John Fogerty, the music legend responsible for some of the greatest classic rock songs ever recorded, is backstage before a sound check, holding a bottle of coconut water that he says is “a vain attempt to stay hydrated in Las Vegas.” It’s the end of the first chapter of his Wynn Las Vegas residency. The show is Fortunate Son in Concert, drawing on Fogerty’s half-century-long career in American music. Still draped in flannel and denim, he’s now 71 years old but seems younger, ageless—just like the songs he’s written.
And what a collection of tunes he’s given the world. If you think about it, Fogerty has written the ultimate baseball song (“Centerfield”), the ultimate Vietnam War song (“Fortunate Son”), the ultimate swamp-rock song (“Born on the Bayou”), the ultimate walking-dead song (“Eye of the Zombie”), the ultimate soda-pop song (“Soda Pop”) and so on. The only subject matter Fogerty feels he hasn’t nailed down yet is, in his own words, “a song about love and family.”
“The first love song I wrote that meant something was ‘Joy of My Life’ for my wife Julie on [the 1997 album] Blue Moon Swamp,” he says. “It’s fairly simple: a conversation from our life together. I’m dearly in love with my beautiful wife and my family. When you get older, you feel things more deeply, which was an element in my songwriting I didn’t possess when I started out. I just [wanted] to write a grown-up song.”
“As a kid, especially one who wanted to be a musician, I thought of [Las Vegas] as a city where they put you out to pasture. I certainly didn’t think I was headed here. But a lot of things have changed. I’ve changed.” – John Fogerty
His current situation—surrounded by his spouse and grown sons backstage—is a long way from the sharp-edged, frenetic momentum of touring he outlined in his Creedence Clearwater Revival hit “Travelin’ Band,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard chart in 1970.
“You know, being in a successful rock band and getting on airplanes and buses and trains and even boats—for a kid of 22—was wonderful and fascinating, but also draining,” he says. “Things are still hectic, but I don’t have the nagging ache I used to feel when I was away from my family and I just wanted to get home.”
Fogerty’s son Shane plays guitar in his band, and his other son Tyler sometimes performs with him, too. Fogerty’s wife and brother are involved as agent and road manager, respectively. In years past, the CCR mastermind hated the separation of his private and professional lives. Now, everyone is involved and focused on the same goal. At the moment, that goal is dazzling audiences at Wynn.
“As a kid, especially one who wanted to be a musician, I thought of [Las Vegas] as a city where they put you out to pasture,” he admits. “I certainly didn’t think I was headed here. But a lot of things have changed. I’ve changed. And rock ’n’ roll in a Las Vegas hotel is now embraced. So my attitude is: ‘Hey, let’s give that a whirl. Let’s begin a new chapter. Let’s bring our best game.’”
It’s the band’s A-game, for sure, especially with the presence of Fogerty’s powerhouse drummer Kenny Aronoff (who used to play with John Mellencamp). It’s a full-throttle rock show that doesn’t skimp on passion or aggression. Indeed,despite the supernatural and horror-tinged aspects of his best songs (“Bad Moon Rising,” “Run Through the Jungle”), Fogerty’s music has always been and still is, at its core, family music, community music. The songs are passed down from one generation to the next, almost like Fogerty intended it.
“It’d be great if I could engineer something like that, but I can’t,” he says. “When I started writing, I drew from songwriters I loved—from Tin Pan Alley, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Leiber and Stoller, Bob Dylan. It wasn’t until I wrote a song in the Army—a song called ‘Porterville,’ about being born on the wrong side of the tracks and paying for the sins of the father—that I found a direction. That song had substance. It was about something, and I could flesh it out, fabricate it, invent it, give it color. That’s when it became exciting.”
It’s inevitable that Fogerty’s rhythm guitarist, his son Shane, joins the conversation. Asked to reveal his current favorite moment in the set, the younger Fogerty says it’s the jazzy B-flat sixth chord in “Someday Never Comes,” a song about life’s looming uncertainties. Which leads to another question: Will the sons be joining their father for some musical collaborations in the near future?
“Well, that’s the hope,” says the elder statesman. “My sons have their own band [Hearty Har], and I want to be respectful of that. They’re young, and I’m not, and they have their own vision. But the idea of collaborating and creating arrangements would be the best. Who knows what kind of gumbo will come out of it?”
John Fogerty: Fortunate Son in Concert
May 19, 20, 24, 27 and 28, 8 p.m., $60–$800, Encore Theater inside Wynn Las Vegas, wynnlasvegas.com