The word legend is often tossed about quite frequently and liberally as well, especially when looking back in retrospect. It can also be a frivolous term, one often doled out to the undeserving. However, in the case of John Fogerty the description clearly applies. As the leader, singer, songwriter and guitarist of Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of the most iconic American outfits of the 1960s, he helped paved the way for the sound that came to be called “Americana,” both with the band and on his own over the course of an equally successful solo career. Indeed, his songs are ingrained in the American songbook —“Proud Mary, “Fortunate Sun,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain, “Centerfield,” “Bad Moon Rising,” being but a few among the many.
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With his new album, Fogerty’s Factory, Fogerty enlisted his children Shane, Tyler and Kelsy to revisit some choice songs from his classic catalog as well as a pair of covers that he always felt a fondness for — “City of New Orleans” and “Lean on Me.” Spawned from a series of weekly videos filmed by his wife Julie on her iPhone while killing time during the pandemic, the idea eventually gelled into an actual album that replicates the cover of the quintessential Creedence album Cosmo’s Factory, right down to its cover design and the typeface text.
“We were in a pandemic and we found ourselves doing stuff that which maybe we hadn’t done for years,” Fogerty recalls. “And one day, my wife Julie said, ‘Cosmo’s Factory was a cool album. Why don’t we recreate that album cover? So it was a coup d’état you might say. She arranged to have my son Tyler to color correct different things, like the floor, the carpet, the drapery, the kind of thing which otherwise didn’t happen to be the same colors as the Creedence album. He color corrected them in a magical way. The same elements are there — I’m sitting on a motorcycle — but things aren’t exact because we were in a pandemic, we were in a lockdown. You don’t just go out and purposely create a set like you might in a big budget movie. But Julie found things that were around the house and enlisted a neighbor’s help for the motorcycle, and so there you go.”
“The idea came from my Mom who is always coming up with great ideas,” Tyler Fogerty adds. “It started more out of necessity from being in lockdown with a simple iPhone shot video, but as it got more attention we realized it was important to keep things going.”
The elder Fogerty readily admits that he’s not necessary adept at the new technology, so he was happy to have his wife and children work out the details while he oversaw the arrangements and production.
“The kids communicate through Snapchat and Ticktock and FaceTime and all these things that are befuddling to a person like me,” he allows. “I think they’re wonderful, but also a little bit of a distraction at the same time. I’m still that guy that when people call me I’ve left my phone back at the house, that kind of thing. I’m that guy, but I didn’t care. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh no, where’s my phone?’ That just happens to be who I am. I’m not purposely looking at what’s on it, because there are eight million, zillion things on there. I can go to a baseball game and be quite happy to sit there with the silence that’s between the drumbeats, the way music used to be… the silence between activity. I’m quite content to be in my own thoughts. I’m using that as a metaphor, like a wonderful Al Green record where the beauty of it is that there’s so much air in there as you listen. It’s got to be very strange to younger people. I can sit there and be quiet and be quite happy with it. I’m not really anti anything. For awhile there, I was I suppose, but it’s like standing in the door fighting computers. No matter what you do, they’re still coming in. There’s no use wasting energy on that, so I just sort of coexist. I’m not taking a stance, in other words. That’s energy draining. When there is actually space between the sounds, and when something does happen, it’s pretty noticeable.”
“He’ll always be just dad, but it would be impossible for me to ignore his raw talent and musical genius,” Tyler says of his father. “It was a very easygoing and a fun experience overall. I’ve been playing music with Shane for a while now and gotten to get up on stage at my dad’s shows, but it was really nice to have Kelsy join us and complete the family band. I’d say there wasn’t any pressure at all, we just did what felt right.”
“It sounds and it feels really good,” John agrees. “It seems to be joyful, and that’s what I sense. Of course it’s my family, and I’m a little biased of course. But some of the things are unexpected. ‘Lean on Me’ for example. It’s always been one of my favorite songs, and of course it’s come around now because of Black Lives Matter, which is what inspired me. It was simple parts put together in a nice way that made a very wonderful musical feeling, and I felt we did a really nice job on it. It feels good in your heart, in your soul. I think the entire album approaches that kind of feeling. There’s a little emotion there besides the notes.”
Fogerty also expresses his enthusiasm for the album’s other cover, “City of New Orleans.” “It’s always been a favorite song of me,” he insists. “I think the first time I heard it, it was through Arlo Guthrie, and along the way, I became aware of Steve Goodman, and I felt the sadness that he passed away early and had this wonderful song. And so this wonderful body of work really touched me. Steve was a big baseball fan and he was a Cubs fan, so he had all those years of futility. My wife is from South Bend, so she grew up a Cubs fan too, so I had that sort of identification. We really got to enjoy Arlo’s version, and along the way, Willie Nelson did a version as well. This summer, I happened to be listening to that, and it gave me a purpose. I was listening to Willie during the lockdown while I was cleaning out my closet. I think we all did that two or three times. What else are we going to do? And so I’m listening to Willie and my wife comes in and says, ‘Oh that’s a nice song!’ I knew somehow it was a positive sign. I somehow knew that in a couple of days, she would come back and say, ‘Why don’t you do that song?’ (chuckles) and of course I answered, ‘Honey, that’s a great idea!’ I had done a demo of it a couple of years ago, and I played it for my rep from the record company along with a few other things, and then I started thinking about this for the Fogerty Factory. I always did love the song, and I always loved New Orleans in the first place. So the journey in the song, those magical words, that sense of America and that sense of exploration and discovery and wandering…there’s just something in there that we all can relate to and connect with. It’s what he said so beautifully. And it’s a heck of a melody too, so I’m glad I finally got to do it myself.”
For his part, Tyler expresses his unbridled enthusiasm for his father’s work, a connection he says he’s enjoyed ever since his teenage years. “That’s when I started hearing and listening to music in a different way,” he recalls. “I grew up going on tour and traveling the world. I can’t even remember all of the places I went as a kid, but it was all because of his music. The internationality of his fanbase made me realize how important his music is.”
Fogerty senior’s passion is readily apparent, but it’s also spurred on by his connection with those he loves. “Spending my life with my wife and my family,” he responds when asked what brings him his greatest joy. “Luckily we’ve been able to combine all this, because I do love music so much, and for awhile, I had to live two separate lives. And that always bothered me. Lord knows I never wanted to be that guy whose career was his life and who struggled to combine the other part into it. The metaphor I use is that if you wake up in the morning, and you put on your show clothes, you need to know your identity. That’s not me. I’m very happy and I feel blessed and lucky that I get to have this career. I want to honor it and that is what I do. I am a musician, but psychologists will say, ‘You are not your job.’ But what am I? I’m not a lawyer. For a long time, I was separated from family things, and I didn’t have that joy at all. My career was going horribly at that time and I was angry at it because of the way things turned out. And I really, really longed for a normal life where I could come home to the fireplace, and my loving wife would be there and my kids would be there as well. It was a Norman Rockwell painting I suppose. To me, that truly was the perfect life, the golden life, and I still say that is the top of the pyramid for me. I still have the things that really matter, that are really good. I’m in a very good place and therefore, I’ve already won. Nothing will ever matter if it all goes sour. It’s never as important at all as long as your personal family life is good. And since I met my wife Julie, that’s how I’ve prioritized things.”
For more on John Fogerty and his new album Fogerty Factory, check out the January/February print edition of American Songwriter.