Roots of John Fogerty
In a way, Creedence Clearwater Revival was lucky. Based in the terminally unhip East Bay suburb of El Cerrito, looking to classic rock & roll and the Beatles for inspiration in their early incarnation as the Golliwogs instead of the folk-rock which powered the San Francisco scene’s big-name bands, they were shunned by the psychedelic ballrooms and had lots of time to refine a sound that was completely their own. The result was a run of nine Top Ten singles (and one, “Suzie Q,” which peaked at number 11) of a directness and simplicity that the other bands missed. For this, they were derided by the hipoisie, who seem to have forgotten that popular music was supposed to be, um, popular.
Certainly their songwriting powerhouse, John Fogerty, didn’t mind at all. He was too busy crafting powerful songs that the country reacted to immediately, honing songwriting, singing, and guitar skills that turned Creedence into one of America’s top bands. After they broke up, Fogerty continued to pursue his vision, adding a dash of country music which only broadened his appeal, although legal issues and changing tastes meant that his sales might not have reflected his mastery as they once might have.
Creedence’s songs played on a mythology which had already been set in place by the performers whose music they covered and whose legacy they extended. Proud Mary steamed up the Mississippi River, Fogerty sang about being born on the bayou (which he clearly wasn’t), and characterized the band as Willie and the Poor Boys, just pickin’ and grinnin’ for spare change. This made the band something of a pop Rorschach test, in which listeners saw an image far more democratic and working-class than the band actually was. The deceptive simplicity of Creedence’s music, too, was in stark contrast to the increasingly virtuosic-for-its-own-sake music coming from across San Francisco Bay, and the flannel-shirted, jeans-wearing image the band projected in photos and on stage was the opposite of the rock star poses adopted by so many of their contemporaries.
This democratic impulse has made Creedence’s and Fogerty’s work survive without seeming dated. Deeply informed by what came before, imbued with the values of directness and simplicity, it has served to influence countless similarly-minded performers who came afterwards. In short — and without having anything to do with the marketing term — it’s classic rock.
Rock Classics Volume I
Artist: Various Artists
Release Date: 2007
Creedence blasted onto the scene with a lengthy meditation on Dale Hawkins’s biggest hit, “Suzie Q,” which had featured a guitar part by James Burton, one of the great unsung string-benders of his era. Hawkins had an eye for great guitarists — later, he often used Roy Buchanan — but he never had a hit as big as this one. He moved to Dallas and got into production work, with credits including Bruce Channel’s “Hey, Baby,” whose harmonica part, by Delbert McClinton, inspired the Beatles to use one on “Love Me Do.” He produced the Top Ten hit “Western Union” by local band the Five Americans, and in 1970, became a consultant for Houston-based International Artists, dealing with the 13th Floor Elevators. The persistence of Creedence’s “Suzie Q” as an FM radio staple revived his performing career, and he continues to perform occasionally to delighted audiences.
Artist: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Release Date: 2006
If blues singer Jay Hawkins hadn’t gotten incredibly drunk while trying to record a song he didn’t particularly like, would he have become the icon he became? Hawkins always maintained that he didn’t even remember the take that resulted in his notorious 1956 underground hit “I Put a Spell on You,” which, although it never made the charts, was one of those records teenagers passed around, marvelling at his grunts, snorts, bellows, wails and shrieks, as he stumbled his way through a song that was pretty inherently spooky to begin with. Creedence re-introduced it into the rock repertoire as the opening track on their debut album, and it’s stayed there ever since. As for Screamin’ Jay, he embraced the record, making it the centerpiece of a live act that saw him carried onstage in a coffin, brandishing a flaming skull, and wearing outrageous clothing while he sang such memorable numbers as “Constipation Blues,” which became a major hit in Japan.
The Essential Collection
Artist: Tommy McLain
Release Date: 1997
Nobody in Creedence was, in fact, born on the bayou, not even one of the bayous on the Sacramento River, but there was a rich body of rock music that was. Louisiana and east Texas was the touring ground of swamp pop show bands like the Boogie Kings and Randy and the Rockets. Covering soul and country hits of the moment, driven by crackerjack horn sections, and fronted by versatile vocalists, most of these bands were doomed to local obscurity until various British fans rediscovered them in the 1980s. Among the vocalists were such greats as Rod Bernard and Johnnie Allen, but possibly the greatest was pint-sized Tommy McLain, whose version of Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams” cracked the national charts in 1969, and whose impossibly pure high voice was — and is — an incredible expressive instrument, and his backup recording bands had some of the best veterans of the swamp pop circuit. Listen to him and you’ll hear a possible source for John Fogerty’s singing style.
