Today’s Guest: John Fogerty, singer, songwriter, Creedence Clearwater Revival
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s interview with singer John Fogerty, was originally published on October 24, 1986. The audio, sadly, did not survive the decades, which is too bad, because Fogerty was kind enough to wish a “Happy Birthday, Cynda,” to one of my editors at the time, the late Cynda Mort.)
Sometimes, fame and fortune aren’t worth the contracts they’re built upon.
Consider John Fogerty. His battles over royalties and rights to songs he crated with Creedence Clearwater Revival already have lasted l5 years.
“There must be three, four, five lawsuits at various stages going” he says in a telephone interview, “and all it does is make the lawyers happy. It doesn’t make me happy.”
Fogerty has spent the last decade plus wrangling for the rights to his past and for the freedom of his future.
He and Fantasy Records president Saul Zaentz (distributor of CCR products) have been locked in the courts over a variety of topics.
They began with Fogerty’s failure to provide new material to Fantasy after Creedence Clearwater Revival broke up and continued through Zaentz’s more recent allegations that two Fogerty tunes – “Zanz Kant Danz” (Iater changed to “Vanz Kont Danz”) and “Mr. Greed” – defame his character.
JOHN FOGERTY interview excerpt: “The tragedy of the game really is that at the age of 22,23, musically, you can be a genius. And yet, a person at that age has no idea about the fine lines, the whereases, the parties of the third part and all that sort of thing. The legal stuff. They’re quite vulnerable to unscrupulous people or evil people.”
Then there were Fogerty’s allegations about Zaeatz’s involvement in the failure of a Bahamanian bank which went under in 1977, taking with it an estimated $8 million in Creedence tunes (and a half million in Fantasy dollars) and Zaent’s claims that Fogerty ripped off his own CCR song, “Run Through the Jungle,” when he released “Old Man Down the Road” in 1985.
As a result of the suits, Fogerty took himself out of the public eye for over a decade after the 1975 release, “John Fogerty.”
He virtually lived is a lone recording studio, writing songs and rehearsing.
Now that he’s back on the road, Fogerty is steering clear of the old Creedence songs. To perform there he says, would only remind him of his legal headaches and put royalty money in Fantasy’s coffers.
It’s a decision that apparently is hurting him at the box office.
Fogerty’s Lakeland Civic Center show was moved from the 8,400-seat arena to the 2,282-seat theater, reflecting sluggish ticket sales. Scheduled concerts in Miami and Daytona aren’t doing much better.
Part of the problem may be that “Eye of the Zombie,” Fogerty’s second album since he returned to the pop trenches in 1985, has been in the record stores for only a few weeks.
“It’s doing well,” he says, “it probably could be doing better, I guess. I think it’s a little odd for people.
“It takes time for people who are expecting (that) ‘Huck Finn’ is 22 years old and everything is wonderful. That’s not what they’re getting in this album.”
At 41, Fogerty certainly is not Huck Finn anymore, although he still wears the familiar plaid flannel shirts and has retained a youthful visage.
“Centerfield” was a remarkable comeback effort” featuring two hit rock songs, “Old Man Down the Road” and “Rock and Roll Girls,” plus a country hit “Big Train (From Memphis).”
The new songs, like the old blend what Rolling Stone’s Kurt Loder called “rock’s most stylistic elements – Delta blues, Louisiana swamp rock (and) Memphis rockabilty.”
As popular as his old band was, Fogerty doesn’t detect its influence on modern groups.
He admits surprise – perhaps disappointment – that no one has picked up on the “Creedence swamp groove.” Asked if he can ascertain CCR’s legacy to rock ‘n’ roll, Fogerty hesitates:
“God, I don’t know,” he says. “I would say that it was a pretty damn good dance band – that was really what we wanted to be – whose main forte was making the classic three minute single. That was the idea.
“But there was intelligence along the way, certainly while the thing remained controlled, anyhow. Had a pretty good ride.”
As a solo artist, Fogerty seems to have picked up where CCR left off.
The old man down the road near the swamp made a big splash at Farm Aid and did a TV special for Showtime.
But he didn’t tour. Couldn’t he said, because he didn’t have enough new material. He wouldn’t play “Proud Mary,” “Susie Q,” “Bad Moon Rising” “Green River,” “Down on the Corner,” “Fortunate Son” (a hit again this year for Bob Seger), “Travelin’ Band,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” or any other CCR material. No way. So he waited.
Fogerty made his much-anticipated first concert appearance in 14 years and two months at the Mud Island Amphitheater in Memphis on Aug, 31. He says that despite all the excitement surrounding the first date, he was calm, anxious to get to work.
“Then I thought for a minute and I went, ‘Wait -that’s my audience!’ A door opened in my head.’ My God, this is the first audience in 15 years; That was a strange moment to cross through.”
Robert Palmer, rock critic of The New York Times, was on hand for Fogerty’s coming out parlor.
“Despite numerous predictions to the contrary,” Palmer wrote, “Mr. Fogerty’s Memphis audience reacted enthusiastically to his set of mostly unfamiliar songs, and did not call out for any of his Creedence Clearwater Revival hits. … Mr. Fogerty’s enthusiasm for his first tour in more than a dozen years is fervent enough to compensate.”
In the new songs from “Centerfield” and “Eye of the Zombie,” Fogerty uses imagery and language just as colorful and intense as he did in the CCR days.
