John Fogerty visits Robert Johnson’s Grave – “Love In Vain”
John Fogerty’s got one of the most distinctive voices in Rock N’ Roll.
But after he left Creedence Clearwater revival, John Fogerty was sued for sounding too much like himself. So he quit singing Creedence songs out of principle. For him to change his mind, it took a pilgrimage to Robert Johnson’s grave.
[From Interview with John Fogerty]
You know, one tale leads you to another story, and you then find a guy—I’m, you know, do you know where Robert Johnson is buried? And this one fellow in this little rural post office says, well, you go up to this bend in the road and you find this such and such a church. You go back, there’s a big tree back there. And you go back there, the story is that he was buried under that tree.
So I, I got up there and actually there’d been kind of what we’re having now. There’d been a lot of rain in the South and it was flooded, so it was a swamp, basically, and I had to swamp my way back to that tree. But I was determined to touch that tree, okay.
Now you have to flash forward to another trip. I’d forgotten to have a good camera with me. So I went back to the same place, but now it’s 110 degrees, you know, and I take—anyway, I got some nice shots. And I’m standing there now, because I don’t have such a urgency to touch the tree anymore. And I’m thinking to myself, well wonder who owns those songs? You know, I’ve listened to a lot more music now. Wonder who owns Robert Johnson’s songs.
Then I go naw, probably some, you know, shady lawyer with a cigar in a tall building in New York City. I mean, you know, that’s what kind of the, and I went psst—I just kind of went psst, waved my hand across my face. Doesn’t matter. Those are Robert’s songs. I mean, I actually had this almost out-loud conversation out there in the heat.
And right at that exact moment in my mind, it was like a gong going off, a bomb exploding. And I, you know, it was like doing, John. You been fussing over your songs because some other guy owns them, and you’ve all this, you know, pain, whatever, over your songs. Don’t you realize what you just said? You own your songs. Everybody knows you are the owner of your songs.
I mean, it was one of—later, a guy told me what the word “epiphany” means, so I had one.
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John Fogerty is best known for his time as lead guitarist, vocalist, and primary songwriter for Creedence Clearwater Revival. Though they disbanded in 1972, Fogerty recorded solo throughout the seventies and early eighties, until his legal struggles with Fantasy records began.
In 1970, when he was still a member of CCR, John Fogerty wrote the song “Run Through the Jungle,” to which Fantasy Inc. eventually acquired the exclusive publishing rights. After the band split up, Fogerty continued to write and record music.
In 1985, Fogerty released the song “Old Man Down the Road” on Warner Brother Records. Fantasy filed a lawsuit (Fantasy, Inc. v. Fogerty) claiming copyright infringement; that Fogerty had plagiarized himself. Fantasy claimed that “Old Man Down the Road” was just “Run through the Jungle” with new words. Fogerty proved, however, that the two compositions were different, and a jury ruled in his favor.
Robert Johnson is a landmark blues singer, guitarist and songwriter, whose shadowy life and meteoric development has given rise to the legend that he sold his soul to the devil to play the blues. Rolling Stone magazine ranks him fifth in on the list of the top 100 guitar players of all time.
Robert Johnson saw little to no recognition during his lifetime. It was only in 1961, 23 years after his death from alleged poisoning, that he gained fame, with a reissue of his recordings. He is buried in a cemetery not far from Greenwood, Mississippi. It seems that the rights to his music are owned by Sony.