John Fogerty could not escape his past. Whenever he’d grab a guitar to write a song with a Creedence Clearwater Revival-like vibe, he’d imagine a gremlin from some Southern swamp jumping on his shoulder, shaking a lawyerly finger and threatening: “You can’t do that. I’m going to sue you.”
After four decades of feuds and litigation with the label that he says robbed him of his Creedence royalties, CCR’s lead singer/chief songwriter is finally at peace. He has rejoined Fantasy Records to release what Fogerty and critics agree is his best solo album, and he has learned how to deal with that pesky gremlin.
“This time around, that little guy popped up on my shoulder and I said, `Go away from me. Get out of my life. I don’t want you here. You don’t belong here,’” said Fogerty. “I sort of willed it to be gone and went ahead and finished my song. That is a real pivotal moment in my life. I think it used to get me. And it doesn’t get me anymore. I dare say I doubt that gremlin’s going to be back at all.”
The song is called “Creedence Song,” a swamp-rock reminder of those late 1960s/early ‘70s hits that landed CCR on the radio and in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The tune’s key line is: “You can’t go wrong if you play a little bit of that Creedence song.” It is a pivotal piece on the aptly titled “Revival,” released to rave reviews last month.
“By far, I think it is my best solo album,” Fogerty said recently while riding on his tour bus from Uncasville, Conn., to Atlantic City, N.J., and admiring the fall colors. “I’d place it among any of the Creedence records. My favorite (album) is `Green River.’”
A notoriously slow recordmaker, Fogerty said this was his easiest and most fun solo effort. “I didn’t go searching for a line to finish a thought for months and months or even years like I’ve done,” explained the native of Berkeley, Calif., who has made six solo albums since 1975. “When I worked on (1997’s) `Blue Moon Swamp,’ there were some songs there that literally took years to complete.”
In January, he labored daily in the studio for eight hours, coming up with “pretty ordinary, bland, vanilla stuff” - until he created “Broken Down Cowboy,” an autobiographical ballad about a loser with saddlebags of pain.
“That’s the guy I was when I met my wife, Julie, about 20 years ago,” explained Fogerty, who is 62. “I was certainly at that stage. I’m very familiar with that character. I’m not that guy now.”
No, he’s feeling happy - almost blissfully so. You can hear it in his speaking voice and on “Revival.“Other people have seemed to have noticed a sense of joy or freedom or happiness,” he said. “I know that’s how I feel every day.”
He attributes his good mood, in part, to having settled his long-standing differences with Fantasy Records.
Actually, his feud was with longtime label owner Saul Zaentz. Fogerty sued for the rights to his Creedence songs, but Fantasy owned them. Then in 1985, Zaentz sued Fogerty for defamation over the solo songs “Mr. Greed” and “Zanz Can’t Dance” and for copyright infringement, charging that the new song “Old Man Down the Road” copied Creedence’s “Run Through the Jungle.” Zaentz won the defamation case, but lost the copyright suit.
Best known as producer of the Oscar-winning films “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Amadeus” and “The English Patient,” Zaentz sold Fantasy three years ago, and Fogerty made amends with the new owners, returning to the label for “Revival.” None of that stuff even enters my day anymore,” Fogerty said. “I allow myself to live up to my own personality.”
While he has reconnected with Fantasy, he has not patched up his differences with former CCR bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford. He hasn’t communicated with them since he filed suit in 1995 - and failed - to prevent them from touring under the name Creedence Clearwater Revisited.
“I don’t worry about that,” Fogerty said dispassionately. “It is what it is. I’m surprised that it got taken seriously by anybody. But that’s not where my energy goes anymore.
“I have a whole wonderful, very busy creative life stretching out in front of me that I’m very excited, very passionate about,” he said, his voice turning sunny again.
Another thing Fogerty is passionate about is politics. He performed at the Vote for Change concert in St. Paul in 2004 with Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., Neil Young and Bright Eyes. The former Army Reservist won’t be preaching in concert this time. But he’ll probably play two pointed “Revival” tunes - the punky “I Can’t Take It No More” and the scorching “Long Dark Night,” an antiwar, anti-Bush rocker that mentions “Georgie, Rummie and Dickie.” With (Creedence’s antiwar song) `Who’ll Stop the Rain,’ I was a little vague,” Fogerty explained. “With `Long Dark Night,’ it has an ominous feel to it, so you know it’s about something spooky even if you don’t quite know what the guy’s talking about.”