Q&A with John Fogerty (and kids): Missing the stage and how he got sued for sounding too much like himself
Every Friday, national arts reporter Geoff Edgers hosts The Washington Post's first Instagram Live show, "Stuck With Geoff," from his barn in Massachusetts. He has interviewed, among others, musician Wynton Marsalis, Bill Nye "The Science Guy," and comedian Tiffany Haddish.
Recently, Edgers chatted with musician and Creedence Clearwater Revival founder John Fogerty and his family. Here are excerpts from their conversation.
Q: You and your three youngest children -- Shane, Tyler and Kelsy -- have this wonderful album out, "Fogerty's Factory," which is a play on a Creedence Clearwater Revival record from 50 years ago, "Cosmo's Factory." Many of the tracks are Creedence songs, and there are a couple of your solo songs. How did you come to record it?
A: Well, it started right as the pandemic was starting. I don't know exactly when it was, February or March, but my wife came to me and said, "I'd like you to sing 'Have You Ever Seen the Rain?' And we'll post it." And I kind of looked at her bewildered and thought to myself, "There have to be 40 or 50 versions of me singing that song." I didn't quite get it at first. And she said, "I think it would be healing. I think it would be uplifting for people."
Q: We hear artists talk about how painful it is not to be playing. But we also hear about how terrified they are, the idea of getting onstage if there isn't some kind of vaccine or treatment. Where are you on this now, and what are you imagining for your own performing?
A: I really miss playing for my fans. The experience of playing live for any musician is the holy grail. That's the main reason you're doing it. It's primal, going back to the cave man. Just the joyful experience of watching people sing along with these smiling faces. You're all in this wonderful bond together, and you get that energy. But during this pandemic, it's impossible, supremely unsafe. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all your fans, you know, 10,000 people, even if they're wearing masks, that can't be safe. And the idea of fans sitting in cars? I guess you're getting your toes wet, but it's not like swimming. I'd probably rather go home and put on a set of headphones.
Q: John, I want to ask your kids a question. Kids, I don't know whether this is true, but your dad has been considered a perfectionist. And I heard that recording that original record, "Cosmo's Factory," the guys in the band were so frustrated at times about working and working and working, that they called it a factory. So were there ever moments during the recording of "Fogerty's Factory" where your dad was like, "We've got to do that again" or "Hey, you know, Shane, can you play a little better"? Or was it all everybody smiling and you just bang it out?
A: Shane: Yeah, he's a perfectionist, so we would rehearse all week before we recorded one song and we'd probably play that one song, I don't know, a hundred times before we actually hit record. So the stories are true.
John: Indeed I am a perfectionist. Although you can never achieve perfection. We're all human beings, so it's an eternal struggle that really never comes to fruition, but you try your best. The reason for that, especially while rehearsing, is because when you get to the day of the presentation, inevitably things are going to happen. I won't quite say that they go wrong, but things are going to happen that you didn't count on, and that could throw you off your game depending on how stressful they are. And that's what the rehearsals are for.
Q: Many people know your history with Creedence and that when the band broke up, it was acrimonious. For years you didn't play those songs. Is it true that in 1985 you were sued for sounding too much like yourself?
A: It's absolutely true. Well, the band broke up. Then (the owner of the record label) let everybody else in the band out of their contract immediately, but he kept me because he could see more golden eggs down the road. That was really hard for me because I began to feel I owed them so many records. It would have taken me about 20 years to fulfill that contract. It was oppressive. Finally, at some point, I managed to find enough freedom in my soul to create a new album, "Centerfield." And it became successful. They looked around for something they could do to me -- "How dare you have success and we're not sharing anything?" My style is my style. They looked for a song on that album that sounded like any of the other songs that I had done with Creedence that they owned, and still own, by the way. And so they found what they thought they could pursue legally.
Q: In the end you won that case. But am I right that it was Bob Dylan who got you to actually perform a Creedence song again?
A: That happened one night and it was a one-time event. I had stopped performing the songs, really, in the '70s. And well, I happened to go to the Palomino to see Taj Mahal and Bob Dylan and George Harrison. Eventually those guys got onstage and I got onstage, too. At some point George plays "Honey Don't" and Bob played one of his songs. And then Bob turned to me and said, "Hey, John, let's do 'Proud Mary.' "I went, "No, Bob, I'm not singing those songs." He kind of looks in that mysterious Bob Dylan way at me and he goes, "John, if you don't sing 'Proud Mary,' everybody's going to think it's a Tina Turner song." That was one of the greatest songwriters ever prodding me to do it. "OK, Bob!" That was my answer.