There is a secret at the heart of all John Fogerty's songs, an unbroken connection to the magic and mystery in the American musical past that conjoins Delta blues and garage bands, urban riffs and pedal steel, folklore and the Brill Building. You can find its point of fine convergence in the fierceness of Fogerty's singing, the grace of his imagination, the implacable drive of his spirit. He can do what only the greatest American songwriters can: make music that sounds, even when you first hear it, as if you've known it forever. Music that's more than something you grew up with. Music that's a birthright.
But all this has come at a heavy price. Fogerty's wondrous new album, Blue Moon Swamp (Warner Bros.), follows a decade of anger, frustration, fear and hard-won resolution. But you don't hear the turmoil that went into the making of these songs. Instead you feel the confidence and ebullience of an artist renewed, covering the ground at the height of his power, even if the album's 12 tunes work out, on average, to one every 10 months or so. Ask him why the album took so long, and Fogerty, 52 this week, has an explanation as honest and ardent as his lyrics: "The record was no f__ing good until now. There was no way I was going to make a record that was no good. You keep going until you get it. Thirty years ago, I was part of a world-famous rock-'n'-roll band. It's silly to think I'd ever be there again. But the one thing I can control is that I can still make a full-fledged bad-ass record. Can I do it in one year? I'll try. But if it takes five years, I'll do that."
That band he talks about was, of course, Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of the most successful of all American rock groups and, hands down, one of the greatest. From roughly mid-1968 through 1972, Creedence had a string of gold albums and Top 10 singles (Proud Mary, Lodi, Who'll Stop the Rain), almost all written by Fogerty. But the band broke up in 1972, burned out and greatly ticked off that the lion's share of the attention was directed to Fogerty.
He rated all of it, and more. But Fogerty, on his own, seemed to be fighting demons. Adopting a fictitious band name, he made an album in 1973 called Blue Ridge Rangers (Fantasy) on which he sang heavy doses of country, bluegrass and R. and B. and played every instrument. He released a superb solo album under his own name two years later but got entangled in protracted legal bloodletting with the head of his former label, Saul Zaentz (who is also the much Oscared producer of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and The English Patient). It's a fight that continues to this day. "I haven't been paid properly in 17 years," Fogerty says. "That will give you a handle on why I was so angry." He didn't record again for almost 10 years, and when he did, on 1985's smashing Centerfield (Warner Bros.), he got in some licks at his adversary in a hard-driving tune called Zanz Kan't Danz, with a chorus that warned: "Zanz can't dance/ But he'll steal your money/ Watch him or he'll rob you blind."