He’s just as topical, too. Fogerty has continued the biting cynicism of old songs like “Ramble Tamble” and “It Came Out of the Sky” – which he says were written in 1970 about Ronald Reagan and brought it forward to “I Heard It On TV” (“Centerfield”) and “Soda Pop” (“Zombie”).
When told his song about the commercializing of rock stars seems sarcastic, Fogerty laughs.
An excerpt from “Soda Pop”: “Take a million dollars baby/ Put it in my hands/ Put my favorite retouched photo/ On the soda can.”
“Very sarcastic,” he agrees.
JOHN FOGERTY interview excerpt: “I would say that CCR was a pretty damn good dance band – that was really what we wanted to be – whose main forte was making the classic three minute single. That was the idea. But there was intelligence along the way, certainly while the thing remained controlled, anyhow. Had a pretty good ride.”
“There’s so many corporate sponsorships but the No. I offender to me has gotta be Pepsi-Cola,” he explains, mentioning that company’s hiring of Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and others to promote its products.
“Miller Beer does the same thing but they hire rock band by the slew, hoping that one of them will hit, be big enough, and after they hit, they’ll still have to bow to the bubbly throne.”
Closer to home, Fogerty remains frustrated by the way the seven original CCR albums have been repackaged into many times that number and the way his songs have been sold commercially without his approval.
“They’ve sold Creedence songs for everything from Ford to Chevy vans to you-name-it. They’ve gotten songs into movies – they’ve done everything they could to milk the band.”
Fogerty is not the first artist – nor the last whose career has been tied up by contract and lawsuits. It has happened to Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Meat Loaf; most recently to Boston.
“I think it’s always going to happen,” says Fogerty. “The tragedy of the game really is that at the age of 22,23, musically, you can be a genius. And yet, a person at that age has no idea about the fine lines, the whereases, the parties of the third part and all that sort of thing. The legal stuff. They’re quite vulnerable to unscrupulous people or evil people.”
If the legalities were worked out, would he sing the old songs again?
“That’s a valid question,” Fogerty says, mulling it over. “Yeah, if things were settled in the truly just, humane way that they oughta be settled, I would consider it. But I know that that’ll probably never come to pass. It wasn’t the deck of cards I was dealt”
REVIEW: Fogerty made up for those 14 years
By Bob Andelman
October 27, 1986
Men who sing rock ‘n’ roll music well tend to have rather distinct voices, beginning with Buddy Holly, on through Mick Jagger, Harry Chapin and Bruce Springsteen.
The lineage between them includes John Fogerty. His remarkably dank, Deep South, wailing vocals haven’t been heard in performance halls for 14 years, Despite the release of two new albums, the Swamp Man still had to prove he could do his thing live.
So there he was Saturday night, on the stage of the Lakeland Civic Center theater. He played a long instrumental before finally arriving in front of a microphone to sing the first words of “Mr. Greed.”
When he did, whew!
There are bad concerts, good concerts and great concerts. This was the best.
Isolating the best moment of Fogerty’s show is no easier than pointing a finger at his worst.
All the good times ran together because the man didn’t have a since off moment in nearly two hours on stage.
He strolled from one end of the Lakeland Civic Center theater to the other during almost every number, playing his guitar, peering out at the scant 1,538 paying customers.
Into his fifth song, “The Old Man Down the Road,” a handful of people cautiously walked to the foot of the stage to be nearer to Fogerty. He stood above them and kept playing, grinning.
As he leaned back to strum a part a man below him followed on air guitar. Others below the singer literally touched his feet with reverence. Later, a woman jumped on stage, handed roses to Fogerty and just as quickly jumped off.
True to his word, the man played none of the tunes he had written for Creedence Clearwater Revival in the early ’70s – never even mentioned the group.
A few people called out for CCR songs – “Traveling Band” and “Willie and the Poor Boys” – but Fogerty didn’t respond if he even heard them.
The closest he came to his past was the soaring encore, “Rockin’ All Over the World,” from his 1975 solo album, “John Fogerty.” It is a song frequently used by Springsteen to end his shows.
For a man who says he doesn’t do CCR material because he doesn’t want to be reminded of his legal hassles, it was surprising that Fogerty began with “Mr. Greed” and “Vanz Kant Danz.” Fantasy Records president Saul Zaentz, who controls rights to the CCR catalog, alleges the songs defame his character.
Fogerty did make a reference or two to his long layoff.
“You’ve probably been reading about the couple of weeks we’ve been away,” he joked. “Don’t let it bother yuh.”
Fogerty drew heavily on his two recent LPs, “Centerfield” and “Eye of the Zombie.” A gospel and R &’B set featuring Wilson Pickett’s “I Found a Love” and Sam Cooke’s “Soothe Me” were well-received.
His wry introductions were sometimes as interesting as the songs themselves.
“Have you heard of love?” he asked before beginning “Wasn’t That a Woman.” “This is a song about something like that.”
Several of the songs from “Zombie” were painted with broader brushstrokes than found or the record.
“Change in the Weather,” his latest single, had a tremendous, rocking instrumental buildup at its conclusion.
Fogerty, grinning again, was at the edge of the stage, playing his joyous noise fast furiously, sweat pouring off his brow.
“You don’t get that from a frigin’ machine!” he shouted happily.
When 1986 comes to a close and someone asks what the best rock concert of the year was, this is the one I’ll be still be talking about.