Erika M. Anderson (EMA) Talks John Fogerty’s Wrote a Song for Everyone

I have a thought in my head that I wrap around myself like a warm blanket whenever I am completely overwhelmed. No matter how bad things get, if...

I have a thought in my head that I wrap around myself like a warm blanket whenever I am completely overwhelmed.  No matter how bad things get, if it all goes to hell I can always move back to the Midwest, become a high school English teacher, and play in a CCR-style bar band on the weekends.  As long as I have blue skies, beer, and a chance to sing in a shitty bar, things will be OK.

I don’t know if this is in fact true, but the thought gives me comfort in dark times.

I think Creedence Clearwater Revival has that same effect on people.  The band existed from 1968-1972, and during that time of chaos leader John Fogerty wrote a string of Top 10 hits about civil rights conflicts, class inequality, and being drafted into an unwanted war.  And yet despite the heavy themes, the songs give off a feeling of lightness — even now, whenever a music supervisor wants to evoke the social upheavals of the ’60s without getting too trippy, they choose Creedence.  Part of that is because Fogerty seems pure, like an unbiased everyman witness to the madness, and also because his voice hints at the redemption and deliverance we now know to be true.  We survived.  Mankind is troubled but inherently good.  Everything will be alright.

Creedence was with me from the womb, their constant presence on the FM airwaves subconsciously penetrating my synapses, Dad putting it on every night in the summer while tending the grill.  So, growing up, I knew them but I didn’t actively like them.  They were so pure, they were invisible, like water or air.

And then they didn’t change.  But maybe I did.  I got unpure, I got teenage, and I got into weirdo music.  And then I listened again and really fell in love.  The production was weird, the guitar playing was, well, I’m just gonna say it: The guitar solos were sexy.  They made me want to play guitar.  Every note of every solo is imprinted on my brain, even the little harmonic squeak in the beginning of “Suzie Q.”  (Which is probably the only song that simultaneously makes me want to strip and also reminds me of my father.  Don’t read too deeply into it.)  I could get lost in the long, slow burn of “I Put a Spell on You.”  S-E-X-Y.  So sexy that my second-ever high school band covered it in a hot summer basement when I was 16.  We were called Swampussy.  Classy I was not!

Even now when I went back and listened to the originals for writing this piece the songs made me feel awesome.  Like sunshine and jukeboxes and gravel roads and… oh yeah, this piece!  Why am I writing it again?

So…  John Fogerty has released Wrote a Song for Everyone, a new record of his classic songs re-recorded with various guest stars, like Kid Rock, Dawes, Tom Morello, Jennifer Hudson, Miranda Lambert, My Morning Jacket, Bob Seger, Alan Jackson, Keith Urban and Brad Paisley.  Or, as I think of them, the people who sing the first verse before Fogerty comes in.

There aren’t many surprises here.  It’s pretty damn slick.  The weird hard panning, spooky feedback and long jams of the original recordings are totally gone, and dynamics have been abandoned for extreme compression and limiting.  The session players here obviously haven’t known each other since middle school in the way that the members of CCR did.

And yet I sing along.

While I will admit to being a huge sucker for this catalogue, I think it’s a testament to just how well the songs are written that I absolutely cannot help myself from breaking into a mom dance and trying to hit the high notes whenever I hear those familiar melodies.

And while the production is more muscular than charming, I can say that the vocal harmonies here are actually pretty damn enjoyable, which I guess is the point of a duets record in the first place.  Miranda Lambert in particular blends well on the title track once her clipped verse is over.  My Morning Jacket hit the “yeahs” on “Long As I Can See the Light” in a very satisfying way.  Unfortunately, Jennifer Hudson doing “Proud Mary” just invites Tina Turner comparisons.  John tries to help her out with a couple of well-placed “Yahoo!”s, but then the violins come in.  The Foo Fighters covering “Fortunate Son” sound exactly like the Foo Fighters covering “Fortunate Son.”  I don’t really know why Tom Morello is here and from the sound of his “solo” neither does he.

An illuminating tidbit from the press release lets us know that Fogerty got a little jealous because apparently his wife Julie thinks the way Kid Rock sings “Born on the Bayou” is possibly sexier than the way Fogerty sings it.  I can let you know that is absolutely not true.  His wife’s little taunt brings out the animal in old Foges!  Rawr!  Fogerty kicks Rock’s ass on the vocals.  Which should come as a great relief except for the fact that I just had to judge a sexy contest between Kid Rock and John Fogerty.  Thanks, Julie!  🙁

Overall, although I almost always prefer Fogerty’s singing, it would be helpful if some everyday folks learned some harmonies for when we all need to sing these songs together in a bar.  Or around a campfire.  Because really, the complex range of emotion in his voice is best approximated by a group of people.  Preferably drunk people, the booze bringing out in them that perfect mix of euphoria, sorrow and nostalgia that J-Foge does so well.

The real question here is not how but why?  Why does any artist re-track their old hits with a new crop of contemporary pop and country stars?  It probably varies for each artist.  For some, it’s ego.  For others it’s because they don’t own their own master recordings, and the only way to get any royalties from a terrible label deal is to re-record their own material.

CCR’s contract with Fantasy was notoriously terrible.  And the subsequent royalty disputes were worse.

By the time they disbanded Fogerty still owed the label eight records.  Eight records!  From a deal he had signed at 19.  And he had already given them seven.  (Note to young artists: never sign a 15-record deal.)  David Geffen eventually bailed him out for a million dollars, but he had to leave his publishing rights behind.  Fantasy then sold Creedence songs to any ad agency willing to make an offer, all against Fogerty’s wishes.

The fallout from this plus bitter sibling rivalry and a battle for creative control tore the band apart.  The man who wrote six platinum records in two and a half years took a decade off from the music industry.  Our golden boy went through some dark times.

So now, considering the history: again, why do this?  Well, you write like 30 fucking amazing songs in five years that everyone loves and define an era, but your brother dies of AIDS after not speaking to you for years, all your royalties disappear in a tax scam, your band is bitterly jealous of your talents and makes life impossible, your songs get used without your permission to sell everything from jeans to paint thinner, and the only person making big bucks is the guy that ripped you off.  It’s enough to poison anyone’s creative well.

John Fogerty didn’t play any of these songs live for years.  And if he did, he paid a performing royalty to his former label.  It’s a cruel irony that the songs that have brought comfort to millions could cause their author so much strife.  So you wrote all your best songs at 22.  So your closest friends won’t speak to you.  So you are trapped for years in a horrible deal that siphons off all your creative energy.  If it takes this man 45 years to say, “Hey, it’s ok,” I’m happy for him.  Redemption, deliverance.

And most of all, Fogerty sounds happy.  It doesn’t sound like money, or ego, it sounds like someone having fun.  Fuck it, John, you deserve it.  You wrote songs for everyone and I hope you make peace with them.  They sure have brought peace to me.  And if you ever decide to do a volume II, I just might be back in the Midwest, all practiced up and ready to go.

Erika M. Anderson performs and records music under her initials as EMA.  She grew up in the dive bars and rotten graveyards of South Dakota.  Now she lives in Portland, OR and tries to do yoga and eat local but sometimes that shit just don’t work out.  She is only occasionally blonde.