Post-Revival: Tom Fogerty's Solo Years 1971-1975
“The road from Creedence Clearwater to solo stardom could be a long, hard climb, but not as long as Tom puts out material of this rocking, high caliber. Lead guitar and vocals are predominant and the blend is excellent. Call this one Top 20 with options to go even higher.” From Cashbox magazine, 12/1/1973
So ran a glowing review of “Mystic Isle Avalon,” the latest in a series of hit-worthy yet ultimately commercially unsuccessful solo records from a man who three years earlier was one-quarter of one of the biggest bands in the world. But it must be hard to be in a band with your younger brother, especially when he appears to be a bit more talented than you are. Such was the situation that Tom Fogerty found himself in at the dawn of the ‘70s.
Tom started out as a solo singer in the early '60s, drafting in John Fogerty, plus bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford as his back-up band as Tommy Fogerty and the Blue Velvets. But Tom saw his brother John gradually take over all songwriting, lead and backing vocals, lead guitar and producing, to the point that by the time the band was re-named Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1967, John’s iron-clad grip on the band’s music was set in stone. While the steady stream of hit albums and singles over the next few years were certainly testament to the commercial wisdom of this, Tom’s frustrations were building… as yours might have been too, had you been required to strum an E7 chord twice a measure for 10 minutes straight each night on tour playing “Keep on Chooglin’”. In early 1971, Tom quit the band, determined to find his own voice, with CCR’s label Fantasy Records retaining him as a solo artist.
Within a few months, his voice would be heard on his debut solo single, “Goodbye Media Man.” Running six minutes and split over both sides of a 45, it was certainly an interesting way of starting a solo career; lyrically bemoaning the state of journalism without offering any real solutions, and musically featuring frenetic drumming, a terrific Hammond organ part by Merl Saunders, plus Tom’s minimalist lead guitar playing, and no bass. Tom’s voice on the song had a good deal of power and clarity to it, showing himself to be a perfectly decent lead singer, and while not being as distinctive as John’s voice, also not featuring John’s occasionally grating buzz-saw type-aspect to it (see “Pagan Baby” from CCR’s very average Pendulum album for one example). Amazingly, Fantasy had the foresight to film the recording sessions as part of a 10-minute promotional film, and while one might well ask what the purpose of music videos was in the pre-MTV days, the answer is found in another blurb from Cashbox magazine, dated 10/31/71:
“’Goodbye Media Man,’ a ten-minute film detailing the solo career of Tom Fogerty since he left Creedence last spring has, according to Fantasy, been ordered by TV outlets in over 50 cities. It will also form a “significant” portion of the Group W television program “Electric Impressions” being shown in Pittsburgh and Boston (Oct. 26) and in San Francisco, Baltimore and Philadelphia (30).”
Tom's "Goodbye Media Man" video
So, with an innovative music video, an appearance on American Bandstand, and positive notices in the press, “Goodbye Media Man” was released in the summer of ’71. It narrowly missed Billboard’s Top 100 singles chart, “bubbling under” at #103, but did make its way onto Cashbox’s Top 100 chart at #93. It was also a top 20 hit in, of all places, Argentina!
Tom’s debut album wouldn’t appear until May the following year, containing ten songs but not “Media Man.” Fantasy appeared to get behind it, placing full-page ads in both Billboard and Cashbox, like this one:
Reviews in both magazines were positive, with Billboard calling it “An excellent initial offering.” It made its debut on Billboard’s Top 200 album charts in the June 3rd issue at #192. (Meanwhile, the rest of CCR was at #23 that week with their much maligned but actually pretty good Mardi Gras album.) Over the next few weeks, it slowly climbed up to #180, and it was then that Fantasy issued a double A-side single from the album, consisting of the two-minute “Cast The First Stone” (a very appealing but somewhat slight song featuring prominent piano, bongos and shakers, and a whistling solo!) and the blues-based four-minute-plus “Lady of Fatima,” complete with another full page ad in Billboard’s July 1st issue stating, “This record is for all of you who thought the summertime single was a thing of the past, and for all of you who were wondering what this summer’s single would be.”
Fantasy was clearly hoping that the double-A side approach would work for Tom the way it had worked so many times for CCR, but sadly a hit single was not in the cards; the single missed the charts entirely, and the album promptly fell off the Top 200 after six weeks. Listening to the LP now, it’s a pleasant singer-songwriter album, obviously reminiscent of CCR in some ways but with a different, more understated sound. It’s also under-produced, with flat-sounding drums, frequently average singing (Tom would subsequently improve on this) and a distinct lack of strong lead guitar lines (Tom played all the guitars and was more of a rhythm player by nature.). For every fully realized song, like the excellent “Lady of Fatima” and “Wondering,” there are others that seem cobbled together (“Everyman”), too short and underwritten (“The Me Song,” “Legend of Alcatraz”), or others that could have been great if they were developed more (“Here Stands the Clown”). In short, it doesn’t sound like a big hit album, and it wasn’t.
Within months, Tom was back in Fantasy’s studios with the same musicians, but with one big addition: Jerry Garcia. Tom had been performing with Jerry, Merl Saunders and others in the San Francisco area in the preceding months, so asking him to join the sessions was a smart and astute decision, providing the tunes with the distinctive lead guitar the first album lacked.
