Post-Revival Part 2: Tom Fogerty’s Adventures in Music 1975-1988
“It would be hard to follow the high quality work that Tom Fogerty put into Creedence Clearwater Revival but Fogerty’s new band, Ruby, deserves more than a casual listen. The combined talents of this quartet are potently showcased in their ability to play fast and funky or slow and silky with equal aplomb and careful control.” From Cashbox magazine’s review of the album Ruby, April 9, 1977.
After four years of releasing solo records for Fantasy Records, Tom Fogerty saw his recording contract with the company terminated at the end of 1974. His initial goal was to land a new solo record deal with a major label, but by the end of 1975 the opposite had happened: Tom formed an entirely new, collaborative group where lead singing and songwriting was shared throughout the band, and he formed his own independent record label called Ginseng Music to release their music, at least initially. The new band included a strong lead guitarist by the name of Randy Oda (still active in music today, and easily found on his website), plus bassist Anthony Davis and drummer Bobby Cochran. An article in the November 8, 1975 issue of Billboard announced the release of the band’s first single called “Judy/Lee,” a new original by Tom, but it also noted that distribution for the single had only been set up for the northern California region. “I realize I need a major for distribution,” Tom said in the article, “but making the legal and business arrangements puts me through so many changes I’d rather just go out and play. The plan is just to play as much as we can and then maybe make an LP by the end of the year.” So while the single was destined to make little impact with such limited distribution, it foreshadowed the direction Tom’s music was heading next. So, let’s hear the song that most weren’t able to back in 1975:
Ruby "Judy/Lee" (1975 single)
While a new LP would have to wait a while longer, Tom’s wish to “go out and play” did in fact happen, with a series of live dates over the following year. Only one film clip of the band live appears to exist, an excerpt of them performing “Mustang Sally” at The Starwood in Los Angeles in 1976. The audio and video quality is rough, especially at the beginning, but as this is the only footage available, it’s worthy of inclusion here for historical purposes, plus Tom is clearly enjoying fronting a hot band:
Tom w/Ruby live in 1976
Ruby’s self-titled debut album was released in 1977, by which time Tom had clearly re-thought the idea of releasing records himself and partnered with a small California-based label named PBR International, owned by Patrick Boyle. But this didn’t solve the distribution problem, as according to the liner notes in the CD release of “The Very Best of Tom Fogerty” (and more on that release later), “poor distribution killed the project,” and that Ruby’s second album, 1978’s Rock & Roll Madness faired even worse. Indeed, though both Billboard and Cashbox at least ran positive reviews of the first album and its single, “Life is but a Dream,” they took no notice of the second album, and neither one charted anywhere. But as always, there is definite value in the music itself, and none better than in this rocking cut off the second album, “Run With Your Love.”
Ruby "Run With Your Love" 1978
Also, many years later an instrumental track from the first album became quite well known in England, and in the most unlikely way possible: it was selected to run as background music during program breaks on BBC TV for many years, sometimes running in its entirety behind station logos. As a result, many British people know the music, though probably have no idea of its classic-rock origins. The song, inexplicably named “B.A.R.T,” is a great track and deserves the recognition it gets, regardless of how!
Ruby "B.A.R.T." 1977
But with the second album facing a total lack of success, Ruby disbanded in 1978. Worse still for Tom, royalties from CCR albums had abruptly stopped a few years earlier due to a lawsuit between Fantasy and an offshore savings and loan bank, which contributed to his marriage breaking up around this time as well.
But soon, a number of positive things started happening to Tom: 1) he met his second wife, Tricia; 2) CCR actually played at his wedding reception, and 3) Fantasy resigned Tom as a solo artist. Any hopes for CCR to reform as a functioning group were dashed by John Fogerty (himself in the middle of a nine-year self-imposed exile from releasing any music), but at least Tom was back in the game, and a new solo album soon followed: 1981’s Deal It Out.
