John Fogerty’s “Bad Moon Rising,” written for Creedence Clearwater Revival and released in 1969, warned of impending doom. A reflection of late-’60s confusion and strife, the song reached No. 2 on Billboard’s pop chart.
Recently, Mr. Fogerty, the band’s lead guitarist, lead singer and principal composer, talked about some of the unexpected inspirations for the song. The vinyl edition of Mr. Fogerty’s latest album, “Fogerty’s Factory” (BMG), was recently released. Edited from an interview:
John Fogerty: In 1967, I bought a little notebook to jot down song-title ideas. I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the band had just changed its name from the Golliwogs to Creedence Clearwater Revival.
During the Summer of Love in ’67, the hippie movement was becoming quite a thing. Astrology was the rage, especially phrases like “Capricorn rising” and “the moon is in the seventh house.”
I poked fun at that stuff, like we do with UFOs. When asked about my sign, I told people I was a double asparagus with a broccoli rising.
But after hearing all those astrological phrases along with lunar names like harvest moon, hunter’s moon and wolf moon, the idea of a “bad moon” popped into my head. I wrote it down in my new notebook.
When I looked at the phrase, it felt flat and incomplete. What’s a bad moon? So I added the word “rising,” to give it action and define its intentions. Next, I had to figure out how to turn it into a song.
Our first album under our new name came out in May ’68. My cover of “Suzie Q” was our first hit, but it was a novelty song. Unless we had a solid follow-up, I worried we’d be a one-hit wonder.
When the band recorded “Bayou Country,” our second album, in October ’68, I knew we had to top our last one. “Proud Mary” was the first single released.
As it shot up the charts, I felt we needed another single fast, even before recording our third album. “Proud Mary” would eventually slide, and I didn’t want too much time to elapse between hits.
My intention was for us to get on the radio and never get off, like one long possession of the football. I started flipping through my notebook and landed on the phrase “Bad Moon Rising.”
As a child, I loved the 1941 movie “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” In a nutshell, it’s about a New Hampshire farmer who makes a pact with the Devil to enrich himself in exchange for his soul.
But when it was time for the Devil to collect, the farmer enlists the help of attorney Daniel Webster to get him out of the jam. What I remembered most is this furious storm the town endures. All of my lyrics for the song were inspired by that scene:
“Don’t go around tonight / Well it’s bound to take your life / There’s a bad moon on the rise.”
The next verses were about the storm:
“I hear hurricanes a-blowing / I know the end is coming soon / I fear rivers over-flowing / I hear the voice of rage and ruin.”
“Hope you got your things together / Hope you are quite prepared to die / Looks like we’re in for nasty weather / One eye is taken for an eye.”
I wrote the song’s words and music in a small house that my then wife and I were renting in El Cerrito, Ca. There was a pocket room between the living room and kitchen that was about 12-feet square.
It was my tiny songwriting sanctuary, more of a mental space than a true office or den. In that room, I figured out the chords to “Bad Moon Rising” on my Gibson ES-175, a jazz and country guitar.
One day in January ’69, after I began showing the rest of the band what I had come up with for “Bad Moon Rising,” I drove to Oakland to visit Fantasy Records to see how our records were selling.
I parked my Peugeot in front of the building. When I came out about an hour later, someone had thrown a brick through the rear-door window. My Gibson and the little Fender Tremolux amp and speaker that I’d bought in 10th grade were gone.
I was heartbroken. I drove straight to a music store in nearby Albany. I’d heard that Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton all played Les Paul guitars through a Marshall amp.
In the store, I took down a Les Paul Custom and tuned all the strings down a whole note and strummed a great big D chord. It sounded great. I bought the Les Paul. It made “Bad Moon Rising” sound big and ominous.
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In early February ’69, the band flew down to RCA Studios in Los Angeles. I had written “Lodi” at the same time, so we’d have a song for the B-side. We went to RCA because that’s where we had recorded “Bayou Country.”
That day, we just recorded the music. I purposefully didn’t record my lead vocal or background vocals. The reason for this was my love as a kid for ’50s singer-guitarist Gene Vincent. He used to do this to get great instrumentals. I wanted that same feel on “Bad Moon Rising.”
As a result, the guys in the band didn’t hear my vocal or even the song’s melody until the record came out. We had just focused on the music.
On the session, I played my tuned-down Les Paul. Tom, my older brother, played his 1967 Rickenbacker 360. Stu Cook played a 1967 Fender Precision bass and Doug Clifford played his Camco drums.
The instrumental arrangement I wrote was influenced by Elvis Presley’s “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.” Even as a kid, I thought the 1955 Sun record was peculiarly melancholy.
I loved Scotty Moore’s guitar lick on there. It came from that early period in Elvis’s career where they were kind of playing country but inventing rock ‘n’ roll at the same time.
On “Bad Moon Rising,” I played that rockabilly lick, channeling Scotty Moore as best as I could.
A week or so later, I returned to the studio to add my lead vocal and overdub the lead guitar parts so they’d be doubled on the record. I sang my lead vocal with slap-back echo to give my voice a Sun sound. Elvis was on my mind while I sang.
But the echo obscured my last line of the chorus. Instead of hearing, “There’s a bad moon on the rise,” some people heard, “There’s a bathroom on the right.” Now, when I perform the song, I poke fun at it by singing the incorrect lyrics.
In 1986, I was at a music-awards event when out of nowhere, someone wrapped his arms around me from behind. “Give me back all my licks,” he said, laughing. It was Scotty Moore.
He knew I was a huge fan from the way I played on “Bad Moon Rising.” When I turned to talk to him, I was metaphorically down on my knees thanking him. That’s when I realized that between Elvis and “Daniel Webster,” there’s quite a bit of my childhood in that song.
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