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When John Fogerty’s wife/manager Julie suggested that he “get a bunch of the artists you really like and do your songs” for his next album, it could have gone either way.
Fogerty has, of course, had an ambivalent relationship with the material he’s best known for, the hit-laden catalog he recorded with Creedence Clearwater Revival between 1967 and 1972. It wasn’t the songs themselves, though, but rather the issues of ownership and compensation which repeatedly had landed Fogerty and his former label, Fantasy Records, in court throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s.
“At one point I turned off the radio if I heard one of my songs,” recalls Fogerty, who even refused to perform with his former bandmates during their 1993 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “It was very painful.”
A tinge of that remains, even though the matter was rectified when Concord Records bought Fantasy in 2004. Nonetheless, Fogerty says, he “lit up” at his wife’s idea, and the result was “Wrote a Song for Everyone,” a 14-song album — due for release on May 28, his 68th birthday — with two new songs and, most interestingly, collaborations on a dozen old favorites with the Zach Brown Band, the Foo Fighters, Alan Jackson, Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, Kid Rock, Bob Seger, Keith Urban, and others, including Fogerty’s sons, Shane and Tyler.
“I just jumped into it like a kid in a candy store,” the California-born singer/songwriter says with a broad smile.
He’s sitting in a hotel room in Austin, a couple of nights after a rip-roaring final show with the Sound City Players, the ad-hoc all-star band Dave Grohl formed to promote his documentary Sound City: Real To Real. In his trademark flannel shirt and jeans, Fogerty exudes the energy of someone who not only has made a new album but also has renewed and healed a troubled part of his past.
“It’s fresh to me,” Fogerty says. “It’s brand new. A little while back I did a live album of all my old songs called ‘Premonition’ (1998). That was fun and all that, but I’m doing my catalog — here’s my ‘Proud Mary’ (1969), you know what I’m saying? They’ve been part of me like a shirt, forever. I don’t mean to say that’s boring, it’s just familiar.
“So for this I wanted to encourage all these artists to have their own ideas about how [the songs] should go,” he says. “I felt like, ‘Why do I want to go do “Lodi” (1969) like I recorded it 40-something years ago? What’s the point? I want somebody to give me something different, something fresh, something new.’
“So we pretty much stuck to that idea.”
For his guest list Fogerty chose “people whose records I buy ... and they tend to be people who also play and are songwriters as well as great singers.”
He also made a determination, early on, that he was going to be present at each session, no matter what logistical difficulties that presented.
“This wasn’t going to be done by mail or technology,” he says. “I was going to be there the old-fashioned way ... Oh, there have been a few deadlines for this record that I’ve blown right through, but I had the time to get it right, to go back if I had to and say, ‘This isn’t how it should be,’ and get everybody back in the studio and finally wrassle that thing to the ground and make it the way I wanted it to be.”
This approach yielded surprises and revelations throughout the yearlong process. My Morning Jacket’s vibey, ambient take on “Long As I Can See the Light” “sounds like outer space to me,” Fogerty says, while the rendition of “Proud Mary” by Jennifer Hudson and Allen Toussaint and the Rebirth Brass Band bristles with a joyful New Orleans second-line spirit.Fogerty was at Blackbird Studios in Nashville with Seger, working up an arrangement for “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” when something the Detroit rocker did caught his ear.
“I’d gone back to work being a producer, trying to get the drum sound or something,” Fogerty recalls, “and Bob’s over in the corner by himself with his guitar, singing, ‘Long as I remember ... ,’ and I go, ‘Whoa!’ Just that voice of his, I said, ‘We’ve got to have that on the record!’
“I had to do a little bit of salesmanship to sell Bob on the idea that just him and his guitar was a good idea,” he adds. “We all have insecurities, you know? He was like, ‘Gee, do you think that will hold up?’ ‘Yeah, Bob, it’s going to hold up. Don’t worry about it.’”
Fogerty was disarmed by Paisley’s suggestion to make “Hot Rod Heart” a guitar song, and he still professes wonder at Keith Urban’s approach to the banjo on “Almost Saturday Night.”
“He’s a monster of a musician,” Fogerty marvels. “He’s got immense depth and taste, just totally his own thing.”
The only album guest with whom Fogerty didn’t work face to face was Kid Rock, whose unique collaboration on “Born on the Bayou” was debuted during CBS’ Super Bowl broadcast on Feb. 3.
“One day the track just shows up with a message from Kid Rock, ‘It’s all done, John,’” Fogerty recalls. “And, you know, he lives with a couple personalities under the same hat, and one of those personalities likes sampling and all that kind of stuff, which I do too, to a degree. He made it really edgy and he sang great, and I’m sure it fit the attitude of who he is. But I thought it would be really cool to take it back to the swamp.
“So I got out my old Rickenbacker [guitar] and found a good old amp that’s got the same sort of vibrato on it that the old record had,” he says, “and then I had Kenny Aronoff play live drums to mix with the [loops], so you go on a journey that’s touching on some familiar and some new territory, which is exactly what I wanted.”
With “Wrote a Song for Everyone” wrapped, Fogerty is turning his attention to another project steeped in his past, an autobiography he plans to publish in 2014, though the project is still in its formative stages. He promises that it will be forthright and revealing, and certainly will treat the dark days during and after the breakup of Creedence Clearwater Revival — but he hastens to add that it won’t involve any mudslinging.
“This is not going to be that sort of tawdry, supermarket kind of thing,” he says. “I’m not looking for the big reveal or to get a lot of stuff off my chest or anything like that.
“I’ve had a remarkable life in music,” Fogerty says. “I started as a child who knew his field of joy almost from the time he could move, and that was music. And everybody noticed, everyone around me noticed: ‘Wow, he’s musical. Look, he’s dancing,’ and I was still in diapers. Since then it’s been a journey, and I just want to tell that story ... of the original joy of a child discovering music and being just ...
“If I can ever convey how that feels, I think it’s something worth talking about.”