Fogerty, John Cameron

views updated

FOGERTY, John Cameron

(b. 28 May 1945 in Berkeley, California), songwriter, lead singer, and driving force behind Creedence Clearwater Revival, the leading American rock band from 1969 to 1971.

Fogerty was the third of five sons born to Gayland Robert Fogerty, who worked in a newspaper print shop, and his wife, Lucile Fogerty, a store clerk and teacher. His father left the family in 1953. With Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, two junior high school friends in El Cerrito, California, where he grew up, Fogerty formed his first musical group, the Blue Velvets, in 1959. His older brother Tom soon joined them.

After graduating from high school in 1963, Fogerty worked as a clerk at Fantasy Records, an Oakland, California–based label. In 1964 the Blue Velvets signed a recording contract with Fantasy, which changed their name to The Golliwogs. After hours of practicing alone with a tape recorder, Fogerty began to sing in public for the first time, eventually sharing lead vocals with his brother. The Golliwogs released several singles in the mid-1960s, with little success.

Fogerty married Martha Piaz, his high school girlfriend, on 4 September 1965. They had three children. He enrolled at Merritt College in Oakland but stayed only briefly. Fearing that he would be drafted, Fogerty enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves in April 1966.

In 1967 Saul Zaentz, the new owner of Fantasy Records, encouraged the group to pick a new name. Their choice, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), "was better than we were," Fogerty later observed. He produced the group's first album, Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968), on which he was lead singer and guitarist. While the Beatles were inspiring many rock artists to produce time-consuming and complex multi-track music, CCR recorded its first album essentially live in one week. Fogerty prepared meticulously for recording sessions but wasted little time once in the studio. While the album included some of his own songs, CCR's first two singles, "Suzie Q" and "I Put a Spell on You," were covers (songs originally performed by other artists). "Suzie Q," released in the fall of 1968, reached number eleven on the Billboard Pop Chart. Although the group had tasted its first national success, Fogerty was obsessed by the fear that they would be one-hit wonders. Confident of his own judgment, he insisted on producing the band's subsequent albums, resisting the desire of other group members for greater creative input.

Creedence hit its commercial stride in January 1969 with the release of the album Bayou Country, which sold more than one million copies and gave CCR its first platinum record award. In cuts such as "Born on the Bayou," Fogerty found a musical idiom that seemed to evoke the Mississippi Delta, a place he had never visited. Some called his music "swamp rock," a label he shunned. Another song from Bayou Country, "Proud Mary," a song Fogerty composed and arranged, became the group's first gold single and their first number-one hit. Fogerty's high, urgent tenor and distinctive pronunciation ("boinin'" for "burning," for example) gave him one of the most recognizable voices in rock music.

A period of breathtaking productivity and success ensued. CCR released two more albums in 1969, Green River in August and Willy and the Poorboys in November. The albums brought CCR their second and third platinum record awards. Cosmo's Factory followed in 1970. The group had an unbroken string of Top Ten hits from 1969 to 1971, including "Bad Moon Rising," "Down on the Corner," and "Who'll Stop the Rain." Creedence was the first band to agree to play at the 1969 Woodstock Festival, but Fogerty was so disenchanted with the circumstances of the group's performance that he refused to allow its inclusion in the resulting movie and album. Billboard named Creedence Clearwater Revival the top singles artist for 1969. Rolling Stone proclaimed it to be the best American band.

In songs like "Fortunate Son" (1969) and "Don't Look Now" (1970), Fogerty expressed something rare in American rock music—a keen awareness of class differences. "Fortunate Son" was perhaps the only popular antiwar song of the 1960s to observe that the sons of the working class were more likely to be conscripted than the sons of the privileged.

Fogerty shunned the spotlight and was uncomfortable with the trappings of stardom. In numerous ways—his lyrics, his music, his aversion to hard drugs, his clothes (often flannel shirts and jeans)—he was a man of moderation in an era of frequent excess and flamboyance. That reticence was both integral to CCR's appeal and an obstacle to its superstardom.

When the Beatles broke up in 1970, CCR was considered by many to be the premier rock band in the world. But heightened expectations and festering discontent within the group over Fogerty's control tore them apart. CCR's sixth album, Pendulum, was released in December 1970 and had one million advance orders, guaranteeing it platinum status. The album marked the beginning of a more democratic band process, but it was not very successful after the initial surge of orders. Tom Fogerty left CCR in January 1971. The seventh CCR album, Mardi Gras (1972), featured equal contributions from the three remaining members. It was the group's least successful album. CCR disbanded in October 1972.

In later years Fogerty became bitterly estranged from the other band members and fought a series of legal battles with Zaentz and Fantasy Records. He released several solo albums, including Blue Ridge Rangers (1972), John Fogerty (1975), Centerfield (1985), and Eye of the Zombie (1986). Blue Moon Swamp (1997) won a Grammy as best rock album. The title cut from Centerfield became the unofficial anthem of Major League Baseball, and it reached number ten on the charts and sold more than two million copies in the United States. Fogerty and his wife divorced in 1985. He married Julie Kramer on 20 April 1991. CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

The creative force behind one of the most popular rock bands of the 1960s, Fogerty was nonetheless an anomalous figure. There was no place in his music for two of the era's favorite themes, idealism and love. Instead of imagining a world of peace and harmony, Fogerty's songs—"Bad Moon Rising" and "Tombstone Shadow" are two examples—were filled with apocalyptic images. At a time when some believed that all anyone needed was love, Fogerty dissented. Not a single song he wrote for CCR even contained the word. His music was obviously of the era, yet it transcended the times. Even at its commercial peak, CCR continued to cover old blues, country, and folk tunes, whose sound blended easily with Fogerty's original compositions. Few musicians kept their musical roots so close to the surface. A result, and one of Fogerty's goals, was to appeal to young and old, white and black. Another result was that his music aged well over the years. The "Age of Aquarius" belongs forever to a particular period in the late 1960s and cannot escape that time. Fogerty's bad moon is still rising.

Biographical information is in Ellen Willis, "Creedence Clearwater Revival," in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, edited by Jim Miller (1980); Hank Bordowitz, Bad Moon Rising: The Unofficial History of Creedence Clearwater Revival (1998); and Craig Werner and Dave Marsh, eds., Up and Around the Bend: The Oral History of Creedence Clearwater Revival (1999). For Fogerty's view of his career, see his series of interviews in Rolling Stone (21 Feb. 1970; 5 Nov. 1987; 8 Sept. 1988; and 4 Feb. 1993).

Fred Nielsen