By Jeb Wright, May 2013
This interview first appeared as a cover Story for Goldmine Magazine for their June 2013 issue. The interview was conducted by Classic Rock Revisited’s Jeb Wright.
This version contains content not found in the Goldmine Magazine Article.
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On May 28th, John Fogerty will release a star studded album titled Wrote a Song for Everyone on Vanguard Records. The album will be a trip through time, from Creedence Clearwater Revival, to his solo album, to two new songs written specifically for this release. The album features special guests from classic rockers like Bob Seger, to hip-hop/rock stars like Kid Rock, to country music sensations Alan Jackson and Keith Urban.
Fogerty sings and plays with his special guests and one can envision him smiling ear-to-ear from the first note to the last. We are talking about John Fogerty playing with the Foo Fighters, and Miranda Lambert, and Tom Morello, and even his sons, Tyler and Shane Fogerty. In the interview that follows, Fogerty opens up about how the album came to be, as well as who chose the songs. We even delve into the history of several Forgerty penned classics including “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising.”
At the end of the day, we discuss how John is misunderstood in his refusal to use the CCR moniker and his outright lack of interest to reunite with his former band mates.
Jeb: In the past, you’ve been sued for plagiarizing yourself. So, you are remaking all of your own music on this new album and I want to make sure all of the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted.
John: [Laughter] Yeah, who wudda thunk? It wasn’t funny at the time, as it cost me a lot of time and money and it was really stupid. It gives me a unique honor, though.
Jeb: How did Wrote a Song for Everyone come to be? Were you approached by the record company?
John: No, my wife had the idea; it really comes from Julie. If you start paying attention to me, you will find out that Julie has all sorts of these good ideas. It’s been going on for several years. I’ve learned to never question it. Usually, I just go, “Wow that is a really great idea.” Every once in a while, there is something that I don’t understand. I’ve learned to just stand back and get ready. I may not get it right then, but at some point, I will realize what a good thing it is.
This idea, I responded to right away. I remember that we were sitting with our kids, watching TV and she said, “How about if you get some of your favorite artists together and you do some of your songs.” To me, that sounded like Christmas. Immediately, in my mind, I was seeing the Foo Fighters, Brad Paisley and Miranda Lambert. I responded, “That would be so much fun.” I think I could see me and a couple of guitar players just sitting in a room and having fun and playing good music. That, really is how this all started.
Jeb: You are a rock and roll guy but there are a lot of country artists on this album.
John: It was not unusual, to me, to listen to country artists [when growing up]. In those days the lines were a lot more blurred. I knew about Stonewall Jackson, who did “Waterloo,” which was a big hit on the rock and roll radio stations. Guys like Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee had actually played country music before there was rock and roll—so did Elvis. When the Beatles did “Act Naturally,” that wasn’t weird to me. It was totally rational, as I’m a guitar player and when Buck Owens started making those records and Don Rich was playing along, I just loved that sound. I loved that music. Buck Owens is still one of my favorite artists, ever.
Many, many, many years later, I discovered Alan Jackson, but you always got Brent Mason along with him. That wasn’t strange to me, as I grew up loving country music as much as rock and roll. I never went around saying, “I’m a country music guy” but I just considered it was part of the rock and roll thing.
Jeb: You have Keith Urban to Kid Rock on this album. Was it humbling that these different artists, from such vast genres, all wanted to be on this album with you?
John: It still is. Because it is all done, I am literally looking back on it and asking myself, “Did we really do this?” I am into all of the music from the people that are on this album. I grew up and always considered myself a rock and roll kid—I always thought of myself as a mainstream, Leave It to Beaver, kind of guy in a little town. When I was little, of course, I heard music before rock and roll came around, but when Elvis hit the big time and, like most kids in America, I wondered what this cool new thing was that had come along.
