Over the course of 2019, John Fogerty has celebrated on stage what he calls “My 50 Year Trip.”
The story begins in 1969, a seminal year for the songwriter which saw his band Creedence Clearwater Revival make its first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show that March followed by a performance at Woodstock in August.
But the year began with arguably an even bigger moment: the purchase of a red Rickenbacker guitar.
“At the Fillmore East, we were playing right at the end of 1968 - I had a black Rickenbacker guitar and I gave it away! I gave it away to a kid. He was 12 years old and he was always coming around backstage. So I quickly got a new Rickenbacker guitar,” explained Fogerty, noting a show that December alongside rockers Deep Purple and blues man James Cotton, which took place just nine months after the legendary club opened its doors. “In my mind, I was setting out down the road. I had a task. I was going to, as well as I could, take on the music business. And get professional. And try to hit a high water mark. And, in other words, make more good music with my band. Now, there was some urgency to getting that guitar.”
That’s the type of story Fogerty has been telling on stage during his “My 50 Year Trip” concerts. They’re shows where the stories told between the songs are just as powerful as the ones that unfold during the performances themselves.
Captured live at Red Rocks in Morrison, Colorado on June 20, 2019, 50 Year Trip will be released digitally and on CD November 8 by BMG, with a one night only showing of the concert film set to hit theaters on Monday, November 11 courtesy of Fathom Events.
“I do think the place has some kind of magical or mystical energy going on. I tend to think mountains are that way anyway. It’s just so beautiful. And the theatre, the venue that they’ve made out of it, is just so nice. So, indeed, it is like another force, another character in the mix,” said Fogerty of Red Rocks, a natural amphitheater set within the red stone of a Colorado mountain park, and its role as setting of the new film. “You come out on stage and the audience is just right there - they’re kind of on top of you and it goes up like a big wall. So they’re right in your living room you might say, very close. I liken it to kind of sitting around the campfire singing cowboy songs or something you know?”
In 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival was coming off the success of its self-titled debut album the year prior. Fogerty would soon begin working at a pace rivaled only by The Beatles, releasing all seven of the group’s legendary albums by April of 1972.
“There’s a critical moment as an artist - that happy time between late ‘67 and the middle of ‘68 - where suddenly there was a dire urgency for me to evolve and become an artist. ‘Suzie Q’ became a hit song. We had one song and we had a good name, you know? Up until then, we were sort of just wandering in the wilderness of rock and roll. And it was like, ‘Ok… I’ve gotta make a leap now,’” said Fogerty, of his mindset entering 1969.
“It was really a dire urgency and that’s the way I perceived it. Because, as I say it, we had managed to land at the doorstep here of the big time with the lights shining on us, but if we don’t come up with it now, it’s gonna evaporate - almost like the heat of them noticing me is either going to make me thrive or make me wilt. And it really meant evolve, evolve, evolve - now! You don’t have ten years anymore, you have ten minutes. So something happened without me realizing that I didn’t really know,” he continued, setting the stage for the songwriting blitz that would soon catapult him into the zeitgeist.
“Instead of trying to be The Beatles or trying to be Elvis - in other words, some far flung perception of what [people] would like - I suddenly realized, ‘I’ve gotta write about what I know about. Whatever it is I understand.’ I said, ‘John, stop trying to do something you think they will like. Just do what you like. Do what you know.’ And, somehow, right out of that, came ‘Proud Mary,’” said Fogerty. “It took a lifetime or it took twenty minutes when it happened. And it scared the crap out of me when it happened. Because I was standing there after a couple of events had pushed me there, and I suddenly had this song that was far better - by leaps and bounds better - than anything I had ever done. I could tell it was way up there with the greats. And I was shaking, quaking with, ‘How did you do this?!’ It was like being struck by lighting I suppose. But that’s how it happened,” he said of the CCR song which hit #2 following its release in January of 1969.
“Proud Mary” is perhaps the most famous portrayal of what Fogerty perceived life in the American south to be. But he grew up in California. Today, the internet places any far flung locale just a click away. But Fogerty’s image of the south was shaped by the radio during a time when music could still be found on the AM band. Stations from across the country gave kids a glimpse into other cities, with animated disc jockeys setting forth the narrative.
