How telling is it that John Fogerty has named his splendid new album “Revival” and is re-working some of his trademarked swampadelic licks in fresh yet familiar ways?
The most obvious tip of the hat to yesteryear comes with “Creedence Song,” which delights in fans who ask him (or any musician) to crank out one of his old Creedence Clearwater Revival hits.
To boot, the project has come out on the Fantasy record label where Fogerty first made his name and reputation.
For “127 years,” Fogerty half-joked recently, he was running away from all that - his history as founder, singer/guitarist and especially as songwriter for Creedence Clearwater Revival, the California-spawned (but Delta blues and Southern rockabilly inspired) rock giants who gave the world classics like “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising’ and “Born on the Bayou.”
Why the bum’s rush?
In his naive youth, Fogerty had signed away all the publishing rights to those (and future!) songs, a stroke of the pen that would cost him hundreds of millions of dollars and send him into a seemingly bottomless, bitter blue funk.
“Songwriting is the most elusive of musical gifts,” he now tells any and all who’ll listen. “If you have creativity and can write songs that resonate with other people, that’s an absolutely magical thing, and you want to hang on to the ownership.
“As you get older, those songs will help sustain your career. And if others - lawyers and managers and record company owners - wiggle that away from you, it becomes a lifelong source of bitterness and anger.”
Adding insult to injury, the guy who held control of his songs and all the Creedence recording masters, Fantasy Records owner Saul Zaentz, used that money to seed a prestigious film production company, first achieving acclaim with the Academy Award-winning “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Later, an ungrateful Zaentz had the tenacity to sue Fogerty for writing/performing new songs that “sounded too much” like Creedence material.
And Fogerty’s former bandmates signed away (also to Zaentz) their approval rights for how CCR songs would be exploited in movies, TV shows and commercials.
“There were a few good uses and a lot of junk,” Fogerty said. “The worst was turning `Fortunate Son’ (a diatribe against the privileged classes) into a vehicle for selling Wranglers jeans.”
That was “the final straw,” Fogerty recalled. He vowed to never perform again with the CCR guys - even when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 - though they were seen on stage together for a show-closing jam.
And for a painfully long time, Fogerty refused to do any of his old hits in concert, much to the consternation of fans, because he didn’t want to cough up another penny in performance royalties to a man he considered his slave master.
“I didn’t want to be on stage singing `Proud Mary’ and hating every moment,” is the way he views it now.
But happily, most of that is now water under the bridge. A new team is in charge at Fantasy, recently folded into the Concord Records operation backed by TV producer Norman Lear.
Almost the first thing they did after taking over was to offer Fogerty a first-class ticket home. “I think (Lear) likes the jazz operation more, but it works for me, too,” Fogerty said in a recent chat.
“Norman is a delightful guy, very much at peace with himself and his world. You can tell just from looking at his face. And it helps a lot that he’s on the same political or philosophical wave length as me.” Which is to say, liberal Democrat.
Before the last presidential election, Fogerty participated in the “Vote For Change” concert tour, performing in high-energy, verging-on-cheerleader fashion (the 62-year-old still jogs six miles daily) alongside Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stipe, John Mellencamp and Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes.
Now he’s rallying the loyal opposition with hopeful new numbers on the “Revival” set like the winsome “Don’t You Wish It Were True” and delightfully balmy “Gunslinger,” a song Fogerty said is his favorite to perform live.
Fogerty can remember the songwriting process in years past as being “like pulling teeth.” But this time around it seemed, as another breezy newbie goes, a “Natural Thing.”
“Once I got going in January, it just flowed,” he shared. “That was a good sign to me. I told myself to stay more in the rock `n’ roll realm, be in my center, not go off on tangents. Most of the time the writing starts with a guitar in my hand, making up licks, chord progressions or textures. Somewhere in the process I think `Hmm that sounds kind of cool,’ and it’s magic time.”
Clearly, the most meaningful song for Fogerty on the new collection is his Cali-country and Western-flavored “Broken Down Cowboy,” which gets to the ultimate cause for his emotional and artistic revival - his wife and adviser Julie Fogerty.
“That song was me 20 years ago, when I was quite a mess, a rock `n’ roll casualty, very bitter, very confused about how to manage my own life and career - not happy, in other words.
“I was in Indianapolis, hanging in a little club. Julie wandered in with her sister. She was helping her move across the state of Indiana. It was such a chance meeting. Another 10 minutes either way and we’d have never met. But when I saw her, I knew that’s what I was looking for.
” ... I didn’t become healed overnight. I had a lot of baggage. I could have dragged her down to my level, but she pulled me up to hers. We have a wonderful family now. A very boring, non-celebrity life, with kids in school, ranging from our daughter in kindergarten, to boys in the middle who are 14 and 15, and her daughter from a previous marriage who’s 23.
“Our family is our whole world - we’ve circled the wagons. Everything else is outside. I have this sense of solidarity and joy. Nothing can shake that. It’s a miracle.”