This song tells the story of a fictional jug band, Willy and the Poor Boys, who were street musicians "playing for nickels, can't be beat." The name of the jug band was also the name of CCR's fourth straight million-selling album.
On the cover, the "band" is seen down on the corner performing to a (very) small crowd outside the Duck Kee Market. This location had no real significance except it just happened to be half a block from the recording studio. John Fogerty recalls only ever going in there one time, and that was some time after the album's release.
Just as The Beatles took the role of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Creedence became Willy And The Poorboys for this album. This is the only song that played to the concept, but CCR appeared on the cover as the fictional band. The Willy And The Poorboys persona suited the group, as they really were a basic, hardworking band who paid their dues before hitting it big. They sold the jug band theme by performing this song with a washtub bass and washboard.
John Fogerty did all the singing on this. He recorded a bunch of vocal tracks that were overdubbed to create the effect that he was harmonizing with himself.
The line in this song, "Willy goes into a dance and doubles on kazoo" is often misheard. A journalist named Phil Elwood thought the last part of the line was "Devil's on the loose," and published it in a newspaper article. John Fogerty got a big kick out of this, and as a nod to Elwood, put this line into the CCR song "Run Through the Jungle
":They told me, "Don't go walking slow
'Cause Devil's on the loose"
John Fogerty claims that bassist Stu Cook couldn't play the bass properly for the song. "Eventually, we spent six weeks rehearsing the song, but Stu still couldn't do it when we got to the recording session," Fogerty says in Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music. The problem, according to the CCR frontman, was that Cook had no rhythm. This led to a tense moment in the studio, but they eventually managed to get the song down.