John Fogerty Hard to believe, but nearly a half-century has passed since John Fogerty emerged as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. Between 1968 and 1972, as leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fogerty was America’s most prolific hit-maker, penning a trove of classic tunes that endure to this day. “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Fortunate Son,” “Up Around the Bend”—these songs merely skim the surface of Fogerty compositions that occupy prime spots in the American songwriting lexicon.

Just as remarkable, Fogerty’s post-CCR career has been driven by the same high standard that was evident in those early years. As demonstrated on such albums as 1985’s Centerfield, 1997’s Blue Moon Swamp, and 2013’s Wrote a Song for Everyone, Fogerty has continued to produce material that’s brilliant and timeless. In 2015, he even added “prose author” to his resume, publishing a memoir—“Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music”—that chronicles the arc of his career with unflinching candor.

Now 71, Fogerty remains as energetic and musically engaged as ever. In March, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer will stage the first of two series of performances at the Encore Theater in Las Vegas. Even more tantalizing, the legendary rocker is reportedly gearing up to record his 12th solo album. “It’s like being a runner or an athlete,” he says. “The first thing you have to do is put one foot in front of the other, and know that it’s going to be slow and laborious. Things will be stupid at first, but after a while you get back into the flow. That’s when things begin to happen.”

In the following interview, Fogerty talks about his years with CCR, his favorite guitars for live performance, and what makes a song a classic.

Creedence’s first big hit, “Susie Q,” was a cover song, but with “Proud Mary” you set an early high standard for your original material. What are your thoughts, looking back?

That was an epiphany. I had grown up loving songs and songwriters--going back to the American Songbook era and Tin Pan Alley--because that’s what my Mom knew. That was pre-rock and roll. And of course I loved all the great writers and writing from the rock and roll era. I had been writing songs since I was about eight years old--maybe even a bit before--but “Proud Mary” was an evolution. I thought, oh my goodness, look at this thing! I knew instantly that it was a great song. It gave me tremendous confidence. There was a sense of, “You know, John, now you’ve got to live up to this. You can no longer use the first record you made as your high-water mark.”

Your best songs have generally begun with a guitar riff. Is that still true today?

Pretty much. I’ve written a few songs at the piano. I’ve also occasionally gotten an idea and started a song before I knew what the instrumentation would be. But because I’m a guitar player, and because I grew up with great reverence for people like Duane Eddy and Scotty Moore and James Burton, somehow inventing a riff triggers the process. It’s happened over and over again. “Up Around the Bend” is a good example. I got that riff and started thinking, where can this go? A few days later I was riding my motorcycle and the phrase “up around the bend” popped into my head. It had that sense of flight, an excitement that you’re headed someplace that might be better. The riff matches the mood of that sentiment.

Most bar bands can do a pretty good job of performing Creedence material. Is that something that pleases you?

I think that’s because the arrangements were so well thought out. The songwriting is one thing, but what’s the band going to play? That’s a whole other consideration. Generally a singer-songwriter sits with his or her acoustic guitar and writes the song, and they then let someone else actually make the record. Whereas my job, going back as far as I can remember, involved showing everybody what to play. It wasn’t going to happen any other way. It fell to me to figure out all the parts and be a good producer and make a good record. I’ve always said, yes, the music is simple, but it’s the right simple. You don’t have to be a killer musician, technically, to play Creedence songs and have them sound really good. The groove is the main thing—how the music feels.

Are you surprised that songs like “Fortunate Son” and “Bad Moon Rising” remain relevant?

It’s interesting. Once I made the decision to go away from love songs, I discovered I could write about things I felt passionate about. I was able to create an illustration. It was a matter of presenting a point of view and trying to dissect an issue as best I could within this little vignette. I tried to tackle things of that sort--social commentary. There’s plenty of room for that sort of writing. The listener certainly knew how I felt—the point of view was clear--but it wasn’t a rant. I think that’s part of the reason why, in the modern era, those songs continue to hold up.

You say you “went away” from writing love songs. How come?

I think I just didn’t understand that concept. Around the time I was 18 or 19, I made a conscious choice to go away from that. So many pop songs are about romantic love. But I felt they were just words—it didn’t really have real soulful intention. Especially after writing “Porterville,” I got myself to a point where I didn’t believe in that type of song. I felt that type of writing was trivial, or frivolous. But then later, when I decided I wanted to write a song for [my wife] Julie—a song that was about what I truly feel and see as our relationship—that was very important to me. I consider “Joy of My Life” to be my first love song, because it was truly about us.

What makes a song a classic, or gives it the weight of a standard? Would something like the Beatles’ “Yesterday” rise to that level, if Paul McCartney wrote it today?

That’s hard to say. Things happen in their time, more than occasionally. People come along who are definitely “of their time.” They just seem very comfortable in the here and now. A good songwriter is a good songwriter in any era, but there’s something to timing. In ’69 and ’70 I was a kid on fire, as far as being in the time in which I was creating. Would “Proud Mary” be a hit today? That’s a hard one. I don’t know, and I do often wonder about that. A lot of happy stars align. It helped that I was in my early twenties. That’s kind of the normal age to be, as far as an audience getting excited about what you’re doing.

Which of your solo albums was the most fun to make?

Wrote a Song for Everyone was the most satisfying. Sometimes I had to remind myself that it was my album. As I was making each track, it kind of felt like it belonged to the artist I was working with, which made it a lot of fun. There’s a lot of great music in there.

Do you have a go-to guitar for live performance? Specifically, a favorite Gibson?

My Gibson Goldtop with P-90s gets a lot of use, as does my Les Paul Custom. That’s the guitar for “Fortunate Son” and “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising.” It’s a great guitar, one of the few new guitars that really does the trick for me.

What’s next?

I want to get back to writing and recording. I have my own studio, at last. It’s a mixture of analog and digital—taped-based, but in the end there’s ProTools. I’ve waited a long time to have this. It has a mixture of vintage and modern equipment. It’s great to be able to try things and leave it set up, and then come back the next day and try them again. Going forward, I think making albums will be a lot easier.