The Complete Sun Singles
Artist: Carl Perkins
Release Date: 2000
Carl Perkins influenced Creedence because Carl Perkins was one of any true rocker’s influences. Someone who could write a song about something as silly as blue suede shoes and then play it with such passion that it never occurred to you that his life didn’t depend on them was clearly on the right track. His background, too, was perfect: born to dirt-poor Southerners who worked the fields next to their black neighbors, Carl absorbed the country music and blues around him and forged it into a style that was so tight that there was a week when he had the top record on the pop, country, and rhythm and blues charts — “Blue Suede Shoes,” in fact. Even more germane to the Creedence/Fogerty connection was his guitar style, in which country and blues elements came together in absolute simplicity, but thrilling originality. Although it’s not as simple as it might seem: just ask the Beatles, who really had to work at coming close when they covered his stuff.
Artist: Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup
Release Date: 1994
Once again, anyone who plays rock & roll owes something to this Mississippian who began playing the blues when he landed in Chicago in the late 1930s. Elvis Presley’s total reworking of his “It’s All Right, Mama” was the start of the King’s career (and caused a grateful Elvis to pay for an RCA Records session for Crudup after he became a star), but several other of Crudup’s songs also found their way into the rock repertoire, including “My Baby Left Me,” which showed up on Creedence’s album Cosmo’s Factory. Crudup, in common with many artists on RCA’s “race” subsidiary Bluebird, overrecorded like crazy in the 1930s, but he was a popular performer in Chicago clubs, playing to transplanted Southerners like himself, and as blues styles in the Windy City changed, he moved back home, where he was a successful bootlegger by the time Elvis brought his name back into public recognition. He died in 1974, having seen his career revived by a younger generation.
Absolutely The Best
Artist: Lead Belly
Release Date: 2000
Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter was also a powerful influence on rock & roll, but he entered through a different door from most blues singers, having been part of the first American folk revival of the late 1940s, and contributed the first big urban folk hit, “Good Night, Irene,” to the Weavers. The story of his discovery by folklorist Alan Lomax, his subsequent release from prison, and his adoption by the folkies around the left-wing scene which also included Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie is well-known, and this led to his making dozens of records of his music, most of which, it must be said, isn’t really classic blues. Creedence included two of his best-known songs, “Midnight Special” and “Cotton Fields,” on their Willie and the Poor Boys album, and made them their own, which is unsurprising because Creedence, although they recorded the occasional blues song, were more interested in the song part of that term than the blues part.
The Best Of Booker T. And The M.G.’s
Artist: Booker T. And The M.G.’s
Release Date: 1994
John Fogerty was once asked, who was the best rock & roll band in the world? “Booker T and the MGs,” he replied, without hesitation. Superficially, you won’t hear much of the Memphis quartet’s music in Creedence or Fogerty’s later solo work; their contribution is subtle. What you hear when you listen to one of their little masterpieces, tossed-off jams on the surface but with surprising depth, is a four-piece machine in perfect working order. It’s almost the platonic ideal of how to take four great players and make a single sound, something that Creedence did, at least in the beginning. Sure, there are solos — Steve Cropper’s guitar in particular — and sure, Booker T’s organ leads the way with the melody, but it’s obvious they’re listening to each other all the time and the exuberance and joy of it all comes shining through.
Artist: John Lee Hooker
Release Date: 1962
Mr. Hooker proposes “boogie.” Messrs. Fogerty and company propose “chooglin’.” Is there a difference, class? Discuss, and show your work. There’s no doubt that the rhythmic, but harmonically static, work of John Lee Hooker played a major role in shaping the jam culture that 1960s rock music gave to the world. Starting with “Boogie, Chillen” in 1949, Hooker’s deceptively primitive-sounding blues, mostly just his voice and his guitar, was popular with a significant sector of the blues audience, as if it was a stern warning against getting too fancy. In the late 1960s, when American guitar bands rediscovered the blues, Hooker’s blueprint was one of the main ones they used for their extended workouts, and Creedence was no exception, since they served up several Hooker covers on their early albums. As always, they weren’t straight copies of the original, and the Stu Cook-Doug Clifford rhythm section came up with the rhythm they called “chooglin’,” which became one of their trademarks.
