Review: John Fogerty – Hoodoo

In honor of John Fogerty’s 74th birthday, I’m taking a look at the legendary Hoodoo, Fogerty’s third solo album that didn’t release 43 years ago this month. That’s right—it did not release…ever, in fact.

For the uninitiated, here’s the backstory: 

Following his (unfairly) ill-received self-titled sophomore record, Fogerty hit the studio to produce Hoodoo, a record, as its title suggests, meant to hearken back to Fogerty’s mystically swampy CCR heyday. The album was completed, slated for a May 1976 release, and even saw a double-sided pre-release single hit shelves, before Asylum Records (Fogerty’s U.S. label at the time) executive Joe Smith called a meeting to inform Fogerty that the record wasn’t very good.  In a gracious move, Smith gave Fogerty the option of releasing anyway. Fogerty, however, immediately declined the offer, agreeing with Smith’s assessment.

The project was scrapped, and Fogerty ordered all tapes destroyed, eventually releasing his official third record, the smash-hit Centerfield, in 1985, and that was the end of Hoodoo. But not really.

Despite Fogerty’s order, not all the tapes were destroyed. Plus, as previously mentioned, two of the tracks had already been released and sold on vinyl by the time the album was scrapped. The record subsequently survived and became a Holy Grail for Fogerty fans. (Though I won’t say where, it can be found on the internet.)

Without further ado, here’s the track-by-track breakdown:

1. “You Got the Magic”

The album opener, also the A-side of the pre-release single, is pretty much a hybrid of disco (a pop rage at the time) and Fogerty’s spooky, swampy signature sound. It’s obvious Fogerty is trying to be relevant by using popular trends while hearkening back to the sound that propelled him into international rockstar status, and though the idea has promise on paper (for uniqueness if nothing else), the combo unfortunately doesn’t really work. In keeping with the self-referential stylings, the lyrics are ominous and chock-full of allusions to dark magic, just as some of Fogerty’s stellar CCR work. But it feels more of a copy of earlier, better works than an homage or continuation.

2. “Between the Lines”

’70s feel-good Rock. There’s an uptempo “Positively 4th Street” vibe to it, and the refrain boasts a slamming, harder-edged rock repetition that adds a delightfully unexpected differentiation to the track.

3. “Leave My Woman Alone”

Great version of a classic Ray Charles tune replete with soul/funk-infused brass and classic Fogerty multi-vocal self-overdubs. It’s not as good as the original (though I prefer this rendition), nor the version Fogerty would perform 9 years later for the John Fogerty’s All-Stars HBO special, but it’s certainly a solid cover.

4. “Marching to Blarney”

Possibly the oddest song to ever appear on a Fogerty-lead record, “Marching to Blarney” is a “happy” Gaelic-based instrumental featuring a heavy dose of drums and guitar. As weird as that sounds, it’s actually a solid tune that may very well have the listener wishing he was marching his way through the lush countryside of the Emerald Isle.

5. “Hoodoo Man”

Like “You’ve Got the Magic,” the almost-title-track is another attempt to recall Fogerty’s CCR voodoo-swamp mystique, this time, sticking a little closer to the source material by leaning heavier on the rock ‘n’ roll. Unfortunately, the track falls short and ends up serving only as a reminder that many of the tunes on the release aren’t as good as their predecessors.

6. “Telephone”

A solid soul-inspired tune that’s reminiscent of a grooving, uptempo Percy Sledge or Clarence Carter tune. Fogerty hits a beautiful, clear falsetto here that really showcases his oft under-appreciated vocal prowess.

7. “Evil Thing”

Although yet another tune seemingly penned solely to keep with the black magic theme of the record, “Evil Thing” actually succeeds on multiple levels and is probably the best track of the release. Unlike its mystical album mates, it’s more swampy and grooving in sound like the CCR tracks which inspired it. It also incorporates a period-specific funk quality that makes it akin to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” This track was released as the B-side to the album’s only single, and understandably so, as it’s only one a few tunes on the record that works well as both a 1976 mainstream radio tune and a classic Fogerty track.

8. “Henrietta”

The second cover on the album, “Henrietta” is the minimum of what you would expect from a Fogerty version of a rock ‘n’ roll classic. That’s not saying it’s bad; just not particularly special.

9. “On the Run”

Another attempt to channel music trends of the time, “On the Run” feels related to a ‘70s uptempo Elton John track. There’s also a CCR feel-good tune vibe to it that seems to be coming from the same place from which most of Fogerty’s best work originates: childhood influences. I hear a bit of Buddy Holly here. As great as those comparisons sound, the track unfortunately doesn’t quite measure up to the tunes of which it reminds—something it has in common with many of its Hoodoo brethren.

So, in a retrospective analysis, is the album as bad as Fogerty and company thought in 1976?  I would say, “no.” Though it’s nearly completely devoid of the lyrical masterwork which distinguished, and later continued to distinguish, Fogerty among his peers, Hoodoo certainly offers enough for the die-hard Fogerty fan to enjoy. If nothing else, the record is a must listen as the last time Fogerty can be heard belting with his screeching, howling powerhouse growl, as his next proper release (Centerfield) would find the artist a much softer, more mellow-voiced singer, as he continues to be to this day.

I think ultimately, the record suffered most from lack of “period currency,” as only a handful of the tracks attempted to tap into the mainstream music scene, and unsuccessfully at that. Much of what works on the project is Fogerty’s incorporation of both his roots and his previously established stylings, and while an artist channeling ’50s, ‘60s, & early ’70s genres (particularly the country/rock vein of CCR) is heralded as a breath of fresh air today (Alabama Shakes, anyone?), in 1976, the vastly altered music scene would’ve found most of the record to be 5 or so years outdated.

Aside from this though, the album fails on one level that is crucial to art:  it did not accomplish what the artist intended. John Fogerty has stated many times before that his goal for a record is to deliver top-notch lyrics and music in his songwriting, and he admits he failed in doing this with Hoodoo.

Although that’s a sizable negative, the fact remains Fogerty’s worst works are still superior to many acts’ best.

Rating: 3.5/5