For 25 years after Creedence Clearwater Revival’s bitter 1972 split, John Fogerty famously refused to play any of his old band’s songs in concert. For more than a decade now, though, he’s been mixing the material into his set lists. And this fall, he’s diving deeper than ever, performing the classic LPs Cosmo’s Factory and Green River in their entirety during shows at New York’s Beacon Theatre and Caesars Atlantic City in November. We chatted with Fogerty about the shows, The Big Lebowski, his future plans and the possibility of a Creedence reunion.
What inspired you to do these complete album shows?
We've been thinking about this for a while. My wife and I talked about things I have been doing over the years and we realized that I had really never presented a whole album as an entity. I had just been going along freeform, the way that most people do. We thought it would be cool to actually present an album and play it straight through. In the old days, you dropped your needle and dropped a record on your record player and it would play all the way through. There was a certain mystique to that.
What drew you to these two particular records?
Green River is my favorite record and song from those times. I always thought that really captured my world as a songwriter, and as a musical performer. Of course, I did that all through my alter ego, the band, Creedence. So, certainly that was going to be one of the albums. Cosmo's Factory just seems to be so full of songs that people know. I think there were five or six singles from that album at the time. Probably before we entered that period in the Eighties or Nineties where people really did that. I'm thinking of Michael Jackson and maybe even the Bee Gees. All that stuff came out after Cosmo's Factory, though.
Are there any songs that you haven't played in a good 40 years?
Yeah, a few. I don't think that I've ever played "Sinister Purpose" anywhere other than rehearsal and in the recording studio. Also, "Cross-tie Walker" has been pretty elusive. I don't know whether we even played that during the Creedence time.
I've seen a lot of artists play albums straight though in recent years. Familiar songs can take on a new meaning, like hearing Bruce Springsteen play "Jungleland" after all of Born to Run.
That happens to us all. You buy an album and you really love it, but as time goes by you don't actually listen to the album. You tend to skip to parts of it. The album goes into a closet in your brain. When you listen to it again, all the subtle things you'd forgotten jump out at you again. For me, it has been really fun thinking about these albums in that context. Both of them were sequenced in a particular way.
I'll tell you what, I bought the first Elvis Presley album when it came out in 1956. I'd dare to say that I heard that a thousand times. Very subliminally, I would know what the next song was and when it was coming in. I hadn't heard that album in 30 or 40 years, but lately I heard it on my iPod. It was like I was back in 1956 because it was so ingrained. I knew exactly what key, how it sounded. It's a strange thing to see how invested we are in the music that we love.
You only have three of these shows booked so far. Are you thinking about doing more?
Yeah, I think it's certainly a concept worth pursuing. On any given night we're only really presenting one album. In those days, an album was just 30 or 40 minutes. My shows are closer to two hours, so we end up doing a lot of other things.
So, I think we're going to do more of these shows. For the showcase at the Beacon, we're trying to present an experience where there's more than just the music reminding you of those times. I don't really want to say that much more, but that's the intent.
I think that some younger fans see Creedence as a singles band. Do you think this will give people a chance to appreciate the lesser-known songs?
Yeah, and you're actually hitting on something – though it's not just the younger fans. One funny development is that Creedence lived on long past the period when the band broke up and wasn't recording anymore. In the very beginning, before many people knew about Creedence, we were sort of considered an underground band, and an album band. Then the hit singles happened, and songs like "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and "Cotton Fields" became so well-known people thought of them as singles.
So, in its own time, Creedence went from being an unknown darling to Cinderella because we were the little engine that could. We became very, very well known – maybe even over-exposed, as some used to say. We got to the point where people were like, "Creedence? They're a singles band. They're just like the Monkees." I lived through that and chuckled, because there was a time when I was far away from the music scene.
Then I had my big comeback with "Centerfield." By then, the vintage wine had aged very well. It was now a collector's item and valuable. All these younger rock critics were asking me, "Are you surprised with the artistic acceptance of Creedence?" I would just kind of look bemused and tell them that I didn't do anything different. I didn't redo anything. It just sat there and something evolved around it.
There's so many hits on Cosmo's Factory that it almost seems like a Greatest Hits album.
Back in the day, when I was younger, there were a lot of very, very strong songs out there that were hits. I'm thinking of people like the Beatles and Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. That is kind of what you had to be in order to compete. In fact, I can make a sports analogy. In the 1970s, everybody was like the 1927 Yankees. You had to be like that to get a voice, to even be considered in the game.
Are you open to the possibility of one day reuniting with Doug and Stu from Creedence?
Ummmm, yeah. Somebody asked me this recently and I was surprised at my answer. I didn't know the question was coming so I hadn't fallen into my familiar mindset and emotions. I realized that it had been a long time. I'd lost so much of my anger from those times. I have a really wonderful life now. It all kind of begins with my beautiful wife Julie. We've raised a wonderful family. We still have one child at home, but two of the older ones are off at college. In some ways, I kind of just scratch my head and go, "Wow, look at all that happened!" I've had a happy life of looking forward to family things and and looking forward to artistic things. I haven't really had time to sit around and wonder and ponder the past. If you feel good and you get busy, especially if you're in love, your heart heals. You're not carrying a bunch of baggage.
I don't know what stars would have to line up for that to happen . . . but I realize I didn't have an automatic reaction to the idea simply because I haven't really wasted mental energy being angry for quite some time.
So, if they called you up and wanted to do something you'd think about it? Is that what you're saying?
I'm saying it's possible, yeah. I think the call [laughs] would maybe have to come from outside the realm. Somebody would have to get me to look at things in a fresh way. My mind wanders to a truism in life. I'm not going to say that it's personal, but I've heard this quote many times. Some guy will say, "I ran into my ex-wife the other day at the mall. We were both with our new families. It was okay, but after a few minutes I realized why she was my ex-wife."
Are you working on a new album right now?
Yes, I am right now actually. I'm not really talking about it yet, but the next album is going to be very special. There will be other artists on there with me on it. I'm going to record with some of my very favorite artists. It's going to be a lot of fun.
Are these new songs or old songs?
There will be some new songs on it, and I don't really want to get into the rest of it yet.
When a lot of people think about Creedence these days, one of the first thing that comes to mind is The Big Lebowski. Are you a fan of that movie?
Yes. I'm also a big fan of Jeff Bridges. Back in 1997, I was a musical guest on one of the talk shows. I think it was Letterman. I found myself sitting next to Jeff and he said he had this new movie that it used a lot of my songs. Turns out it was The Big Lebowski. Of course, as time went by that movie just took on a life of its own.
There's a great scene where he's driving down the road with a beer in one hand and a doobie in the other. He's listening to "Looking Out My Back Door," and he drops the joint between his legs. It heats up and his pants catch on fire. It's really funny. He winds up crashing into a garbage can or a telephone pole, or both. That's great cinema. It's a great movie moment. I'm flattered and honored to be part of such a well-thought-of piece of film.