For 90 minutes at Wolf Trap recently, John Fogerty played nothing but hits, the majority of them from the few short years when Creedence Clearwater Revival was at the top of the music world. It’s the most excited I’ve ever seen the audience at Wolf Trap: People love John Fogerty. I’m hesitant to get on my feet during shows (bum foot), but even I was moved to get up out of my seat and celebrate the music of a genuine American icon.
Fogerty’s energetic performance was a big part of what had me on my feet. At 78 years old, John looks to be in tremendous shape, and he moved across the stage during the songs. It’s hard to really engage a crowd the size of the one at Wolf Trap, but Fogerty is a matter and he had us eating out of the palm of his hand.
With a figure like John Fogerty, I struggle with deciding what to write. Even people who don’t really consider themselves music fans know his songs. They’ve been staples of radio since the late ’60s, and they’ve found their way into American (even global) pop culture in other ways. “Fortunate Son” plays during a montage of Vietnam War footage in the movie Forrest Gump, for instance. With a figure who is so omnipresent, what needs to be said, and what is worth saying?
Watch John Fogerty play “Fortunate Son” live on YouTube:
I suppose I can turn this inward, talk about my own relationship with Fogerty’s music. My parents grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, and in the car growing up, the radio was almost always tuned to the Oldies Stations (WMJI, Magic 105, out of Cleveland, for us). The songs of Creedence Clearwater Revival played frequently there. I was also exposed to Fogerty’s (first) comeback album, Centerfield, released in 1985. I have vivid memories of waking up early on Saturday mornings and tuning into a TV show that showed music videos, where I saw the video for the album’s titular cut, a paean to the great American pastime, baseball.
At some point in my adolescence, I developed a typical reaction to the pop culture my parents loved, and I avoided it for a while. For a while, I avoided music from the ’50s and ’60s. This was around the time I started driving, when I was 17, and my radio stations of choice at that time were contemporary and classic rock — but not Oldies.
As I got into college, then grad school, my attention wandered from music, and it was really only in about 2015 that I started to engage with it again. In the last few years, I’ve been able to revisit the music of ’50s and ’60s with fresh ears, and I’ve realized how great it is. John Fogerty is inescapable because John Fogerty is great.
Born in Berkeley, California, in 1945, John grew up nearby Cerrito, a rural Northern California town. If you want the details of his life, growing up and after, I highly recommend his excellent memoir, Fortunate Son. He was playing guitar in local bands by 1959. In the ’60s, the core of what would eventually become Creedence Clearwater Revival were signed and named The Golliwogs by there. As John acknowledged Saturday night, this was following some “very un-PC research.” They recorded and released several singles that didn’t take off; John played one of them, “Fighting Fire.”
Creedence Clearwater Revival had a short but brilliant peak, starting with the single “Suzie Q” in 1968. After achieving success with that song, John, “I realized I was a one-hit wonder,” and that he had to get to work. What followed is one of the most intense creative bursts in the history of music, resulting in eight gold albums. In 1972, however, as John told the audience, “it all came crashing down.” Conflicts within the band led to its dissolution.
For years, Fogerty wouldn’t play his Creedence hits. As he explained, when he signed with the label, he gave up the rights to songs “I hadn’t even written yet.” This current tour is a celebration of getting ownership of his songs back, for which he gives credit to his wife, Julie, “who wouldn’t take no for an answer.” (At Wolf Trap on August 19, Fogerty played a song he’d written for her, “Joy of My Life.”)
Stream an official lyric video for “Joy of My Life” by John Fogerty on YouTube:
For years, Fogerty was locked in a contentious relationship with the management of Creedence’s label, Fantasy Records. In a case that reached the United States Supreme Court, and which may be the very of definition of gumption, Fantasy sued Fogerty for plagiarizing himself, claiming the music in “The Old Man Down Road” (on Centerfield) was the same as the Creedence song “Run Through The Jungle.” Fogerty emerged victorious in the dispute.
It’s hard to overstate the man’s influence in popular music. His songs have been covered by everyone from fellow heartland rockers (a genre that encompasses his mid-career solo work) Bruce Spingsteen and Bob Seger to punk rockers Minutemen (whose lead singer and guitarist, the late D Boon, was first cousins with Fogerty) to alt-rocker Julianna Hatfield. Fogerty’s music is in the DNA of ever roots rocker since the ’70s.
Family was a big thing Saturday night. Two of Fogerty’s sons, Shane (who is a dead ringer for John) and Tyler played in his band. They also opened the show with their own band, Hearty Har.
The set began with a brief video showing an interview clip where John gave some context about his music, especially his hits, and the ownership of them. When he took the stage, he dived right into the hits with a murderer’s row of songs: “Bad Moon Rising,” “Up Around the Bend,” “Green River,” and “Born on the Bayou.” After “Bayou,” he told the audience about the remarkable odyssey of his favorite guitar, a modified Rickenbacker. In 1972, when Creedence broke up, he gave the instrument to a fan, a young kid who asked for him it, and the guitar was out of his possession for 44 years before his wife, Julie, tracked it down.
Watch John Fogerty perform “Born on the Bayou” live for Farm Aid 1997 on YouTube:
Next up was “Who’ll Stop The Rain?” The line “went down to Virginia” got a big cheer from the crowd. That was followed by “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” then “Rock and Roll Girls,” one of the songs in the set from John’s solo catalog. After the Golliwog’s tune’ (“Fight Fire”) he played “Lodi,” which is set in a small town in my home state of Ohio. “Run Through The Jungle” was accompanied by scenes of American soldiers in Vietnam. After “Effigy,” he played “Keep On Chooglin’.” I don’t really know what “chooglin” is exactly, but the sound of the word work — especially in music, the sound of the words is every bit as important as their meaning. “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” was followed by “Centerfield,” which was accompanied by old black-and-white footage of pro baseball.
The set finished up with “Down on The Corner,” “The Old Man Down The Road,” and “Fortunate Son.” For his encore, John and his band played “Travelin’ Band.” To end the night, he invited Hearty Har to join them onstage for “Proud Mary.”
If you love rock and roll, you can’t help but be moved by this fiery, passionate performance. To say that John Fogerty is a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer doesn’t capture the enormity of what he and his songs have meant. This was one of the most important figures in rock at his very best.