John Fogerty recoils at the idea of “Wrote a Song for Everyone” being a duets record, but that’s essentially what it is, as he’s joined on his own songs by Kid Rock, Miranda Lambert, Bob Seger and the Foo Fighters, among others.
The usual formula on these projects is for the songwriter to kick it off and then have the guest make a dramatic entrance on the second verse. On this collection, which came out in May, it’s frequently the other way around, and when Mr. Fogerty comes in, he blows his partner out of the water.
At 68, the former leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival is taking full possession of a catalog of songs that make up some of the best in the American canon. There was an unfortunate stretch in his solo career when he wouldn’t play his CCR songs, because of his legal battle with his label Fantasy. These days he’s celebrating the CCR years more than ever with “Wrote a Song for Everyone” and a tour in which he’s playing the complete “Bayou Country” and “Cosmo’s Factory” albums.
“Bayou Country,” amazingly enough, was one of three CCR albums released in 1969. In fact, of the band’s seven albums, four were issued between July 1968 and November 1969, and among the classics served up during that year and a half: “Born on the Bayou,” “Proud Mary,” “Green River,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Lodi,” “Down on the Corner,” “Wrote a Song for Everyone” and “Fortunate Son.”
Upon the release of the “Green River” album, Rolling Stone wrote “they are now creating the most vivid American rock since [The Band’s] ‘Music from Big Pink.’ ” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted the band in 1993, stated, “The term ‘roots rock’ had not yet been invented when Creedence came along, but in a real way they defined it….”
Of course, you know the tune, it went sour in a hurry, starting with the departure of John’s brother Tom in 1970 and then the demise of the band two years later. Despite almost every conceivable rock reunion eventually happening — from Led Zeppelin to Van Halen to Buffalo Springfield — the surviving members of CCR (Mr. Fogerty, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford) have never gotten back together (outside of a wedding reception or party) — not even at the Hall of Fame induction, where Mr. Fogerty chose to play with an all-star band that included Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson.
As a solo artist, Mr. Fogerty is best known for delivering the ultimate feel-good baseball song, “Centerfield,” the title track from his double platinum album from 1985 that also included “The Old Man Down the Road.”
Obviously, it’s the Creedence stuff, written in his fiery early 20s, that resonates most and, judging from its airplay, use in pop culture and influence on the alt-country/Americana revival, it’s held up better than most of the music of that generation.
“Wrote a Song for Everyone” skews toward mainstream country with performances by five Nashville acts and dips into indie/Americana with My Morning Jacket and Dawes. If the studio door had been open to all comers, the line of Americana bands wanting to cut a track with Fogerty would have been a mile long.
In advance of his Tuesday concert at California University of Pennsylvania, scene of a Dylan show in the spring, Mr. Fogerty — who, by the way, stems from Berkeley, Calif., not Louisiana — agreed to an interview.
So, you decided to go out with a few Creedence albums on this tour.
That’s right. We’re doing “Bayou Country” and “Cosmo’s Factory.” It’s a lot of fun. People sort of take possession of things like this. It’s an interesting phenomenon to watch. Each individual person has his own memories and recollections about listening to that album, whether it’s 40 years ago or four years ago. So doing them as a collective thing, it kind of puts them into that place, especially because you play every single song. It brings up those emotions.
I know you’ve been playing the old songs live, but did “Wrote a Song for Everyone” make you more excited about them than you might have been?
Yeah, I think you could say that. It brings kind of a fresh energy, a renewed relevance to the songs. As you say, I was playing the songs anyway as part of a show when I tour, but getting together with a Brad Paisley and having a guitar shoot-out, it brings a whole different perspective to it. Certainly doing “Fortunate Son” with the Foo Fighters, I mean, oh my gosh. And also what’s cool is, you become friends with those people. So when you’re on stage you have a lot of extra memories and feelings you can tune into.
Were you at all concerned making this record about messing with these songs by redoing them?
No, I never looked at it that way, number one, because these songs are my children, I wrote all these songs. What I did worry about basically is that people would lump the album into the category of duets because, frankly, I kind of hate duets. [Laughs.] Most of them sound like the person’s bored or something. It’s like it’s a chore. So I didn’t want anyone calling it a duets album. When we were first putting together the business side and I found a label who would want to do this with me, the attorneys and all those other people would be calling it duets, and I’d be elbowing my wife, like, “Honey, we gotta name this thing, cause it’s not going to be called ‘Duets.’ ” It’s just the whole thing where it seems like people are excited when they say yes, but it’s almost like they can’t be bothered when the day comes that they really gotta do it. I was excited because these are my songs and as my wife had said, “Why don’t you get a bunch of the people YOU love and sing your songs,” and that was my directive. These are all artists that I really, really love, and no way was I going to let the thing be phoned in, as they say.
