I love retro when it's done with style and reverential respect to the past, but what was John Fogerty ingesting in the Bay Area when he unleashed Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1968? CCR was all swampy, hooch-drinkin' roots-rock in a land infested by flower power and acid-jamming rock bands. Green River was ballsy, amp-cranked pop-rockabilly with snarling, hooky roots-rockin' guitar riffs shakin' the foundation of '60s pop radio. Fogerty's nasal vocals and simple yet thought-provoking lyrics made it seem so effortless. Yes, this was music easily digested by both AM and FM radio programmers, and consumers as well, spawning two top ten hits. It was all Link Wray guitar snarl and Sun Records trem and reverb economy, but never before done with such a distinct rock and roll voice.
Early in '69 "Proud Mary" would pummel the airwaves and three months later John Fogerty's vision crystallized on his quartet's third release, Green River (Fantasy). Released a few months before Woodstock, it was a redneck rock alternative to the mushrooms and cheeba smoke of psychedelia. This was evergreen jukebox music one could imagine blasting effortlessly in some rock and roll honky tonk on the other side of the galaxy. The opening title track -- no. 2 on the pop charts -- immediately captivates with a ripping double-stop rockabilly riff and the opening line, "Well, take me back down where cool water flows, y'all/Let me remember the things I love..."
Or the hellfire kick of "Commotion" bashing your noggin' while the harmonica chugs along with a relentless bass and drum track provided by Stu Cook and Doug Clifford. All the while Fogerty's solo Les Paul guitar lines stab you in the gut over and over again. When the song finally winds down a mere 2:42 later, you're left exhilarated and exhausted.
John's brother Tom was no slouch on rhythm guitar either. CCR were one of the tightest rock outfits ever. They could hold down the 4/4 backbeat while John's guitar explored the grittier side of the roots-rock tradition with plenty of invigorating inventiveness.
"Tombstone Shadow" works its funky R&B stomp with a twin guitar lead into a snake dance before Fogerty leaves the second chorus far behind. "Every time I get some good news/ooohhh there's a shadow on my back!" And how 'bout the sinister fire-and-brimstone tale told in top ten hit "Bad Moon Rising?" This simple three chord, two-steppin' chugger sounds like some discarded hillbilly tune sung by some deranged evangelist reminding his faithful parishioners to either repent or be consumed by Hell's fury.
And if travelin' got you blue, try gnawin' on "Lodi," the ultimate road song for any road weary van-traveling rocker or door-to-door Amway salesman itchin' for home. "Oh Lord, I'm stuck in Lo-die again," Fogerty wails.
Rock and Hall of Famer Fogerty left a jukebox/pop radio legacy of music behind that few, if any, have rivaled. In three years, CCR released six albums worth of stellar music. But what still impresses me today, besides the music, is the economy of material. Only nine songs long and not a clunker in the lot, Green River remains a timeless power glide into the backwater country of Americana. Almost makes me wish I had my 8-tracks and my 4-door cherry red Maverick all over again.
Converge is the Word!
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!