The Story and Meaning Behind Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lodi,” Their Less-than-Rosy Take on Life on the Musical Road

Creedence Clearwater Revival soared to more success than most bands could ever imagine. But like just about every band, they had to endure some leaner times. Some of the rougher shows they played seeped into their 1969 song “Lodi,” a B-side that’s become a kind of folk-rock standard.

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What is the song about? Did the band actually travel to Lodi, California, and play there before an unappreciative audience? And why was CCR singer John Fogerty singing about failure at the height of the band’s success? Let’s take a trip to “Lodi” and find out how this brilliant song came together.

Writing from the Top About the Bottom

Third albums are often when classic bands peak, and Creedence Clearwater Revival certainly fits that template. Their 1968 self-titled debut album won them some acclaim, but mainly for a couple of cover songs. On their second album (Bayou Country) in 1969, they enjoyed their breakthrough original hit with “Proud Mary.”

That set the stage for Green River, also released in 1969. (CCR was legendarily prolific, with three albums released in ’69 alone). John Fogerty’s songwriting skills flowered in conjunction with the playing of the band’s instrumentalists. Two top-five hits (“Bad Moon Rising” and “Green River”) emerged from the album, solidifying them as the most successful American band of that point in time.

Strangely enough, the success conjured in Fogerty apprehension about the future. He thought about a time when things wouldn’t be so rosy. In part, “Lodi” imagines the trials and tribulations of an artist whose success has faded with the years. Instead of traveling the world playing songs for millions of adoring fans, he’s stuck in a small town on an interrupted tour, unable to either get out to the next stop or gather any kind of fan base in his temporary home.

Drunken Fans and a Long Road to Stardom

Before they were CCR, they were The Blue Velvets, and then The Golliwogs. Over almost a decade, this band formed by California high school buddies tried to make their way up the musical ladder. And, as you might expect, the band played plenty of less-than-inspiring live dates in locations well off the beaten path.

John Fogerty has claimed that he was never in Lodi, California, before writing the song, and that he chose the name just for its melodic quality. Still, Fogerty and drummer Doug Clifford both recounted in interviews about a specific show that may have been recalled in the lyrics to “Lodi,” one where the band was given a hard time by a tiny audience, all of whom appeared to have been inebriated.

Considering it’s a laid-back song, it’s no surprise that “Lodi” was chosen as a B-side. But it gathered its share of fans even upon its release. Over the years, many other musicians likely commiserating with the hard times of the singer/narrator have recorded cover versions, including luminaries like Bo Diddley, Emmylou Harris, and Tom Jones.

What is the Meaning of “Lodi”?

Even though Fogerty came up with the idea for “Lodi” by musing on a struggling future, the protagonist in the song seems to be relatively young, based on the opening lines: Just about a year ago / I set out on the road/Seeking my fame and fortune. Instead, Lodi has become a kind of purgatory for him, trapping him indifferently within its borders: I was just passin’ through / Must be seven months or more.

The refrain (Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again) obviously refers to a specific location. But there are thousands of Lodis out there, waiting to swallow up would-be music legends who can’t quite catch a break. What a lovely bit of empathy from John Fogerty and CCR that they could see this deep valley from the top of the rock music mountain.

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