Billboard took note of its release in the November 28, 1981 issue, stating “The current revival of interest in Creedence Clearwater Revival may mean this very worthy album will receive a little extra attention. If so, listeners will discover that Fogerty still knows how to deliver songs, some of which he wrote or co-wrote.”
Pairing Tom up with the production team of Mark Springer and David Hayes gave the album a different sound from anything he'd released previously, sometimes venturing towards country-rock territory (maybe not so surprising, as that very year Fantasy released a CCR compilation called Creedence Country). This was especially evident in the album’s single, a very appealing up-tempo number co-written by Tom and CCR drummer Doug Clifford called “Champagne Love.”
Tom Fogerty "Champagne Love" 1981
Listening to this song, one could imagine it fitting in on the radio nicely with other country-rock crossover hits of the day (remember Eddie Rabbitt’s “I Love a Rainy Night”?). Another song of note was the single’s flip-side, “The Secret,” a guitar rocker that seeks to clear up a few points, namely: A) Tom doesn’t care if people refer to him as “a brother’s shadow,” B) He forgives the unnamed subject (John? Obviously.) and doesn’t hold a grudge, and C) What’s his secret? His lady’s coming over! Simple enough.
Tom Fogerty "The Secret" 1981
Deal It Out may have been another in a line of commercial disappointments, but it did result in a number of live concerts, audio of which can be found on YouTube today. But after this, Tom seemed to step away from music as a full-time concern, moving to Arizona with Tricia and getting involved in real estate work.
After a few years of nothing of note happening, in 1985 John Fogerty finally broke his dry spell and released his Centerfield LP, which promptly rose to #1. Fantasy responded by preparing a new Tom album for release, and since there was no new Tom album, they compiled an album's worth of tracks from the two Ruby records, titling it Precious Gems, and marketed it as if it was a new album. The band even reformed to shoot a music video at Fantasy Studios. There are unfortunately a few things counting against this project: 1) The “Life is but a Dream” video was extremely basic and featured some video effects that would have seemed dated even in 1985, so MTV would have been unlikely to play it, 2) Some unfortunate remixing of certain tracks, such as adding reverb to the drums on “Running Back To Me” in an effort to update the sound, and 3) Really hideous album cover art! But at least we can today view the music video in all its mid-80s glory:
Tom Fogerty + Ruby "Life is but a Dream" 1985 music video
Ruby didn’t end up continuing after this, but Tom and Randy Oda reformed as a duo to record a new album in 1988. But after recording half the album, Tom’s health began to fail. They managed to finish the album, but Fantasy sat on it for four years, not releasing it until 1992, two years after Tom’s death, making it a posthumous release when it never needed to be. The album, called Sidekicks, unfortunately suffers from some dated production techniques, such as a lack of real drums and overuse of digital keyboards. But again, there are some excellent moments, especially the song “Sometimes,” which takes a look back at the anti-war movement of the 1960s.
Tom Fogerty and Randy Oda's "Sometimes" from the album Sidekicks
For many years, Sidekicks was the only Tom music you could buy. Finally in 1999, a CD called “The Very Best of Tom Fogerty” was released by the Varèse Sarabande label. Containing 18 tracks, it’s a fair introduction to his music, though it actually leaves out the majority of the songs released as singles, skipping “Cast the First Stone,” “Forty Years,” “Mystic Isle Avalon,” “Money (Root the Root),” as well as anything from Ruby. His original albums have only been nominally available as hard-to-find import CDs, and never on iTunes, but his five main solo albums finally became available to stream on Spotify in 2017. Really, none of this is good enough; proper CD re-issues, full availability on iTunes, and a revamped best-of album are the minimum of what an artist of his stature deserves. In any case, his music, especially his Zephyr National and Myopia albums, should be required further listening for any fan of CCR who wants to hear what happened next. As Tom himself sang in one of his last songs “Sometimes”: “We better make sure that we never forget.” So, let’s not forget Tom.
Questions & Answers
The song BART was probably an acronym of the band members of Ruby's prenames?
It turns out that BART was a reference to the San Francisco Bay Area subway if Wikipedia is accurate!