Fogerty: reborn, rockin’
John Fogerty insists on using a special piece of sound equipment when he’s recording a new album: his car. That is where anyone could have found the classic rocker last May, in the parking lot right outside NRG Studios in North Hollywood, with his windows up and the car stereo set to loud, blasting through one swampy song-in-progress after another.
The music he was testing from behind the wheel was destined for a new album, “Revival” (out Tuesday), his first solo collection to fully, and happily, embrace his core sound and history as leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival. He wanted to get it right.
“The car is the coolest way to hear music anyway,” says Fogerty, who even rented an identical car while traveling through Europe so he could judge a new song’s sound-mix sent to him there. “I was a lot clearer in my decisions in the car.”
Old ways still work for the singer-songwriter, who greets a visitor to his large Hollywood Hills home with a friendly, gentle manner, dressed in jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. Fogerty’s speaking voice booms just like his singing voice, but he sounds genuinely relaxed and upbeat, expressing none of the anger that typically emerged during interviews in the decades after the breakup of Creedence in 1972. He sounds like a happy man.
That much can be heard within the loving, chooglin’ grooves of “Revival,” which includes the self-referential track “Creedence Song,” a fable that tells of a traveling musician who keeps hearing the same advice in town after town: “You can’t go wrong, if you play a little bit of that Creedence song.”
Even mentioning the word “Creedence” in a new tune signals a change in perspective for the rocker, who spent most of the years after CCR in open warfare with his former bandmates and their label, Fantasy Records.
“Every now and then I sit down with a guitar and start making that very familiar sound,” he says. “In years gone by, a little gremlin would pop up on my shoulder and go ‘No, no, no!’ ”
This time, he let it happen.
“I was playing this swamp groove in the studio, and it felt pretty good. And I said to myself, ‘Wow, this is a Creedence song.’ And I was saying it as a concept. So already in that moment, it was an act of celebration rather than an act of hiding and running away.”
The album is his first in many years to be recorded with a full band rather than with Fogerty playing all the instruments. Among the players was keyboardist Benmont Tench, in-demand session-player and founding member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers.
“He’s very intense, and he’s very positive,” says Tench, who also played on Fogerty’s “Deja Vu (All Over Again)” in 2004. “The times I’ve worked with him have been really fun. He’s very ardent. He really believes in the power of this kind of music.”
Work on the album began in April with five days of recording at NRG, followed by two more weeks in late May and early June, working at the quick pace of CCR, which put out five Top-10 albums in 1969-70.
Among the new songs is the supercharged “I Can’t Take It No More,” which lands somewhere between Chuck Berry and the Ramones, clocking in at 99 seconds. It is aimed at the current White House administration and Fogerty’s least-favorite favorite son.
The track continues a Fogerty tradition of songs of outrage that began for him in the Vietnam era and CCR’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” and “Fortunate Son,” songs Fogerty still considers among his best.
“It’s a part of me because I’m an adult thinking person living in the United States of America here in the George Bush new millennium, and I certainly have things to say. But I don’t want to bore everybody with all that,” says Fogerty, 62, who served in the National Guard shortly before CCR began its recording career.
“I think they’re good songs,” he says. “If all it was were a bunch of words and ranting, then it wouldn’t be a good song or even worthy of this record.”
Fogerty says he feels most satisfied with some of the album’s quieter moments, including “Don’t You Wish It Were True,” which imagines an improbable world of love and happiness. While writing songs for “Revival” early this year, a turning point was “Broken Down Cowboy,” a melancholy yet hopeful love ballad that he soon realized was an intensely personal song about his state of being at the time he met his current wife, Julie, while touring through Indianapolis two decades ago.
That was in the years immediately after his comeback with 1985’s “Centerfield.” Even though it went to No. 1 and enjoyed wide acclaim and produced several radio hits, Fogerty was still haunted by anger and uncertainty about his career.
“I’m sure I was quite a handful. But she saw something in me too,” Fogerty says. “I’m no longer the broken-down cowboy, but I sure was, and I sure understand what that guy feels like.”
For much of that time, Fogerty was estranged from his own history and frequently embroiled in legal warfare with Fantasy Records. CCR had enjoyed massive success in just a few years, and Fogerty was still in his 20s when the band split. A prolific and successful solo career might have followed, but lawsuits and general bad feelings contributed to long periods of silence.
That “Revival” is his first album of new material to be released on the label since the ‘70s is an unexpected twist in the story, which occurred when Fantasy was bought by a consortium led by TV producer Norman Lear.
“Fogerty is very pure,” says Lear, talking by phone from his office. “He wanted to go talk to us about all those years, and the frustration he felt and the relief he was feeling. It flowed from him. I can’t forget that meeting. It was a very special, emotional meeting. I watched the guy walk in far more uptight than when he left.”
Up at his house, Fogerty is sitting in the media room, where he watches “princess videos” with his 5-year-old daughter, Kelsy. On the walls are gold and platinum record sales awards from his Creedence days, and on the table beside him is a framed photograph of Fogerty with his teenage sons -- Tyler and Shane -- all three of them with guitars in their hands.
Both boys have their own garage bands, he says proudly. “They are both more advanced than I was at their age. The stuff they do, I’m amazed.”
And just as he’s embracing his own history again, Fogerty is genuinely surprised by the sound his sons and their young friends have gravitated toward.
“They go all the way back to the late ‘60s, and they love Zeppelin and Cream and the Beatles and the Stones and Creedence -- people who picked up guitars and played really loudly and had cool guitar licks,” Fogerty says with a smile. “There was a certain force to all that.”