Ahhh, here we go. With its feedback lick rising like an alligator from the swamp, “Born on the Bayou” is 5:14 of mysterious sonic pleasure.
On one level it’s so simple: Tom Fogerty’s guitar is in one channel and John Fogerty’s guitar in the other, while Stu Cook and Doug Clifford are holding down the fort in the middle. So in that respect, it’s not that different from many other CCR songs. And yet, it’s totally different from not just other CCR songs, but every other song ever.
That’s why I’ve been obsessed with “Born on the Bayou” for decades. The sheer sound of it, right? That echoing guitar and those drums with every single drumbeat in place, and the bass run during the first solo and handclaps & cowbell everywhere and oh my god John Fogerty’s voice. Gritty, gut-wrenching & gorgeous at the same time, giving us origin story.
Now, when I was just a little boy
Standin’ to my daddy’s knee
My poppa said, “Son, don’t let the man get you
Do what he done to me”
‘Cause he’ll get you
‘Cause he’ll get you now, now
I realize that this is all bullshit. I know that John Fogerty was born in fucking Berkeley, and that every single bit of “Born on the Bayou” is an affectation. But I don’t care. Not when that lick starts echoing across my speaker and the best cowbell in the history of rock ‘n’ roll (tough luck, “Don’t Fear The Reaper”) kicks in and Fogerty sings:
Wish I was back on the bayou
Rollin’ with some Cajun Queen
Wishin’ I were a fast freight train
Just a chooglin’ on down to New Orleans
And I’m continually astounded about what Doug Clifford is doing anytime Fogerty is playing the main riff: smashing his crash cymbal on the twos and fours and then doing a little roll on every other four. So clinically precise, and so simpatico with that riff. A straight beat would be just a bit boring, but anything flashy would undermine the sound.
And it’s really all about the sound: deep, dark, swampy, full of heat and humidity and maybe something dangerous lurking around every turn, and 1,000 years old even if it was just born yesterday.
Fan-made video for “Born on the Bayou”