Anyone remember the Blue Ridge Rangers? This was a band that once existed only in the imagination of John Fogerty, who hid behind that name when he put out his first solo album – a country oldies project – in 1973 shortly after Creedence Clearwater Revival broke up.
It was a one-man show, with Fogerty playing all the instruments in what seemed like a determined effort to act as if he didn’t need CCR.
Thirty-six years on, another Blue Ridge Rangers album of a similar bent, “Rides Again,” has appeared on Fortunate Son/Verve/Forecast. But this time, there are real bands backing Fogerty – in the studio, on a PBS “Live By Request” special Nov. 7, and on what looks to be a rollicking U.S. tour. The Kodak Theatre hosted the kickoff concert Thursday, and the tour continues through Nov. 29 when they close in Boston.
Besides the obvious change in means, the other big difference between now and then is that Fogerty’s own songs have long since taken their places alongside whatever country, folk or rock standards and obscurities he might choose as classics of Americana. It’s all one unified sound world to this master, with the roots dangling out there for all to hear.
Basically, the nearly two-hour set consisted of a mix of seven tunes from “Rides Again”; only one from the original Blue Ridge Rangers project (“Workin’ on A Building” done to a burning boogie beat); plenty of Creedence gold; a few welcome, ripping, non-hit CCR album cuts like “Ramble Tamble” and “The Night Time Is the Right Time;” three from the 1980s, and nothing from his ’90s and more recent albums of originals.
If anything, this 10-person Blue Ridge Rangers band leans more toward a countrified sound – complete with fiddle and pedal steel guitar – and some of the choices from Fogerty’s catalog, particularly “Big Train From Memphis,” fit the concept especially well.
But they are a versatile bunch, as comfortable with a Creedence roar as a two-beat square-dance on “Haunted House.”
At 64, Fogerty sings, plays and moves with the vigor of a rocker half his age. Now an even more tasty lead guitarist, constantly switching between more than a dozen guitars, he often traded solos with his fiddler Jason Mowery. And Fogerty’s classic rock voice is one that may never age, for he already sounded like a grizzled howler from the South when he was in his 20s – and he can still howl whenever he chooses.
With his deep repertoire, his signature sound, and a universe of American music to choose from, you wouldn’t blame Fogerty if he peddled memories ad infinitum. But he is shrewd enough not to get caught up in the past for long, for in his nearly note-for-note cover of Rick Nelson’s wry “Garden Party,” he zeroes in on that pointed reality-check of a line; “But if memories were all I sang/I’d rather drive a truck.”
So the Blue Ridge Rangers tour amounts to a pit stop, but a glorious one.