John Fogerty began recording Centerfield, the album that revived his long-dormant career, right after he attended the major-league-baseball All-Star Game at San Francisco's Candlestick Park in the summer of 1984. Fogerty's seats were, he notes, in center field. "I was very aware of the connotation of center field — the comeback, spotlight angle of it," says Fogerty. "It all seemed very Zen-like and cosmic to me at the time."
Fogerty's hopes were, of course, rewarded. Centerfield went on to become his first Number One album since his departure from Creedence Clearwater Revival, and two of its singles, "Old Man Down the Road" and "Rock and Roll Girls," went Top Twenty. Creatively, the album found Fogerty at the top of his form, and it contains songs that rival his best work from CCR's glory days.
Centerfield shows Fogerty to be a mature record maker. It is a concept album that can be taken as simply a great collection of songs, a kind of "Whitman's sampler of what John Fogerty is about," as he puts it. But look a little deeper and one finds an intensely autobiographical album: a survivor's tale that celebrates the durability of rock & roll and the power inherent in remaining true to one's own beliefs.
While some of the songs on Centerfield, like "Rock and Roll Girls" and "Big Train (From Memphis)," evoke lost innocence, others cynically portray Fogerty's experiences in the music business. The title of "Vanz Kant Danz," which was originally named "Zanz Kant Danz," refers to Saul Zaentz, the head of Fogerty's former record label, and "Searchlight" chronicles the emotional toll the CCR years had taken on Fogerty. But the story Fogerty tells on Centerfield has a happy ending. The title track, of course, is the centerpiece of the album, a song about getting another chance at the big time, and "I Can't Help Myself" expresses the excitement John Fogerty felt at once again being a player on the rock scene.
Fogerty had been trying to write songs for an album for years, but he says they just didn't come together. Toward the end of 1983 he finally regained his muse. "Stuff just suddenly started to click," he says. "So much so that I began to think, 'I'm gonna be able to make a record pretty soon.'" He came up with about twelve songs but narrowed the song list down to the nine that appear on the album.
The actual recording of Centerfield took two months at the Plant, the Sausalito, California, recording studio best known as the site of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours sessions, and cost just $35,000. Because Fogerty worked from detailed demos and notes, recording was straightforward and painless. "Centerfield, probably more than any record that will ever be made, is a result of one guy's homemade production," says Fogerty. "From the artist to the listener. Here's a case where the guy who wrote the songs literally put all the sprockets on the drums. It wasn't shipped off to have a bunch of roadies to do — each thing was actually hand-done by me."
For Fogerty, everything was riding on the fate of the album. "It was more than a comeback," he says. "There were a bunch of things that were going to be set right once the thing was really ready. I had to do more than just finish the sucker — it had to be good enough to be a hit. There was a lot of stuff to be proven. It was more than the act of just finishing the race — I had to win the race."