These amazing songs that you wrote at that time … The Beatles had done “Sgt. Pepper” and the psychedelic revolution was happening. What drew you to this honest-to-goodness Americana (which they didn’t call it back then)?
I just think it came naturally. Now, as you say, they have a name for it. A person could maybe make a calculated decision to want to appeal to, for lack of a better word, Americana or something. I was just kind of operating off of my own sense of what I liked. I have a very deep sense of a being an American. I’m very proud of that fact. Over the years, especially when I was a young man, let’s say when Watergate happened, that was the first time I really struggled with, “I hate those guys, I hate those people, but I love America, I love my country.” And I figured out, yeah, I love my country, I just hate the government. You can imagine having to watch Richard Nixon and those guys every day lie to you. You felt ashamed and betrayed.
Anyway, I only went there, because I realized I had a strong sense of being an American musician that grew up at a certain time. I loved people like Will Rogers and Mark Twain — not that I knew Mark Twain. The country has a lot of great people that identifies it. That was what resonated in me, so when I was quite young — 8, 9 — I would write songs, but I was imitating things I heard on the radio, which was like ‘moon, spoon, I love you, don’t make me blue, why did you leave me, you broke my heart.’ These were words I didn’t even know what they meant, but that’s what songs had in them. Then, at the time when I started to mature as an artist and especially as a songwriter, what came out was my own way of looking at the world. I knew that it was a good thing, because I liked it. I was doing something I totally liked and what was me.
You didn’t ask the question, but I noticed over the years, it’s even happened to me, whenever you start to do something that you’re doing because you think your audience or somebody else out there is going to really like you doing that, that’s when you get in trouble. You’re in quicksand at that point, because you’re not being yourself anymore. You’re trying to guess what you think somebody else likes, and that’s the way wrong way to do it here in the arts.
You put out three albums in ’69 and two in ’70. You must have been really feeling it … And did you sense at the time that these songs could hold up 40 years later?
Well, what I actually used to say, starting in 1969 when I could really feel what I was doing was, ‘I want to make records that will still play 10 years from now.’ Because from my perspective, at that time, I was about 23, and they were not playing records that were from 10 years before. People like Elvis were barely heard on the radio. Once in a while they might have an oldies day like on Memorial Day or something, but other than that you just didn’t hear the old songs, and I dare say, the new audience didn’t even know about early rock ’n’ roll. I’m talking about kids 12, 13, when I was really hot with Creedence. The people my age did, but the other ones didn’t, whereas now, I think when my daughter was 4, I said, “Hunka, hunka, hunka … Honey, who’s that?” and she said, “Oh, Elvis.” It’s just all in the air now, the Internet. Back then, a 4-year-old would not have known about something 25 years before.
I just tried to write songs I thought were really pure, that really nailed it and didn’t have any excess. I was always trying to edit myself to kind of compress things and not have any fluff. I was a pretty tough taskmaster, especially in those days, meaning, for every song you heard I wrote about 10 other songs that were horrible.
Do you have some favorite uses or contexts for your songs?
Hmm. Mostly I’ve really objected, of course, to the commercials and all that sort of thing, just because I didn’t get the say-so. You have to look that up, but anyway, I haven’t been in control of that. When they turned my song into pants, I got pretty angry. Or paint thinner.
I did like when there was the movie “American Werewolf in London,” and they play “Bad Moon Rising” while the wolfman is turning into a wolf. I love horror movies and science fiction. So that was pretty cool.
I love “The Big Chill” use as well.
Yeah, I saw it a long time ago, and it’s in my memory. I think they even mention in that movie, they say the name Creedence, they talk about a concert.
The clamor for a CCR reunion, does that fade a little more every day or do you still get it a lot?
Uh, quite recently, as considering the whole length of time, somebody asked me the question, “Well, what about a reunion?” and you know this is probably two years ago, and I said to the person, “Wow, you know, for the first time you asked that and I didn’t have just a knee-jerk reaction where I’m going, ‘That’s impossible, blah blah blah!!!’ Instead, I said, ‘That might be possible if the right stars align or whatever.’ And immediately, within days, the other guys were in the newspaper saying, “John is just saying that for publicity.” And then they immediately trashed the whole idea. So that kind of let me know. I think what I said at the time was “Oh, I think they’re still angry.” [laughs]
Are there any future John Fogerty albums in the works?
I will be working on recording that as soon as possible. It’s probably within a year or two. I’ve just built a new studio, I’m in the process of getting it built, a home studio for the first time where I can actually make records right there and I’m really looking forward to that.