Released in 1969, “Born on the Bayou” is the first track of Creedence Clearwater Revival on their second album, Bayou Country, also released in the same year. It reached no. 2 on the Billboard charts. The song was the B-side of the band’s “Proud Mary.”
Meanwhile, American singer-songwriter John Fogerty wrote the song. He set the song in the South, despite neither having lived nor widely traveled there. He explains,
“‘Born on the Bayou’ was vaguely like ‘Porterville,’ 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. It was late as I was writing. I was trying to be a pure writer, no guitar in hand, visualizing and looking at the bare walls of my apartment. Tiny apartments have wonderful bare walls, especially when you can’t afford to put anything on them. ‘Chasing down a hoodoo.'”
“Born on the Bayou”: A Swamp Rock Music
The song is an example of “swamp rock“. Swamp rock is a genre most associated with John Fogerty, Little Feat/Lowell George, The Band, Canned Heat, J.J. Cale, The Doobie Brothers, and Tony Joe White. The guitar sound gives a strong Southern blues feel.
The performance of “Born on the Bayou” is regarded as one of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s finest. The song opened most of CCR’s concerts and was notably known as the band’s signature song.
The Creation of the Song
John Fogerty recalled the creation of the song during a quick soundcheck at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco about spring 1968.
“I plugged in to my amp and I started hearing an E7th chord with that swampy vibrato that I was making on my little Kustom amp. It just turned me on to be standing there – I was so excited that I was playing in front of a real audience in San Francisco; I was just charged; and suddenly, I was inspired. I turned to the band and said ‘just start playing E’, and I started screaming at the top of my range, just a melody and vowel sounds and consonants.”
“Then suddenly, right in the middle of having this burst of inspiration, it went silent. The stage manager had pulled the plug out of my amplifier. I looked at him and said, ‘Why’d you do that?’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry about that, you’re not going anywhere anyhow.’ — I looked at him and said, ‘Not going anywhere? You give me a year, pal, and I’ll show ya who’s not goin’ somewhere!'”
On the other hand, the band drummer, Doug Clifford, also explained that the song started out as a jam at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
“The guys had ordered new Kustom amps. — They had tremendous treble, tremendous mid-range, and it made the guitar really stand out. The guys were trying out their new amps and I didn’t have any toy. John’s out there working with feedback, sorting that out. — I just started out with that quarter-note beat that I played on Suzie Q but I changed the foot-pattern, and that was sort of the beginning on it.”
Bayou Country: A Semi-psychedelic Mood
On their album, Bayou Country, John Fogerty shifted the focus from the semi-psychedelic moods of the first album to the mythic South and bayou. He created the Louisiana rural atmosphere by staring at the wall of his apartment in El Cerrito.
“The next time I was sitting in front of that little wall, I had that burst of inspiration on my mind. Right at that moment, it collided in my brain with the phrase, ‘born on the bayou,’ and I just rolled with it. I pulled everything I knew about it – which wasn’t much, because I didn’t live there. Every bit of southern bayou information that had entered my imagination from the time I was born, it all collided in that meditation about that song. And I knew that sound and that story went together; I can’t tell you why. I was a kid, and I said, ‘This is powerful.’ It’s like the first time you’ve been allowed to drink from the holy nectar of the gods, whatever that is.”
One of the lines of the song goes: “chasing down a hoodoo.”
Songwriter John Fogerty describes hoodoo as
“Hoodoo is a magical, mystical, spiritual, non-defined apparition, like a ghost or a shadow, not necessarily evil, but certainly other-worldly. I was getting some of that imagery from Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.”
Listen to the CCR’s original version of “Born on the Bayou.”
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