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'Excalibur': The brilliant Tom Fogerty solo album featuring Jerry Garcia

Tom Fogerty’s second solo effort, 1972’s Excalibur, is a thing of underrated beauty. Featuring none other than the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, legendary keyboardist and long term Garcia collaborator Merl Saunders, bassist John Kahn, and drummer Bill Vitt, the band who played on the album was something of a supergroup.

Featuring a selection of the era’s most influential musicians, and more importantly, a de facto convergence between Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Grateful Dead, strangely Excalibur is a forgotten record. This can possibly be attributed to the fact that the album isn’t flashy. It’s a relaxed affair, perfect for a summer’s day BBQ.

1972 was a momentous year for Fogerty. He had left his long-term band 12 months prior owing to the tensions with brother John, and by early October 1972, Creedence Clearwater Revival had disbanded, owing in some part to the hole Tom left. Akin to how The Beatles would have felt without either John Lennon or Paul McCartney, CCR just wasn’t the same without Tom Fogerty’s contributions.

Now that CCR was behind him, Fogerty concentrated on his solo career. He’d released his first eponymous solo effort in early 1972 to warm acclaim, but now, in the same month that CCR announced their split, he released what is arguably his post CCR magnum opus, Excalibur.

Interestingly, the entire lineup that played on his debut returned for the follow-up. However, guitarist Russ Gary was replaced by the countercultural guitar hero that was Jerry Garcia. Enlisting Garcia was the main difference between the two records. Fogerty’s sophomore effort is smattered in Garcia’s ice-cool guitar lines and his unmistakable overdriven tone. Think CCR, but more varied dynamically. 

If Tom Fogerty fronted the Grateful Dead, it would have sounded something like this. Of course, none of the extended jams are present that characterised the Dead; instead, Excalibur is more like a concise version of the Dead, just with a frontman possessing that incredibly hearty soul that marked CCR out from their peers. 

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The production is warm and spacious and embodies the counterculture moving into the ’70s. It sounds like what Gram Parsons tried to achieve with his concept of ‘Cosmic American Music’ and, in a way, can be seen as nearing the pinnacle of this, superseded only by the likes of Gene Clark’s masterful 1974 outing, No Other.

Groovy, catchy and in no-hurry, what a genius collaboration Excalibur was. It combined some of the best elements of two of the era’s greatest bands and moved them slightly into the future. Maybe guilty of being too genial, one would make a cheap claim that this might be down to the fact that by this point, excess had really taken over and that the 1970s were a completely different beast to that of the ’60s.

This point is very light, though. It’s atmospheric, hazy and is so early ’70s that you could almost argue that it’s a nostalgic album. The counterculture had died by this point, and now, its former disciples were in a period of retrospect, trying to make sense of the ’60s. Many of the albums from this era contain this narcotic driven fog topped with an almost world-weary spirit, including Harry Nilsson and John Lennon’s oddity, Pussy Cats

Self-aware, this is Excalibur‘s true beauty. ‘Forty Years’, ‘Black Jack Jenny’, ‘Sick And Tired’ and ‘Sign Of The Devil’ are just four highlights showcasing this. There’s no surprise the music is not in a hurry; they’d already got to where they wanted to be, just not in the capacity they might have hoped. 

‘Sign of the Devil’ is the album’s best moment. A psychedelic but introspective piece, it’s got flecks of Odessy and Oracle era Zombies, as much as it does San Francisco at the height of the ‘Summer of Love’. Think the hippie movement, just it had gone cold turkey and refrained from all earthly pleasures: “You are a sign of the Devil / You are a sign of the times / But I love you still and I always will / Yes I love you still, my dear”.

This is encapsulated by John Fogerty‘s eulogy to Tom after his tragic death in 1990. He said: “We wanted to grow up and be musicians. I guess we achieved half of that, becoming rock and roll stars. We didn’t necessarily grow up”.

Timeless, but very of its time, I don’t think anyone’s surprised by the fact that a Tom Fogerty/Jerry Garcia collaboration was fruitful. Languid and blissful like the quaaludes that were in circulation at the time, the album is always worth a revisit. A testament to the artistic ability of Tom Fogerty, it’s about time this album got more love in the mainstream.

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