ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 21, 1997
By Steve Newton
David Letterman has never been known to ask his musical guests to return the very next night after a Late Show appearance, but the gap-toothed TV talk-show host broke with tradition a couple of months back when he got John Fogerty to pull off a two-night stand. The former leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival took the rare invitation to heart and came jogging out to deliver a raunched-up version of his two-minute classic, “Fortunate Son”, a song so good that famed rock critic Dave Marsh named his book after it.
“It’s one of my favourites,” relates Fogerty, calling from his L.A. home. “It’s a really, really hard-rockin’ song. Surprisingly, my wife even says ‘You oughta use that voice more,’ and I go ‘You know, you’re probably right.’ I don’t have a whole lot of songs in that really upper register that I love to do, you know, but there’s a couple, starting with ‘Long Tall Sally’, heh-heh.”
If there’s a God in heaven—or perhaps a devil down below—Fogerty will also roll out “Fortunate Son” when he plays the Orpheum Theatre on Friday (August 22). On his first full-scale concert tour in more than a decade, he’ll be backed by the same band that did the deed on Letterman, which includes ace drummer Kenny Aronoff, he of the unmistakable trash-can thrump! you’ve heard on all those John Mellencamp tunes. Fogerty first played with Aronoff at the original Farm Aid benefit in ’85, then again four years later at a Roy Orbison tribute, where Fogerty performed “Oooby Dooby”.
“I tried many, many, many drummers on Blue Moon Swamp,” says Fogerty of his latest CD, “and, with a few exceptions, I just wasn’t gettin’ the thing I really felt I needed. I had a new arrangement of a song I had already recorded, called ‘Rambunctious Boy’, which originally was way too country. I finally figured out a way to have it be rock ’n’ roll—but country-influenced—and once I made that kind of transition in my mind, I thought, ‘Well, I oughta try Kenny Aronoff, because everybody tells me that we would be perfect together.’
“There was just a certain eccentricity there that I was a little afraid of,” adds Fogerty. “But since I had tried every other drummer in the world already, I finally tried him, and it was like, ‘Oh, my God, this guy’s really good.’ He resonates to the same mysterious thing that I resonate to.”
Fogerty’s touring band also includes bassist Bob Glaud, rhythm guitarist Johnny Lee Schell (whose credits include Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal), and a third guitarist named Michael Canipe. “With three guitars, bass, and drums, it’s really a rock ’n’ roll band,” confirms Fogerty, “and what it means is it takes a little bit of the rhythm chore away from me, so that there’s not a big hole when I stop playing.”
Glaub also played on Blue Moon Swamp, Fogerty’s first album in 11 years, but the majority of the instrumentation on the CD—including guitar, lap steel, electric sitar, mandolin, Farfisa organ, and Irish bouzouki—was handled by Fogerty. On four tracks, he also played Dobro, an instrument he’d hadn’t taken up seriously before preparing for the Blue Moon sessions. He had to work hard to get proficient enough to play it on the record, but he also had some heavy Dobro influences.
“My favourite musician in all the world is Jerry Douglas,” reports Fogerty. “He just happens to play Dobro, but, you know, if he played cornet, I suppose I’d start loving cornet. He’s just a really good musician. Certainly, Josh Graves is another great player, Brother Oswald, and Mike Aldridge, these days, but Jerry—I mean, he’s just so wonderful.”
As well as tackling Dobro for the first time—and handling all those other instruments—Fogerty wrote, arranged, and produced everything on Blue Moon Swamp. He just likes to do things his own way.
“You know, starting with my wife and then other people, they always say things like, ‘Well, you’re a perfectionist,’ and I always correct ’em and go, ‘No, that assumes that you can be perfect, and I don’t assume that.’ But for some reason, I have an idea what I think it oughta be, and oftentimes when I hear someone else do it, I’ll go, ‘No, no, that’s not how it should go.’ Sooner or later, I end up just wantin’ to do it my way.”
Fogerty has always been strong-willed about his music and what route his career should follow. After a celebrated and prolonged legal battle in which he lost all royalty rights to the hit songs he wrote, sang, arranged, produced, and played lead guitar on for Creedence Clearwater Revival, he became so bitter that he refused to play any CCR tunes in concert. Times have changed, thankfully.
“I’ve kinda made an emotional…well…a peace with it, really,” says Fogerty, who has spent the past few years raising two young sons with his second wife, Julie, to whom he dedicated Blue Moon Swamp and who he credits for his new, positive outlook. “It was a long, convoluted trail I went down, and I can only say… You know, I’m not a Vegas-type guy that you just pull strings and the smile comes on. I have to really feel it inside, what I’m gonna do, or I tend to just not do it. And it took me quite a lotta soul-searching to get where I’m at, but, you know, those are my songs. People want to see me do my songs, and I’m very happy to be doing my songs.”
The main target of Fogerty’s justifiable wrath was Saul Zaentz, the Oscar-winning film producer (The English Patient) and owner of Oakland-based Fantasy Records, which released CCR’s hit albums in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Fogerty’s feelings toward Zaentz took musical form on “Vanz Kant Danz”, the closing tune from his outstanding 1985 comeback album, Centerfield. “Vanz can’t dance, but he’ll steal your money,” he sang. “Watch him or he’ll rob you blind.” That song’s venomous message probably won’t be aired at the Orpheum come Friday, though.
“I haven’t been doing that song currently,” says the 51-year-old rocker. “You know, I may get around to that again, but, of course, that song has a history. In my current evolution, I try not to burden people with too many distractive thoughts, you might say; I don’t make speeches and all that. Everybody knows my history, but I’m really just tryin’ to have a good time, which is what I was born to do—before things started happening, heh-heh.”