By Chris M. Junior
While John Fogerty has gone through some long stretches where he didn’t release a solo studio album dominated by new original material, not all of those periods coincided with inactivity and no output.
The past decade-plus is proof. Since releasing Revival in 2007, Fogerty has toured in the United States every year. He’s put out two more studio albums (each one with big-name guests), but both collections looked to the past: 2009’s The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again, a covers-heavy set, and 2013’s Wrote a Song for Everyone, featuring updated takes of choice compositions from his solo and Creedence Clearwater Revival catalogs. And after many years in the making, Fortunate Son: My Life, Music, Fogerty’s autobiography, arrived in late 2015.
Lately, he’s been writing songs, so there is light at the end of the tunnel in terms of a new studio effort.
“I’m working on it every single day, and it’s coming quite well,” Fogerty says. “I’m very pleased with what I have so far.”
Fogerty will be busy this year with other activities as well. A solo-album reissue campaign that began late last year with 1997’s Blue Moon Swamp and 1998’s Premonition continued in the early spring with 1985’s Centerfield, and it wraps up this month with 1986’s Eye of the Zombie and 2004’s Déjà Vu All Over Again. He’ll return to Las Vegas in October to resume his residency at the Wynn hotel-casino’s Encore Theater. But prior to that, Fogerty will once again make his way around America: a joint tour with fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famers ZZ Top, plus a handful of solo headlining shows and one date with Willie Nelson. [Information of remaining tour dates]
GOLDMINE: Appropriately enough, the CD and vinyl reissues of Centerfield arrived in early April, just as Major League Baseball was wrapping up its first week of games. In the title track, you refer to baseball legends Willie Mays, Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio. Were there other players you considered mentioning instead of them for that verse?
JOHN FOGERTY: Well, it’s funny. There were a few, but I think I really wanted to concentrate on centerfielders. I also had in mind the line that’s kinda from a Chuck Berry song called “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” — “Rounding third and heading for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man.” I sorta had Jackie Robinson in mind for that, even though I didn’t say him by name, and he wasn’t a center fielder. But because of the lore and his unique position in the history of baseball, I certainly referenced that in my heart even if I didn’t mention him.
GM: You’ve said that it was cathartic and rewarding to learn and play every instrument heard on Centerfield. You already had guitar and saxophone under your belt before making that album, so about how long did it take you to reach a personally satisfactory level on the others?
JF: A lifetime (laughs). I had really begun that journey because of the situation I found myself in contractually with Fantasy (Records) and Saul Zaentz. It was so blatantly unfair considering the enormous success I had given them, let alone myself… My answer to that was to put my head down and say, “OK, I’m going to play all the instruments.” In a sense, it was (a way of) keeping my sanity.
So way back in 1973, I did an album (under the billing) The Blue Ridge Rangers. It was the same format: I played all of the instruments. I wasn’t able to do it really well; I was able to be sort of OK. And so I kept at it, and it was more than 10 years before Centerfield was finally completed. I think in my heart of hearts, Centerfield — especially the title track — is my vindication. I finally crossed the finish line and was able to make a really good record with that process. But I have to tell you, I’m a very happy man now, and if I was in my current state of mind way back then, I think I would have found another way (to do it). To be that focused and that determined, to have blinders on and you can only see that one thing, being that obsessed with something may not be a really healthy state of mind. … I never (recorded that way) again, and I don’t want to do that again.
GM: It took until your 1997 album, Blue Moon Swamp, reissued late last year, for you to do something for the first time that’s been the backbone of popular music: write and record a straightforward love song. How come you didn’t travel down that romantic road before “Joy of My Life”?
JF: It’s a little complicated. When I was a kid — 13, 14, 15 years old — I wrote a whole bunch of that sort of song, what you’d call a love song. And there came a point in my life when I evolved as a writer, probably just about the time I wrote “Porterville,” when I started to think, “You know, these love songs, you’re sort of rhyming words. It isn’t something personal to you. It isn’t meant by you.” It would be simple to say I hadn’t been in love before, but I think it’s more that I had done it so much, it just seemed derivative.
From about the age of 19 or 20, I started to veer away from love songs. Then (many years later) I met Julie, my wife, and fell deeply in love… I wanted to express real feelings, and “Joy of My Life” is my first love song because it’s really from me. The song itself was a conversation I’ve had with her at different times.
GM: Carlos Santana once said that playing a series of shows at the same venue allowed him to be more present in the moment, while at the same time not losing sight of the previous night’s concert. What have been the biggest advantages and benefits to your Las Vegas residencies to date?
JF: I think the idea that you’re in one place — there’s a little less stress on you as far as having to pack up and move and get to the next city the next day. There is a certain type of excitement about moving and traveling and starting again in a new town in front of a new audience.
I like the idea that so many greats in the entertainment industry have played in Las Vegas — I’m thinking of Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra. When I was young, I thought Vegas was a place for old people. And then one day I became one (laughs), so I don’t fight that battle. It doesn’t bother me. I am now that guy I was probably talking about: “Oh yeah, the old people just go up to Las Vegas and they gamble, drink alcohol and sit around the pool.” Well, yeah, that’s right (laughs).
What I’m really enjoying is I didn’t have to change my personality or my value system (in Vegas). The music, exactly the way I want to play it, is accepted. I didn’t have to change and (add) bubble machines, dancing showgirls and elephants that do tricks. I didn’t have to do any of that.
GM: Will your Vegas shows this year be in line with your previous Vegas runs, or will there be any changes or additions?
JF: We’re starting to make a few changes, but they’re subtle. I’ve certainly incorporated my two sons (Shane and Tyler) more into the show. I think the show is so varied that it’s pretty hard to memorize it; there are a lot of different parts. We’ve kept most of that.
GM: Your tour with ZZ Top, dubbed Blues & Bayous, is certainly fitting given your respective catalogs. When and how did blues music enter your life?
JF: Oh, wow, when I was very young boy — long before rock ‘n’ roll and Elvis Presley. It came in a little bit through the music that my parents would listen to. They had a pretty broad area of music that they liked — I’m talking about pre-1950, when I would have been 4 or 5 years old. Both of them gravitated sometimes toward a more earthy style, be it country music or blues music. One of the big songs that my mom loved was “Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy.” It was done by Dinah Shore (among others), and it very much had that Americana/blues lilt to it. That was a song I memorized when I was probably 3 years old. By 1953 or so, when I was 8 years old, we had a great radio station in the Bay Area called KDIA. That’s where you would hear Muddy Waters and even Louis Jordan and Fats Domino.
GM: With a co-headlining tour, where each act takes turns as the closer, how does the prospect of playing a slightly condensed set in a time slot that’s not the same every night affect your show routine? Is it refreshing, more stressful or something else entirely?
JF: The way I’m looking at it is this is a unique situation and a unique opportunity. Rather than worry about my own ego and what billing I am, I know how I would feel as a fan if there were these two artists that I like, and they’re on the same bill. … Seeing us both in the same evening, a music fan would consider that a treat. I know I do.
GM: It’s been more than 10 years since Revival, your last studio album of all-new material — remarkably, your third stretch of about a decade that you’ve had between solo efforts primarily or entirely featuring new original material since CCR disbanded. Looking beyond your in-progress album, can you see yourself spending more time in the studio than on the road?
JF: Oh, sure — more time in the studio than, let’s say, has been apparent over the past 10 years, a much more integrated process of both (recording and touring), I guess you’d say. I will say that I really feel my music is better than Revival at this point. There’s an awareness that it can be better than that and it should be better than that. I’m supposed to be better than that. And what that reflects is I had to work harder than that, and I accepted that challenge.