The Old Man Down The Road

Album: Centerfield (1985)
Charted: 10
Play Video


  • This song deals with John Fogerty's extensive legal troubles, which weighed on him for over a decade. An early contract he signed forced him to relinquish the rights to his Creedence Clearwater Revival songs but at the same time obligated him to keep recording. After the band broke up, he was so disillusioned with the industry that he refused to play the Creedence songs, in part because so many of them were joyful tunes, and he was feeling anything but.

    "The Old Man Down The Road" is a depiction of the Devil using imagery found in many blues songs where a Faustian deal is struck. This is how Fogerty felt about his contract: he gave up his songs (and to some extent, his soul) so he could make music, and now he was paying the price.

    "It tells the story about a man standing in your way with a suitcase covered in rattlesnake hide, eyes as black as coal," Fogerty said. In his case, this demon is the record company.
  • The first single from John Fogerty's Centerfield album, this was his first big hit as a solo artist. Fogerty was the driving force of Creedence Clearwater Revival, which broke up in 1972. He released solo albums in 1973 and 1975, then took 10 years away from recording because of legal battles and also because he was enjoying life on his farm.
  • Saul Zaentz, who owned the publishing rights to the Creedence Clearwater Revival songs, sued Fogerty, claiming "The Old Man Down The Road" sounded too much like the 1970 Creedence song "Run Through The Jungle." This bizarre lawsuit may have been the first time an artist was sued for plagiarizing himself. The case went to a jury and was eventually dismissed in Fogerty's favor, although appeals kept the case alive until 1993. A frustrated Fogerty even refused to play any Creedence songs on his 1986 tour.

    During the trial, Fogerty at one point was trying to explain that there are only so many ways to play Swamp Rock. After a demonstration on his guitar, he said, "Yeah, it’s the same interval. What am I supposed to do, get an inoculation?" In a 1997 interview with Goldmine, Fogerty said: "I proved that, no, I didn’t copy myself, I invented something new that really sounds a lot like me. Do you find fault with Elvis for sounding like Elvis? When McCartney sounds like McCartney or Dylan sounds like Dylan? No one else ever had to go through that."
  • Fogerty had quite a catharsis the first time he heard this song on the radio. He was driving in Northern California from El Cerrito to Berkeley on the Bayshore Freeway when he heard it come on. To him, it represented vindication from his oppressors in the industry. Fogerty told the radio show Soundcheck: "I was overjoyed, and I said, 'Take that you old man!'"
  • This song not only revived Fogerty's career, but it also gave him a presence on MTV where he gained a whole new following. The video was directed by Mick Haggerty, who did many of the Hall & Oates clips.

    The video has a very clever concept, following an electrical cord that starts at an amp and traces a path though a swamp, a limousine, and various roads before ending at Fogerty's guitar.
  • In his memoir Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music, Fogerty dispelled the rumor that this song was written about music executive Saul Zaentz - he hadn't been thinking specifically about Zaentz at all when he wrote it. It was only later, after the song was released, that Zaentz popped into Fogerty's mind as being connected to it.
  • When Fogerty first heard the song on a Top 40 radio station, he felt ecstatic. "After being chained to the rack in Saul's dungeon for so many years, I was so happy, like a little kid. The song ended and I said, 'Ha! Take that, old man!" Fogerty later said it was "more than a comeback. This was a triumph over evil!"
  • Fogerty wrote "The Old Man Down the Road" in Albany, New York. He was messing around on his Washburn Falcon guitar when he stumbled upon riff and instantly knew it was a song ready to be born. He went into a notebook full of song titles and sketches and found the title "Somewhere Down the Road." From there, the rest of the song was born. Strangely, he was never able to find "Somewhere Down the Road" in his notebook again, though he clearly remembers finding it on that day in Albany when "Old Man" was created.

