Classic Tracks: John Fogerty's "Centerfield"

Oct 6, 2010 7:49 PM, By Blair Jackson


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Fogerty played a specially made “bat guitar” at the Baseball Hall of Fame when his song, “Centerfield”—from the album of the same name—was inducted.

Fogerty played a specially made “bat guitar” at the Baseball Hall of Fame when his song, “Centerfield”—from the album of the same name—was inducted.

“I had never met John,” Norman says, “but he turned out to be a very nice guy—very pleasant—and also very confident, but in a good way. He knew exactly what he was doing. He came in with his guitars and some amps and keyboards and drums, and he had this little notebook with every song delineated—all of the parts, all of the exact amp settings: Guitar number one is going to do this rhythm part, using this amp at these settings. He’d say, ‘Okay, I have three guitar parts on this song, I have a sax on this,’ and so on. Each song started with a rhythm guitar and a click track and sometimes a scratch vocal, and that would be the basic track. Once that was done, he would then play the drums to that track and build it from there.” In that era, Fogerty had his own 8-track studio at home and he had clearly done plenty of pre-production on his own, though Norman says he never heard any demos. For his part, Norman was mostly happy to defer to Fogerty’s ideas and inclinations.

In that March ’85 Mix article, Fogerty recalled of Norman, “He was only a mild knob twiddler. We laughed about that. That’s a Pete Townshend expression. I would say, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute. I’ve been working on this a long time.’ I would have him repeat to me what he was doing. This was the first day, which we ended up having to do over. Most of what he was doing was fine. I just didn’t want him to get carried away because most engineers, just because it’s there, say, ‘Well, I’m supposed to do something, I’ll try this.’”

Fogerty did rely on Norman for mic choices and outboard settings, “but any time I wanted to use EQ on a specific drum, he always wanted to know exactly what I was doing,” Norman says. The engineer mainly used the Trident console’s onboard EQs, “though I didn’t need that very much. There was no EQ on any of his guitars. He had it dialed.” Guitar amps were miked with Neumann 87s and Shure 57s. He also used 87s for drum overheads. Other drum mics included a 57 on the snare (“maybe in combination with another mic,” Norman offers), a Neumann KM84 on the hi-hat and Senn-heiser 421s on the toms. Bass was direct. Because of the negligible acoustic properties of Studio C, everything was close-miked with no room mics used. Instead, Norman used EMT 140 reverbs, as well as one of the new kids on the block in that era: the AMS digital reverb, a box Fogerty liked so much he bought one for himself after the sessions.

As for Fogerty’s vocals, “Although he did some scratch vocals along the way,” Norman notes, “I remember the first time we did a lead vocal, it was like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s John Fogerty!’ He was really getting to that voice!” [Laughs.] The singer would usually do just two or three takes of each vocal. “There was a little comping, but not a lot,” Norman adds.

In the case of the song “Centerfield,” there were a few sonic touches that give it a distinctive sound. “My main contribution was the gated [AMS] reverb on the synth ‘claps,’” Norman says. “It made it kind of unique—you hear that and you know what song it is instantly. The crack of the bat is a sound that John brought in. He had it on a synth as a sample, and I believe he got it from the movie Damn Yankees, which is cool. It sounds a little fake, I guess, but it’s perfect for that song. He also did some changing of parts on that song. Like the organ part he added, which is great because it sounds like a stadium organ—I believe that was not in his little book originally.”

The Centerfield album was recorded and mixed over a period of about six weeks at the end of 1984, with Norman working steadily five days a week. It was mixed in The Plant’s Studio A on a Trident TSM 80 console equipped with Melquist automation. “We would talk about reverbs and I would get some blends and get things to what I thought was close, and then John would modify it if he wanted,” Norman says. At the time, Fogerty told Rollins in Mix that after he and Norman had mixed about half the album, “I went back home and put on a Creedence record, and said, ‘Yeah, new stuff matches, sounds fine.’ Then I put on a contemporary record, and said, ‘Whoa!’ The contemporary record just jumped right out at me and the Creedence just sort of laid there. So I went back to the drawing board. I had to work with the correct balances between higher and lower registers. Nowadays, you can print a lot more on a record. It used to take me about an hour-and-a-half per tune. Now we averaged 10 to 12 hours.”

Whatever sonic legerdemain Fogerty and Norman employed on the Centerfield album, it seems to have worked. It was an out-of-the-box smash that brought Fogerty the solo success that had been so elusive since his Creedence days. It started with the Number One rock single, “The Old Man Down the Road”—a song so Creedence-like that Saul Zaentz, boss of Fantasy Records, CCR’s former label, actually sued Fogerty for self-plagiarism: a dumb, frivolous suit if there ever was one. Then different radio formats began to add various other songs to their playlists, including “Centerfield,” the Sun Records–influenced “Big Train (From Memphis)” and “Rock and Roll Girls”—all modern classics. The album remains Fogerty’s biggest seller.

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