The Essential Little Richard
Artist: Little Richard
Release Date: 1958
As with Carl Perkins, any rocker who doesn’t claim Richard Penniman as an ancestor is lying. He pioneered things that people today take for granted: wild onstage behavior, ambiguous sexuality, a driving beat, insane shrieking vocal tics, goofy lyrics. On his records, Earl Palmer took just enough swing out of standard blues beats to invent rock & roll drumming. The Beatles covered his stuff, and, of course, so did Creedence, recording “Good Golly, Miss Molly” on Bayou Country. Hard as it may be to believe now, by 1969, when that album came out, Richard had slipped into the shadows (although some knew Jimi Hendrix had toured as his guitarist), but this was as much due to his having spent time in the ministry and renouncing rock & roll — if only for a short while — as anything. His obscurity didn’t last long, and as of 2007, he was still going strong, showing up in films, on television, and occasional live shows, reminding the youngsters how it’s done.
The Best Of Hank Williams
Artist: Hank Williams
Release Date: 2002
After Creedence broke up, John Fogerty turned up the “country” knob, first with his one-man bluegrass band, the Blue Ridge Rangers, and later in his solo albums. (It had always been there, but the band wasn’t the best place for it.) And if you’re going to be country, your work will bear echoes of this inventor of modern country music. Williams was the first to add a personal touch to his lyrics, a result of hearing a lot of blues in his youth; this innovation propelled him to the stardom which would long outlast his death at age 29. He also wrote compelling melodies to fit those lyrics, which saw his songs covered by pop artists and even rockers like Fats Domino, whose version of “Jambalaya” was the first many people heard. His small body of work is a cornerstone of American popular music, and alt-country types are still finding out how difficult such simplicity can be.
Artist: Jimmie Rodgers
Release Date: 2002
Before Hank Williams, there was Jimmie Rodgers, a Mississippian who’d been schooled in the blues and then gone on to hone a repertoire which deftly mixed them with a broad streak of sentimentality. Country’s first superstar, his “blue yodel” and use of the Hawaiian steel guitar in his recordings would form a template for country that lasted until Hank Williams’ innovations expanded the genre’s vocabulary. Nor was it only country musicians who were influenced: Howlin’ Wolf famously said that his trademark “Ah-ooo” was his failed attempt to imitate Rodgers’ yodel. Rodgers’ debt to black music was not only in the “floating verses” from traditional blues he used in some of his songs, but also in his famous recording session with Louis Armstrong, not to mention his friendship with the Carter Family, who were discovered at the same RCA Records audition as he was, and who also partook of black instrumental and lyrical influences.
Artist: Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison was all about The Voice. Although his best-known songs, hits like “Running Scared” and “Crying,” can be almost operatic in their tension between backing orchestra and vocal, Orbison started as something of a rockabilly, which is why these lesser-known Sun tracks make sense when we’re talking about John Fogerty. It was clear that Orbison’s band, the Teen Kings, weren’t capable of going all the way with him, but the mixture of their enthusiastic rocking and Roy’s singular voice is a model from which Fogerty could have extrapolated both Creedence and his later solo career. At a point where instrumental expertise seemed to be more highly valued than vocal prowess, Fogerty’s singing could grab you by the ears and make you re-evaluate that. Like Orbison, the idea of a hook was never far from his mind, although his songwriting chops were a bit more sophisticated than “Ooby dooby, ooby dooby, doo-wah, doo-wah, doo-wah.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
About the Author
Here author Ed Ward writes about Creedence band and their tie up with John Fogerty, his skills in crafting powerful songs –which the country reacted to immediately, his honing songwriting, singing and guitar skills that turned Creedence into one of America’s top bands. Read more on different albums and enjoy the real taste with E-Music that brings in music downloads, Audio Books, mp3 downloads, etc.
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