John Fogerty interviews during the last two decades have been almost as scarce as John Fogerty albums, but the creative force behind Creedence Clearwater Revival agreed to talk about the band and rock music on the eve of CCR’s induction in Los Angeles into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Arguably the greatest American rock group ever, Creedence registered a remarkable string of hits in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s--songs, including “Proud Mary” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” that combined social observation with the energy and economy of the ‘50s roots rock that thrilled Fogerty as a youngster in the Berkeley area.
But Creedence--which also consisted originally of Stu Cook on bass, Doug Clifford on drums and Fogerty’s older brother, Tom, on rhythm guitar--was torn apart by personal and professional problems, calling it quits in 1972.
Plagued by various legal and business affairs, Fogerty, now 47, has released just four albums since then--only one of which (1984’s “Centerfield”) was a complete triumph. With most of those problems resolved, Fogerty--married and living in Los Angeles with two young sons--is back in the studio and expects to return this year with a new album.
Question: What do you think generally of halls of fame? You’re a big Reggie Jackson fan. Were you excited when he got voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame--or did you think his career should speak for itself and that hall of fame concepts are unnecessary?
Answer: As a kid, there was something fascinating about the Hall of Fame, and I always hoped Reggie’d get in there with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig . . . because he was always my guy. It’s great that the whole ceremony at Cooperstown will be just for him because he was the only one voted in this year.
Q: Do you feel that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducts seven acts most years, is putting too many people in?
A: I don’t want to get right in the middle of controversy with the dinner coming up, but I do feel it should be very hard to get in. At the very first dinner I thought they should have just voted in the big four, which to me was Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. There were others clearly who deserved it, but they could have been in the next wave.
Q: Did you ever think during the Creedence days that it was going to be a legendary band . . . a hall of fame band?
A: On one hand, I don’t think you can think of yourself in those terms when you are in the middle of it . . . because if you do, you are going to immediately cancel yourself out. You’ll end up standing around looking in the mirror all the time. You know what I mean?
On the other hand, I tried very hard to make Creedence become what I thought would be a legendary-type band. I didn’t want to sound real wimpy like all those acts from Philadelphia in the early ‘60s. My idols were the guys who were really gritty and who were real rockers, and I wanted to live up to what they did.
Q: What was the first record you made that made you think, “Hey, this is pretty good . . . I think I can do this.”
A: Probably “Suzie Q” (Creedence’s first Top 40 single, in 1968).
Q: That early?
A: Or that late (laughs). I had been at it for 10 years or so by then. When were were barely in high school, we--three of the guys in Creedence--were the backup band for a singer up in Oakland and the record actually played for a week on the local R&B; station. And we recorded throughout that time. . . . That’s how I kind of learned what was going on in the studio.
Q: Like the Beatles and the Stones, Creedence had both Top 40 success and underground acceptance. Did you always see hit singles as part of the challenge of a great band?
A: Very much so. We were part of that underground, psychedelic generation, but my musical ideals were quite different from, let’s say, the Grateful Dead. So many of the bands in San Francisco wanted to play 20-minute guitar solos and I had been weaned on James Brown . . . Yow, yow, you get in and get out. All the people I had been weaned on--from Elvis and Chuck to the Beatles and the Stones--had sold millions of records.
Q: It always seemed that you were more influenced by the ‘50s rockers than your contemporaries in terms of sound. Yet lyrically, you reflected the commentary of the ‘60s. Were the Beatles or Dylan influential in that regard?
A: Dylan, sure. I’ve always maintained that he’s the guy who stopped the war. I’m sure even Lennon must have admitted a lot of influence there. But I think the idea of using music to say something went back further for me. I was very influenced by the late-'50s folk boom.
We had this great series of music festivals in the Bay Area in the ‘50s and my mom took me for at least four years. You’d end up with only 100 or so people in an auditorium and there’s Pete Seeger talking about Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie and how music could have meaning. He spoke about songs about the unions and the Depression days but also contemporary problems, like the House Un-American Activities Committee. It showed how music could be a force.
Q: What about “Fortunate Son,” which U2 recently recorded? What was the anger directed at?
A: I’d just say the powers that be, which at that time was the Nixon White House. It was the time of the Vietnam War and there were all these politicians and other people at the top who stood around waving the flag, but they were able to manipulate things so that their children weren’t touched--and that angered me a lot . . . in terms of who served in the war, who pays taxes and who doesn’t.
Q: “Run Through the Jungle” has sometimes been described as one of the great anti-Vietnam War songs? Was that what it was about?
A: I think a lot of people thought that because of the times, but I was talking about America and the proliferation of guns, registered or otherwise. I’m a hunter and I’m not anti-gun, but I just thought that people were so gun-happy--and there were so many guns uncontrolled--that it was really dangerous, and it’s even worse now. It’s interesting that it has taken 20-odd years to get a movement on that position.
Q: Is “Proud Mary” the Creedence song that remains the closest to you?
A: In some ways, I think “Green River” does because was about a certain childhood innocence . . . plus the musical values. It was really the center of this sort of mythical place I was trying to speak from in our music.
Q: You never seemed to go after the personal fame of a lot of other rock stars . . . even diverting attention from yourself. Why was that?
A: I look back at that at times and feel some regrets about that. But I was so busy trying to take this little band on a tiny label out of Berkeley to the top. That was my job. It was sort of like my little company. We had no capital, very little assets and my job was to beat IBM somehow. To me, the thing was to make a great record instead of me being on the cover of (some magazine).
Q: What about some of today’s bands. Do you think U2 or Guns N’ Roses could have been competitive against the great ‘60s groups?
A: I think you have to give Guns N’ Roses credit for the massiveness of their following, and they have a big, well-played sound. Time will tell, but they are kind of a Stones of the ‘80s and ‘90s. They’re certainly legit.
Q: And U2?
A: I think the same thing. They make perfect use of the talent within the band, which is what the Beatles did and I thought our band did. My big slogan about our band was, “Let’s show them our strengths and don’t even let them ever see our weaknesses"--of which we had plenty. It’s no secret why U2 is such a big success.
Q: What about Nirvana?
A: I sometimes think it is more attitude than aptitude with some of the new bands, but I like that. I enjoy the grunge (sound). I think it’s the perfect rock attitude. I do not like what I guess you have to call corporate rock . . . these big record company-promoted bands that are hyped up to every mall in Middle America and it all comes out so bland, so programmed. If a band is going to be worth anything, it has to maintain its individuality. Otherwise, you’re not saying anything.