I never saw Creedence Clearwater Revival in concert. I saw most of the other great bands and artists from the sixties era – from Hendrix to Joplin to Jefferson Airplane. But never Creedence. And for years it appeared I would never be able to hear great songs like “Who’ll Stop The Rain?,” “Green River,” and “Born On The Bayou” in concert because John Fogerty, the man who wrote all those great songs and scores over a remarkable four-year period from 1968-1972, simply refused to perform them. You see, Fogerty was at the time embroiled in a series of lawsuits, both with his former CCR bandmates and his former label Fantasy Records, over the rights to those songs.
So when he decided to again perform them a few years back, nobody was happier than me. I’ve seen Fogerty perform those songs live numerous times since then with various backing bands. The first time was at the Gorge Amphitheatre on the banks of the Columbia River on a gorgeous August night with a band featuring the great Kenny Aronoff on drums. The one-two punch of “Born On The Bayou” and “Green River,” which opened that show gave me chills it was so good. In 2004, I got to see Fogerty backed by the great E Street Band on the “Vote For Change” tour. The version of “Fortunate Son,” one of the greatest antiwar anthems ever, played that night was positively explosive.
Then just last year, I heard Fogerty live with his new band on a double bill with another great American songwriter, John Mellencamp. This was the best of them all. Flanked by a couple of other great guitarists, Bob Britt and Billy Burnette, Fogerty was absolutely in his element on this particular night. As underrated a guitarist as there is in all of rock music, Fogerty stretched out his swampy Cajun funk this night in gloriously extended jams on songs like “Keep On Chooglin.”
The concert captured on this great new DVD was recorded just a few nights later at Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre with the same band. Simply put, this may just be Fogerty’s dream band. The man has never sounded better. Not to disrespect his former CCR bandmates, but these songs played by this crack band sound as fresh here as though they were recorded yesterday. And they are all here. “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Have You Ever Seen The Rain,” “Down On The Corner,” and the list just goes on and on. By today’s standards, it is truly remarkable that so many of these great songs were released on four albums over the span of a mere eighteen months from 1968-70.
John Fogerty’s credentials as one of America’s greatest songwriters are beyond dispute. What is truly amazing about this man is the way his songs were so completely embraced by Top Forty radio at the time, and received in the same way by the public as completely innocent pop singles. This despite the anti-war messages in songs like “Who’ll Stop The Rain?” and “Fortunate Son.” Fogerty’s songs were so damn good from a standpoint of craftsmanship that the deeper messages contained within were simply overlooked. Outside of “Like A Rolling Stone” perhaps, even Dylan cannot claim that.
What has often been overlooked, however, is Fogerty’s pedigree as a true guitar original. There is simply nobody who captures the deep, dark Cajun swamp feel like John Fogerty does. Tony Joe White came close once with “Polk Salad Annie,” but Fogerty nails it like nobody else ever has. On this DVD, he stretches this out to the max in extended versions of chestnuts like “Keep On Chooglin” and “Born On the Bayou.” And he clearly has a great time doing it. One of the coolest moments on this DVD comes when he introduces another of those great songs, “Lodi.” Referring to rising gas prices, Fogerty recalls the time he was stranded in a California town because of one of those “en-er-jee-sus-crises.”
No, I never saw CCR perform live. But I doubt very much they could have breathed the same life into these timeless songs that Fogerty does here with the best damn band he’s ever played with. And he’s back on Fantasy Records, the very label he had so many problems with. Thank God John Fogerty is playing these timeless, wonderful songs again. And apparently having the time of his life doing so.