The first rock album I ever bought was Pendulum, by Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” was a hit single at the time, and for some reason it resonated with my young, teenage soul. Ever since then, I’ve been a fan of John Fogerty, who — for those two or three people who may not be aware of it — was the lead singer, lead guitarist and primary creative force behind CCR. His career since Creedence disolved in the early ’70s has been very strange. His first solo album didn’t even look like a solo effort. It was a “self-titled” effort called The Blue Ridge Rangers, which was a band consisting of John Fogerty and John Fogerty and John Fogerty. Fogerty came to hate Saul Zaentz, owner of Fantasy Records, the label that released all the CCR albums. Its why he chose not to associate his name with The Blue Ridge Ranger album, which he did just to fulfill his contract with the label and move on.
Over the next 20 years, he recorded just three albums. The first of these was called simply John Fogerty and is a pretty good album that I have yet to find released on CD. It would be another 10 years before John recorded another album. I remember driving to work one morning in 1985 with the radio tuned to WNEW FM out of New York, when I suddenly heard the unmistakable guitar licks of John Fogerty opening a song I’d never heard before. It was “Old Man Down The Road,” the first hit single from the brand new John Fogerty album Centerfield. I got to my local record store as fast as I could to get my copy. This proved to be a nice album, though certainly not one of my favorites. However, its release would literally reverberate throughout the country for decades to come, as the title song became more popular than the National Anthem at baseball parks everywhere. More about this in a moment.
Another strange and lasting impact of the release of Centerfield is that it induced Fogerty’s old label to sue him for copying himself. Fantasy Records retained the rights to all of Fogerty’s CCR compositions, and the label claimed that parts of “Old Man Down The Road” were too similar to “Run Through The Jungle” from the Pendulum Cosmo’s Factory album, and therefore an infringement of their copyright. This suit was petty vengeance by the owner of Fantasy Records, Saul Zaentz, Fogerty’s nemesis and the derisive target of the song “Zantz Can’t Dance,” which Fogerty included on Centerfield. Fogerty successfully defended himself in court, playing his guitar on the witness stand to demonstrate the differences. Fogerty then turned around and sued Fantasy Records for compensation of his legal fees in defending himself. Fogerty vs. Fantasy went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Fogerty’s favor and clarified the standards for when compensation in such cases can be awarded… although I don’t understand a word of the decision. (BTW, subsequent releases of Centerfield changed the title of the song that offended Zaentz to “Vanz Can’t Dance.”)
A year after Centerfield, Fogerty issued the very forgetable album Eye of the Zombie, then was silent again until 1997, when he had another comeback with Blue Moon Swamp and a successful live CD Premonition. Six more years passed before the release of Deja Vu All Over Again, another fairly weak effort. In 2007, however, Fogerty — now, ironically, back on the Fantasy label after Saul Zaentz’s death — released the excellent Revival, a throwback to his CCR sound. And last year he came out with The Blue Ridge Rangers Ride Again.
Fogerty, an gifted song-writer and tireless performer, is a man who carries a grudge. He refused to perform any of his CCR material for 15 years until he was finally coaxed into it by Bob Dylan who told him that if he didn’t everyone would only remember Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary.” I was lucky enough, finally, to see John Fogerty in concert two summers ago. It was an amazing performance for a 60-something-year-old rocker. He sounded great and played all the great old Creedence songs with conviction and enthusiasm. I can’t believe he would have sounded any better 20 years ago.
Creedence Clearwater Revival was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. And over this past weekend, John Fogerty’s homage to baseball, “Centerfield,” became the first song inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, on the 25th anniversary of its release. There’s a little irony in all this as far as I’m concerned, because I’ve never thought “Centerfield” was Fogerty’s best work. Nevertheless, I am thrilled for John, a classic rocker who has delivered countless hours of great music listening to my life. His song is the anthem of baseball. How cool is that?