CCR: Bayou Country (40th Ann Ed)
In honor of the 40th anniversary of their debut album, Fantasy Records is releasing the six studio albums of the band as a quartet. No word yet of their final album, Mardi Gras, which found lead guitarist John Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook, and drummer Doug Clifford as a trio after rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty quit.
It took them less than a year after their debut album release, but Creedence Clearwater Revival found their distinctive sound, helped in part by playing these songs many times live before recording them.
“Born on the Bayou” is quintessential CCR as it evokes Louisiana, or more accurately “Loo-siana.” The opening feedback transports the listener through a mist while the slow vibrato of John’s guitar slowly clears the air, revealing a porch in the backwoods on a warm, humid day. John regales you from his rocking chair with a story from his youth as you sway in the swing, both sharing some sweet tea. His gruff, ragged vocals sing out with such conviction that this has to be his story. He tells us about his “ol’ hound dog…chasin’ down a hoodoo” and “rollin’ with some Cajun queen,” painting a clear, vivid picture of the areas even for those that had never been to bayou country. Doug adds cowbell to the back half of the song.
With Tom on acoustic rhythm guitar “Bootleg” builds on the Southern feel. Where the lyrics are supposed to be “bootleg, bootleg,” John sounds like he is instead speaking French Creole and singing “boule’ boule’,” which had to be on purpose for effect.
The band plays a great, smoldering blues rhythm line on the over eight-minute epic “Graveyard Train.” John has an echo on his voice that augments the spooky mood as he sings about the car accident he was partially responsible for where “thirty people lost their lives.” The harmonicas add a haunting effect. It is credited as an original, but it sounds like it could easily have been a gem recorded by Alan Lomax years earlier.
They cover the Little Richard classic “Good Golly Miss Molly.” John’s vocals can’t hit the high notes, nor does he try, but the low gruff end sounds good, and his guitar replaces Little Richard’s piano.
Another original that sounds like it could have been a cover is the Chicago blues-inspired “Penthouse Pauper.” John’s guitar playing is fantastic as he alternates firing off notes and bending them notes to his will. The song fades out and I am compelled to hit repeat it. This song could not have been too long. Considering I have never heard this song until this assignment, I can only summarize that there has been something wrong with if every single programmer at every single classic rock station I have ever listened to because everyone should know this Creedence song alongside all their other hits. If you don’t, consider your life incomplete.
Creedence takes us down the Mississippi as they tell the classic tale of “Proud Mary.” They take the beginning of this song and do it nice and easy and then do the finish the same way. John’s guitar solo was intended to emulate Steve Cropper of the MGs. The single was the band’s first top ten hit. It was paired with “Bayou Country” and reached #2 on the charts, which is as high as they ever got. In fact they have the most #2 singles of any artist that never had a #1,
The album proper closes with dirty blues rocker “Keep on Chooglin’” that offers some great advice passed on by many musicians over the years, before and after: “You got to ball and have a good time.” While John gets to shine with his great guitar work and harmonica solo, here and throughout, it’s easy to overlook the talents of the rest of the band. They are consistent and unwavering regardless of the song’s length as they allow John to venture out and soak up all the limelight.
The bonus tracks features “Bootleg” (Alternate Take). It’s almost twice as long and sandpaper blocks join the percussion towards the song’s end. The remaining three are all live tracks. “Born on the Bayou” and “Proud Mary” are both taken from their final European tour in 1971 when they played as a trio. The tracks have not been previously released. The audio of “Born on the Bayou” from Royal Albert Hall is slightly distorted. It doesn’t help that sound isn’t as full due to Tom’s rhythm guitar missing. In Stockholm, Sweden, “Proud Mary” suffers the same flaws and is played at a tad faster pace. Both songs are shorter than the studio versions. I would have preferred songs from the time of the album’s creation, but I’ll take what I can get.
“Crazy Otto” comes from the March 1969 Fillmore Auditorium gig recorded for San Francisco station KSAN. It’s an eight-minute instrumental jam where the quartet shows they aren’t solely looking eastward to the past because this psychedelic blues jam is in synch with the then-current music scene. A harmonica joins the mix in place of the lead guitar at three minutes in for a little more than two minutes and then John switches back.
The entire Bayou Country sounds so good it had to be blaring out of the cars of all the cool kids 40 years ago. It still should be today. Plan a trip there real soon.