MEMPHIS — It's the morning of John Fogerty's first concert in 14 years and the former leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival is prowling the aisles of a Western clothing store here. He's looking for shirts and boots for the tour.
With Creedence more than a decade ago, Fogerty favored plaid, Western-styled flannel shirts. Now, he seems more attracted to solid colors. For the concert 10 hours later, he eventually settles on a black vest and a black shirt. Still Western, but not the Creedence trademark.
That wardrobe shift is matched by a subtle, though unmistakable change in the music on Fogerty's new "Eye of the Zombie" album (due in stores this week). Where he deliberately focused on his Creedence roots in last year's comeback album, "Centerfield," Fogerty moves toward more contemporary sounds and themes.
The most striking change is in Fogerty's themes.
"Centerfield" was a hit with critics and record-buyers last year, but there were complaints that the album was caught in a time warp--that Fogerty, who had taken a nine-year break from recording to resolve personal and business issues, was living in the past.
"I Saw It on TV," the most poignant song, spoke about the disillusionment with Nixon, Watergate and Vietnam--with the sentiments mostly expressed from the viewpoint of a man who lost his son in the war. Two other songs--"Vanz Kant Danz" and "Mr. Greed"--were interpreted as reflections on Fogerty's bitter financial dispute with Fantasy Records, which released all of Creedence's records, and its founder Saul Zaentz.
On the way to the clothing store here, Fogerty, 41, reflected on the criticism:
"When 'Centerfield' first came out, I thought that was a lot of hot air. Now I can see that they may be right, but then again: they didn't live in my shoes (during the Fantasy dispute). I'd like to let that whole thing go, but I can't. Here we are in 1986 and I still have four or five years of lawsuits and trials ahead of me with those people."
(Zaentz is suing Fogerty for $142 million, charging he was slandered and libeled by the songs on "Centerfield" and by statements Fogerty made in interviews last year. A second suit maintains Fantasy is entitled to the profits earned by Fogerty's 1985 hit, "The Old Man Down the Road," claiming the tune infringes on the Fantasy copyright of "Run Through the Jungle," a song Fogerty wrote for Creedence.)
On the Watergate/Nixon issue, Fogerty added, "I'll agree with you a song like 'I Saw It on TV' is an old issue if you are 28 years old. But if you are 40 years old, it is not an old issue. It still lives with you. Richard Nixon is still the guy responsible for all those casualties . . . and the guy who lost his son never got his son back. That's permanent to him. The pain doesn't go away just because new issues appear."
Fogerty is one of rock's most acclaimed figures. A cinch to be named to the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Northern California native wrote, sang and produced a flurry of Top 10 hits during his days with Creedence in the late '60s and early '70s.
His songs--ranging from "Proud Mary" and "Who'll Stop the Rain" to "Bad Moon Rising" and "Fortunate Son"--combined celebration and comment in ways that have made them a continuing part of the rock repertoire.
But Fogerty was so tangled up in legal and financial problems by the mid-'70s that he stopped making records for nine years. He also didn't tour after Creedence's final show in 1972. The fact that "Centerfield" followed such a lengthy break was what made its success so remarkable.
The album was named one of the 10 best LPs of 1985 in the Village Voice's annual poll of U.S. pop writers and it reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard sales charts.
Though Fogerty comes across as an unusually confident person, he admits that the success was more than he had imagined.
"When you wait 10 years or whatever to make a record, you sure don't count on it being a big hit," he said, during the shopping trek. "I thought all I was doing was kind of saying, 'OK, I'm alive.' I can see now there was a lot of affection out there for the music Creedence made. When most people go away in pop music, they just go away. People go, 'OK, see ya. . . . Next.' For some reason, I went away and they didn't bury me."
Fogerty, a shrewd rock strategist, wanted his return album last year to have a lot of the Creedence flavor. "Otherwise, I thought I'd be asking too much of the audience . . . the idea of accepting the fact that I was back and that I was doing something different from what they knew about me."
This time, however, he wanted a more contemporary edge.
"When I started doing this album, I knew it had to hold something special in it and I didn't know what that meant for the first few weeks. Then, I realized one aspect of it being special meant that it had to be different from my other albums, especially 'Centerfield.' "