John Fogerty knew he was on the right track for his new album when he wrote “Broken Down Cowboy.” After starting work on the song, he suddenly realized it was autobiographical.
“That broken down cowboy — many, many years ago — was me,” Fogerty told CMT.com during a recent phone interview from his California home.
Explaining the song’s origin, he said, “It was one of those afternoons when I was sitting in my music room. I gave myself a little prod and thought, ‘Why don’t you stay here a little longer before you go jogging,’ which is what I normally do. I started strumming some chords on the guitar. I didn’t have anything in mind. Suddenly, my voice went into this high-pitched thing. The phrase, ‘broken down cowboy,’ came out of me. That was stunning to me. It was like a fist being socked right in the gut. That really got my attention. Then I kind of sang the words, ‘broken down cowboy like me.’ To tell you the truth, that made me get misty-eyed and almost start crying. I realized I was getting into personal territory.
“It was basically a song between myself and Julie, my wife. It was pretty much how I feel now but remembering what it was like when I met her about 20 years ago. At that time, I was pretty much a mess, and there was this beautiful woman that I wanted — and yet I didn’t want to mess her up. I realized it was the best thing my life would ever touch, and yet I wasn’t sure I could do this without ruining hers. Luckily, way back then, I realized she was that nugget of gold — that once in a lifetime thing.”
Fogerty says it was the first song he’d written that he knew would be on his new album, Revival.
“After about an hour of playing this song, I looked up at heaven, really, and realized I’d reached a much higher rung on the ladder,” he explained. “It was higher than I ever dared I would be at for this record. … It revealed to me what I was capable of.
“I guess you can tell I’m a little proud of it,” he adds with a laugh. “My wife always gets so mad at me. She tells me, ‘Tell them it came from this deep place in your soul.'” Fogerty says he responds by saying, “Honey, what it really feels like is that somebody revealed this to me and said, ‘Here. I’m going to give you this. That’s exactly how it feels.'”
Revival is filled with the rock, blues and country influences that have remained a constant throughout Fogerty’s work both as a solo artist and during his previous career as leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of the most significant bands in the history of American rock. As additional evidence of Fogerty having come to grips with his musical legacy and moving forward after decades of legal battles with Fantasy Records, the new CD even includes a new composition titled “Creedence Song.” With Fantasy Records now under different ownership and management, Revival is his first album of new material for the label in 35 years.
Fogerty recorded the CD with three members of his touring band — drummer Kenny Aronoff, guitarist Hunter Perrin and bassist David Santos — along with keyboardist Benmont Tench. Although the basic tracks were recorded in just 12 days, Fogerty says the key was to rehearse the songs before they went into the studio. After CCR disbanded, Fogerty used studio overdubs to play all of the instruments on his solo albums.
“That kind of evolved to when I used other musicians on later albums,” he said. “I basically went in with just three pieces — myself, bass and drums — with the idea that I’d just fill in all the other parts later. What that means is that you’ve left unanswered a bunch of things that would be a lot better if you had those answers. So my idea for sure with Revival was that I didn’t want to do that anymore.”
Referring to the other musicians on Revival, he said, “They’re rock ‘n’ roll guys. They understand what a rock band is.” He added, “It needed to be so that when we went into the studio, we had already rehearsed enough that we know our moves — that we’re actually playing with each other and used to hearing each other go through the twists and turns of the song — either getting louder or softer or in that wonderful human way of getting faster or slower, not playing to a click track at all.
“It really means that we’re standing alone in the studio. But what each guy is doing is strong enough that we don’t need anything else, which is, of course, how I made music during the Creedence days. I still think the best music is made from bands playing together.”
Two of Fogerty’s new songs — “I Can’t Take It No More” and “Long Dark Night” — are particularly outspoken in their denouncement of the war in Iraq. Opening with references to George W. Bush and the war, “Long Dark Night” also addresses the government’s shortcomings in assisting hurricane victims in New Orleans. Fogerty said, “I couldn’t get everything into a song, but I certainly wanted to mention Katrina and that it’s a disaster and yet the administration was saying, ‘Everything’s great. Everything’s fine.'”
Dating back to 1969’s “Fortunate Son,” Fogerty’s music has occasionally contained political statements. “Deja Vu (All Over Again),” the title song of Fogerty’s 2004 album, also had an anti-war theme. After a brief spoken introduction to the song at a 2006 concert in Nashville, some audience members booed him and a few even walked out. He says it wasn’t an isolated incident, but he’s seen the public’s attitude change during the past 12 months.
“I only made the one little speech before I played the song, ‘Deja Vu,'” he explained. “Other than that, I didn’t do any politicizing from the stage. And the song is from the perspective of a family dealing with a loss during wartime. At that point in time, there’s no politics that matter. That’s the whole point of the song. I can talk at length about politics, but I try not to do it from a musical stage because there are a lot of people who like my music who have other feelings. I try not to talk much, in general, from a stage. I think the music is much more important, anyway.
“But back in 2004 when I first started doing ‘Deja Vu,’ depending on which part of the country, there would be perhaps a very loud bunch of boos and disagreement with what I had said. Even though what I said was not a challenging statement, they would voice their disapproval rather loudly. As time has passed, certainly this past summer, it was basically gone. It had gone the other way to where people stand up now and are very, very quiet during ‘Deja Vu.’ Even though it’s a somber song, they sometimes give it a standing ovation at the end. A lot of times, people will hold up their cigarette lighters. Or in this modern age, they open their cell phones so that there’s a light.”
Fogerty looks forward to returning to the road in November for a short series of tour dates. In talking about his live performances, however, you can still detect a certain level of lingering animosity about his past legal problems with Fantasy Records and his personal disagreements with his two surviving bandmates in CCR.
“I’m certainly full of joy about the music now,” he said. “I just feel unbridled joy when I play ‘Proud Mary’ and hear my guitar sounding just like I want it to sound. I think I’m out there for the right reasons. I’ve turned down a lot of … let’s say … the wrong reasons.
“And if you wanted to ask — which you didn’t — will there ever be a Creedence Clearwater Revival reunion, I can’t see any reason why that would ever happen. … The reason would only be for money, and I know that’s what a lot of people do. Playing devil’s advocate, I’d be on stage about 250 yards away from everybody else, as far away as I could get, and I’d be nodding to myself, ‘OK, I’m gonna get a million dollars. I’m gonna get a million dollars.’ And I’d be having a miserable time. There’s probably not enough money that would make me want to do that.”
Besides that, he’s happy working with his touring band that helped him on Revival.
“Everybody is really giving it their all,” he said. “It’s everybody enjoying that we sound so good together. Even for me, it’s like being in the greatest bar band in the world. We get to play ‘Proud Mary’ and ‘Green River’ and ‘Up Around the Bend.’ Who wouldn’t be having fun?”