Friday, March 2, 2012

Excalibur-Tom Fogerty (Jerry Garcia-guitar)

Tom Fogerty's 1972 Fantasy Records album Excalibur, featuring Jerry Garcia
Tom Fogerty's second solo album Excalibur, recorded and released in 1972, is hardly a major album, or even a particularly memorable one. Nonetheless, it is a studio recording where Fogerty is supported by Merl Saunders, John Kahn, Bill Vitt and Jerry Garcia. Based on my analysis of the timing of the record, Tom Fogerty seems to have become a de facto member of the Garcia-Saunders band after the album was recorded. With that in mind, this post will review Tom Fogerty's background, the chronology of the recording of Excalibur and an overview of his time playing with Jerry Garcia

Tom Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival
Tom Fogerty (November 9, 1941 – September 6, 1990) had formed a band of El Cerrito High School mates in the early 60s. Tom Fogerty was the lead singer, his younger brother John played guitar along with Tom, and the group was rounded out by friends Stu Cook on bass and Doug Clifford on drums. They were initially known as Tommy And The Blue Velvets and later as The Golliwogs. The band had some success around the Bay Area, and recorded some singles for Oakland's Fantasy Records. However, all four members had various kinds of military obligations (Coast Guard, National Guard, Army Reserves) and the band members could not go all-in during the first explosion of San Francisco rock in 1966.

In 1968, with John Fogerty's commitment to the Army Reserves coming to the end, and with the others already unencumbered, the Golliwogs changed their name to Creedence Clearwater Revival and became full-time musicians. Tom Fogerty had a family and a stable job with the gas company, but he quit it to make a go of Creedence. The band's first regular booking was a Monday night residency at a little club at 750 Vallejo Street called DenoCarlo's, later to become the Keystone Korner. Creedence Clearwater released their first album on Fantasy in July, 1968. Creedence was an engaging mixture of Buck Owens, Soul music and the New Orleans swamp, even though the only bayou the band knew was the Emeryville Mud Flats. The debut album got great play on KSAN, and the song "Suzie Q" (an old Dale Hawkins number) got some good AM airplay.

However, in early 1969 Creedence released their second album, Bayou Country. Songs like 'Born On The Bayou" and especially "Proud Mary" were true rock anthems. Creedence's albums and singles shot straight to the top of the charts, and the band kept cranking out hit after hit: "Bad Moon Rising," "Down On The Corner," "Fortunate Son" and dozens of others. Creeedence Clearwater Revival was probably the best selling band to come out of the Bay Area. John Fogerty's exceptional singing and songwriting carried Creedence's rootsy music all over America, Europe and Vietnam.

However, while Creedence seemed to have come from nowhere to rock fans, in fact by 1970 the band had been together for nearly a decade. After the band' sixth album, Pendulum, was released in December, 1970, Tom Fogerty left the group. By that time, there was a lot of bad blood between John Fogerty and the other members of the band, including his brother Tom, and John's relationship with Fantasy had become strained as well. The story is complex and bitter, and none of the parties will speak to each other to this day, one of the reasons that Tom simply stepped away from the band.

Merl Saunders 1973 Fantasy album Fire Up, featuring Jerry Garcia and Tom Fogerty
Tom Fogerty's Post-Creedence Career
Tom Fogerty lay fairly low when he left Creedence. He had a fair amount of money, far less than his brother, but apparently enough. Nonetheless, he was still interested in making music. Tom Fogerty had been part of Fantasy Records for many years, going back to its days at 30th and Peralta in Oakland. As a result, he was good friends with another Fantasy artist, Merl Saunders. Merl's first album, Soul Grooving, by Merl Saunders Trio And Big Band, had been released in 1968 on Galaxy, a subsidiary of Fantasy. "Proud Mary" changed everything, however, and Fantasy Records moved to a slick new studio on Tenth and Parker Streets in Berkeley. It was the house that Creedence built.

Merl Saunders recorded his first solo album, Heavy Turbulence, at Fantasy Studios in 1971. Jerry Garcia played lead guitar, and John Kahn and Bill Vitt played bass and drums on most tracks. Tom Fogerty co-produced the record with Saunders, and played rhythm guitar on many tracks. Fogerty was a pretty basic player, but he knew how to play tasty (as The Good Rats would say). As near as I can tell, Heavy Turbulence was recorded in late 1971, and released in early 1972.

Tom Fogerty seems to have recorded his first solo album (entitled Tom Fogerty) early in 1972. Saunders played keyboards, and Kahn and Vitt played bass and drums. Lead guitar was handled by Russ Gary, however, rather than Garcia. I think that Garcia's absence had more to do with availability than anything else. Tom Fogerty was released in June 1972 to no great acclaim. I have never heard the record. Tom Fogerty only played one gig that I know about in the 71-72 period, two nights at the Keystone Korner, ironically enough, on October 15-16, 1971, with Saunders, Kahn, Dave Getz (drums) and Nick Gravenites. He did not tour to support his first solo album, as far as I can tell.

Since Excalibur was released in October 1972, I think the basic tracks were recorded in about June or July 1972. Since Kahn and Saunders play on the record, it is easier to guess the period of the recording. In mid-'72, Kahn had moved to Woodstock, NY to work with Paul Butterfield, and invited Saunders to join him. However, both of them returned to San Francisco to play some dates with Jerry Garcia between June 30 and July 15. I have to assume that the core of the recording of Excalibur was done during that period. There  are 10 tracks on the album, and Garcia plays on 7 or 8 of them. Tom Fogerty wrote 8 of the 10 songs. They are roughly in the Creedence vein, but a little more Merle Haggard style and less of the swampy bayou boogie that characterized Creedence. There's nothing wrong with the songs or the music, but nothing really stands out about the record.