I was like any normal kid that loved music and I bought 45’s and all of that. Rock and roll was, for my generation, in 1955 I was ten years old, the main thing. I wasn’t going to listen to my mom’s music. This was new stuff for me. When somebody came along like Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, then I was listening. At the same time, it was not unusual to me to listen to country artists. In those days the lines were a lot more blurry. Country and blues make up rock and roll; that’s momma and papa.
Jeb: Why did you chose the Foo Fighters to do “Fortunate Son?”
John: I’ve known Dave Grohl for a few years, probably around ’05, or something like that. We used to see each other at all of these events like the Grammy’s, or some kind of gala, and we would always say ‘hi’ to each other. I’ve always liked his presence. A couple of times we have actually run into each other at the hot dog stand, or whatever. He is a really good guy.
It was another idea of my wife’s back then. She said, “Why don’t you and Dave get together and write a song.” He was up for the idea and he came over to my house. We kicked some things around, but it really didn’t do much. I felt like he wasn’t on fire that day, but I liked him. I remember hanging out with him and thinking, “This guy is just as cool as I thought he would be.”
For this album, we wanted them to do a song and we called Dave up and they were up for it. I think they were the ones that suggested “Fortunate Son.” In most cases, the artists on this record suggested the songs that we did. We were sort of encouraging everybody to go with whatever their inclination was.
Jeb: When you first wrote “Fortunate Son” did you realize just how great a riff you had written?
John: Yeah, I think so. How that song evolved was that I showed the band how the music went well in advance of writing the actual song. That was literally in CCR how I would do the singles, for sure. We would rehearse for six weeks with the two songs I had in mind. One of the two might drop out and I would have to get another song. I would start showing the band a song and we would rehearse it every day, so that by the time we went into the studio it was like “Bam!” We couldn’t wait to get it out of us. We would literally do one, two or three takes. I was really wise in my younger years, as that is still the best way to do it if you have the time.
At some point, I knew I was calling the song “Fortunate Son” and I was showing them the music to the song. We had been rehearsing it for about four weeks and I thought, “Man, I better write this thing.” It was a good, political, angry song. It was exactly what was on my mind at the time. I went into my bedroom one evening and I had a little pad and pen in there and I wrote it in about twenty minutes. They didn’t all come that way, but I knew what I wanted to say. I knew what I wanted to say, but I had no idea what the words would be. It was just amazing that it all came together like that.
Jeb: “Almost Saturday Night” is the next song, which comes from your first solo album.
John: Keith did wonderful on that song. I am not sure if he chose that, or if Julie might have whispered in my ear on that one. All I know is that when Keith and I talked on the phone—I was really taken by his banjo. I think that helped put his music into a really unique place.
He told me a cool little story about that. Way back at the beginning of his career, he was just getting a chance to record—he comes from New Zealand. He moved to Australia and then he moved to Nashville to make the big time and he did. He had a remarkable journey.
He was getting the chance to make his first record; it may have even been at his first session. He walked into a music store and he saw one of those banjos that is a guitar and he knew that is what he wanted to do. He plays it really unique. On this song, he plays it with a pick. I walked back where he was doing it and was recording it—you record it into a microphone, as it is not electric. The thing he was playing was all flat picked, like a bluegrass guy, and it blew my mind.
Jeb: That song was life after CCR for you.
John: That was on my album that some people call The Shemp album. There are two good songs on that album, “Rocking All Over the World” and “Almost Saturday Night.” The rest of them you can just ignore, it’s okay.
Jeb: “Lodi” is the next song on the album that you recorded with your sons, Shane and Tyler Fogerty.
John: They are kids, 20 and 21, and they are in college. They are both in music programs and they are looking forward to doing something with their music. They are kids so they like what young people like. They like these guys with quivery voices. They have a band, they both play.
Their style, even though they have grown up playing classic rock that is not what they like to do so much. They like these guys with quivery voices. It is an acoustic approach, but they use electric instruments. That kind of music is kind of cool and it is their go to, so to say. They envisioned “Lodi” sort of like that. I was envisioning it sort of blues rock. At some point, I pushed it into the direction I wanted. We got to record that at Abbey Road, which was awesome. I had never been there before.
