John Fogerty at the GRAMMY Museum
How John Fogerty 'Wrote A Song For Everyone'
From his success with Creedence Clearwater Revival to his ongoing solo career, John Fogerty is revered for his indelible contributions to music. He has been rated as one of the world’s greatest guitarists, singers, and songwriters, with hits like “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising” ranking among the greatest songs in the classic rock pantheon.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Fogerty, who walked us through his transition from Creedence Clearwater Revival to a solo career, his decision to produce his own albums, and the process of recording his latest album, Wrote A Song For Everyone.
Can you talk a little bit about your decision to start a solo career after Creedence Clearwater Revival?
Having my band break up like that to me was very heartbreaking – certainly not what I had in mind at all. At the time I did everything I could to share with the other guys and trying to appease everybody’s ego. At first, I was trying to do the best I could to be a success and that of course came about and then I started to hear these rumblings where the guys wanted to do this and that. In the beginning, after Creedence had had maybe a couple of hit records, a lot of the ideas didn’t seem like very good ideas to me. It sounded like, “Oh we’re going to go backwards and be Golliwogs again,” and that era was not successful at all – meaning having the other guys sing or the other guys write songs. After resisting what they wanted to do and also going ahead with me writing songs and singing and arranging the music and having a lot of success with that, I thought that would sort of prove my worth. I thought it was kind of like, “Yes we should stick with what John’s doing. That’s a pretty good idea.” But instead it went the other way and the guys felt that they wanted to write songs and sing. After resisting, I finally said, “OK. If that will keep the band together, we’ll do it that way” and that’s exactly the moment the band broke up. So I’m looking around going, “Wow. I’m glad I gave you everything you wanted and in the end, the band just blew up.” So I was kind of left in a situation to figure out, “OK now what do I do?”
Did you know the songs you were writing, like “Proud Mary” and “Fortunate Son,” would become the classics they are today?
I was truly humbled in the beginning with all the great success that other people seemed to enjoy that music. I will tell you that when I finished writing, “Proud Mary,” I really recognized that [it was a classic] – even though I was all alone. I could see it was much, much better than anything I’d ever done before so I was pretty happy with that prospect. But then when the success really took off like a rocket, I was so overwhelmed. I said, “Man this is really great,” and the harder I tried to make really great songs, the better everything seemed to be accepted by people. This was really about 1968/69. I really didn’t hear the old records of rock and roll on the radio in those days. There were no such things as classic rock radio stations. Every now and then on a special day like the 4th of July, they would play a bunch of old songs but by and large, you didn’t hear Elvis on the radio and you didn’t hear Buddy Holly and the Crickets. I just thought, “If I make records that people can still hear in 10 years, I’m accomplishing something that’s not going on right now.”
You have produced pretty much all of your records. How did you start in that role?
I’ve produced all my records from the very beginning starting with Susie Q. There were some records when the Golliwogs were very young on Fantasy. Fantasy was a jazz label. They didn’t know anything about rock and roll. And so here I am with my little teenage band. We weren’t really great musicians particularly at that time. You know we were very young. At that point, they had a couple of people trying to direct the Golliwogs. You have a 50-year-old guy trying to tell a 17-year-old what rock and roll is all about, you’re probably already in trouble. I remember telling my band way back when, “Well I guess Phil Spector is not going to come down here and produce us so I’m going to have to learn what a producer is.”
Can you talk about the process of putting together your latest album, Wrote a Song for Everyone? How did you decide which of your classics to include, and how did you choose collaborators?
Well the original idea was from my wife, Julie. One day we were just spending family time and she said, “Why don’t you get a bunch of the artists that you like, John, and sing songs that you’ve written?” How that resonated with me was, “Wow that would be so much fun, I’m going to sit down with wonderful musicians that I really admire, people like Keith Urban or the Foo Fighters, people that just really make great music and we’ll come up with a fresh approach to these songs.” So that just sounded really joyful. It just sounded like all the right reasons for making music.
I asked if they would like to record with me: “Here’s the concept, we’re going to do one of these songs, would you join me?” After the person said yes, I said, “Well you choose a song you’d like to do.” What that did immediately was put that artist in the driver’s seat. I was seeking their advice and their help and their insight. In the case of Brad Paisley he picked “Hot Rod Heart,” which really kind of surprised me. I just thought once we got rolling on this thing that it would be “Proud Mary” and “Green River” and “Down on the Corner” and on with the Top 40 hits. But he picked “Hot Rod Heart.” I said, “Wow Brad that’s kind of an interesting choice. I didn’t even know that you knew that song.” He said, “Oh John I love your album Blue Moon Swamp. He says, “When I was a little kid I got to play “Centerfield” at a jamboree.” I said, “How did you do “Centerfield” and he said, “Well I put it in the key of E.” I said, “Oh you turned it into a Telecaster guitar song,” and he said, “I couldn’t sing as high as you do – even at 12” and I got a big laugh out of that. And he said, “My idea for “Hot Rod Heart” is I want to have a duel – like two gunslingers out on Main Street. I want it to be a guitar duel” and that was just the coolest idea.