Comments: 18

  • Bob from South AlabamaThis is the swamp music of the Gulf Coast: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi & Louisiana. Amazing that a California guy picked up on it way back in the 1960's. Fogerty has such great soulful licks. Better than the Beatles, Stones or anyone else for the day.
    They loved me and our band down in Pascagoula, Mississippi whenever we covered "Born on the Bayou"
  • Anton from EarthWill forever despise Saul Zaentz for annihilating more than a decade's worth of musical productivity of one of my favorite musicians from the seventies.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 31st 1985, John Fogerty appeared on 'All Stars MTV Showtime' at the Chaplin Stage in Hollywood, California; it would be his first live performance in fourteen years...
    At the time his "The Old Man Down the Road" as at #22 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; a little over three weeks later on February 24th it would peak at #10 {for 1 week}, it would also peak at #10 on the Australian Kent Music Report chart...
    And on January 20th, 1985 it reached #1 {for 3 weeks} on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart...
    John Cameron Fogerty will celebrate his 71st birthday this coming May 28th {2016}.
  • Johnny from Boston, MaThis is one of the most bizarre plagiarism stories. Amazing that he had to play the guitar in court to clear up any misunderstandings. It is also a crime that Zaentz owns the CCR catalog.
  • Cory from Dallas, TxHe is an (OLD MAN) man well versed in the southern tradition of clandestine or(illegal)activities such as "alchemical" drug and or alcohol manufacture. [The devil] in other words Masonically speaking. "Suitcase in rattlesnake hide" is commonplace in south western areas of narco trafficking. AND culture of Texas Mexico Louisiana etc. It is a suitcase OF DRUGS. standing right in the road; are inevitable in this waiiting in the CROSSROADS OF FAST LIFE IN DEALING where the reptile represents the same endangered-dangerous temperment[DONT TREAD ON ME] or HIDEY HIDEY HIDE. in rural areas Everyone knows at least on vengeful OLD MAN that runs shtT.
    Who does not get charged criminally and is protected SO HIDE.bring a strong mamn to his dope fiending knees make the young girl momma cry... NOW YOU KNOW A MANIPULATIVE OLD MAN. dont 4 get to COVER THE WINDOWS PARANOID DOPE DEVILS.
    -Illumadept, Dallas
  • Dane from Lima,ohio, FlIn a pop up video way back when,It said John said this song is about overcoming obstacles,whatever they may be.I love the twangy guitar & the killer groove.John played all the instuments on this album.I always liked this one especially when it came out (in 1985) it was all synth pop & hair metal.This song was a blast of fresh air.
  • Erik from Bloomfield Hills, MiSued for plagiarizing oneself?! Only in the 80s.
  • Kelly from Waukesha, WiThe song is about the devil, and he make the barking of the hound is the hell hounds after your soul once your 10yr deal is up, he has a suit case and stands in the road, meaning the cross roads.
  • Steve from Cincinnati, OhI've always thought the old man was "Death". I've never seen the video.
  • Aaron from Babylon, Caactually i take that back Old Man is another alias for Satan, so more specifically this song could be about The Devil...
  • Pj from Okc, OkThis song is about your own mortality! The video flashes the things that happen in life. ...listen and watch the video, it makes more since!

  • Dyani from Santa Fe , NmI always thought that the lyrics, "Eye as black as coal" were "Highest bag of coke". I'm glad I'm wrong.
  • Sam from Shanghai, ChinaI love Fogerty's voice!! What kind of hopeless SOB would sue someone for sounding like themself? %$#!
  • Ed from Incognito, IlFogerty's voice, tho not technically very good, was the sound of the Viet Nam era
  • Jude from Thomasville, GaI love this song, and I love "Run Through The Jungle" But...I played them back to back, and they are not that much alike. Maybe that's why my favorite Fogerty song is "Vanz Kant Danz", which was originally titled "Zanz Kant Danz". Vanz/Zanz is a pig who picks the pockets of the crowd watching his boy, Billy, perform. You guessed right if you guess that Mr. Zaentz also sued over this and won. I'm not sure how John Fogerty managed to slip the darker and more straight forward "Mr. Greed" by him. I'm even more surprised that Zaentz didn't decide he was the title character in "The Old Man Down The Road" and file a suit over that!
  • Charles from Augusta,, GaThis was not his first hit as a solo artist. He had a hit with Jambalaya in 1972 which reached number 16, Hearts of Stone, in 1972 which reached number 37 and Rockin All Over the World in 1975, which reached number 27. He laid low for nine years, working out legalities with Fantasy records, and woodshedding, before releasing his brilliant one man band effort, Centerfield in 1985.
  • Sylvain from Montreal, CanadaWatching the video, i beleive this song is more about someone, near the end of his life looking back at his past. Being "down the road" is a metaphor for saying that you're life is coming to an end.
  • Deana from Indianapolis, InI believe I read, shortly after this was released, that the song was about "trouble".
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Bob Daisley

Bob DaisleySongwriter Interviews

Bob was the bass player and lyricist for the first two Ozzy Osbourne albums. Here's how he wrote songs like "Crazy Train" and "Mr. Crowley" with Ozzy and Randy Rhoads.

Who's Johnny, And Why Does He Show Up In So Many Songs

Who's Johnny, And Why Does He Show Up In So Many SongsSong Writing

For songwriters, Johnny represents the American man. He has been angry, cool, magic, a rebel and, of course, marching home.

Pam Tillis

Pam TillisSongwriter Interviews

The country sweetheart opines about the demands of touring and talks about writing songs with her famous father.

00s Music Quiz 1

00s Music Quiz 1Music Quiz

Do you know the girl singer on Eminem's "Stan"? If so, this quiz is for you.

Dan Reed

Dan ReedSongwriter Interviews

Dan cracked the Top 40 with "Ritual," then went to India and spent 2 hours with the Dalai Lama.

Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks

Ron and Russell Mael of SparksSongwriter Interviews

The men of Sparks on their album Hippopotamus, and how Morrissey handled it when they suggested he lighten up.