Attempting to sum up John Fogerty's musical career in a few lines feels incomplete at best. As the frontman for Creedence Clearwater Revival, he brought bluesy swamp rock to the hippie masses; as a solo artist, he's done everything from sharp political tracks to perhaps the greatest baseball tune ever (Centerfield). Fogerty also holds the distinct honor of being one of the few musicians to be sued for sounding too much like himself.
When Fogerty released the first Blue Ridge Rangers album in 1973, it was seen as a declaration of his independence from Creedence and the start of his solo career. Since then, he's recorded seven solo albums but has never revisited the country and blues covers-driven project until recently. Fogerty spoke with Billboard about choosing the tracks for The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again (due September 1 on Fortunate Son/Verve/Forecast), Woodstock and the importance of a great live tune.
Billboard: Why did you decide to revive the Blue Ridge Rangers project now?
John Fogerty: My wife, Julie, suggested it. I was right in the middle of working on a DVD of a show at (London's) Albert Hall, and out of the blue she suggests the Blue Ridge Rangers. I was sort of surprised, but in a sense she was enabling that project. I was never really sure how she even regarded that record; she's probably not the country fan that I am. But that's what got the ball rolling. I guess you might say since she's going to give me a couple of hours off to play with my hobby, I guess I'm going to jump at the chance.
Billboard: After your 2007 release Revival, which was a loud album, did you have a desire to do something quieter?
Fogerty: I don't really think in those terms. I'm caught up being a musician and a songwriter, and when you're in the middle of the stream it's kind of hard to know anything except what's immediately around you. It's simply that I regard Blue Ridge Rangers music -- that style -- in a very special way, and I don't think I was particularly trying to be quieter or anything like that. I just know that the music that I love certainly comes out in Blue Ridge Rangers mode.
Billboard: How did you decide which songs to put on the album?
Fogerty: I've been carrying around a lot of songs for many, many years. I always had the idea, Well, if someday I ever do that Blue Ridge Rangers album again, this would be a good song. There was never an official list, although every four or five years I'd actually sit down and write out a list of 20 songs or something. As this thing got more real it became more official. (My wife) had a couple of other suggestions, like the John Denver song Back Home Again -- now that was also something on my list but I was very scared of ever trying to do that song. Because John Denver is such a wonderful vocalist, and the fact that he's so great and I don't sound like John Denver. The most horrible thing you can do in life is when you love something so much you make a really bad rendition of it. You want to be that thing but you are not.
I really have to give Julie my respect for insisting that I could do it even when I didn't feel like I could. I love the way guitars sound in that key and I love that whole arrangement. Everything was going to be cool, except I was totally worrying about my voice -- and it turned out I didn't have to sound like John Denver. I'd figured out another way that still sounded OK.
Billboard: Looking back on the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, where CCR performed, how has it affected your life and career?
Fogerty: Woodstock at the time was certainly a watermark -- I don't know if it was a high-water mark. There was a very strong ethic to my generation -- it was political, it was economical, it was even philosophical. It wasn't just the fact that you happened to be at a circus that was thrown for three days in New York. I felt that all of that generation more or less was tuned in to the same radio wave.
But as things went along in our country -- let's say the invention of the yuppie, the rise of Ronald Reagan and so-called Reagan Democrats and the whole idea that greed is good and all that stuff -- I began to wonder what happened to that -- where are all those people that were at Woodstock? For me that is the missing ingredient, and in some ways I feel like an old dinosaur. If anything, that got turned into a tie-dye business long ago.
Billboard: What are your plans for the rest of the year and 2010?
Fogerty: To perform this music in front of as many people as possible. I mean, this is live music -- it was intended to be played live. These are all songs that are good live songs -- that was the first requisite. I think people need to hear a live band and me performing this stuff.