- Nela Koenig
- 'Once I had written "Proud Mary," the heavens opened up.'
Throughout most of the '80s and '90s, John Fogerty refused to play any songs in concert that he'd written for his legendary rock band, Creedence Clearwater Revival.
During much of that period, he was embroiled in a series of lawsuits over the ownership and use of his Creedence songs. Most of those disputes involved Saul Zaentz, the former head of Fantasy Records, whom Fogerty skewered in his biting "Vanz Kant Danz" single. Determined to deprive the music executive of any additional profits, Fogerty retired all of his old group's material from his live sets.
"That's probably the most horrible decision anyone could make, and I'm sure it's probably cost me in a business sense," Fogerty admits. "But it was what my heart had to go through to get here. That's what I had to go through to really be grateful and thankful for what I have now."
These days, Fogerty is so at ease with his CCR past — and his now-settled legal battles — that he's plunging into what many consider the pinnacle of his Creedence years.
His current "1969 Tour" focuses on the watershed year in which the band released no fewer than three albums: Bayou Country, Green River and Willy and the Poor Boys. That trifecta yielded the majority of the band's best-known hits, including "Proud Mary," "Lodi," "Bad Moon Rising," "Green River" and "Fortunate Son," turning CCR into one of the era's most popular bands. The three albums also gave Fogerty a catalog that, even without his notable subsequent solo success, would have sustained his music career for as long as he wanted to play shows.
"Basically my band had one hit, 'Suzie Q,'" Fogerty explains, referencing CCR's single from its 1968 self-titled debut album. "So we were in dire danger of ending up on the rocky shore of all the one-hit wonders down through the years of rock 'n roll. And really, I'm a competitive person. I just really didn't want that to happen. But when I looked at our situation, we weren't on a big label. We were on a tiny little label, and a jazz label at that. They were very unaware of rock 'n roll, let's say."
So Fogerty began writing furiously, and soon came up with the song that ended any talk of one-hit wonders.
"Once I had written 'Proud Mary,' the heavens opened up," Fogerty says. "Right there that afternoon, as I was writing that song, I knew that this was a great song. I knew this was what they used to call a standard. They probably call it a classic now. This was far above any song I had ever written in my life."
In addition to Fogerty's voice, the band's swampy mix of early rock, folk and blues was buoyed by a 12-string guitar tuned down from E to D.
"It just sounded bigger, because it was deeper than a normal guitar. I was fascinated with that."
The last of the three '69 albums, Willy and the Poor Boys, reached record stores in November. It made the Billboard Top 5, propelled by hits like "Down on the Corner" and the scathing anti-war song "Fortunate Son," which was a commentary about how easily kids of privilege were avoiding having to fight in the Vietnam War.
Why, after all these years, tour behind three albums from so long ago? Fogerty credits his wife Julie for the idea.
"I've been dancing around that for years and years," he says. "And sometimes I've gone out and done shows that presented this album or that album in its entirety. It's funny that it was staring me in the face. I never thought of it."