Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Blue Ridge Rangers

We'll do a little bit of unashamed cross-promoting today here in Forgotten Hits.

Without question, one of our highest regarded series was the profile we did on Creedence Clearwater Revival several years back. (It has since been posted on The Official Forgotten Hits Web Page here):
Click here: Forgotten Hits - Creedence Clearwater Revival

That series sprang from a number of questions we received after featuring Jambalaya, the classic Hank Williams country song, as done by John Fogerty, leader of CCR, under the guise of The Blue Ridge Rangers.

Fogerty was a one-man band on this album, first released back in 1972 (and virtually ignored ever since.)

Today, we'll not only feature this great version (a Top Ten Hit in its OWN right on The Cash Box Chart ... and Top Five here in Chicago on Super 'CFL!) ... but ALSO an excerpt from our CCR Series regarding the recording of this tune and The Blue Ridge Rangers album. (For more details on this revolutionary band, be sure to check out the COMPLETE Creedence Clearwater Revival Series at the link above.)


Creedence Clearwater Revival turned in their last album together as a band in 1972. Entitled "Mardi Gras" (and featuring, for the very first time, songs written and sung by all three members of the band), it was their first critically panned album ... and ultimately spelled the end of the group. (They've barely spoken to each other in the 37 years since. Leader John Fogerty even snubbed his former bandmates when the group was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, electing to perform instead with OTHER artists on stage that night like Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson of The Band. Stu Cook and Doug Clifford have been performing as Creedence Clearwater REVISITED for well over a decade now while Fogerty goes out under his own name, performing the songs he wrote and sang that put CCR on the map in the first place.)

At the time of its release, Rolling Stone Magazine called Mardi Gras "the worst album ever made by a major group." Reviewer Jon Landau wrote that "In the future, Mardi Gras may be known as Fogerty's revenge. After all the carping about his egotism, and after the published complaints from his co-workers about his hogging the show, he has done what I never thought he would: allowed his cohorts to expose themselves in public. Ceding six of the new album's ten selections to drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook may have been an invitation to artistic suicide for them, but it sure proves that John was right all along. The result is ... the worst album I have ever heard from a major rock band."

During the recording of the Mardi Gras album, John was already at work on his first solo release. Since he only contributed three new songs to the CCR LP (and, some say, refused to play on the songs contributed by Stu and Doug), John had free time on his hands and devoted that time to recording what would become The Blue Ridge Rangers album. By the time of that album's release in early 1973, CCR was pretty well represented on the record shelves: solo albums by John Fogerty, the second solo disk from his brother Tom and Doug Clifford's first solo LP were all now available. Only John's album sold well enough to make the charts ... The Blue Ridge Rangers peaked at #47 early that summer.

Released with virtually no reference to John Fogerty's involvement (other than the producer's credit on the back cover), it simply featured five silhouettes of Fogerty against a sunset on the front cover, each pictured playing a different instrument. It was, for all purposes, an anonymous release. The first single release, Blue Ridge Mountain Blues, failed to make the charts at all. The follow-up, a great re-working of the Hank Williams classic Jambalaya, made Cash Box Magazine's Top Ten. (It stopped at #16 in Billboard but was a #5 smash here in Chicago.) The next release, Hearts Of Stone, went to #33. Even John wasn't guaranteed chart success by virtue of his previous resume ... his next two releases Back In The Hills / You Don't Owe Me and Comin' Down The Road / Ricochet, both failed to chart. (Both were non-LP singles and are now quite collectible.) They would also be his last releases for Fantasy Records.

Because of the stipulations in the contract the band signed with Fantasy Records, they owed the label a specific number of new masters each year. When the band split up, the contract stated that all former members of CCR owed the label 24 tracks per year ... EACH!!! In addition, John still owed masters from the previous year's contract! In all, he was supposed to turn in 36 new tracks in 1973. If he didn't, the missing tracks would be added to NEXT year's commitment ... by 1974, John would owe Fantasy over 50 tracks!!! Between the pressure of having to come up with this much new material and the resentment he began to feel toward his label, John developed writer's block. (Along with a little case of "blue flu" too, I imagine.)

Fantasy Records had done very well by way of Creedence Clearwater Revival ...
without question, they were the label's cash cow. It is said that in 1969 and 1970 alone, Fantasy earned more money on CCR sales than in their previous 20 years in business combined! With that money, Saul Zaentz was able to build and upgrade two new buildings to house his label. He also bought several other small jazz labels, expanding the company's jazz portfolio ten-fold. By the early '70's, he began a foray into films and, in 1973, produced the year's biggest hit, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. John felt (perhaps rightfully so) that since it was HIS music that allowed Zaentz the ability to afford these new ventures, a new deal could be worked out regarding royalty rates and masters commitments. Zaentz wouldn't budge and soon Fogerty put the word out that he would be available to any label who could get him out of his Fantasy contract.

A bidding war of sorts began ... the primary players were Atlantic Records, Warner Brothers Records and music giant David Geffen, who owned Asylum Records. Geffen's solution was simply to BUY Fantasy!!! When all was said and done, they simply bought out Fogerty's contract but one of Fogerty's concessions was to forfeit all future royalties from his back catalog. (This move would go on to cost him MILLIONS over the next 25 years. With Stu's, Doug's and Tom's majority votes to allow Creedence music to be used in films and commercials ... not to mention the fact that this music has NEVER been off the radio for the past 40 years ... these three guys went on to make a FORTUNE off the music written by their leader. The resentment felt by John over this fact ... despite it being HIS concession ... has never gone away and sadly, those wounds have yet to heal.)

NOTE: Last year John Fogerty released a very highly regarded new album called (of all things) "Revival" ... the LP included a track called "Creedence Song" and was released on Fantasy Records!!! To quote the lyrics of yet another Fogerty tune, it truly was "Deja Vu All Over Again"!!!!!
THIS JUST IN!!!: It sounds like John Fogerty is ready to put the band back together again!!! Now before anybody out there contracts CCR-Fever, we're not talking about THAT band ... instead, Fogerty is preparing a new release by The Blue Ridge Rangers!!! A sequel of sorts to his 1973 release, Fogerty stated in a news release last month: "This seems like the right time for the Blue Ridge Rangers to come back. The last time around, it represented something of a clean slate for me and that country rock sound is still something I hold dear. We're really excited about revisiting the whole sensibility that Blue Ridge Rangers represent." John made no secret of his love for country music while performing with Creedence Clearwater Revival and on numerous occasions expressed his excitement as a kid growing up every time a brand new record was released on Sun Records. It was an important part of developing his own musical skills.
Only THIS time around, John has NO interest in trying to play all of the instruments himself again! Instead, he's surrounded himself with "an array of stellar outsider players" including Buddy Miller, Dennis Crouch, Jay Bellerose, Greg Leisz, Jason Mowery, Jodie Kennedy, Kenny Aronoff and Hunter Perrin. In fact, Fogerty is co-producing the album with T-Bone Burnett and Lenny Waronker and "John Fogerty: The Return Of The Blue Ridge Rangers" should be ready for release by mid-2009. Last time around, Fogerty didn't use ANY of his own compositions on his Blue Ridge Rangers LP, preferring instead to pay tribute and homage to some of the great country music he grew up loving as a child. Song titles are being kept under wraps on this new release until we get closer to the LP's official release date. Stay tuned to Forgotten Hits for more details as they become available.