After the 1972 flameout of Creedence Clearwater Revival, ending its short reign as America's most popular rock band, John Fogerty launched a solo career in a surprising way. His debut effort was titled "The Blue Ridge Rangers" and consisted of country and folk-rooted songs he'd always loved. Suddenly without a band behind him, Fogerty played all the instruments and sang all the vocals himself.
He didn't even put his name on it: The album jacket showed silhouettes of what appeared to be five guys wearing cowboy hats, playing guitars, fiddle and upright bass. They were all Fogerty, superimposed on a spacious, open landscape.
Now, 36 years after that album was released, he's resurrected the concept with a new collection, "The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again."
"There probably wasn't a month that went by in all that time that I wouldn't hear a song and think, 'Oh, that'd be great for another Blue Ridge Rangers record,' " said Fogerty, a ball of energy while talking about music last week in the living room of the Beverly Hills home he shares with his wife, Julie, and their two teenage sons.
"I'd thought about doing another one; it's just one of those things I never got around to actually doing," he said. "Then one day Julie came to me and said, 'Why don't you make another Blue Ridge Rangers record?' Well, it's like your wife walks up to you with all your fishing gear in her hands and says, 'Here, why don't you go fishing for a few days?' "
This time, however, Fogerty wasn't interested in secluding himself in a recording studio and doing everything on his own as he had done more than 35 years ago. For the new album, released this week, he rounded up some of the most respected names in roots/Americana music to help, including guitarists Buddy Miller and Herb Pedersen, steel guitarist Greg Leisz and drummer Jay Bellerose.
He then assembled another batch of songs, the only common thread being that they were ones Fogerty loved, tunes he'd turn to if he ever got called up in a bar or nightclub to play something.
The song list speaks to the fact that while Fogerty is an aficionado, even a connoisseur, of country and folk music, he's no roots-music snob. Several selections would delight country purists, such as Buck Owens' "I Don't Care (Just as Long as You Love Me)," Ray Price's "I'll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)" and the Kendalls' bouncy "Heaven's Just a Sin Away."
There's also a version of the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved" on which he duets with a fellow named Springsteen.
Yes, Pat Boone too
Fogerty also has included a few surprises: Rick Nelson's country-rock anthem "Garden Party" (with harmonies from Eagles Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit), John Denver's wistful ballad "Back Home Again" and even Pat Boone's 1961 pop hit "Moody River," the romantic tragedy about a woman who drowns herself after being unfaithful to her man.
"If the choice was between Elvis and Pat Boone in the '50s, I guess you know which side I came down on," Fogerty said, a wry smile coming to his lips. "But 'Moody River' is a great song, and Pat sang his butt off on that one."
He's wearing a crisp white-and-blue-striped Western-style shirt with pearlized buttons, blue denim jeans and black cowboy boots. Hints of red show in his brown hair, which is still nearly as thick as when he wore a Beatle-esque bowl cut while storming concert stages 40 years ago. There's hardly a line on his beaming 64-year-old face.
Fogerty comes close to apologizing for his return venture into country music, even though his brand of rock strongly reflected country, blues, folk and gospel influences.
"I'm a rock 'n' roll guy," he said. "That's who I am."
By nearly any measure, Fogerty belongs on the A list of rock musicians who matter. As Creedence's chief songwriter, lead singer and guitarist, he created a remarkably deep body of work in an astonishingly short period from the 1968 release of the band's debut album through the group's 1972 swan song.
In between, Creedence charted a string of Top 10 hits including "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising," "Green River," "Who'll Stop the Rain," "Travelin' Band" and "Have You Ever Seen the Rain." In 1969 alone, Creedence logged three Top 10 albums: "Bayou Country," "Green River" and "Willy and the Poor Boys." Its 1970 collection "Cosmo's Factory" spent nine weeks at No. 1.
Despite growing up in the Bay Area community of El Cerrito, Fogerty crafted music that sounded straight out of the swampy American South, drawing on the same musical strains that inspired his heroes such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Aside from creating consistently catchy hit singles, he injected sociopolitical critiques into numbers such as "Fortunate Son" and "Don't Look Now (It Ain't You Or Me)" that took stock of the distance between society's haves and its have-nots.
Creedence played Woodstock, but the band broke up within three years when bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford insisted on asserting their own voices.