December 27, 2002

ERIC ALTERMAN IS RIGHT about Creedence Clearwater Revival, but wrong about John Fogerty. But we’ll get to that later.

Had a nice drive down with my grandmother. Thanks to a bad knee and a sprained ankle, she’s not very mobile at the moment (“I got old all of a sudden at 85,” she says. “Before that I could do anything.”) But the drive down was very pleasant, and we had a lot of nice conversation. Because my parents were living the intinerant-graduate-student lifestyle when I was little, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in the summer, and it’s almost like a second home. I wish I could have stayed, but I had to come back today. My speed was aided by the relatively light traffic, and by the enormously high velocity of the traffic that was present. I used to think that 80 was fast. Now if you go 80, you’d better be in the right lane.

On the way back, I listened to some CDs, most notably the remastered Creedence Clearwater Revival box set, which is terrific. The remastering is good, though I have some quibbles with it — but if you’re not a sound engineer you probably won’t have any complaints.

Still, listening to both the great original songs and the terrific covers (“Heard it Through the Grapevine” is great, “Good Golly Miss Molly” is the definitive version, and of course there’s “Ooby Dooby,” written by my University of Tennessee colleague Dick Penner) reminds me of why Alterman is right about Creedence but wrong about Fogerty. Alterman said a while back that Creedence’s music was magic but that only Fogerty really counted. But if you listen to the albums you’ll realize that Alterman’s wrong about Fogerty.

True, John Fogerty was the genius of the band. The other members — Doug “Cosmo” Clifford, Stu Cook, and Fogerty’s brother Tom — were just superbly talented musicians. But the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Listen to the way the rhythm guitar (Tom Fogerty), bass (Stu Cook) and drums (Doug Clifford) work together on “Walk on the Water,” for example, and you’ll realize why Creedence Clearwater was better than any of the bands Fogerty has put together since (even his occasional appearances backed by the Grateful Dead). These guys had played together for years, and they were all great — not just individually, but even moreso as a group. You don’t get that from session musicians, however talented.

That’s the difference between the all-star team and a real team, too. Let those artists who are thinking of splitting up their bands and going solo beware.