EL CERRITO, Calif. — The interview was in its third hour and John Fogerty was still searching for the right analogy to describe his confusion during the last, lost decade. He had been locked for most of those years in an artistic straitjacket.
Fogerty's eyes finally lit up. He found the image: Jack Nicholson's character in "The Shining," the guy who sat at the table for months feverishly working away on a novel--but he was just typing the same sentence over and over.
"That's how it eventually got for me," said Fogerty, whose hits with Creedence Clearwater Revival established him as one of the most commanding writers and singers ever in rock. He was sitting in his rehearsal studio in this community near Berkeley, giving his first formal interview since 1975.
"I was wrapped up in all kinds of legal and financial messes that kept me from making a record," he continued, talking rapidly as if trying to purge himself of the years of frustration and doubt. "But I had to do something positive. So, I sat in this room 10 hours a day, playing the guitar and the drums and the bass. I'm talking about years. I was trying to keep in shape for the day I would make another record."
When the problems were resolved early in 1983, Fogerty began recording his new album, playing all the instruments himself. But the music sounded too dated, too much like old Creedence stuff. He returned to the studio and did the whole album over.
"This went on for weeks," Fogerty added. "I had heard these songs so many times I didn't know what to think. I was confused . . . flat, burned out. That's when I thought about the guy in the movie.
"What if I was just making old Creedence records and the rest of the world was waiting for something modern . . . like Prince or Madonna. The record company might listen to it and say, 'John, I'm sorry. This is the modern world.' "
But Fogerty's fears were unfounded. Lenny Waronker, president of Warner Bros. Records, was the first person to hear Fogerty's new music--and he was ecstatic. Even more than the Beatles, Creedence had always been Waronker's favorite rock band and the new stuff was as strong as Creedence--only more contemporary.
Waronker brought in other members of his staff and they, too, agreed: This shaped up as an album of major commercial and historical proportions. Rather than rush the album out last fall, they decided to wait until this month so that they could put together an ambitious promotional campaign.
Radio programmers apparently share Warners' enthusiasm. When a single, "The Old Man Down the Road," was released in December, it was an instant hit on rock stations and declared a "breaker" (as in "hitbound") on pop-oriented Top 40 stations by the influential Radio & Records trade publication.
The album, "Centerfield," will be released this week and critics are likely to be just as pleased. More than Presley or the other early greats of rock were ever able to do, Fogerty has recaptured the purity and vision of his peak days.
"It's like I've come out of a nightmare," Fogerty said. "Don't get me wrong. I don't want this to sound like self pity. I'm in a positive mood. I tried to tell a few people that things would work out, but I could see that they really didn't believe me. And I understood why. It had been years since my last album and that one wasn't really very good. But I always believed that this day would come. What else was there to do? Put a gun to your head?"
There was a point during Creedence's glory days in 1970 when John Fogerty felt invincible. The singer-guitarist had already written, arranged and produced some of the most prized records ever in rock, including "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising," "Green River" and "Who'll Stop the Rain."
With the breakup of the Beatles in 1970, those hits established Creedence as the world's biggest-selling group. At one point in 1970, Creedence needed two new songs for a single--quickly--before leaving for a European tour. Fogerty only had a weekend to come up with them.
So, he went home and wrote the songs--"Up Around the Bend" and "Run Through the Jungle"--on Saturday and Sunday. He recorded the vocals on Monday and had a demo copy of the songs in his hand before leaving for Europe on Wednesday. That double-sided hit, too, went into the Top 10. By the time Creedence broke up in 1972, the band had sold $150-million worth of records around the world.
But things had deteriorated so severely for Fogerty by 1976 that his new company, Asylum, advised him against releasing his second solo album. Label chief Joe Smith advised Fogerty that the album just wasn't up to the writer's standards.
That was the last anyone outside Fogerty's family heard new music from him. That is, until last summer, when he flew down with six songs to play for Lenny Waronker.