At a time when most veteran music artists are easing into retirement, John Fogerty is taking the opposite tact.
The 72-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s creative dance card is filling up fast for 2018. He recently wrapped up a residency gig at the Wynn Las Vegas and will return for another run of shows there in October. This summer he’s doing some solo shows as well as others with ZZ Top.
But throughout, the flannel-clad singer-songwriter remains that same kid who first got sucked into rock ’n’ roll after hearing guitarist Scotty Moore on a jukebox riffing on Elvis Presley’s cover of “My Baby Left Me.” That indefatigable and infectious spirit comes across, whether he’s proudly talking about playing alongside son Shane in his touring band or playing the same stage as ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.
“My son Shane is an incredible guitar player. He’s a regular part of my band, so we have great fun trading solos. At one point in the show, we do a kind of duel and challenge each other. It’s kind of a shootout on Main Street,” Fogerty said with a laugh. “Billy (Gibbons) is absolutely one of my favorite guitar players. This tour is going to be a bigger theoretical challenge (than) Vegas because I know Billy Gibbons is going to be in the house, so I know that I’ll want to be presenting one or two of my best licks. I normally never say that, but when you know there is some guy out there who can really play and is part of the show and will be on that stage either right ahead of you or right behind you, want to be more mindful of what you’re playing.”
The past few years have been busy for the Berkeley, California, native, who has been a constant touring presence and even found time to publish his 2015 “New York Times” best-selling memoir, “Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music.” While it chronicles his time as a struggling musician and the eventual success he experienced in leading Creedence Clearwater Revival, it also reflects the decades-long legal battles he had with his old label Fantasy Records and label boss Saul Zaentz, and the rift with his late brother and Creedence Clearwater Revival bandmate, Tom. Despite the pain involved with going back to a point in his life when he even refused to perform any CCR songs in concert as a means of denying royalties to Fantasy, Fogerty was grateful that he not only got to set the record straight, but share how his wife Julie’s love offered him redemption.
“Now I’m very thankful to have been able to speak about my life at some length and to be able to express how I feel. I’m humbly thankful that there was this human being that loved me and was able to get me out of the morass and quicksand that I was in,” he said of his wife. “I just couldn’t figure it out. I’m sure this happens to people a lot in life – I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to be out, but I just wasn’t very good at getting myself unstuck.
“She had an awful lot of patience with a guy that was certainly a real piece of work,” Fogerty said. “You read all about it in the book, but I was certainly alcoholic and miserable at times and not a real great protector of my life. She just came in and delightfully helped me appreciate the good things in life. That was my favorite part of the book – that I was able to express that to people and make them understand what that happiness meant to me.”
Fogerty’s comeback may have started with his 1985 hit album, “Centerfield,” but his solo career hasn’t lost steam, as he signed a new recording contract with BMG last year. Not only are five of his solo efforts being reissued (“Centerfield,” “Blue Moon Swamp,” “Eye of the Zombie,” “Deja Vu [All Over Again],” “Premonition”), but he’s working on an album of new material he hopes to have out by year’s end.
Then there is his monumental catalog with Creedence Clearwater Revival. His time with CCR found Fogerty penning nine Top 10 hit singles and racking up an incredible eight gold albums between 1968 and 1972. Despite how effortless it might have seemed, he shared that it was more a sheer force of will.
“For me, writing songs was life and death. It’s a phrase I used a lot throughout my life to explain how I felt as a fan and also as an artist,” he said. “I realized that we didn’t have all the other things successful bands had, meaning a manager, a big label and a big bankroll behind us. When you are lying in bed alone with your thoughts, it’s a time when you can be really honest with yourself. That was kind of my challenge – we had to be the very best – whatever that is. I think it was that obsessiveness that I absolutely couldn’t rest because if I stopped flapping my wings, I was going to fall to the earth and crash and burn.”
It’s a mentality Fogerty carries with him to this day, even as he grapples with what he’s writing for his next solo album.
“When you’re not writing for a while, you remember that you’re a musician and you play guitar while you’re on vacation with your family somewhere and you’re not really working. Then you start working on writing these songs and there is a lot of anxiety about finding good stuff,” he explained. “It’s just daunting until, if you’re lucky, you come up with something that’s good. You don’t get there without going through that realization that what you’re doing right now is not very good and then forcing yourself to keep working. I go through the same stuff every single time. It just blows my mind that it has to work like that, at least for me.”
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