Rolling Stone Q&A: John Fogerty
Q&A: John Fogerty on All-Star Duets LP, Unlikely Creedence Reunion
On his former bandmates: "I guess they’re still mad"
By Andy Greene
John Fogerty has spent the last few months recording new versions of Creedence Clearwater Revival classics with an all-star cast, including the Foo Fighters, Bob Seger, My Morning Jacket, and country acts from Brad Paisley to Miranda Lambert. The remakes will be released this fall on Fogerty's ninth LP, Wrote a Song for Everyone. "Some people think, 'Well, that's country and this is rock,'" says Fogerty. "I never worried about that."
What inspired you to take on this project?
I think it was an idea from my wife Julie. I can't remember the exact moment, but she mentioned something about working with other artists or having them do my songs. It's a little foggy to me what the exact conversation was, but I know I thought, "Wow." I don't tend to walk around thinking like a commercial pop musician. I think more like a musician that loves to play music. So I saw it as a great opportunity to play with some of my favorite artists.
I'm in the middle of recording it now, but it is coming out in the fall. It took a while to find a home for this project, but I'm happy to see we're on Vanguard Records.
Tell me about working with the Foo Fighters.
We'd talked about doing something together for a long time, and this was the perfect excuse. What a great band. Without even meeting everybody, there was something in the atmosphere in the building – they had their own complex – it was outstanding to be there and play music that day.
We cut "Fortunate Son." It's not wildly different or exotically different from the original, but energy-wise it's a lot closer to what the Foo Fighters sound like, just the swagger of thing, The original record was made in 1970 and that was before any sort of metal. People tend to say that Creedence was a roots rock and roll band, I don't know that that was really true, but 40 years later it seems like a good fit. Led Zeppelin was just getting going, and the volume hadn't really been turned way up yet the way it would be a little later with arena bands of the Seventies and Eighties.
What does your new version of "Who Will Stop the Rain" with Bob Seger sound like?
Well, Bob is one of my favorite all-time singers. He still sounds great. He's a really lovely person, a very sweet guy. Maybe when you hear that growly voice you might think he's some kind of a grizzly bear or something but he's a very nice man. I heard him sitting in a little corner, strumming his guitar and singing "Who Will Stop the Rain?" He just sounded so great, he almost sort of inflicted an arrangement choice almost immediately. It was sort of spontaneous. I said, "We gotta hear what you're doing right now at some point in how we're treating this song." So that's certainly part of the arrangement.
You just played at Coachella with the Black Keys. How was that?
It was really fun. I'm hoping that the Black Keys will record a track. They've agreed, but it's hard to find a spot in their schedule.
Years and years ago when their first album had been out a little while, I was on the road somewhere and I was at a mall with my wife. I wandered into one of those gadget stores like Sharper Image or whatever, and I heard this wonderful music being played. I just figured it must be an old blues guy. I was really expecting the next cut to be Tony Bennett or Barbra Streisand, but the next song was also bluesy and raw. It sounded to me like Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters. I was very intrigued, and I had to know what the heck [it was]. So I said, "What is this music that's playing?" And it was actually a kid, about 20, he said," I'm glad you like that; that's the Black Keys." I went home, got their album off Amazon, and I've been a huge fan ever since.
A few days before the second weekend of Coachella, they invited me to sing "The Weight" with them in honor of Levon Helm. I had to run over there quickly on the way from L.A. to Coachella, trying to learn all the words. I never quite really knew what "The Weight" was all about. And now that I've listened to the track 900 times, I have to say I know even less what it's about.
I think it's pretty biblical. Yeah, it's a very unusual song. All the choices of words that Robbie used…there's almost no connection between the verses. It's imagery without an actual story. It has cool characters and cool phrases. Anyway, I memorized it the best I could and got up onstage with that sort of chaos and adrenaline, and we kind of let it fly with our version of "The Weight."
I spoke with you last year, and you said that you weren't completely opposed to the idea of a Creedence reunion. Do you still feel that way?
I was asked that in an interview last year, and I just gave an honest answer. It wasn't anything I had actually premeditated or thought ahead of time. I just know that when the interviewer asked me, I sort of realized I didn't have that reaction that I used to have all the time. And so I quite innocently said, "Yeah I guess it's a possibility," you know – in other words, I guess I've grown or moved or mellowed, whatever it is. I've always hoped that that would happen so you're not walking around with your brain going ag 90 mph working on some thing 40 years in the past that's not gonna change anyway.
So I blurted out whatever I blurted out. Yeah, I still feel the same way. I have since seen a couple of things that the other two guys from the old band have said in the press. [Creedence bassist Stu Cook said, "Leopards don't change their spots. This is just an image-polishing exercise by John."] Oh well. I guess they're still mad. That doesn't change how I feel. It kind of isn't affecting me anymore.
What's important is this wonderful life I have in front of me right here. I even have grandchildren. When you're looking at the world that way, worrying over if somebody knocked over a saltshaker 47 years ago, that's kind of stupid. So that's kind of where I'm at.
I see that you're doing some more of those complete album shows in Canada. Are you going to keep doing those?
Yeah, that turned out to be a really wonderful idea. Most of the albums are in the running, expect for maybe that very last one by Creedence. I never really enjoyed that one too much. It was certainly made under difficult emotions and circumstances. There are also a few albums in my solo career that have stood the test of time. So the concept, it's interesting. I think I have learned that there is a difference between what you do in a place like the Beacon and what you do when you walk out in an arena. Even though they may have expected an album show, it's a whole different kind of frame of mind and you have to tailor things to that. And it's simple enough to say that a theater show is gonna be more intimate than an arena show – it just is by nature.
This is sort of random, but I've talked to all sorts of people who are convinced you were actually born and raised in Louisiana. Do you get that a lot?
Oh yeah, I had that even in the old days. I had guys my age that I've met in the Eighties or Nineties who are musicians and folks from there. They go, "Yeah he's up by Lake Charles. No he's down by Thibodaux." And so the myth carried on through the years just because I mentioned so many local or colloquial places in the songs. What really happened is that I used a setting like New Orleans, but I would actually be talking about thing from my own life. Certainly a song like "Green River" – which you may think would fit seamlessly into the Bayou vibe, but it's actually about the Green River, as I named it – it was actually called Putah Creek by Winters, California. It wasn't called Green River, but in my mind I always sort of called it Green River. All those little anecdotes are part of my childhood, those are things that happened to me actually, I just wrote about them and the audience shifted at the time and place.