Walter Tunis: John Fogerty returns to area for concert at Riverbend

Contributing Music Columnist,by walter tunisJuly 24, 2014 

  • The week that was

    Chuck Mead and his Grassy Knoll Boys at Willie's Locally Known: "Don't forget about the big dance floor down here," Chuck Mead said, motioning to the crawlspace in front of the stage already occupied by a string of sizeable stage monitors.

    A few couples squeezed into other available spaces to two-step (or something close to it) to the self-described "big country show" Mead brought to town. But those content to sit back and soak in the litany of traditional and roots-driven sounds the singer and his trio, the Grassy Knoll Boys, summoned certainly didn't miss out. As a friend once told me, "You can dance to anything." And indeed, the expert level of vital, vintage fare Mead was dishing deserved active listening from its audience.

    Mead had a new album to promote, a fine Kansas-themed record called Free State Serenade that dominated roughly half of the 75 minute set.

    The show-opening combination of Knee Deep in the Wakarusa River and The Devil By Their Side (which also serve as the first two tracks on Free State Serenade) were, to borrow a term from the latter tune, "cornfield shuffles" that centered around the continually spry pedal steel guitar colors of Carco Clave, a lightly toned but swiftly paced rhythm section and a vocal lead from Mead full of country reverence as well as a hint of wry humor that helped seal the deal on this music.

    Such a game plan further unfolded in the UFO parable Ten Light Years Away. Mead prefaced the tune with a story detailing the flatness of his home state ("There are about six trees between you and Canada") before the song outlined the prospect of an actual extraterrestrial landing there ("That ain't no Chevrolet").

    The rest of the show was equally roots-driven, but drew on a wider range of source material. Mead and his Grassy Knoll Boys took highly appealing stabs at tunes popularized by Buck Owens (Hello Trouble), Ray Price (Crazy Arms) and Del Reeves (Girl on the Billboard), as well as several engaging flashbacks to the singer's tenure in the country roots band BR549. From that bunch, the beer-soaked neo-ballad Lifetime to Prove best reflected the soul, sass and solemnity that drove this Saturday night country revival.

John Fogerty

8 p.m. July 25 at PNC Pavilion. 6295 Kellogg Ave., Cincinnati. $49-$81.50. 1-800-745-3000. riverbend.org, ticketmaster.com.

It's time to state a record for the record.

The first full-length recording I bought as a kid was Cosmo's Factory, the fifth of six albums released by Creedence Clearwater Revival in quick succession between late 1968 and the end of 1970.

Like many introduced to the world of rock 'n' roll in the immediate wake of the Beatles' demise, I found Creedence unlike anything blasting forth on AM radio (still the primary broadcast outlet for contemporary music at the time). Their songs spoke of bayous, riverboats and of some powerful, restorative force known as "choogling."

The guitar sound that rang through them was thick, humid and heavily rhythmic, but still prone to psychedelic outbursts that kept Creedence, for all its commercial visibility, in allegiance with a still-young rock underground. Most of all, there was that voice at the forefront. It was alternately dark, ghostly and soulful, and since it was at the helm of songs filled with so much Southern imagery, it also had to be a product of the South, right?

Try California.

Creedence was, as former Rolling Stone editor/writer Ben Fong-Torres stated in the liner notes to the 2008 reissue of the band's self-titled debut album, "no more Southern than the Dalai Lama."

But the fascination stuck. When Cosmo's Factory was released in the summer of 1970, it had already yielded three singles, each a double-sided hit. Within that album sat Who'll Stop the Rain, Travelin' Band, Up Around the Bend, Run Through the Jungle, Lookin' Out My Back Door and Long as I Can See the Light. When radio wanted more, it started playing Creedence's 11 minute version of I Heard It Through the Grapevine, which transformed the Motown hit into a long, swampy incantation.

In another two years, Creedence would be history. But the chief architect of its sound — the songwriter, lead guitarist and incomparable voice behind the band's music — continued on. Enter John Fogerty, solo artist.

Curiously, Fogerty stayed largely out of the spotlight over the next two decades. He became entangled in lawsuits with his former record label and bitter disputes with his former Creedence bandmates. It wouldn't be until the release of Blue Moon Swamp in 1997 that Fogerty began performing his Creedence material again on a regular basis.

That brings us to 2013 and an album called Wrote a Song for Everyone. The record has Fogerty revisiting material from throughout his career as duets with such stylistically varied guests as Foo Fighters, The Zac Brown Band, Bob Seger, Dawes and Allen Toussaint.

This weekend, we finally get Fogerty back in the region again with a performance at PNC Pavilion in Cincinnati. Not surprisingly, recent setlists (which he has been posting online after each show) have been drawing heavily from the Creedence catalog, including such non-single delights as Ramble Tamble.

The latter is the leadoff song to Cosmo's Factory, a seven minute séance of a tune. I must have listened to it a thousand times over the years, from the opening riff that triggered one of Creedence's most masterful grooves, to the chorus, where Fogerty sings in that scorched, boogeyman tenor of his place in a world beset by social and political turmoil: "Down the road I go."

Nearly four and a half decades on, Fogerty is still singing that song in a world that — personally, at least — holds more promise. How lucky we are that the road he travels this weekend takes him a little closer to Kentucky.

Walter Tunis is a Lexington-based music writer.

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