Our host for Song Lyric Sunday, Jim Adams, has given us the prompts of Birth, Death and Life this week. Thanks Jim, because now I can use one of my favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival songs, Born on the Bayou. I love vintage CCR and have included the best version of the song along with a video of the band from Woodstock. John Fogerty can still rock that song to this day!
Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty, who wrote the song, had never actually been to a bayou when he wrote the song – he researched it in encyclopedias and imagined a bayou childhood for the song’s narrative. Fogerty, who is from the very unswamplike Berkeley, California, got his first look at a bayou courtesy of John Fred, the one-hit wonder who sang “Judy In Disguise (with Glasses).” Fred was from Louisiana, and when Creedence played a show in Baton Rouge in 1969, he met Fogerty at a rehearsal and offered to take him to a real bayou. They drove 15 minutes to Bayou Forche, where they ate some crabs and crayfish, giving Fogerty the idea for this song.
In Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitar Songs” issue, Fogerty explained that the song originated when Creedence Clearwater Revival were booked at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom in 1968. Said Fogerty: “We were the #7 act on the bill, bottom of the totem pole. And as the first guys to go on, we were the last to soundcheck before they opened the doors. It was like, ‘Here’s the drums, boom, boom; here’s the guitar, clank, clank.’ I looked over at the guys and said, ‘Hey, follow this!’ Basically, it was the riff and the attitude of ‘Born on the Bayou,’ without the words.”
Drummer Doug Clifford remembers it happening in the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. >>
Fogerty says the song was inspired by gospel music and popular movies. He explained in Bad Moon Rising: The Unofficial History of Creedence Clearwater Revivial, “‘Born on the Bayou’ was… about a mythical childhood and a heat-filled time, the Fourth of July. I put it in the swamp where, of course, I had never lived. I was trying to be a pure writer, no guitar in hand, visualizing and looking at the bare walls of my apartment. ‘Chasing down a hoodoo.’ Hoodoo is a magical, mystical, spiritual, non-defined apparition, like a ghost or a shadow, not necessarily evil, but certainly otherworldly.”
Hoodoo was the name of a 1976 solo album by Fogerty that he never released. By his own account, it was terrible. A couple of singles leaked out, though. Unfortunately for Fogerty, at least one (“You’ve got the Magic”) can be found on Youtube.
Fogerty considers this his favorite CCR song. He performed it on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in November 2005. >>
This was the first song Creedence played in their set at Woodstock in 1969. They were a big part of the festival, performing 11 songs on the second day. The band first hit the stage at 3:30 am when the majority of the Woodstock crowd was zonked out. Fogerty recalled:
“We were ready to rock out and we waited and waited and finally it was our turn … there were a half million people asleep. These people were out. It was sort of like a painting of a Dante scene, just bodies from hell, all intertwined and asleep, covered with mud.
And this is the moment I will never forget as long as I live: A quarter mile away in the darkness, on the other edge of this bowl, there was some guy flicking his Bic [lighter], and in the night I hear, ‘Don’t worry about it, John. We’re with you.’ I played the rest of the show for that guy.”
The Foo Fighters covered this song at “Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast” following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Doug Clifford said “Born on the Bayou” is his favorite CCR song, “bar none.”
“Born on the Bayou,” “Proud Mary,” and “Choolgin'” were all connected in John Fogerty’s mind. In Bad Moon Rising, he said, “I was writing these at night, and I remember that Bobby Kennedy got killed during this time. I saw that late at night. They kept showing it over and over. ‘Bayou’ and ‘Proud Mary’ and ‘Chooglin” were all kind of cooking at that time. I’d say that was when the whole swamp bayou myth was born—right there in a little apartment in El Cerrito. It was late at night and I was probably delirious from lack of sleep. I remember that I thought it would be cool if these songs cross-referenced each other. Once I was doing that, I realized that I was kind of working on a mythical place.”
This is referenced in Stephen King’s 1978 short story collection, Night Shift. It plays on the truck stop jukebox in the story “Trucks.”
Now, when I just was a little boy Standin' to my Daddy's knee My poppa said "Son, don't let the man get you And do what he done to me I can remember the fourth of July Runnin' through the backwood bare And I can still hear my old hound dog barkin' Chasin' down a hoodoo there Chasin' down a hoodoo there Born on the Bayou Born on the Bayou Born on the Bayou Wish I was back on the Bayou, Rollin' with some Cajun Queen. Wishin' I where a fast freight train Just a chooglin' on down to New Orleans Born on the Bayou Born on the Bayou Born on the Bayou I can remember the fourth of July, Runnin' through the back wood bare. And I can still hear my old hound dog barkin' Chasin' down a hoodoo there Chasin' down a hoodoo there Born on the Bayou Born on the Bayou Born on the Bayou Written by John Fogerty