5/29/16 – Happy belated birthday to John Fogerty

A little column about my short relationship with John Fogerty and his music a day after his birthday.

5/29/16 – Happy belated birthday to John Fogerty

I know I’m little late, but I wanted to write something commemorating John Fogerty’s birthday.

I started listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival in the summer of 2014, I believe, right before my senior year. Their music got me through some long days at work, gave me some great singalong drives, and I eventually to introduced Proud Mary to The Emerald Five right before the band broke up. I’m not sure how I started listening. I thought about it, and maybe I heard them on the radio, and I asked my dad about them, since he was at Woodstock and saw them perform.

The more I started listening, the more I began to appreciate every component of it more and more. Nothing CCR ever did was groundbreaking in terms of complexity, but the subtly of Fogerty’s genius slowly began to dawn on me the more I listened, and the more I studied.

Ironically, a Southern California kid was essentially the founder and most popular performer of “swamp rock,”, and his liberal beliefs permeated his music, especially after serving time in the Army. The gritty, 1950’s rock-and-roll influenced sound with blues and southern touches with occasional sax, Fogerty combined lyrics that discussed Southern elements, and his liberal ideas.

Take “Born on the Bayou” and “Bad Moon Rising” versus “Run Through the Jungle” and “Fortunate Son” as a comparison between the two distinctive sides of Fogerty’s songwriting. The first two are distinctively more Southern and country with hints of blue, and the latter two are true rock and roll cuts. This balance between the definitive sounds of the South and the blues and liberal rock songs allowed CCR to great success, including a performance in Royal Albert Hall, and the distinction of being the only band in 1969 to outsell the Beatles.

Now, I’d like to take you through one of Fogerty’s most popular, and most well-crafted tunes, Proud Mary. While you listen to that YouTube hyperlink I have y’all up top, check this out.

Does that opening and recurring lick sound familiar? At the time, Fogerty was listening to classical, specifically Beethoven. The chord progression in Proud Mary is based on the iconic motif of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but it changes the chord qualities from minor to major… But it gets even cooler. By both making the chords major, and starting with the dominant seventh of the home key of D major, the riff goes from C to A, and eventually passing through the borrowed-from-minor F major chord, and ending on the home key, he uses almost all the notes in a D blues scale: D-E-F-F#-G-A-B-C-C#-D.

He continues this use of the blues by keeping his melody simple, and using a cool motif. Often he will use chromatic movement between the F# and F (which you can hear in all the verses; e.g., in the first verse, “workin’ for the man,” and “and I never lost”), which is classic blues solo technique. Looking at the melody further, we can see that he uses anticipations and delays, which gives the melody movement, and uses them in a very similar way to a blues or jazz composer or soloist would.

In addition the blue notes, chords, and phrasing, he uses only three chords in the main verse and chorus: D major, A major, and B minor. Those are the home chord (resting), and dominant (tension), and then he uses the B minor chord like a deceptive cadence in classical music.

And lyrically, it’s catchy, not a love song, which is something I love about Fogerty. So few of his songs are love songs; they’re about something. The words develop a story evenly throughout the three verses (three repetitions of the main theme; a blues standard), and he sings them with both clarity and grit.

These are things I admire about Fogerty, and I hope you can appreciate what he does a little more too when you listen to him a day after his birthday!

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