Jeb: Was “Lodi” inspired by a true story?
John: Not really, no. As far as I know, if I had been to Lodi, I’d only driven through it with my parents as a little kid. That was just one of those towns up above the Bay Area, where I grew up.
Lodi was just one of those towns that, to me, sounded bad ass. It was one of those names that I collected. I collected it in my head, as I wasn’t even writing things down then. I just thought, “One day, I will write a song called ‘Lodi.’” At the right time, it came out.
Jeb: “Mystic Highway” is one of two new songs on the album.
John: I did that for my own sanity. I wanted to show myself that I can still write songs. That is a title that I actually did write down. I’ve kept a book since 1967. The very first entry in the book, the very first line, on page one, is “Proud Mary.” At the time I wrote that in there, I had no idea what it meant.
“Mystic Highway” I wrote in that book somewhere between twenty and thirty years ago. I knew what it meant, but I didn’t have the music, or how it would go. I knew the story. I just picked a small group of travelers making their way along this road—it looked like a normal road, but at some point, it connected on into the universe, taking us all to our ultimate journey, whatever that place is. It was fun to get to incorporate some of the things that you can do with the guitar on that one.
By the way, if you’re interested, that is a Russian, Civil War era Big Muff pedal making that noise in the middle. A lot of people don’t know what I am talking about. I have quite a collection of Russian Big Muffs. They are very unique and I wanted to use that to add to that hippie vibe.
Jeb: “Wrote a Song for Everyone” is great, but it features three people who I could never dream would play together: John Fogerty, Miranda Lambert and Tom Morello. That shows the power of music.
John: It really came out cool and it really worked. Whenever I listen to that track, I just shake my head that it was accomplished by a human being. It is just magical to me. By the way, that was the first artist that I recorded for the album. It was Miranda and my band and we didn’t have a guitar solo. Every day, after Miranda was singing the track—she sang along with the band on several takes and then she went back and did her serious vocals. In other words, she was singing along with the band, so the band would know where everything was going.
After a long day of that, we were listening to the playback of her vocal, which was great. We get to the middle part and we knew that is where the solo is going to go. We were all standing in front of the console staring off into the imaginary nothingness, like we’re starting at a big movie screen while we were listening to this through the big speakers, if you know what I mean. It was being played back and some of us had our eyes open and some of us had our eyes closed. We got to the empty part where the solo was going to go and Miranda says, “A face melting guitar solo.” I kind of thought she was kidding. I tried a couple of guitar solos, myself in that spot and it wasn’t right. It didn’t come anywhere near to what she was doing. After a few months, I remembered her saying that and I thought, “I know what I am going to do. I’m going to play something like Tom Morello would do.” Then I thought, “No, I’m going to call Tom Morello.” That is what happened.
Jeb: I would not see you as a Rage Against the Machine fan.
John: I didn’t quite understand Rage, but Bruce [Springsteen] had him up in New York at the Madison Square Garden thing for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was also at Hyde Park when I with Bruce.
It was last summer and I really was thinking that I had to call Tom up about playing on this song and it was weird, because it was about ten minutes before I was going to run out and join Bruce on a song and I am thinking about Tom Morello. The back drop kind of separated for just a second and there was Tom standing there. It blew my mind.
Jeb: “Bad Moon Rising” features the Zac Brown Band.
John: Thank you for saying that, as I absolutely love them. I love the whole attitude, plus he sings great. Their songs are great and the harmony stuff they do is untouchable. They chose that song. Zack told me, “Back when we were struggling, we always warmed up with ‘Bad Moon.’”
Jeb: Where did that song come from originally?
John: There was a movie called The Devil and Daniel Webster. In the movie, the guy makes a deal with the devil, so that he will have success, right now. The deal is that at the end of his life, he has to turn his soul over to the devil. You know how that turns out.
