen to John Fogerty Perform 'Centerfield'
You’re also playing some of your solo stuff on this tour – including, of course, “Centerfield.” Is that about anyone in particular, or just your yearning to play ball?
It wasn’t anybody in particular, although there’s a moment in the song where I say “brown-eyed handsome man” which is, of course, a quote from a Chuck Berry song. Besides the wonderful Chuck Berry song itself, I was thinking of Jackie Robinson. That’s what that was always about. [Sportscaster] Dan Patrick always makes a point of telling me, "But he’s a second baseman," and I say, "But, Dan you don’t have to be so literal here."
Somehow, “second base” wouldn’t seem to fit the rhyme scheme.
What’s your favorite team?
My team is the Oakland A’s, but I obviously have a soft spot for the Giants, too – because they came to the Bay Area first – and remarkably, they’re both really good this year, and it hasn’t always been so.
So, you are working on new material?
I’m working on new songs, of course. Hopefully, when I find the time, I’ll get these things recorded.
Listen to John Fogerty's Perform 'Fortunate Son'
The title of of your 2015 memoir is Fortunate Son. Are we reading any irony or semi-irony into that title, or is it straight-up how you feel?
It’s not ironic. I think my wife [Julie] liked that title. She even has a line of clothing and merchandise called Fortunate Son. As you know, the man that wrote the song – me - there was much venom and spit and heated anger in that phrase: "fortunate son." So I looked at her and said, "You sure you wanna name a shirt that’s supposed to be my shirt with that name?" She thinks of the phrase as iconic, whereas I thought of it as describing the kids of some senator who was avoiding the draft. But in the present context, it’s not supposed to be ironic at all. It’s just something that identifies with me.
Maybe, that you’ve had lots of ups and downs, and that, yes, you’re fortunate to have come out the other side.
I certainly look at life that way. Yeah, I’ve had ups and downs, but I’m happy enough that I wouldn’t name my own biography with sort of a fatalistic vibe. I feel very happy about life, believe it or not. If the right thing happens to you – and, for me, it was meeting Julie – it just made everything else inconsequential that was negative. It taught me to see the beauty and the wonderful, positive things. My life since I met her and with her has been absolutely wonderful. I think that’s what God wants us to learn. No one gets a straight going-up graph. We all have ups and downs. That’s the way it is.