Image Isn't Everything
By Rich Collins
SEPTEMBER 29, 1997: The man recorded 13 hit songs between 1968 and '72. He steered Creedence Clearwater Revival into its legacy as America's greatest straightforward singles band. And he avoided the rock pretensions that trapped many of his contemporaries in a time capsule.
But Fogerty wasn't finished after the demise of CCR. And he wasn't finished after his 1985 comeback album, Centerfield, spawned the gee-whiz title song that would become a staple at ballparks around the country. Now, a decade later, Fogerty has re-emerged with Blue Moon Swamp, a jubilant, rootsy, 12-song collection that sounds like the work of a man with plenty of ideas still left in him.
The disc is brimming with the stuff that made CCR a hit in the first place: chugging rhythms, Southern mythology and Fogerty's no-nonsense craftsmanship. On many tracks, Fogerty comes off sounding like the Harrison Ford of rock 'n' roll. He's less of an artiste and more of a "song builder," an ordinary guy with extraordinary talent.
But this, of course, has always been Fogerty's aesthetic. While contemporaries like Jefferson Airplane were donning psychedelic garb and feeding their heads with acid rock, Fogerty wore a plaid shirt, kept his chord changes simple and sang about regular people, admirable politics and the traditional culture of the American South.
In short, Fogerty has always emphasized craft more than image.
"I always felt the music was more important than how I was personally," says Fogerty. "In the same way, I figure the stuff Elvis did on record was more important than the stuff he did on the side. There are entertainers who spend a lot of time posing for pictures and giving interviews, but that's turning everything upside down. You should spend more time on the art itself, and the rest will kind of handle itself."
It's not that Fogerty rejects the importance of appearance and attitude. ("Elvis looked great," he says. "He was going to beauty parlors instead of barbers.") And he points out that CCR's own anti-image became an image in its own right. It's just that, for him, the song is everything.
As a young man, Fogerty poured his heart and soul into songwriting. The result was Creedence's signature sound: an earnest blend of big backbeats, chiming electric guitars and a wild, wailing vocalist. Tunes like "Long as I Can See the Light" combined elements of gospel, Delta blues and rock with tear-jerking results. The catchy choruses of "Down on the Corner," "Green River," "Bad Moon Rising" and "Fortunate Son" became a part of the nation's subconscious.
"I worked and worked and worked on [the songs]," says Fogerty. "It was easier because my life was less complicated -- you're not tuned into paying insurance and utility bills when you're in your 20s -- but I still worked on what I had to do."
Fogerty says he spent all of his days and nights on music. And he threw away more ideas than he ever kept. Sometimes he'd even build songs from the pieces and parts of other, half-finished tunes.
Fogerty's creative process has remained unchanged over the years. He occasionally will experience an epiphany -- like when the new "110 Degrees in the Shade" came to him in a flash -- but mostly he works by hiding from distractions, picking up an acoustic guitar and fooling around with a spare riff here or a nice lyric there.
The musical miracle that sometimes results from these sessions is hard to explain.
"I would never say it in other circumstances, but it is really magical and, I would say, primeval or prehistoric," says Fogerty. "It's just there. It sounds like I'm a big-headed egomaniac, but I have the utmost awe even for my own talent. I never take it for granted. When it isn't right, I'm the stupidest guy on the block. That's when you have great respect for your ability or the ability of anyone else to pull it off.
"Where does it come from? I don't know. I don't have a clue. I can't throw a football 10 yards, but Joe Montana barely moves his arm. ..." .
John Fogerty will be `back on the bayou' Thursday at the Saenger Theatre.
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