In the movie, there is this scene where devastation comes to the land and everything is totally trashed except for our main character, who has made a deal with the devil. He is cowering in his barn with all of the noise and destruction he hears going on. In the morning, he opens his door and he goes outside. The next door neighbor’s crops are all smashed to the ground. Right along his fence line, his crops are not touched. That was a striking image to me as a child. It was powerful. I came to write a song that was kind of about that visitation.
Jeb: “As Long As I Can See the Light” is very spiritual. This version with My Morning Jacket is one of my favorite collaborations on the album.
John: They are a well-known jam band. It took several hours to get the instruments all set up that day and then we started working on the arrangement. I started to hear where it was going to go. At first I was like, “Uh oh, I am not sure about this.” Because I am an old guy, and I’ve learned, I said, “John, just relax and let’s see where this goes.” I did and it really came out cool. I never let on that I was like I was thinking, “Man, I hope this is going to be alright.” I just kept encouraging everybody and it turned out great…it is kind of spooky and spacey. I ended up really liking it.
Jeb: “Born on the Bayou” features Kid Rock.
John: Kid and Bob Seger are buddies and they hatched that plan. I had already worked with Bob in Nashville. There are only two artists on the album that were not with me at the time we recorded. Things had to happen outside of me being there and Kid Rock was one of them. Bob Seger said, “Just go do it.” I love Kid Rock and I got to spend some time with him after he had done this. I put my little bit on that. I went and got my old guitar and my old amp, so that it sounded just like the original; it is vibrato and tremolo together. I got my old Rickenbacker out and I used that for the solos.
I had my drummer, Kenny Aaronoff, actually play real stuff on the drums in those sections. It flows from the sampled stuff that Kid does in the song and then comes back out again. He is kind of firmly plugged into the hip-hop world.
Jeb: You go country again with Brad Paisley on “Hot Rod Heart.”
John: Brad Paisley came up with “Hot Rod Heart” and it was his idea to turn it into a guitar thingy—he is Brad Paisley. He told me that wanted to have a shootout. When I got to the studio he said, “I want to go out on Main Street and have a guitar duel.” I thought, “He’s Brad Paisley…I’m already dead.”
I am a fair Telecaster picker and I’ve been working on it for years, but he’s still Brad Paisley. Somewhere in that process, I realized that I shouldn’t try to do what he is doing. Instead, I should answer back with something that sounds like me. It was really smart of me because there is no way I would have won that race.
Jeb: I don’t know, John. You’ve written some pretty iconic riffs.
John: Well, thank you, man. But when I meet guys who are really great, I have learned that the best and most productive way to be is to be butt honest, meaning that if you have a song that is kind of good, then you need to be honest about the parts that are not kind of good. That is how you fix it. If you are in denial and you think everything is great, then you will have a sad awakening.
Jeb: Bob Seger on “Who’ll Stop the Rain” is amazing.
John: That is one of my favorites. I like his voice. When we got together, I think he thought he would just play with the band, but when I heard him sign I said, “We’ve got to get that on the record.” It took some salesmanship and some negotiating to have him sing the song. I said, “Bob, people will want to hear that from you. It is really good.”
Jeb: The piano is great.
John: That is my piano player, a guy named Bob Malone. He seems to be channeling the Bob Seger approach on that song.
Jeb: Alan Jackson is on the album. Did he choose “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”
John: He absolutely chose it. When I found out that he had agreed to be on the record I was overjoyed and overwhelmed. It is like having Lincoln on your record.
We messed around in the studio with the key because he sings so low and the song is sung way up there. I heard him trying to sound that way and I put the key down to where he was comfortable and I heard him sing it and I said, “That is where it belongs.” When he comes in with that voice, it is magical.
Jeb: The last song is magical. Jennifer Hudson sings wonderful on “Proud Mary” but I had never heard of Allen Toussaint and the Rebirth Brass Band.