Garcia, Saunders and Fogerty
The Garcia-Saunders band wasn't really a band at this point, just a loose aggregation of players. As I have discussed elsewhere, in mid-1972 Kahn had moved to Woodstock to join Paul Butterfield, and enticed Merl to join him. However, financial concerns caused them to return to San Francisco, so Garcia was able to continue playing with them. It does seem, however, that Tom Fogerty's participation in the band dates from the mid-Summer of 1972, so that fits with when Excalibur was recorded.

The first confirmed sighting we have of Tom Fogerty with Garcia-Saunders was on July 1, 1972 at the San Jose Civic Auditorium. Fogerty seems to have played on most of the shows through the balance of 1972. In the fall of 1972, Merl Saunders also recorded his Fire Up album, and Garcia, Fogerty, Kahn and Vitt all played big roles on that record as well. Since Fogerty was still a 'name' in the Bay Area, as Creedence were as huge as ever, Fogerty was often billed along with Garcia and Saunders. While Fogerty only played rhythm guitar, and just sang a few songs with the band, he fattened up their sound. My own opinion is that Garcia lacked experience and confidence as a rhythm guitarist before he started playing with Merl, and Fogerty gave him a certain level of comfort. Once Garcia's rhythm playing improved, Fogerty wasn't necessary.

Tom Fogerty seems to have stopped playing with Garcia and Saunders in 1973. Fogerty was actually billed at a January 1973 show at the Boarding House, but we know he didn't play. I don't believe their was any acrimony or problem with Fogerty or any of the band members. However, he wanted to concentrate on his own career, and playing in a part-time cover band, even a really good one, was not going to further that. Tom Fogerty went on to put out a variety of solo albums in the next several years.

Creedence Clearwater Revival had a few moments of rapprochement, when they agreed to go on stage together at Tom Fogerty's wedding in 1980 and then at their El Cerrito High School 20 Year Reunion in 1982. However, the lawsuits and acrimony continued unabated afterwards. Tom Fogerty became very ill, and while he and his brother John reconciled personally, no other issues could ever be resolved. Tom Fogerty died in 1990.

Appendix: Excalibur Track Notes
All songs written by Tom Fogerty, except as noted. Merl Saunders-piano except as noted.
"Forty Years": the album's opening track is its best, a melodic Buck Owens-style country tune. Jerry Garcia plays a nice, melodic pedal steel ride
"Black Jack Jenny": Garcia plays lead guitar on this conventional rocker
"Rocky Road Blues" (Bill Monroe): This bluegrass standard is done as an actual slow blues. Garcia plays a nice, if brief, fuzz-tone blues solo
"Faces, Places, People": This rather tendentious slow song has an interesting Garcia part reminiscent of "Dirty Business." Presumably Garcia plays pedal steel
"Get Funky": This brief (1:50) funk shuffle has no lead guitar, with Merl playing both organ and piano. This was not a song, just a studio jam with a vocal over it
"Sick And Tired" (Chris Kenner-Dave Bartholomew): A bluesy, uptempo cover of the old Fats Domino hit. With Merl on organ and Garcia playing old-school rock guitar, reminiscent of his playing on "Money Honey," this is the only track that really sounds like the Garcia-Saunders band
"Sign Of The Devil": no Garcia. Merl plays synthesizer as well as piano.
"Straight And Narrow": A country shuffle. Garcia, or someone, plays lead on a Hawaiian steel guitar or a dobro. It may not be Jerry, in fact.
"Next In Line": Garcia plays a twangy, James Burton style lead on this country styled song.
"(Hold On) Annie Mae": Clearly a studio jam with a vocal added, Garcia plays some hot bluesy licks as the track fades out


  1. Thanks for this. I sure would love to make some notations off of Fantasy tape boxes or paperwork to check dates. But your conjectures strike me, without time to check them, as solid.

    A reference. I am sure you know this one, but For The Record:

    Staska, Kathie, and George Mangrum. 1971. Rock Talk: Fantasy recording plant built with the artist in mind. Hayward Daily Review, February 25, 1971, p. 18.

  2. This was a funny little research effort, since I sort of triangulated the dates for when Garcia and Kahn had to have played on this album, and it was hard not to draw the conclusion that Tom Fogerty 'joined' the band around that time. Of course, it wasn't a band in that sense, so he didn't precisely join, but the dates seem to line up surprisingly cleanly.

  3. As nicely as things line up, I have evidence that Fogerty was with these guys over a year before this. Staska and Mangrum (1) include a brief review of a Garcia-Saunders-Fogerty-Vitt (and presumably Kahn) gig at New Monk on Saturday, 6/26/71.

    They have some fair amount of discussion of Tom's recording activities in various columns around ca. June 1971, as well, at least a half-year earlier than your postulated early 1972 time period.

    (1) Staska, Kathie, and George Mangrum. 1971. Rock Talk by KG: Instruments, singers help sets. Hayward Daily Review, July 1, 1971, p. 12.

  4. Actually, this makes a lot of sense. Fogerty was helping to produce Heavy Turbulence in 1971, so its not stunning to find out that he sat in a bit. One point I am going to make in a future post is that there weren't 'members' of the Garcia/Saunders group until Legion Of Mary. In any case, if you can place some actual dates on Fogerty's participation, that's great. As far as my own speculations, well, hey, I was just hooterollin around.

  5. Fogerty played with Jerry and Merl the first time I saw them at Frost on 10/3/71.

  6. I think he's on the Lion's Share shows from September (24-25), for which there are tapes.

    Corry, you know your "membership" claim is going to interest me very, very much. Looking forward to it!