Sometimes dreams come true: as a small child Creedence Clearwater Revival were – alongside The Monkees and The Beach Boys – my first favourite band. On Kiwi radio in the early 70s you still regularly heard their greatest hits and although I had little idea about what they were singing I instantly was swept up in the magic of their sound. Post-punk – I saw The Fall and New Order aged 17 and realized the NME and all if promoted was a lie – I dived back into the records that first made me love rock’n’roll and CCR sounded as great as ever. Even better really as I could make sense of this direct, prophetic lyrics. But the band were long splintered and leader John Fogerty appeared meshed in a legal mess – his 2 solo efforts in the 80s were pretty thin – and when I arrived here there were no signs of a resurrection. A gig was booked at the Town & Country to promote his Blue Moon Fever solo album in the late 90s then cancelled. Admittedly, he supported Tina Turner on one of her tours but the concept of seeing him (or not seeing him as it would have been) at Wembley Stadium held little appeal. Then he turns up with little aplomb and plays Hammersmith Apollo – the perfect venue for him (beyond seeing him at, say, the Borderline!).
Thanks to PR supreme Richard Wotton I found myself in very good seats for a concert long sold out – looking around the audience I realized most were around Fogerty’s age (60ish): Creedence have sadly been written out of the Rock Cannon – no mad drug escapades or unfinished albums or dead members or failure and mental illness to give them the status that attaches to so many less worthy but more venerated artists. Not that I imagine this bothers Fogerty – the hits he scored with CCR appear timeless and the back catalogue has never stopped selling – but a little respect where it’s due: CCR made finer records than maybe any of their white contemporaries beyond The Stones, certainly albums like Willie & The Poor Boys and Cosmos Factory stand above The Band’s worthy if rather stiff first 2 albums and are better than Beatles, Byrds, Burritos or Dylan efforts of the same time. Interestingly, many of the artists just mentioned listed CCR as a favourite of the time – Dylan when asked by Rolling Stone what he liked that was new said “the song about rolling on the river”.
So here I am about to see my childhood hero for the first time. Were expectations high? You bet. I caught Arthur Lee once a few years back and he was great. Brian Wilson was awe inspiring singing his hits at Montreux (forget Pet Sounds, it’s the hits that count!) And Iggy & The Stooges were also still primal last year. Solomon Burke and Candi Staton proved that the great soul voices don’t age. But Little Richard and Bob Dylan and Van Morrison and Jerry Lee Lewis and Lazy Lester and Buddy Guy and many others have been sad disappointments. So fingers crossed.
8.15 and a screen unfolds and a montage of images of John, from child to rockabilly to star to dad to buddy of the Stones and Springsteen unfurls. Then there’s a clip of Bill Clinton introducing him somewhere. Definitely could have done without that. Anyway, the show kicks off with Fogerty – looking no more than a decade older than the hitmaker of 68 – leading a band of drums-bass-keybs-2 guitars. They tear into Travelling Band the sound is ferocious, murky, but real strong. This is not just nostalgia we’re dealing with here. “How y’all doin’? That’s bout all the talkin’ I’m doin’. Let’s play some rock’n’roll” says Fogerty and they’re off – Green River (sounds clearing so the swamp groove cuts through), Who’ll Stop The Rain (wrote it after playing Woodstock he says – and I always thought it was a Vietnam metaphor!), It Came Out Of The Sky, Looking Out My Backdoor (loved this song aged 8 even tho I had no idea what a “Buck Owens” was), Blue Moon Nights (off last solo album), Born On The Bayou, Porterville (the first CCR 45), Cottonfields (begins a-capella), that great eerie instrumental off Willie & The Poor Boys whose name escapes me right now, Midnight Special (2nd Leadbelly tune of the evening – that’s what the world needs more of, Leadbelly!), Bootleg, Ramble Tamble, Déjà Vu (sung acoustic against a backdrop of Vietnam and Iraq war footage after John mentioned that he thought they’d learned from the 60s but now how little wisdom appears to have been gained), Heard It Through The Grapevine played as real swamp funk (did I mention how good the band were? They cooked in that tough, unfussy way great rock’n’roll bands once did), Have You Ever Seen The Rain, Sweet Hitchhiker (CCR’s last hit and the weakest song of the evening), Long As I Can See The Light (Fogerty proudly old school and pulling faces as he plays guitar breaks – no solos in his music!), Keep On Chooglin (cooking! He plays some mean harp here too), Down On The Corner (funky!), Centerfield (from the patchy 80s solo comeback), Up Around The Bend, Old Man Down The Road (the song Fantasy boss Saul Zantz sued him over for apparently plagiarizing himself!), Bad Moon Rising (and still rising if we look at our planet), a roaring Fortunate Son (unfortunately no mention made of the ultimate fortunate sons running the White House now), encore of Rockin’ All Over The World and – of course – Proud Mary (no Effigy or Run Through The Jungle but can’t have everything ). All this delivered in 1 hour 45. Amazing. Even more amazing to think that Fogerty still sounds and plays great, has never become cocaine scum or hooked up with Republicans or tried to add heavy metal solos or techno beats to his music. He is rock’n’roll at its most elemental – perhaps a reason why solo he has never really been able to develop as an artist – but also at its most essential, the real voice of the ordinary person, full of struggle and anger and resentment and joy and dreams. Good stuff. John Fogerty is good stuff.
PS Just picked up Sound Of The City to see what Charlie says of Creedence: “Tough and assertive without being macho and mindless like so many white blues records, the Creedence singles were timely reminders of just how effective rock’n’roll could be if it stayed simple and did not try to be too clever.” As ever, Charlie, the last word is yours!