“It’s much harder to understand living in the present world with so many media bombardments from so many places. Back then, there was basically three television channels, there might have been a couple of newspapers in your town - there was almost no other way to get media information, except of course for the all important rock and roll radio station. If the DJ, who was much more personal to you then, managed to tell you a story or two relating to some of the songs you were listening to, that was certainly a bonus. And we hung on every word,” Fogerty said. “I was from the San Francisco Bay Area. And all of the music I was listening to seemed to come from this mystical southern place. But I never realized until much later how many other wonderful artists came from New Orleans. I just knew I loved the sound and the style.”
Over the next three years, Creedence songs like “Fortunate Son” put Fogerty’s music amidst the era’s most powerful Vietnam protest songs.
What set his perspective apart was his time spent in the Army Reserves, an experience which equipped him with the empathy and compassion necessary to address those serving in the war while making a political statement.
“I think that instead of hurling epithets, just hurling sort of uninformed protests across the open field at the other side, I kind of had more [a mindset] of, ‘Hey, wait a minute… We’re sort of all in this together. We’re all part of this picture,’” said Fogerty. “You’re yelling at that guy in uniform there - don’t you realize he’s 19 years old? He’s just like you. He likes all the same music. He likes the same songs. He likes the same food. He likes the same protests. He does all the same things you do. It’s just that he’s the guy that, unfortunately, got drafted and so he has to do that now or otherwise they’ll put him in jail. It’s not necessarily what he wants to do. He’s only doing what is his duty. If you’re gonna yell, yell at the people who are making the policy. That’s something I could see pretty clearly having been that 19 year old kid in uniform.”
Fathom Events’ 50 Year Trip: Live at Red Rocks theatrical screenings will take place this Monday, Veterans Day, with Fogerty set to take part in a series of events in Las Vegas.
Woodstock 50, prior to its implosion, would have been a centerpiece of the “My 50 Year Trip” story. Even though the festival was cancelled in July, artists scheduled to perform were still paid.
Fogerty and his wife Julie donated that performance fee to Veterans Village, a Las Vegas group which cares for U.S. veterans.
This Monday, followed by a private screening of the new concert film, Fogerty will attend a Veterans Village dedication of the “Proud Mary John Fogerty Container Home,” one of ten container homes that will provide veterans housing in Las Vegas.
As his “My 50 Year Trip” tour winds down, Fogerty is in the midst of a Vegas residency at the Wynn’s Encore Theatre scheduled to run through November 16.
Creedence Clearwater Revival featured Fogerty alongside his late brother Tom. Today, his band features his sons Shane and Tyler at his side on guitar and vocals, bringing the musical family affair full circle.
As he reflects on the last 50 years, Fogerty is clear about what’s made the remarkable second half of his career possible.
“Oh, my dear wife. My goodness. Number one, she saved my life. I have no idea what this wreck would be without her. Falling in love just sort of changes everything. It’s the most miraculous thing. I’m not sure I was even looking for it. I sure, in the beginning, didn’t even feel like I deserved it. It was so overwhelming,” said Fogerty, who met his wife Julie in 1986, marrying her five years later. “I’m very grateful and thankful that that happened. Because suddenly you become a lot less selfish. Because your heart is full of the feeling you have for another person, rather than yourself and your own perceived problems and all of that woe is me, the world has beaten me down etc., etc. And, without realizing it, you start to become a good person - quite miraculously (at least in my case),” he said. “And here we are all on stage performing and doing this music - and hopefully making new music all together. It’s really an amazing thing.”
*** John Fogerty’s 50 Year Trip: Live at Red Rocks is available digitally and on CD November 8, 2019 via BMG. Click HERE to order.
*** Fathom Events’ release of 50 Year Trip: Live at Red Rocks will take place one night only in theaters on Veterans Day (Monday, November 11, 2019). For a full list of participating theaters, or to purchase tickets, click HERE.
*** John Fogerty’s “My 50 Year Trip” residency runs until November 16, 2019 at the Wynn’s Encore Theatre in Las Vegas, Nevada. For more details, or to purchase tickets, click HERE.