A Half Century of Chooglin’

A look back at Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bayou Country

1969 CCR wall poster

In just five years as a recording act (1968-1972), Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) helped define West Coast roots-rock while leaving behind indispensable gems for classic rock DJs and Vietnam War documentarians.

Its legend began with one of the greatest year-and-a-half runs by any band, from the May 1968 release of its self-titled debut album to the November 1969 arrival of Willie and the Poor Boys. The fruits of those fertile months include four stellar albums, five hit singles, and an appearance at Woodstock.

Although a lyrical fascination with the Mississippi River and the Deep South persisted throughout the band’s stint, no album from the late ‘60s better demonstrates why CCR songs spoke to folk revivalists, Southern rockers and various other long-haired rejects than its sophomore effort, Bayou Country, released 50 years ago this month.

The first of three CCR albums that came out in 1969, Bayou County hit shelves in early January. Its beating heart existed within the chambers of its lone two-sided single: “Proud Mary” and “Born on the Bayou.” The former came from the pen of lead singer and guitarist John Fogerty, not Ike and Tina Turner. It remains CCR’s farthest-reaching contribution to pop culture. In addition, it’s one of the band’s five number two hits. No other act in history earned as many number two hits in the US without also scoring a chart-topping single—a sign of consistency more so than a dubious feat.

Creedence Clearwater Revival Bayou Country, Fantasy 1969

Its flipside’s bluesy vibes and regional imagery set the tone for the rock album equivalent of a trip down the river with Huck Finn.  The musical journey marvels at the South’s less charming side (“Bootleg”) and celebrates its legacy of great blues pickers (“Graveyard Train”). There’s also a flashback to one of the band’s rock forerunners via a raucous cover of Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly.”

The other two songs on the seven-track collection rank among the band’s strongest deep cuts. “Penthouse Pauper” exists in the same blues-rock realm as the music of Janis Joplin. For better or worse, a current band with a roots-bound song this potent would be tasked with “saving” country music, not maintaining its own rock star status.

Back cover of Bayou

Live show closer “Keep on Chooglin’’” ends the album. Everything that makes Bayou Country great, from the sing-along fun of its most famous track to its explorations of swampy blues music, gets distilled to a seven-plus minute jam that’s all about letting loose and enjoying great songs: “You go to a ball and have a good time/ And that’s what I call chooglin’!”

As for its place in history, Bayou Country compares favorably to Nuthin’ Fancy, a 1975 Lynyrd Skynyrd album that groups “Saturday Night Special” with lesser-known odes to Jimmie Rodgers and Merle Haggard. Despite lacking multiple hits, both albums chronicled roots-crazed rockers as they unknowingly helped chart Americana’s roadmap.

 

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