JOHN FOGERTY: Fortunate Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

So how did it come to be, from that initial title jotting?

I was trying to write songs for what would be Creedence’s second album (Bayou Country). I remember fooling around with Beethoven’s 5th, which I didn’t know exactly how to play. That’s in the song somewhere. At this time I was trying desperately to get myself removed from the Army. I did my active duty, and I was still in the Army Reserves. One day this little envelope was sitting on the stairs of my apartment. It had been there for two or three days and it said “Official Government Business.” I thought there wouldn’t be anything like that for me so I walked by it a few times. After a couple of days I looked down at it and it said “John Fogerty.” And I went, “Huh?”  I opened it up and it was my honorable discharge from the United States Army. I went, Wow [laughs]. I was the happiest cat in the world. I literally went onto a little patch of grass in front of the apartment house and I did a couple of cartwheels. You can imagine, this was at the height of the Vietnam War and it was an honorable discharge and I was done, baby! I went right in the house and came up with the first line; [sings] “Left a good job in the city.” I wrote the rest of “Proud Mary” right there with that feeling in my mind. When I got to the part, “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river,” I realized when it was done that I’d written a standard. I knew it with every bone in my body. “Dang John, you’ve written a standard. Look at this!” I felt like I’d wandered down the beach and found a jewel. I was almost shaking with knowledge that I’d written a song like that.  It was like the best thing I could ever imagine happening in my life at that moment. I don’t mean to sound full of myself, but I absolutely knew it that it was a great song.

You were amazingly prolific with CCR. From 1968-1972, you wrote 17 Top 40 singles, nine which were Top 10 hits.

For everything people heard, I’d write 10 songs that were crap. I don’t bother finishing those. Early on as you begin to do it you go, “This is crap.” So instead of continuing on and forcing a square peg in a round hole, you go, “Man, this going nowhere. Just forget it.” And I’d move on. When writing songs, it’s almost like I can see auras. It’s almost like I’m a psychic. I can see people’s auras-the way those people talk. I can see what’s good. I can just sense it-feel it. I felt that I was in camaraderie with Lennon and McCartney, Dylan, Brian Wilson and The Rolling Stones-others of the same period, even though we’d never met. It was almost like a wonderful brotherhood that was a competition. Like, “Look what I can do.” They egged you on to be your best and to try and really do something cool. That sense of competition is a very healthy thing, and it brought out the best in you. It wasn’t at the expense of someone else. You’re creating songs from zero. You’re sitting there with a blank sheet of paper and that’s either the very scariest thing or the most wonderful thing.

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