John Fogerty: Finding Family and Fulfillment Synched In Song

John Fogerty gives every appearance of being content. And why not? As the leader, singer, songwriter and guitarist of one of the most commercially successful and readily revered bands of the 1960s — Creedence Clearwater Revival — he has every reason to feel that way. Likewise, his solo career, spawned after the band’s breakup, has continued to fuel his winning ways and secure his stature as an icon that ranks high in the musical firmament. He is, to borrow the title of one of his many classic songs, a true “Fortunate Son.” 

Videos by American Songwriter

A pioneer of the sound that came to be called Americana — his first solo album, released under the moniker of The Blue Ridge Rangers, contained his takes on a number of traditional tunes and standards of the backwoods variety — Fogerty has always written songs that dig deep into the essence and emotion of the American experience, whether that’s riding on a riverboat down the Mississippi (“Proud Mary”), playing with pals in a jug band (“Down on the Corner”), the absolute abyss that accompanies the dark and downward spiral of failed American folly (“Fortunate Son,” “Bad Moon Rising”) or the simple joys accompanying the ultimate American pastime (“Centerfield.”) In the process, he has created a body of work that shines above all and a legacy that still endures. 

In keeping with his revered reputation, Fogerty has opted to revisit a number of his seminal songs — as well as a pair of classics by other artists (“City of New Orleans” and “Lean on Me,” specifically) — this time, in the company of his children Shane, Tyler and Kelsy. Inspired by 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 recording session, released as Fogerty’s Factory. The album’s cover replicates that of the similarly titled Cosmo’s Factory, down to the precise positioning of the players, the font and the color scheme of the original. 

“The lockdown was well underway,” Fogerty recalls. “It was about a month into it, and I had already started recording and performing with my kids when it first started. My wife suggested we do a version of ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain,’ and of course since inertia is my favorite color,” he pauses for a laugh, “all I could think is, ‘Why do I want to do that again? Everybody’s seen me do it a million times.’ But she just had a feeling and a vision. She thought it would be a healing thing, a reassuring thing, perhaps from the perspective of the pandemic and the lockdown. 

“So it was her idea, as are many things in my life. I’ve just learned to be still and listen. At one point, she suggested doing something with the kids. They’re all musical, and we’ve done things mostly with one or two at a time, and sometimes we’ve all been on stage together. But it’s never quite happened where we would do one of my songs.”

Fogerty says the concept came together quickly. “At some point, we realized that it was the 50th anniversary of Cosmo’s Factory, and it was kind of in the air. Not that I always get along with record companies or anything, but they were kind of looking around and wondering how they were going to make note of it. At that point, I was offering zero help,” he chuckles.

“There’s been a lot of contention over the years, as you know, and I thought that maybe I’d go rearrange my socks or clean out my closet or something. We’re in a pandemic and we’ve found ourselves doing stuff like that, which maybe we haven’t done for years. So one day, Julie said, ‘Cosmo’s Factory was a cool album. Why don’t we recreate that album cover?’ So it was, ‘All right, honey.’ Since she was going to do the heavy lifting, all I had to do was show up. Very nice. It was a fun day of getting that together.”

Fogerty is quick to add that it was especially gratifying to make the endeavor a family affair, one that finds Julie credited as producer and his three children providing musical support. Likewise, the name solidifies the stance and binds the band together. 

“In some strange way, it also gave us an identity,” Fogerty reflects. “I’m a very proud dad. I love my kids, and when we get to perform live in front of people, it’s just the greatest. It’s fun to be in a rock ’n’ roll band. I’ve done that a few times, but when it’s your own kids and you’re doing this thing with so much love and attention to detail, there’s just such a positivity about the whole thing. I don’t know that life offers as many wonderful feelings as that did.”

Being a proud dad is one thing, but Fogerty is quick to credit his kids for their part in the project. So what does he consider himself first and foremost — a dad or a bandleader?

“That’s a great question,” he replies. “I think I was Dad first. With the arrangements and what I had my different kids playing, it didn’t seem quite as fulfilling. There’s always that feeling, whether I’m in a room with my kids, or whether I’m presenting a new song or an old song. If something’s not quite right, you think, ‘Well, I better change that. It’s not working. Something’s not quite strong enough,’ but then you figure it out. The magic thing was that all my kids were able to accomplish that. They’re really pretty good. I’m not sure if they realize how good they are.” 

Even though he’s one of the most successful songwriters in rock history, Fogerty says composing still requires his full focus. His aim remains the same as ever — to create classic songs that stand the test of time. Yet he admits that the process isn’t one he can ever take for granted. 

“There are instances where I’m writing songs and I hit difficulty because it’s hard and never  easy,” he admits. “It’s hard because the thing has to be good. Anything worthwhile has to have some work connected to it. There’s one song I’ve been working on and which I just recorded yesterday, but it took a long time. It took months. I kept telling myself that this song deserves better, I can make this better. I need more time. It was unclear, but I sensed it. It was inside me somewhere, but I had to go find it. Some songs pop out, and there they are. This song was hard to express and hard to get into a form that made sense to me. But once it came out, I was very proud of it and very secure in my position, you might say. I’m the marshal, and I have to face down the difficulty. I do it on the way to getting it, to finally have that pedigree or my own seal of approval. There were many weeks when I felt it was kind of lame, it wasn’t done, it’s smooth and vague. It’s a cool idea, a cool thing, but it isn’t finished.” 

He then adds with a laugh, “It’s like a movie that ran out of money.” 

Nevertheless, Fogerty can be credited with knowing what it takes to ensure the song’s in sync, even though he denies it comes naturally.  

“Quite honestly, if I knew the answer, I’d go there more often,” he muses. “It’s quite a wondrous thing to me. If you have that perspective, you can say, ‘Well, yeah, that’s certainly different than those other songs I did.’ It’s a whole different place — that imagery and all that — but I don’t really have a genius, evil plan. My brain doesn’t seem to operate that way. If I could make my brain more efficient, where you push a button and that image comes up, I would really do that more often and feel more comfortable. 

“I’ve got to tell you, while I was sailing along during the Creedence period, I’d tell people that for every song you hear, I’ve written many other ones that are crap. There just seems to be a lot of mucking around. You think it’s a good idea, and you go with it and find some words that seem to go together, but at some point you just realize it’s a dead end. It’s never going to get any better if you just stay here, so you end up kind of turning the page and saying, ‘All right, maybe there’s something in there that’s useful that I can return to later, but I gotta get a new blank page and start on something else.’ I make little demos and I’ll start singing these strange words — like vowels and consonants — and that’s kind of how I come up with a lot of things that become songs. The melody seems right, and I need to say something, but when I listen back later, it leads you into that other room where there’s a whole bunch of stuff waiting. You have a gift. You probably gave it to yourself, but you probably didn’t realize it. You’re kind of interpreting a mistake.”

Photo Credit Lee Cherry

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Bringin’ It Backwards: Interview with Jim Keller of Tommy Tutone