John Fogerty, coming to Clearwater, isn't backing down on protest songs, Parkland and #MeToo

Posted May 26, 2018 12:06 p.m. EDT

It's been 50 years since John Fogerty wrote Fortunate Son, one of the most scathing protest songs from the Vietnam War era. Writing another one with that kind of impact has been a challenge ever since.

"Back in the '80s, I had a couple of songs that kind of fell on deaf ears. I said, Well, I guess it's not the right time," Fogerty says. "Even a song I wrote in the early part of this millennium -- I wrote it before we actually got into Iraq, but all the signs were that somebody was going to try to talk us into it. I wrote a song called Deja Vu (All Over Again), and it got some notice, but nothing like Fortunate Son."

But things are changing in 2018. Fogerty feels it. He's watching what has happened with Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement, "the horrible way arrogant men have treated the human race, and especially women, and now they don't. It's not going to happen anymore. Nobody's going to put up with it."

He's watching what's happening with the teens down in Parkland, "those students that survived and went through that and finally just said, 'Enough is enough.' They've started a political movement, a protest movement. They're very noisy, and I think other people took that to heart. The issue has continued to gain momentum, rather than just dying out the way perhaps the NRA and gunmakers would prefer."

The Berkeley, Calif.-born founder of Creedence Clearwater Revival has long woven his rebellious spirit into his signature swamp-rock sound, a maelstrom of dirt and twang and his inimitable molten-iron howl. He was the rare NoCal native who could conceivably pass as Southern -- and that makes his summer tour with ZZ Top, which hits Clearwater's Coachman Park on June 2, feel like a way-too-long time coming.

Fogerty, who turns 73 next week, could coast through his twilight years playing hits like Fortunate Son and Bad Moon Rising and Proud Mary for scads of nostalgic boomers night after night. He has no problem pleasing the masses; he just wrapped a weeklong residency at the Wynn in Las Vegas, and has another planned for this fall.

But you can't expect the man who wrote Fortunate Son to stay silent about the state of the world. That ain't him; no, that ain't him. Not even 50 years on.

"I know I'm getting myself in hot water with some aspects of our society," he says. "But I'm not that careful. I'm usually the guy that says what's on my mind."

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Fogerty is one of a dwindling number of boomer rockers who can probably say what he wants and get away with it, even in the Deep South. He grew up revering the soul and blues music that sprung out of this part of the country, and as such has long been accepted in more conservative social circles, despite his antiwar politics.

"I remember Conway Twitty's drummer, a guy named Pork Chop, came to visit in some place, it might have been Texas," Fogerty recalls. "I was playing (Chuck Berry's) Brown Eyed Handsome Man on a banjo at that point in our repertoire, and I heard later that Pork Chop had turned to the guy next to him and said, 'I don't know if those guys know it, but they're playing country.' Well, of course I knew it! I grew up on that music!"

Country artists, in turn, came up on Fogerty's music. Artists like Eric Church, Dwight Yoakam and Alabama have all covered CCR at some point, and Fogerty recorded with Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert and Zac Brown on his 2013 album Wrote a Song for Everyone.

In a roundabout way, that project led Fogerty to try something new. A couple of years ago, he sat down to write a song with a partner, the first time he had done that since his teens, writing with late older brother and CCR bandmate Tom. That partner was Brad Paisley, another Wrote a Song for Everyone collaborator. And the song was Love and War, the title track to Paisley's 11th album, a song about America's history of failing its veterans after they return home from war.

Fogerty describes the song as coming from neither the left nor the right, but "from the viewpoint of common sense. When a guy gets shot and he's lying on the ground bleeding, it doesn't matter what his politics are. He's 19 years old, and he's in a war that really, he's too young to understand the nuances of. What's important is that he's hurting, hopefully he survives, but what are we going to do when we get him home?"

He knows some of his fans -- to say nothing of Paisley's -- won't want to hear any messages in their music. He gets it.

"I have to admit, over the last 45 years or so, since Vietnam, when celebrities would speak out about stuff, there were many times I wondered about their sincerity," he says. "Some guys and gals with a whole lot of plastic surgery talking about their heartfelt cause, sometimes I kind of blink twice and go, 'Hmm, eh, I don't know. I just don't take it to heart.'

"But then there's other times when you don't have to be condemned just because you're a celebrity," he continues. "Once in a while, it's okay if people show leadership rather than just running away. It's a critical point. I talk about this in my own family from time to time. Leadership doesn't always mean getting your way. A lot of times, leadership just means (leading) by example. You are expressing yourself, you are going to get lambasted, a lot of rocks thrown at you, because some portion of society is going to try and shoot you down."

So Fogerty's standing tall. He still gets a charge out of looking his fans in the eye on songs like Fortunate Son and, yes, Love and War, regardless of their politics. Every show presents a new challenge, a new opportunity to make those old CCR hits sound fresh.

"Suddenly you're doing a song like Born on the Bayou and the vibrato on my guitar sounds a little different, or the distortion sounds especially great that night," he said. "You're always trying to wrestle that beast to the ground and do the very best performance. There seems to be all these little elements that are saying, 'Okay, I'm going to surprise you. Go ahead and try to tame me.'?"

Good luck with that. Fogerty's not one to back down.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.