Classic Tracks: John Fogerty's "Centerfield"

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


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It’s October, and that means playoff baseball and the World Series, so what better “Classic Track” to talk about this month than John Fogerty’s “Centerfield”? Not only does 2010 mark the song’s 25th anniversary, it also earned the supreme honor this past summer of being formally “inducted” into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.—it plays there ’round the clock.

With its references to Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio and the Mighty Casey, “Centerfield” is the rare rock tune that is explicitly about sports. More unusual is that it became a hit: Aside from being the title track of a Number One album in 1985, the song made the Billboard Top 50 as a single. But even more remarkable has been its staying power in the culture as both a staple of Classic Rock radio ever since its release, and its use on countless baseball telecasts, documentaries, you name it—hence its place in the Hall of Fame. After “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (originally recorded in mono in 1908!), “Centerfield” is the most popular song ever written about our National Pastime.

“It was clear to me that songs about sports and rock ’n’ roll really do not co-exist very well,” Fogerty told the Associated Press earlier this summer, “but I did it anyway. I just thought, ‘You know, I’m going to risk looking lame.’

“As a little boy I loved baseball. I dreamed of being a major-league player. Of course it didn’t work out that way. But to be associated at all, in any way [with the Hall of Fame] is a wonderful honor.”

Most people know Fogerty primarily as the singer/songwriter/guitarist for the San Francisco Bay Area–based group Creedence Clearwater Revival, who churned out hit after hit in the late ’60s and early ’70s, including such tunes as “Proud Mary,” “Green River,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Down on the Corner,” “Fortunate Son” and others. After Creedence’s messy break-up in 1972, Fogerty went solo—truly solo—playing all the instruments on an album of country and gospel cover tunes under the name the Blue Ridge Rangers. (In fact, on the original pressing, Fogerty’s name didn’t even appear on the jacket.) An eponymous album on Asylum in 1975—also a totally solo affair—was only a moderate success, and then in 1976 he shelved an album both he and the label deemed unworthy of release, initiating a decade-long absence from the public eye while he dealt with various legal issues surrounding his Creedence legacy.

So Fogerty didn’t really have a current career when in the fall of 1984 he called The Plant Studios in Sausalito, Calif.—across San Francisco Bay from his home in the East Bay town of Albany (he grew up in nearby El Cerrito)—and said he wanted to come in and make an album. Once again, Fogerty chose to play all the instruments and handle the vocals himself. Jeffrey Norman, who had been a staff engineer at The Plant before splitting off recently as an independent, was recommended for the project by Plant general manager Jim Gaines. “I was in the right place at the right time,” says Norman, who these days runs Mockingbird Mastering in Petaluma (Sonoma County, Calif.). “Most major artists came with their own engineer and entourage; he didn’t. It was just John.”

Because the project was not going to require a giant live room for a band, Norman, Fogerty and assistant Mark Slagle were assigned the smallest room in the complex, Studio C, variously known as The Pit and the Sly Stone Room (for the records he made there in the early ’70s). The 420-square-foot room—with two iso booths and a 140-square-foot control room—was mostly considered a demo and overdub studio, but Fogerty was delighted, as he told Mix writer Elizabeth Rollins in early 1985: “The fact that it was just my size was kind of cool because there’s just one of me... and I would set up the equipment as if each guy was there.” Studio C was equipped with Trident 80B console, Studer A-80 VU MKIV 24-track (running Ampex 456 tape) and Sierra Westlake Hidley monitors (as well as the then-ubiquitous Yamaha NS-10s).

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