Creedence Clearwater Revival were responsible for some of the most timeless and beloved music within the rock & roll lexicon during their four short years as an active band. The group’s expert blending of diverse styles – including country, blues, roots music, soul, southern rock, among others – was a forerunner to the Americana genre, and endeared their work to generations of listeners and continues to do so today.
In the oft-regaled tale of the band’s arduous history, the artistic instinct behind these indispensable efforts can generally be traced back to one central creative force: John Fogerty.
Despite the band’s debut album having been released in 1968, the history between the members of Creedence Clearwater Revival goes all the way back to 1959. Upon meeting at Portola Junior High School, Fogerty, bassist (initially pianist) Stu Cook, and drummer Doug Clifford began playing music together as the Blue Velvets, and John’s older brother Tom later came on board as lead vocalist.
Over the next few years, the band underwent a number of name changes and shifts in musical responsibility. Stu Cook switched from piano to bass guitar while Tom picked up rhythm guitar, leaving his younger brother John to step into the position of lead vocalist as well as lead guitarist.
By 1967, the group had landed on the name Creedence Clearwater Revival, and with Clifford and the younger Fogerty having returned following completion of their duties after being drafted, the group got to work on their first album.
John Fogerty had assumed control of the group by the time it got going as Creedence Clearwater Revival. Not only was he performing the bulk of the vocal and guitar work, he was writing most of the material, producing the albums, and even contributing instrumentally in other areas, such as keyboards, harmonica, and even saxophone.
Much of Fogerty’s output was inspired by his military service and political unrest in America at the time, including the songs “Porterville,” “Commotion,” and “Fortunate Son,” the latter of which has since become a staple of artistic depictions of the Vietnam War, particularly those in cinema.
Fogerty’s wild, Little Richard-inspired approach to the band’s covers of classic rock & roll and r&b numbers also became a primary element of the group’s output, with reimaginings of tracks like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” and “Night Time Is the Right Time,” otherwise perhaps most famously recorded by Ray Charles, bringing the group substantial recognition.
The most important material produced by the group, however, would be Fogerty’s original tunes, which conjured entire worlds in 2-3 minute intervals, encapsulating the ideals of the west, the American South, the swamps of New Orleans, and several other pockets of everyday life throughout the country, the aesthetics of which a lesser writer would not even have considered exploring.
This economic musical sensibility went far in defining the Creedence aesthetic, the deft execution of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pop mastery aligning with their tight, 45-minute concert sets, which – at the insistence of Fogerty – never featured an encore performance.
Tunes such as “Born on the Bayou,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Proud Mary,” and “Lodi” resonate just as much in the present day as they did at the time of their writing. Furthermore, cuts like “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and “Wrote a Song for Everyone” speak to the fragility and emotional depths of the human spirit in a manner only ever broached by a handful of songwriters in the past century.
Inner-group conflict would lead to the departure of Tom Fogerty in 1971 following the recording of their album Pendulum, and the remaining members would continue as a trio until disbanding in 1972.
Fogerty would go on to have a successful career as a solo artist, but the output of Creedence Clearwater Revival during their brief run as a band would prove fundamental in the shaping of rock music and American music as a whole going forward.
“As a songwriter, only a few did as much in three minutes,” Bruce Springsteen said of Fogerty during Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1993 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. “He was an Old Testament, shaggy-haired prophet, a fatalist. Funny, too. He was severe, he was precise, he said what he had to say and he got out of there.”
Here’s wishing a happy 77th birthday to John Fogerty, a musical icon and one of our all-time greatest songwriters.