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John Fogerty – The Blue Ridge Rangers (1973), self-titled (1975) LP reissues (BMG)

17 January 2024
Long before Centerfield, John Fogerty began his solo career with 1973’s The Blue Ridge Rangers and 1975’s John Fogerty. After dominating the charts with a stellar run of six albums, Creedence Clearwater Revival fizzled and folded following 1972’s Mardi Gras. In response to turmoil within CCR, Fogerty had only written three songs for that album. The results were calamitous.

One year later, CCR had disbanded and Fogerty released The Blue Ridge Rangers. Fogerty used the album as an opportunity to shake of the dust of his legacy with CCR. The album was initially credited to the band and consisted entirely of roots and country covers. Like eventual landslide success Centerfield, Fogerty sang and played all instruments himself. Despite the anonymous presentation, Fogerty’s jaunty version of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” made the Top 20 and a country two-step interpretation of The Jewels’ doo-wop single “Hearts of Stone” (a 1954 hit for The Charms) made the Top 40.

The fare includes Gospel tracks “Workin’ on a Building” and the harmony-laden “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” as well as country heartbreakers like Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again,” outlaw country predecessor George Jones’ “She Thinks I Still Care,” and Mel Tillis’ “I Ain’t Never.” Bobby Edwards’ 1961 Hot Country single “You’re the Reason” features Fogerty’s weeping pedal steel.

The Gospel/R&B blend of non-single track “Somewhere Listening (For My Name)” wasn’t that far afield from Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock,” which would become a #2 smash when released just a few months later.

The album opens with the bluegrass jangle of “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues,” including Fogerty’s lively banjo and fiddle licks. “Workin’ on a Building” recalls Fogerty’s penchant for reinventing traditional music as CCR did with Lead Belly’s “Cotton Fields.” Songs like Jimmie Rodgers’ “California Blues (Blue Yodel #4) were rendered with affection and skill (including the versatile Fogerty’s one-man Dixieland horn combo), but the album’s down-home musical accent was never going to win CCR fans pining for rockers like “Fortunate Son.” The album was a commercial disappointment.

Two years later, Fogerty took another crack with his self-titled release. Among a few choice covers, the album featured seven new Fogerty compositions. He scored a #27 single with the rollicking “Rockin’ All Over the World.” The song would become a bigger hit for British rockers Status Quo, landing at #3 on the UK charts. Sam Theard’s “You Rascal You” is a cheeky New Orleans stroll accompanied by Fogerty’s saxophone. “I’ll be glad when you dead, you rascal you,” sings Fogerty to his nemesis. “The Wall” recalls the chooglin’ doomsday energy of CCR favorites like “Run Through the Jungle.” The horn-fueled “Travelin’ High” is a sonic homage to Stax titans including Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and Booker T. & the MG’s. The covers including a swinging arrangement of Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops.” Fogerty’s throaty vocal bristles alongside rambling piano throughout a rocked-up version Huey “Piano” Smith’s “Sea Cruise.” The chugging and optimistic escapism of “Almost Saturday Night” features sharp guitar leads. The song became a staple British roots-rocker Dave Edmunds. The melodic and uplifting “Dream/Song” offers heartwarming encouragement to chase dreams and nurture them into reality.

Despite reclaiming his famous name and likeness, and returning to rock and roll territory, the John Fogerty album performed worse than its predecessor in North America.

Further stung by his label’s rejection of the never-released 1976 album Hoodoo, Fogerty took an extended retreat from music. Eventually, he refined his vision and cemented his legacy as a solo act by reemerging in a new generation with 1985 #1 album Centerfield. The album boasted hit singles including “The Old Man Down the Road,” “Rock and Roll Girls,” and the baseball-celebrating title track. It was a stunning comeback that sustains Fogerty’s career to this day. Despite misses with the record-buying public of the mid-70s, The Blue Ridge Rangers and John Fogerty can now be reevaluated on vinyl LP as best-kept secrets and the necessary steps between CCR and Centerfield.