The Story Behind The Song: How Creedence Clearwater Revival created ‘Green River’

Creedence Clearwater Revival are one of the most anachronistic outfits of all time, but this does not mean they’re dated. One of the finest bands of the 1960s, their psychedelia-tinged form out country-rock remains one of the most iconic sounds of all time.

Instantly recognisable, they delivered many classics over their career, and frontman John Fogerty’s voice is one the definitive sounds of the period, his voice was equally suited to the jungles of Vietnam as it was the packed beaches of California.

Arguably, the band were at their creative zenith in 1969. Although psychedelia had fallen out of favour, this didn’t matter, as the California band dug further into the roots rock that they had always had a penchant for, joining the likes of Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and The Band in ushering in this new rock and roll zeitgeist.

When we say anachronistic, we speak specifically about this particular Creedence Clearwater Revival period. Their style of roots music drew heavily on the country and gospel of the past, and not ’50s rock and roll as many of their contemporaries were doing. They managed to augment the traditional sounds of America, repurpose them, and hit upon a creative goldmine.

One of the best tracks from this period is ‘Green River’. Just over two and a half minutes of swaggering swamp rock, it’s always funny to think that the band were from the Bay Area of California, and not the dense Bayous of the south. ‘Green River’, and many of the other tracks from this period sound as if they should be booming through a crackling transistor radio perched outside a shack in Louisiana.

Released as a single in July 1969, the track was released just a month before their classic album of the same name hit stores. It peaked at number two on the charts, kept off the top spot by the megahit ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by the fictional band, The Archies, of Riverdale fame.

In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, John Fogerty explained how ‘Green River’ originated. He revealed that the song wasn’t written with the south in mind at all. The inspiration was drawn from much closer to home.

Fogerty said: “What really happened is that I used a setting like New Orleans, but I would actually be talking about thing from my own life. Certainly a song like ‘Green River’ – which you may think would fit seamlessly into the Bayou vibe, but it’s actually about the Green River, as I named it – it was actually called Putah Creek by Winters, California.”

He continued: “It wasn’t called Green River, but in my mind, I always sort of called it Green River. All those little anecdotes are part of my childhood, those are things that happened to me actually, I just wrote about them and the audience shifted at the time and place.”

Elucidating on the origins of ‘Green River’, in a 1993 interview with the same publication, Fogerty counted that the “actual specific reference, ‘Green River,’ I got from a soda pop-syrup label… My flavour was called Green River.”

A legendary track, and not inspired by the American south at all, it’s a testament to John Fogerty‘s songwriting skill. He could appropriate the sounds of a specific area and mould them in his own image, helping him to bring back the heady memories of his childhood in California.


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