John Fogerty's Woodstock Memories

Aug 11 2019 | 03:41 PM

By Jon Friedman

John Fogerty, the leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival in the 1960s and 1970s, and a successful solo musician, vividly remembers Woodstock.

Fifty years after the historic festival in upstate New York, Fogerty, now 74, grinned as he compared the scene of an estimated 500,000 people – “asleep, muddy and naked ” – to “Dante’s Inferno.” A man’s journey through hell.

Fogerty spoke poignantly and humorously at 92Y last week. Accompanied by his son Shane on a second guitar, Fogerty also tore through three of Creedence’s beloved hits – “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” “Fortunate Son,” and “Proud Mary” – and sounded terrific. Fogerty is playing Radio City Music Hall on Aug. 15.

Creedence had the dubious timing to follow The Grateful Dead at Woodstock. The Dead, infamous for their LSD-soaked shows, played a slow set and put the already exhausted audience right to sleep, Fogerty recalled with a smile.

“The Dead are still there,” he joked.

An Inspired Performance

By the time Creedence hit the stage, a little after midnight on that Sunday morning, they had the challenge of reviving the throng.

Fogerty noted that one young man in the distance inspired him by calling out: “We’re with you, John!” Fogerty promptly decided to dedicate Creedence’s typically high-voltage show to his new No. 1 fan. Creedence was followed that morning by Janis Joplin and a remarkable performance by Sly and the Family Stone, which further buried Fogerty’s band.

Creedence warmed up the crowd for Janis, he laughed.

The memory of Woodstock, including a now-famous summer thunderstorm, stayed with Fogerty and inspired him to write "Who'll Stop the Rain."

In the five decades that have passed since, it’s easy to forget exactly how popular Creedence was. Perhaps some people best know them as The Dude’s favorite band in “The Big Lebowski.”

But with the exception of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, perhaps no other band from 1967-70 had such a succession of hits and such a conspicuous presence on AM (and FM) radio.

A Great Live Band

Creedence was much in demand by the time of Woodstock. The Friday night before they played the festival they appeared on the variety program, The Andy Williams Show in Los Angeles. The night after, they were back on the road, playing a scheduled gig in Camden, N.J.

Sadly, the band dissolved in the early 1970s, barely five years after “Susie Q” introduced the world to their sound. Even though Creedence solidly represented their native Bay Area, many fans had become convinced that Fogerty was a native of the bayou country that he sang about so lovingly.

On stage at 92Y, Fogerty was all smiles. When Rolling Stone interviewer David Fricke discussed the rain that threatened to ruin the famous good vibes at the festival, Fogerty quipped: “Half-a-million people and nobody brought an umbrella!”

At the festival, Fogerty recalled feeling momentarily distressed to find out that budding capitalists on the scene were selling water for give dollars a pop. “You’re selling WATER? It should be free, man.”

He smiled at the ramshackle nature of the Woodstock festival, where tens of thousands more people than expected showed up, food ran out quickly, the heavy rain stopped the show and the bands often had to fill the time. Folk singer Richie Havens finished his set but returned to the stage when the promoters begged him to keep on going. He then improvised “Freedom,” a festival highlight.

Fogerty and Fricke were joined on stage at 92Y by Andy Zax, who produced “Woodstock—Back to the Garden: The Definitive 50thAnniversary Archive,” a 36-hour compilation of the entire festival. Creedence’s performance was not featured on either the original 1970 soundtrack release or the concert movie.

Now, the world can hear how great this band was in concert.