John Fogerty’s creative effervescence
Willy And The Poorboys was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s fourth album and the third to appear in 1969, when it was released on November 2 of that year, not even three months had passed since the release of the fabulous Green River, but its leader, and the man who had taken complete control of the band, John Fogerty, was in full creative effervescence and had a crazy plan - never to leave the charts, now that he had managed to break into them.
The rest of the band was not so clear about an approach that was burning them out, with endless tours and concerts and short periods in the studio to record a new album. Fogerty didn't even lower the bar with the B-sides of the singles, for which he chose songs at the same level as the A-side. When asked why he was wasting potential hits Fogerty replied by making his ambition clear: "Idiot! look at the Beatles, look at Elvis". His sights couldn't have been higher but, incredibly, Fogerty seemed to be able to hold his own at an unthinkable productive rate.
Fogerty knew that the Creedence had become one of the leading bands of the moment: Green River had been released less than two weeks before their Woodstock performance, on August 3, and had climbed to the top of the album charts as they recorded Willy And The Poorboys on October 4 of that magical year. The album held that position for four weeks until it was displaced from the number one spot by the Beatles' Abbey Road. The competition was hot but the songs kept pouring out of Fogerty like an inexhaustible spring.
For this album he composed eight songs, and the fact that two were instrumentals, the two weakest on the album, is the only thing that tells us how little time the composer had to come up with new material. But one can only take one's hat off to John Fogerty and his, at the time, unlimited ability to write song after song. And the fact is that, leaving aside both instrumentals, the only songs here that can be considered filler, and the two Leadbelly covers, which are two marvels, you are left with six absolute wonders from his pen.
The album opened with the song that served as the presentation single, the triumphant and irresistible Down On The Corner, which has a certain soul and funk touch. Fogerty gives everything with his voice, demonstrating that, besides being a prolific composer, he was also a great singer. The song introduced us to the group that gave the album its title, Willy And The Poorboys, in what was to be a concept album, an idea that was discarded in the end, despite the fact that on the album cover they appear dressed to represent that idea.
It Came Out of the Sky is a tremendous song in which their love for the rock & roll of the 50's is evident, direct and to the point, with Fogerty making funny political jokes about Vice President Agnew and the, at that time, Governor of California, Ronald Reagan. Cotton Fields is the first of the Leadbelly covers, a marvel in which his role as one of the pillars of that return to the roots initiated by Dylan (an avowed fan of the group who would proclaim Proud Mary as the best song of the year) and The Band is proven. The first side closed with Feelin' Blue, which provides further evidence of the incredible cohesion of its four members, with a great Fogerty on lead guitar.
Side B opened with my favorite song by the band, Fortunate Son. This is Fogerty's cry of rage against the Vietnam War and the suspicious draft system from which the same kind of people always escaped: that is, the sons of senators or millionaires. His mythical riff is played on his second Les Paul Custom that had become his main guitar, although he still continued to use the Rickenbacker 325, as can be seen in his performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Don't Look Now (It Ain't You or Me) dishes it out again. If in Fortunate Son he criticized the children of the most privileged, now his target was his own kind, the hippies and rock stars, making it clear that they were not going to be the ones to do the dirty work that had to be done. Fogerty clearly positioned himself with the working class in a song in which, musically, he looked again to Sun Records and rockabilly. It is followed by another fascinating appropriation of another Leadbelly song, Midnight Special.
The close is on a par with the glorious Effigy, proof of the greatness of a band that has luxuries like this that were never released as singles. This is one of their darkest songs, with great work by Fogerty on lead guitar, sounding as intense and passionate in a song written in rage and fury against the Nixon administration.
It was November 2, 1969 and John Fogerty had delivered, since January, songs like Proud Mary, Born on the Bayou, Keep On Chooglin', Green River, Commotion, Wrote a Song for Everyone, Bad Moon Rising, Lodi, Down on the Corner, It Came Out of the Sky, Fortunate Son, Feelin' Blue and Effigy. Can you imagine one album where they were all together? Yes? Well, do you want to know something even more incredible? John Fogerty and the Creedence still had much more to give as their absolute masterpiece, Cosmo's Factory, appeared only eight months after this fantastic album...