John: They are some guys that have one of those street bands down in New Orleans. This sprang from an idea my wife had. I had thought about giving another song a New Orleans flavor. My wife looked at me and said, “Proud Mary.” It is kind of a musical journey; it’s like a gumbo. My wife said, “We want the Cajon fiddles and we want a marching band and we’ve got to have horns.” I looked at her and said, “Horns? Honey, I’m going to need some help because I don’t know how to do that sort of thing.” She said, “Allen Toussaint, that’s who we’ve got to get.” Jennifer was another artist who agreed to be on the album. She said that she wanted to do “Proud Mary.” It ended up great.
Jeb: Tell me about writing “Proud Mary.”
John: That’s my first good song. It is true, chronologically. I was living in a little apartment, this is back in the middle of 1968, and I had been in the Army Reserve and I had been trying to get discharged. I was trying to get out as this was at the height of Vietnam. I could have been in for almost another three years.
I was trying to do my music thing and wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was home and I noticed this envelope on the stairs of my apartment house that said, “Official Government Business.” I looked at it and it had my name on it. I opened it up and it was my Honorary Discharge from the US Army. I had a little touch of grass right in front of the apartment, right where I was, and I literally turned a cartwheel. I went, “AHHHH-men.” I went right into the house and wrote “Proud Mary.”
You know when you play a video game and you get better and better and you go to the next level? It was like that writing that song—I went up about twenty levels. I’d written songs; I’d been writing songs since I was seven or eight years old, but they were just “la, la la” or whatever. “Proud Mary” was so far above that. I knew it was a classic. It was like Irving Berlin or Hoagy Carmichael. I was literally shaking. “Rolling, rolling on the river” I was like, “Where did that come from?” It was just so good, it was way beyond me. It is really what happened.
Jeb: Is there going to be a special gig where you can do this album with the guests?
John: That would be the killer thing of all time, if I could get even a few to settle down into one place and do a show. Logistically, it is impossible. All of these people are relevant right now and they all have hot, happening careers. They are all busy all over the world this summer.
Probably what will happen is that I won’t tour and I will just show up wherever they are. It took me and my wife a little while to figure this out. I will just pop up somewhere where Miranda is playing, or I will pop up with Bob Seger, maybe in Detroit. I don’t know if we could ever do it all in one place because that would be hard to get together, but wouldn’t it be great?
Jeb: Do you realize, and are you comfortable, with the fact that you are considered an American musical icon?
John: I don’t walk around thinking that way. I really don’t because I am still having a great time working. I love writing songs and all of that kind of thing. I am busy.
If I start thinking in terms of being a legend, or an icon, then I suddenly think I have to start walking really slow…it gets kind of pompous. When I play live, I am running around the stage like a chicken and that is what I love doing. I would rather be doing that than having to figure out how to act like an icon.
Jeb: Last one: There are a lot of Creedence Clearwater Revival songs on this album. People have always wished you would get back with the remaining members. Are your reasons for not doing that, or using the name CCR, in your opinion, misunderstood?
John: Obviously, you will notice that they have done that. At the time, you have to understand, we had an agreement when we were in the band that nothing would ever happen concerning Creedence, unless we all four agreed; it took unanimous consent. It was honorable.
I always considered that was sort of my protection, meaning that I was throwing everything that I had into this and I don’t need somebody running off and going, “Hey, look what I did.” I am actually the guy who wrote all of the songs. That was our agreement and it was an honorable agreement among gentleman.
When the band broke up, I never had any problem not trying to abscond with the name Creedence as a solo artist. I just figured that you have to move on and try to write new songs. I just think that thing is from a certain time and it is untouchable, unless everybody is there. You can’t do it unless everyone says it is okay to do it; that is how I approached it. It didn’t look like that was ever going to happen.
George Harrison had an interesting statement about reunions. The same statement works for me: There can be no reunion as long as Tom [Fogerty] is dead.