Keep On Chooglin’
John Fogerty talks past, present, and future
By Jim Caligiuri,
1:03PM, Wed. Sep. 24, 2008
Except for Robert Plant, the only real geezer (and I mean that in the most loving way) playing at this weekend's Austin City Limits Music Festival is John Fogerty. I’m a life-long fan – Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Keep On Chooglin’” was my high school senior class theme song - so I was a little nervous when I got to speak to him. I loosened up after a while and at the end he said, with a sincere touch in his voice, “It was nice talking to you,” which made my week. Here are some excerpts of that conversation, including coming back from a state of mind where he couldn’t play the Creedence songs he was best known for.
Geezerville: Are you involved in politics at all this year?
John Fogerty: Other than voting, no. I’m not doing any celebrity stuff. But I’m certainly very aware, concerned, and hopeful that things will go the way I’m gonna vote at least.
G: How do you feel about politicians using your songs at their appearances?
JF: If it’s the guy I like, then it’s great. If it’s not the guy I like, then he shouldn’t do it.
G: Other artists have been vocal about some of the uses of their songs, but you haven’t said anything yet.
JF: No, I find it ironic that both the Democrats and the Republicans have used “Centerfield.” Apparently it’s George W. Bush’s favorite song and I say he should have listened to my other songs [laughs].
G: The last time you played in Austin you seemed to be having so much fun. There was a smile on your face that didn’t quit. Where did that joy come from?
JF: Making music should be fun. 99 percent of me is in the moment. It’s the same when I’m in my music room by myself. It’s such a perfectly pure and happy emotion. So I really enjoy that, but also because I’ve been through a lot you might say. I’m very appreciative that I’m still making music at this point after all the other ways of being.
G: There was a piece you wrote that explains the process you went through, from being incredibly down to coming back to the songs and who you wanted to be.
JF: That’s why I cherish what I get to do. Fortunately, it’s not like being an athlete trying to come back in your fifties [laughs]. It’s probably not going to happen. But making music you can have it all intact and blessedly so. I find I’m able to sing everything I ever could and certainly my playing is a lot better than it ever was. So this is probably the best version of me. It is what I was meant to do and I’m so happy that it’s come full circle.
G: The big news for Creedence fans is that the original albums are being reissued at the end of this month with bonus tracks. How involved with that were you?
JF: Not very involved. They found some stuff in their vault, basically. As far as I know, this is everything there is or ever was. So they’re putting it out.
G: You’ve seen some amazing changes in music and the music business in the time that you’ve been involved with it. Is there one thing that you think is the biggest change?
JF: I don’t know if it’s the biggest change, but something that’s certainly disturbing is the whole downloading thing. Because, basically, we’re at a point where musicians have a heck of a time earning a living. The way I put it is like it’s kinda like being Van Gogh. We paint these masterpieces and we’re lucky to sell one for five dollars. I don’t even know how Van Gogh sustained himself. They say that he sold one painting for five dollars, other times they say he never sold any paintings in his lifetime. No wonder he cut off his ear. What he did was not a way of earning a living. But it’s a huge change. I don’t mean to sound like a grouchy old grandpa, but that will have to be resolved because people love music. They love listening to it and hearing new things that are created. There are always new guys and gals making new music, but there has to be a way for them to be financially rewarded otherwise nobody will be afford to do it.
G: Do you have an iPod?
G: What was the last thing you downloaded?
JF: I think it was several different versions of “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” But I haven’t done any of the file sharing thing. My normal thing is to buy a CD, put it in my computer and from there it goes to my iPod. I do iTunes. I’ll buy one song here or there. Lately I’ve been buying CDs online rather than going to an actual store. I have to admit that the last time I was in a record store, I think it was a Borders, I picked up something I really liked and then I saw it was $18.99 and I said to myself, "Wait a minute, nobody pays that anymore. If I get it online it’s cheaper than this, isn’t it?”
G: Isn’t that one of the benefits that people see in downloading though? Why pay 20 dollars for an album where you’re going to like maybe three songs, when you can download those songs for three dollars?
JF: Not that I’m a huge supporter of record companies either. It takes about two people to run a record company [laughs]. Does that tell ya where I’m going? But I take a little issue about what you said about one or three songs. In pop music that’s very true, but a CD that will catch my eye will be something like Music from Appalachia, and I want the whole thing. Or a new album from Merle Haggard. I want all of it because it resonates with me.
G: Another side of the problem is that the idea of listening to an album has been obliterated because people don’t listen to music the same way we did when we were growing up.
JF: You’re probably right there and I wish I knew the solution. I believe that one day the problem will be resolved. It has to, because the demand is there and people will continue to want new and fresh music. I think Kid Rock is somewhat on the right track. He said, “Stop. I’m making a wall. You want this stuff you have to come and buy it. You can’t download it.” I don’t know if that’s the total answer, but it’s saying we have to start over somehow and make this thing work. You can’t have just a bunch of people who are basically like strike breakers. Everybody all over the world is making their music available. Most of it isn’t very good. There’s only a few people destined to be world class musicians earning a living. It’s chaos right now. It will have to get sorted out at some point. Also, musicians tend to not band together for their own good. They don’t. I remember once going into the head folks at Warner Brothers and saying, “What would happen if I got Madonna, Prince, Neil Young, and some of the others that work here together to say we’re not giving you any more music unless you do such and such.” And they looked at me and their faces went ashen white that anybody would think of such a plan. And I went, “I’m kidding.” Number one, none of those people will support each other that way. No one is going to cave in first because they’re involved in their own selfish interests.
G: It’s kind of different here in Austin because I see and hear artists supporting each other all the time.
JF: I know of a few of the guys down there, like David Grissom. I’ve followed him for years and met him at Vote for Change as a matter of fact and it was my one chance to tell him what I thought of him. It was all good by the way, he was with the Dixie Chicks.
G: Are you writing new songs these days?
JF: I’m just getting back into writing songs. I’ve been working on my guitar playing and here or there collecting a lick or two. It’s time for me to get serious about real songs. No more playing around with video games.
G: Are you able to write while you’re on tour?
JF: Hardly. I travel with my family, which is a blessing for me, but I can’t be selfish and say, “I’m going to go sit in a room for three days.” That would be a bit much, so we try and do other stuff when I’m not actually working. I feel very much like I’m in the middle of a real career, which, for a long time, you know, I didn’t.