For the Sake of the Song: Creedence Clearwater Revival “Lodi”

Getting a namecheck in a song is one way for a town to bring in tourists. Winslow, Arizona will forever be deemed a place to take it easy but for one town in northern California, a song reference provided something of a mixed blessing. Lodi is on Route 99 between Stockton and Sacramento and in 1969 it became the inspiration for a song about failure. A young John Fogerty was leading Creedence Clearwater Revival to international fame when he heard the town’s name and thought it sounded just the kind of place he might end up in if the band’s success proved short-lived. The very sound of the place – pronounced Load-eye – seemed unusual and Fogerty imagined himself scraping a living with barely enough to catch a Greyhound bus home.

In little more than three minutes, the song describes a young singer setting out on the road, “Seekin’ my fame and fortune/And lookin’ for a pot of gold”. But over the years “things got bad and things got worse” as the contacts are lost and the audience becomes a crowd of disinterested drunks. Wishing that he had a dollar for every song sung in such surroundings, he confronts reality with a refrain that concludes each of the four verses – “Oh Lord, I’m stuck in Lodi again”.

It’s often supposed that Creedence may have played a dismal show there, or broken down in their van, or that the song is autobiographical in some way, but Fogerty maintains that it is a piece of pure imagination. The apparent simplicity of the song disguises its genius for the story resonates with anyone who has ever wanted to stand in front of an audience.

Perhaps the mark of a great song is that it can be played in almost any style, from campfire to concert hall. The easy chord structure and spare arrangement make it suitable for a solo act but over the years it’s been covered by artists as wide-ranging as Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam on the one hand and Ronnie Hawkins and Bo Diddley on the other. Blues and bluegrass versions work well, from Freddie King to Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers and a year after its release it was given the full orchestral treatment by Tom Jones on American TV. The Welshman belts it out with the same powerful delivery that Fogerty employs in a song like ‘Fortunate Son’ and there’s a similarity in their voices but the presence of a full string and brass section makes it harder to believe Sir Tom is playing alone in a dive-bar. Unlike Tina Turner’s big-band treatment of ‘Proud Mary’, it’s a song that is more suited to a plaintive vocal such as the versions by Shawn Colvin and the American blues singer Janiva Magness. These cut to the quick.

In 2013, Fogerty himself released a new version of ‘Lodi’, accompanied by his sons Shane and Tyler, who also play in his touring band. It’s a freewheeling, thumping blues in the manner of Canned Heat’s version of ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’. It works well.

Fifty-five years after he wrote ‘Lodi’, Fogerty continues to tour with his enduring songs and at his 2023 UK shows, a bottle of champagne was brought onstage in order for him to toast the reacquisition of their copyright. In amongst the string of well-known hits was ‘Lodi’. Originally released as the ‘B’ side of ‘Bad Moon Rising’, it’s up there with the best of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Thankfully things didn’t end badly for John Fogerty, nor indeed did the townspeople of Lodi suffer, for the phrase “Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again” is always the first thing they hear when a tourist drops by to check out this thriving town in the Californian wine country.

About Chas Lacey 23 Articles
My musical journey has taken me from Big Pink to southern California. Life in the fast lane now has a sensible 20mph limit which leaves more time for listening to new music and catching live shows.
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