John Fogerty takes ownership of his songs at BeachLife Redondo Beach
Creedence Clearwater Revival songwriter reclaims his songs, in every way at BeachLife Festival
by Paul Teetor
John Fogerty’s high-intensity musical energy level was on full display late Sunday afternoon at the Beachlife Festival as he mesmerized a standing room-only crowd of several thousand rabid fans gathered at the Low Tide stage.
Most of these fans knew every lyric to every song, and were quick to sing along with the short, catchy, hook-heavy rock songs he specializes in, among them “Proud Mary,” “Lodi” and “Bad Moon Rising.”
Whether he was doing the Chuck Berry duck walk or Keith Richards-style Jumping-Jack-Flash calisthenics, Fogerty, 77, combined his rough-and-ready sand-paper voice with non-stop guitar changes – he used a different guitar for virtually every song – to prove that he is still every bit the rock’n’roll force he was way back in the day.
And yes, he ran through just about every song in his amazing catalog, which he wrote as the creative force behind Creedence Clearwater Revival so many years ago.
He even talked about playing at Woodstock 54 summers ago as the leader of CCR. But that was a band already in turmoil, riven by the emerging conflicts that would lead to their break up just three years later after the most prolific four-year run of top ten hits by any American band in history.
This time he was in a much happier place, playing with his two sons Shane and Tyler – both highly skilled guitarists.
Most of all, Fogerty exuded joy at still being alive and being able to play – and own – the great songs he wrote before slimy music execs swindled him out of their ownership, and most of the money they generated.
“I have the greatest job in the world,” he told the crowd, pointing to each corner, from the general admission beach bums in front of the stage, to the VIP swells cheering from elevated platforms on each side of the stage. “I get to play my songs for you, and you and you.”
It took a 50-year legal war – he credited his wife, Julie, for leading the fight – but he recently recovered the rights to his songs and was still riding the emotional high from winning a war of attrition.
The Redondo stop was part of a world-wide “Celebration Tour.” The super-fit Fogarty – tall, thin, with a full head of wind-whipped hair and sporting his signature blue plaid shirt – had a lot to celebrate.
It somehow seemed entirely appropriate that the twice-inducted Hall-of-Famer – first in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and later in the Song Writers Hall of Fame — was playing his now-classic songs just a volleyball serve away from the Pacific Ocean.
That’s because so many of his songs are about water, whether he is looking for someone to stop the rain, rolling on the river with Proud Mary, being born on the bayou or spending a lazy day chasing childhood memories on the Green River.
While some may even think of him as the musical wizard of water, his music is also about social protest, fear, paranoia, love, loss and even sports nostalgia.
In other words, all the classic elements of American pop culture.
A highlight of the show came near the end when a roadie brought out a guitar shaped like a baseball bat. Savvy fans cheered as they realized he was about to play his biggest solo hit, 1985’s Center Field, with its catchy refrain that captures the American can-do spirit so perfectly: “Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play.”
Another highlight – he smartly saved for the encore – was a rollicking Proud Mary, another American beauty that had everyone singing along without any prompting from Fogerty.
That song about people on the river happy to give was the high-water mark of the most prolific four years in American rock history. It was 48 months of Fogerty creating songs and melodies and lyrics – inventing a whole lyrical universe– that came to him in a kind of fever dream while his bandmates criticized him, undercut him, and resented him for his transcendent talent, and his insistence that every song be note-perfect before it was released to the public.
In that one fast-and-furious period from 1968 to 1972, CCR had nine top 10 singles and eight gold albums before their bitter breakup.
Fogerty not only invented swamp rock with songs like “Born on the Bayou” and “Green River,” he reimagined country music through a rock-n-roll lens with “Lookin’ Out my Back Door.”
Factor in classics like “Lodi,” “Up Around the Bend,” “Travelin’ Band” and “Centerfield,” and you have a musical genius who checks so many boxes it’s hard to keep track of them all: roots rock, country rock, blues rock, heartland rock, swamp rock and good old Americana rock.
On Sunday he added one more category to that impressive list: Beach Rock.
As the last chords of Proud Mary faded into the fast-setting sun, the crowd reluctantly left the Low Tide stage, still awestruck by the musical hurricane they had just witnessed.
“Best performance I’ve ever seen at the Beachlife Festival,” said Chuck Anderson, a Hermosa Beach accountant. “And I’ve been here all four years.”
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