The result was Tom’s second album Excalibur, released only six months after his first. Overall, it’s a better record, with a better, fuller production, more assured singing and instrumentation, and of course Garcia’s guitar is a big plus overall. [Consumer note: Excalibur was recently reissued on vinyl by Craft Recordings.] Another double A-side single was released, consisting of the downbeat and dower “Faces, Places, People” on one side (frankly the least appealing song on the album, with Tom ruminating on “faces I have known” with no real point, though Garcia’s backward guitar soloing is nice). The other side, however, was a minor masterwork: “Forty Years,” a contemplation on a blue-collar working life, wrapped with Garcia’s masterful steel guitar work, and Merl Saunder’s tasteful piano. Tom’s rhythm guitar is mixed down to almost inaudible level, which actually gives the song a nice, open feel to it. Overall, a really great song, but dark in tone and topic, and the single failed to chart. Excalibur likewise missed the Top 200 chart, and so with 1972 drawing to a close, Tom’s solo career had seen very mixed commercial results. Also by this time, CCR had disbanded, never to reform again.
Tom Fogerty "Forty Years" from the album Excalibur (1972)
Then, someone had the inspired idea that, if what people want are CCR records, why not give them CCR records? So it was that that Tom’s studio sessions were totally revamped by bringing in the now-available Stu Cook and Doug Clifford on bass and drums, as well as CCR’s engineer Russ Gary to produce. Tom similarly dug deep to write the ideal CCR throwback song, and the resulting single, released late summer of ’73, was “Joyful Resurrection.” Cashbox gave it a glowing review in their 8/11/73 issue, calling it “a rocking track that reminds us of the days when the group had one hit after another. This one should make a huge impression and establish Fogerty as a soloist of great esteem.” Plus, Fantasy shelled out for another full-page ad in both Billboard and Cashbox, this one in color!
Tom Fogerty's 1973 single "Joyful Resurrection"
Everything seemed to be in place for Tom to land the solo hit he really needed. The result? Well, it did chart in Cashbox, peaking at #84 during a three-week chart run. But in Billboard it missed the chart entirely, not even appearing on the lowly “Bubbling Under” chart that “Goodbye Media Man” had been on. The results must have been disheartening, but Tom promptly upped the ante for his next single “Mystic Isle Avalon,” by featuring not only Doug and Stu, but also none other than John Fogerty on lead guitar! It wasn’t quite a joyful CCR reunion, as John recorded his part separately from the band, having been asked by Russ Gary to participate. Lyrically, the song is a bit loony, with Tom repeatedly shouting that he’s “going to Avalon” where there’s “golden magic light” and you can "see a leprechaun appear”… quite where this island is located isn’t exactly clear! But it certainly had the right sound, as noted by the Cashbox review at the start of this article. Fantasy again sprung for a full page ad, this time in black & white:
Listen to CCR sort-of reform on "Mystic Isle Avalon" (1973 single)
The results this time? No chart action at all, not even in Cashbox. Listening to this song and “Joyful Resurrection” today, they really do sound like early 70s hit singles, so why they had minimal impact is bewildering. Perhaps due to the public giving up on Tom after a less than impressive first album, or Fantasy, being mostly a jazz label anyway, losing their ability to properly promote a pop single, or even changes in public taste away from CCR’s general sound (John Fogerty wasn’t doing great numbers himself around this time either, with his “Comin’ Down the Road” single also missing the charts). Both songs were included on Tom’s third album Zephyr National, released spring of 1974, along with another double-A sided single “Money (Root the Root)” and “It’s Been a Good Day,” which failed to chart, as did the album. Zephyr National is very enjoyable, featuring great production, predictably excellent playing by Doug and Stu, and a highly listenable batch of tunes (though a bit short at barely 25 minutes).
By now, frustration was starting to creep into the lyrics, as heard on “What About Tomorrow” from Tom’s 4th album Myopia, released in late 1974: “Well I’m tired of the way thing’s been goin’/ and I’m searching my head for the path.” In this case, the path meant retaining the same team that made Zephyr National, including Doug and Stu (but no cameo from John this time), and doing his best. He even says so in the lyrics to another new song “Get Up”: “Do your best yet/ It’s all you can do.” Billboard’s review of the album seems to acknowledge the bewildering lack of success of Tom’s records while acknowledging the album’s merits:
“Tom Fogerty gets stronger with each solo effort, and with each album seems to get closer to that goodtime feeling that Creedence Clearwater Revival had when he was rhythm guitarist. Though he tends to sound a bit like brother John at times, Tom’s LP is still his own and the main similarity to Creedence here is his ability to turn out an LP full of concise cuts which all seem possible singles. If this one gets the right kind of promotional push and if radio takes the time to listen, there is no reason why Tom Fogerty should not have a major LP on his hands.”
Fantasy clearly was in no mood to give the record “the right kind of promotional push,” releasing no singles, posting no magazine ads, and in fact, even the album’s cover, consisting of a distinctive painting by the same artist who did The Doors’ Full Circle cover, doesn’t even list Tom’s name, or the title! All the same, within the album is a song that sounds like the most hook-laden, hit-worthy single Tom ever wrote, “Sweet Things To Come.” Fantasy got as far as pressing a promo-only single of it, but never actually released it into stores.
Listen to Tom's should-have-been-a-smash 1974 single "Sweet Things To Come"
And that was it for Tom and Fantasy Records, at least for the time being, as the label released him from his contract at the end of ’74. Tom turned his attention to getting signed by a major label. “We’re only talking to the bigger companies,” he said in the 2/22/1975 issue of Billboard. But would it work? Could Tom turn things around and score the big hit records that he couldn’t on Fantasy? Only time would tell…
-To be continued-
Read Part 2 of Tom's solo story here!
- Post-Revival Part 2: Tom Fogerty’s Adventures in Music 1975-1988
CCR guitarist Tom Fogerty's solo career continued after leaving Fantasy Records in the mid-'70s, facing a changing music scene, numerous trials and tribulations, and finally, his own mortality.