The CMT Crossroads episode featuring Keith Urban and John Fogerty debuts Saturday (Feb. 19) at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
LOS ANGELES — While Creedence Clearwater Revival’s influence on country music is often overlooked, it’s hard to imagine a contemporary country star who hasn’t — at some point — stood on a stage and performed a song originally written and sung by bandleader John Fogerty.
Songs such as “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain” have become a part of American pop culture, but Fogerty’s vivid songs, distinctive vocals and authoritative guitar style also enjoy an international reach, as Australian Keith Urban will attest.
In the weeks leading up to Fogerty’s European concert tour to promote his latest album, Deja Vu All Over Again, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member joined forces with Urban to share songs during a concert taped for CMT Crossroads. Prior to the taping at Union Station in Los Angeles, Fogerty and Urban spent some time talking to CMT News.
CMT News: How did you first discover Keith Urban?
Fogerty: I saw him on TV maybe six months ago. It was a music show, but it was all about Keith. He was live, and I was flabbergasted at his guitar playing. So that was how I first experienced Keith. Keith is going to be here a long time because he’s just loaded with talent. Sings great, writes songs and seems to have that radar to work with good people. I didn’t have the records then, but I have them now. They’re great. They sound great, too. They’re well-done records. I just think he’s got it all together, and it’s a like a skyrocket just starting. That’s the way I feel about him.
What’s it like when somebody as talented as Keith Urban points to you as a musical influence?
Fogerty: He’s just not smart enough yet! (laughs) No, it’s flattering, really. I realize that I feel that way about Merle Haggard, Buck Owens … people like that. Especially because he is such a good musician, it is very flattering. I think I’m just part of that long train, and Keith is a newer part of that, of people who look for inspiration from people who are kinda like them — meaning they play, write and sing.
You were born and raised in California, yet you write so vividly about the South in songs such as “Proud Mary” and “Born on the Bayou.” How do you do that when you didn’t grow up in that environment?
Fogerty: I really don’t know the answer to that. I know that I’ve been fascinated with the American South all my life. Basically, I thought everyone was. I just thought that’s the way we all felt. I didn’t know it was strange until after I probably had three years of records with Creedence and, you know, writers started asking questions like what you asked. Maybe if you believe in reincarnation, there’s some explanation there Other than to say, that it just came natural to me, and it didn’t seem odd at all.
You mentioned Merle and Buck, but what other country influences have you had?
Fogerty: Well , certainly Merle and Buck and Johnny Cash. All these guys who are also writers and had a great sound on all their records. I think when most people say they love an artist, it’s from their records, because you have a very limited access to go see them in person. From a very young age, a guy named Lefty Frizzell, who had a great career. I picked up on Lefty on a song called “Long Black Veil.” Chet Atkins, just because of his presence of being such a musical mountain. I knew I’d never be that, but I used to dream about being that when I was a kid. Now, I’d have to say Jerry Douglas because, even though I’m older than him, he became my favorite musician when I was in my 40s. And he’s still my favorite musician, I mean of all time, including Elvis and Otis Redding. Jerry just has a musical spirit and tone that just floors me when I hear him play. I was lucky enough to have him on my latest record.
You’ve been taking this new music on the road and are going to Europe soon. After all these years, do you still enjoy touring? Has it become a job — or is it something that still lights your fire?
Fogerty: Oh, it very much lights my fire. Playing with great musicians, you know, like doing this show with Keith and watching him and the guys in my band and his band, who are also great people, that really fills and thrills my soul. That was kinda the gauntlet that Chet Atkins laid down that I got. I couldn’t do it as an 11-year-old child. I understood that there was a way higher level than just screaming into an echo chamber, which is cool, too. But the satisfaction of really playing and really making some great music gets me pretty excited. And in playing live and touring, you get to have all kinds of those moments because there’s a freedom when you’re live. It’s not quite the same as when the clock is going around in the studio.
Keith, when did you first hear John’s music?
Urban: My parents had a couple of CCR records … early to mid ’70s. I was very young.
Do you remember the song?
Urban: Oh, gosh, I don’t know the first song I heard, but probably “Proud Mary” or “Bad Moon Rising.” Actually, “Suzie Q” might be the first one I seem to remember.
What was it about his music that caught your ear and made you pay attention?
Urban: The sound of those records … was so just primal. There was so much space in those records and, then, his voice. Nothing sounds like John. And he doesn’t sound like anybody else. It’s rare when you find those truly unique voices like that. It’s quite primal.
Do you find it amazing that John grew up in California and yet wrote all these swampy songs before he ever visited the South?
Urban: I would find that odd if I was not from Australia. (laughs)
You were pretty much doing the same thing.
Urban: Yes, we suffer from the same extraordinary unusualness. So, I understand. We talked about that quite a bit yesterday, about how is it that both of us coming from different places seem to gravitate towards the South and Southern imagery and that sort of thing. But that’s where the music comes from — blues and jazz and gospel and country. Country as we know it, anyway. So it makes sense that we would love that area.
How has John influenced your music?
Urban: There’s a simplicity to the way John writes. It’s not about lots of chords. I’ve always been a fan of more melody and less chords. It’s just extraordinary because I’ve also find myself writing melodies before anything else. It’s always melody, and the lyric always comes last to me. And a lot of times, you sing in this gibberish when you’re singing, and these weird sounds you make become lyrics after a while. John said the exact same thing about how he writes. It’s always about melody first. Great melodies pull you in long before you know the lyrics. God knows, we sing the wrong words to so many songs!
It’s often intimidating to meet people you’ve admired as a young person. What was it like for you to be onstage with him during rehearsal?
Urban: We’ve had an opportunity to ease into knowing each other. I went to see John at a Bruce Springsteen concert late last year, and we met backstage for the very first time. And he was instantly easy to just sit there and talk with. And then I went to see him play at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and we spent some more time there. Then he came to see us play at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, and we spent a bit of time there. And we’ve had two days here to get together and jam on these songs — just the two of us on acoustic guitars — so it’s been a good way for us to sort of get to know each other a bit.
I’m fortunate that I know these songs so well. It wasn’t that I had to sit down and really sort of study all the parts. It’s a lot of fun playing with him. When you’re standing next to the guy who wrote “Bad Moon Rising” — and he’s singing “Bad Moon Rising” — you’re like, “Oh, wow. This is pretty damn good right here.”
What’s it like to hear him sing your songs?
Urban: It’s great because, again, he’s got such a distinctive voice that it’s John Fogerty singing some other song. I’d be curious to know what John thinks of that, because these aren’t necessarily songs that he would gravitate towards as a singer. Something like “You’ll Think of Me,” I don’t know if that’s exactly a John Fogerty song. But when he sings the lyrics, it’s just like, “It’s John.”
But you’re also doing “Walkin’ the Country.” That seems right up his alley.
Urban: Yeah, I think so, too. I think songs like that are where I hear some influence for me from CCR. … I chose that song specifically so I could hear John singing it. When you think about the songs he’s written, that’s the intimidating bit. When you’re teaching him one of your little songs that you’ve written, you’re like, “Oh, my God. I’m teaching Mr. John Fogerty and he’s looking at my lyrics.”
Do you think the two of you will ever get together to write a song?
Urban: I could not do that. I could tell you that much. That part would be way too intimidating for me. … I don’t think John has ever written with anybody. Maybe he has, but he’s certainly not known for it. And there’s a reason for that, and you don’t mess with formula and what works. And, to me, what works about John’s songs is what he does. I wouldn’t want to get in the way of that at all.