John Fogerty – Born on the Bayou (in California)
Like a lot of people, I once assumed that John Fogerty really was “born on the bayou” somewhere in the Deep South. After all, that’s what he sang, and it also explained his gritty vocals. But no, the Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman is a northern California boy — with the streets of San Francisco “out my back door” — to lift another of his song titles.
Fogerty hails from El Cerrito, a pleasant city of about 25,000 people on the East Bay above Berkeley. It was there that he and his four brothers were raised, and where Creedence was formed. He lived in the area until the age of 40. “I am proudly from El Cerrito,” he writes in his memoir Fortunate Son. (El Cerrito should not be confused with either Cerritos or another El Cerrito, which are both in southern California. I doubt there are any Fogerty sites there.)
I have been fortunate to interview Fogerty a few times (including here) and to see seven of his shows. The only task left was to visit his boyhood homes as well as his alma mater El Cerrito High School, which has a respectable display honoring famous alumni. The lineup includes Maria Remenyi, a former Miss USA in 1966. Anyone can walk in and take a look. Well, I did. If you are considering staying in the area for that extra Fogerty experience, I found a nice Airbnb in neighboring Albany, which also has strong Fogerty connections.
It wasn’t difficult to find the Fogerty homes. He details them in Fortunate Son. Thanks, John.
The first house we lived in was right across the street from El Cerrito High School, at 7251 Eureka Avenue. That house stayed cool in the summer. I have good memories from there. But we moved about 1951, and I turned six in the new house, at 226 Ramona Avenue. I remember that time being less happy. My parents split up in that house.
There are other Fogerty sites in the area:
School of the Madeline, 225 Milvia St, Berkeley – Fogerty attended first grade here and was miserable.
Harding Grammar, 7230 Fairmount Ave, El Cerrito (now known as Harding Elementary School) – Fogerty studied here from second to sixth grade. It was two blocks from his home.
Portola Junior High, 1021 Navellier Street, El Cerrito (former site) – Fogerty was here for seventh and eighth grade. It was here that he met future CCR bandmates Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. In his book, he recalls that the threesome’s first gig, when they were known as the Blue Velvets, took place at a Portola sock hop at the end of 1959. The building was torn down in 2012, and the school relocated to 7125 Donal Street where it is now known as Fred Koremetsu Middle School.
St. Mary’s High School, 1294 Albina Avenue, Berkeley – Fogerty attended ninth grade and half of tenth. It was a boys’ school at the time, and the priests were a little too frisky for his liking.
Contra Costa College, 2600 Mission Bell Drive, San Pablo – Fogerty was a student here when JFK was assassinated in 1963.
Albany Theatre, 1115 Solano Avenue, El Cerrito (now known as the Albany Twin and previously as the Albany 1-2) – Fogerty watched movies here as a child when it was a single-screen venue. It was converted to two screens by the time he took his wife and children to see Pinocchio in 1984.
San Pablo Avenue – The main drag in El Cerrito, where his MG sports car died a week after he bought it.
El Cerrito Plaza – Fogerty would occasionally hit the mall carpark and write material for his Centerfield album
Fogertys’ apartment, Kains Avenue, Albany (exact address unknown – anyone?) – Fogerty and his young family lived in a tiny apartment on this street. It was a new building at the time. Proud Mary, his songwriting breakthrough, was crafted in the apartment’s plain, beige main room.
Jimmy Luttrell’s music store, Albany (address unknown) – Where Fogerty bought his beloved black Les Paul Custom — as memorably heard on the intro to Midnight Special — for about $500 in 1969. He relates in Fortunate Son that he retuned it down to D — “clean with just a little bit of grit in it . . . If I have done anything unique in rock and roll at all, that sound is it.”
Office/studio, 842 Key Route Boulevard, Albany – Fogerty converted a tiny garage on this property into his musical workshop. He toiled on the Centerfield album here, and composed Old Man Down the Road. It is now a German-language kindergarten called Kinderstube:
And here’s a bonus, the bus station in Lodi, a city named after the Creedence song. Or is it the other way around? (Don’t confuse this Lodi with Lodi, N.J.) The grizzled musician in the song isn’t thrilled to be trapped in Lodi, but it’s a pleasant agricultural city about 75 miles east of El Cerrito, with a thriving winery scene. Definitely recommended. You could pair it — to use a wine term — with Folsom (if you’re in a Johnny Cash frame of mind), about 45 miles further north. California’s kind of a dump right now, so it’s a relief to stumble upon these little oases of relative cleanliness and civility.
NOTE: If you liked this report, try my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles, available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2020 by Dean Goodman.