For years — decades even — John Fogerty didn’t perform any of the classic songs he had written and recorded with Creedence Clearwater Revival. The rights were caught up in drawn-out lawsuits with the head of his former label, making tunes like “Proud Mary” and “Down on the Corner” too painful for him to bear.
In recent years, however, he has grown more comfortable with his back pages, gradually sneaking more and more hits into live shows. His latest album, Wrote a Song for Everyone, is another step toward reclaiming his past as he corrals a range of guests — from Alan Jackson to My Morning Jacket — to re-evaluate and reinvent some of his most iconic songs as well as some relatively obscure gems.
Shortly after Wrote a Song for Everyone debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album charts — his highest debut as a solo artist — Fogerty spoke with CMT Edge about fighting in the street with Brad Paisley (well, sort of), recording at Abbey Road with his sons and finding new happiness in old songs.
CMT Edge: Musically, Wrote a Song for Everyone is all over the place. There’s hard rock, country, soul and even some New Orleans jazz on “Proud Mary.” That really speaks to the breadth of influence these songs have had over subsequent generations.
Fogerty: This whole thing started from an idea that my wife Julie had. One day, we were sitting in the family room with our family, and suddenly she said, “Why don’t you get a bunch of the people you like and sing your songs?” It was like Christmas. “You mean I get to call up Brad Paisley and play guitar with him?”
To answer part of your question, I do have diverse musical taste, I guess. I don’t just listen to one radio station or just buy one type of record. But I think that’s really most people. I like all kinds of music as long as it’s good music. I don’t really relate to the idea of this is country and this is soul and this is blues and this is rock. To me, it’s all just music. It all overlaps.
Your music really does stretch into all these different styles and traditions, from country to blues to pop to swamp rock.
It happens in so many ways. I love what guitars sound like. I love hearing somebody who’s really good. The love of guitar will lead you through all the different genres. When I was a kid, of course, I loved Scotty Moore because that was the guy playing with Elvis. We were calling that rock ‘n’ roll. And I loved James Burton because he was the guy playing with Ricky Nelson. And that was rock ‘n’ roll, too. In some ways, they were so similar, and in other ways, they were miles apart. As things went along, James became much more country, and he influenced a whole school of guitar playing called chicken pickin’.
So you just follow the guitar, and you get to hear all this great music. That’s one of the ways you crossed borders. Another way is when you hear a great song or someone with a great voice. You don’t worry about what somebody is trying to pigeonhole it as. You just know that you love it, and you follow the song or the singer and it just takes you where it’s going to lead you.
There are some song choices on here that aren’t very obvious, like “Someday Never Comes” with Dawes or “Hot Rod Heart” with Paisley.
When I talked to each artist, I would tell them to pick the song. That way, I’ll feel good that it’s something you want to do. Dawes picked “Someday Never Comes,” and I thought, “OK, that’s interesting. I wonder how they know that song.” But they’re a fabulous group of musicians, and after I heard Taylor Goldsmith sing, I thought he’s born to sing that song. It obviously just had so much meaning in his soul.
When Brad Paisley told me he wanted to do “Hot Rod Heart,” I was surprised he even knew the song. But he said he loves that album, Blue Moon Swamp. That floored me. Really? Wow. I don’t know why it surprises me. I guess I’m just humble or maybe insecure. He had a method to his thinking. He said he wanted to have a duel, like two gunfighters out in the street. It turned out that it was an incredibly spot-on idea.
Two of the most interesting guests are your sons, Shane and Tyler, playing on “Lodi.”
My sons are musicians. They have their own band, and they’ve been playing for quite some time. They’re both in college in music programs and are pretty much immersed in music. As I realized how special this album would be, I began to see it would be really cool if I did a track with my boys. So I told them to pick a song and figure out how you see it. My boys are greatly influenced by many of the contemporary artists, like Fleet Foxes and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros — this mid-tempo, lots-of-voices type of approach.
It certainly didn’t end up sounding like that.
How can I say it? I had always thought that I wanted to do “Lodi” again as a roadhouse thing — a more rocking version than my original record way back with CCR. I heard [Shane and Tyler] out in the garage doing what you might call a folk-rock arrangement. I felt so strongly about a more roadhouse barrelhouse thing that I realized at some point I was going to have to have the last word — the veto power of a dad, you know. And it turned out, something special happened along the way.
We were all in London together, where I got to sing at Hyde Park with Bruce Springsteen. We had a day off in London, and my wife looked up Abbey Road [the studio used by the Beatles, Pink Floyd and many others] and found that it was available. I knew we weren’t going to have a lot of time, and I had to go with something I was very sure of. I didn’t want to go with something that I had doubts about or would take a lot more work for everyone to bring the vision into fruition. I wanted to be more direct and more immediate, so that’s the direction we took. It was really a magical day. Some people have told me it actually sounds like “Get Back,” which I believe was part of the concert that the Beatles did on the roof.
How have these songs changed for you over the years?
I could mention a couple of songs. In the middle part of my life — which I call my dark ages, when I was far away from the music business and having a rough time with lawyers and everything — I thought a lot about the line I had written in “Proud Mary.” [sings] “Left a good job in the city, working for the man every night and day/And I never lost a minute of sleepin’ worrying about the way things might have been.” I have to admit, I had a lot of trouble sleeping, and that song had a little gallows humor to me. I would sing that line to myself and picture myself twisting slowly in the wind.
Fortunately, I’ve outlasted that whole dreadful time, so that’s all funny to me. The other song that I think about is “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” When I wrote it, it was a story about my band breaking up, and I was very sad about it. But years and years and years later, my little girl Kelsy was born, and she has become a flower in my life. All my kids are, of course, but in some special way she feels like a rainbow. Somehow she really represents my spiritual reawakening — the fact that I’ve become happy again.