If we define (as I always do) “old-time” rock & roll as the period from the mid-1950’s to the “British Invasion” of the mid- 1960’s, then there is no doubt that the partnership of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller was most influential in terms of their proliferation of songs written and their contribution to the popularity of early rock and roll. After all, they wrote “Hound Dog” long before anyone heard of Elvis. They wrote the “Jailhouse Rock” and before that, “Kansas City” that was recorded by several artists. They wrote all of the Coasters’ hits like “Yakety-yak,” “Searchin’,” “Charlie Brown,” “Along Came Jones,” etc. They wrote “There Goes My Baby” for the Drifters as well as “Love Potion #9,” “Chapel of Love” and “Stuck in the Middle of You.” The list goes on and on. But, most of the songs written by Lieber and Stoller were more gimmicks than pieces of art in my opinion. I would call them great businessmen, not great musicians.
Consider the pioneers of rock like Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley, and Elvis; then realize almost all their songs were written by others; and none of these guys were great instrumentalists (even Jerry Lee’s piano skills are greatly exaggerated, considering I could play better boogie-woogie piano in my teens). Who composed rock songs that had meaningful poetry for lyrics, wrote songs with chord patterns that were an enhancement over 100-year-old blues, had a vocal style as good as the best black or white singers, invented simple but catchy (now classic), unique guitar riffs for each song, and can still enthrall an audience with a 2-3 hour non-stop concert? My only answer is, John Fogerty.
Including his days beginning with Credence Clearwater Revival through his current solo days, his first real big hit was a cover of Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q” that John didn’t write. But, the innovative drum beat and vocal style (both much different than Hawkins’) made the Fogerty/ Credence version a bigger hit than the original.
Fogerty was not a star during the era that I define as “old-time rock and roll.” His songs were written in the late 1960’s and thereafter. But, the music itself was far closer to the genre of the 1950’s than any decade since then. “Green River,” “Proud Mary,” and “Travelin’ Band” are examples. Then, there are all the songs that don’t belong to any rock decade but will be rock classics forever, like “Centerfield,” “ Bad Moon Rising’” “Lookin’ Out My Backdoor.” “Fortunate Son” and “Down on the Corner.” Every one of his songs has a unique beat, unique lead guitar (played by Fogerty) theme, and lyrics that have meaning. For example, when you listen to “Green River” can’t you just envision the cool water running by the log where catfish bite, or walking along a river road at night, or seeing barefoot girls dancing in the moonlight, or hearing the bullfrog, or seeing kids swinging over the river on a rope, or listening to the “advice” of railroad campers? Give Fogerty a lot of credit. He made listeners feel like they were in the Mississippi Delta with his lyrics and technique, even though Fogerty was from California. His poetry, vocal style, guitar licks, and drum-beats were innovative; that’s why he’s an all-time great.
Every time I hear him in concert, he comes on stage and says something like, “ Thanks for being here….I’m not much for making speeches….I’m about rock and roll….so, let’s get with it!” Then, even in his sixties, he’ll rock for 2 or 3 hours straight. Don’t miss him!