Déjà vu All Over Again With John Fogerty

1 01 2010

            Full disclosure and a true confession:  I don’t play guitar, and I both admire and envy those that can and do.  But if I ever run into the Guitar Genie, and should he then offer to grant me just one wish to play like anyone in the world, my response would be immediate and unambiguous.

            “Genie,” I’d say, “I want to play swamp-heavy, voodoo-inflected, rapid-fire, chunky, chooglin’ riffs that seamlessly bridge the gap between the best of 1950s and 1970s rock & roll.  I wish I could play songs with irresistible hooks that once upon a time thunderstormed like audio fire out of American radios.  Genie,” I’d drawl, “can y’all fix it so’s I can play guitar exactly like John Forgerty?”

            And I’m sure the Guitar Genie would scratch his head, shoot me a long sorrowful look, and shrug.  “Hey, I’m only a genie,” he’d apologize, “not a miracle-worker.”

            John Fogerty and the Blue Ridge Rangers hit the stage at 8:15 p.m. Saturday night at Buffalo Bill’s Star of the Desert Arena, and for the next two hours the music rained down in rock & roll torrents.  Starting with the familiar screaming opening chords of “Up Around The Bend” and culminating with the iconic “Proud Mary,” Fogerty and his high-octane band raged through an amazing show that included much of the Creedence Clearwater Revival songbook, a sampler of Fogerty’s solo material, and a handful of cover songs from the new CD.

            The covers first:  scattered throughout the show, Fogerty delivered heartfelt and countrified slices of seminal musical history.  There was Phil Everly’s “When Will I Be Loved,” Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party,” Buck Owens “I Don’t Care (Just as Long as You Love Me),” and John Prine’s “Paradise.”  Old folk chestnut “The Midnight Special” made an appearance, as did a long instrumental break that paid homage to Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.”  Wow, extended and semi-psychedelic jams, man, just like the 60s.  When was the last time you heard that kind of sonic onslaught, outside of a Phish concert?

            Then there were songs from Fogerty’s many “comebacks,” and here was where I thought The Blue Ridge Rangers really shone.  The band dug hard into the grooves for “The Old Man Down The Road” and pounded out the silly-but-clappable beat of “Centerfield.”  One guy several rows back of me kept yelling for “Rock and Roll Girls,” and finally was rewarded about three-quarters through the show with a fiery rendition. Then came an unexpected highlight:  an inspired, drawn-out version of “Big Train (From Memphis),” Fogerty’s paean to Elvis Presley and the King’s sweeping musical and cultural impact.  Fiddle player Jason Mowery made the most of his solos, playing lightning-fast bluegrass riffs and mournful moaning blasts that sounded like, well, distant train whistles.  Mowery and Fogerty dueled playfully and energetically, with Jay Bellerose and Chris Cheney on bass and drums keeping the tune on track.

            Surprisingly, Fogerty declined to play any cuts from his latest release of original songs, 2007’s respectable Revival.   He might have called for any one of a string of concert- friendly tunes- “Don’t You Wish It Was True,” “Gunslinger,” “It Ain’t Right,” “I Can’t Take It No More,” “Somebody Help Me”- but apparently made a conscious decision to leave them home for the night.  Our loss, and a small but significant gap from Fogerty’s long recording career.

            Fogerty stocked a small arsenal of guitars onstage.  For a while, I thought he was going to need a different ax for every single song he would play.  A grip named Timmy fed him a Stratocaster, a Taylor acoustic, a Les Paul Gold, a Les Paul Jr., a Telecaster, another Taylor, a red sunburst of a Gibson, a deep blue electric something-or-other, and so on.  Forgerty is known as something of a perfectionist with his songwriting, and he seemed intent on finding the exact musical timber needed for each individual song.  I’m going to assume that all his fussing and pickiness pays off in the end.  The sound was sweet and crisp and clean as it rang out from the stage, all over the arena, all over the world.

            And then he showcased a number of singles from the CCR catalogue, and bedlam reigned.  Briefly, it’s worth re-telling the famous story of Fogerty signing away the rights to his early hits in order to break his contract with Fantasy Records and embark on a solo career.  It was a brave and foolhardy move, one that reportedly left him bitter for years, years when he made a conscious decision not to play Creedence songs in concert.  Then, happily, he reversed that decision sometime in the late 80s.  He made peace with the fact that he was the author and spiritual owner of those magnificent artifacts of rock & roll history, and again started playing them before live audiences.

            Lucky for us, because what a treasure trove of classic songs they are:  “Green River,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?”, “Down on the Corner,” “Hey Tonight,” “Fortunate Son,” and “Keep On Chooglin’.”  His distinctive vocals were as strong as ever.  He displayed his lighter side during “Bad Moon Rising” when he pointed stage right and sang that old misunderstood refrain, “There’s a bathroom on the right.”  Fogerty is in the Rock & Roll Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, and tonight he provided plenty of proof that he belongs.  I was disappointed that he excluded from his set “Lodi,” “Almost Saturday Night,” “Travelin’ Band,” and especially “Who’ll Stop The Rain?”  But really, if he’d played every song I wanted to hear, it would’ve been a five-hour concert.  Sadly, that wasn’t going to happen.

            Another song that Fogerty did not play, Revival’s “Creedence Song,” might have served as an appropriate coda for the entire show.  The simple, immodest, but oh-so-true chorus goes:

                                    Well you can’t go wrong

                                    If you play a little bit of that Creedence song

                                    Doo doo!  Doo doo!

            By the time Fogerty and the Blue Ridge Rangers were wrapping things up, with the crowd lustily belting out, “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river,” Fogerty was hopping about like a twenty-year-old and playing his guitar with joy and abandon and amazing precision.  A week later, my ears are still ringing and I’m sneaking in a few moments here and there to practice my air guitar moves, wishing I could play the real thing one-tenth as well as John Fogerty.

            Guitar genie, are you listening?

Review Written by Rod Williams – LMA Street Team Member

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