Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music
By John Fogerty
Little, Brown; 416 pp.; $30
As the lead singer and guitarist for Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Fogerty was hit-writing machine in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
But anybody going to a Fogerty solo show for most of the ‘80s and ‘90s expecting to hear FM favorites like “Born on the Bayou,” “Green River,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Down on the Corner,” “Run Through the Jungle” and so many more would have walked away sorely, sorely disappointed. Likewise, Fogerty himself walked away from playing any of his most famous material.
That was partly stemming from personal disillusionment, and partly as a kind of sonic “fuck you” to Fantasy Records owner Saul Zaentz — who owned the copyright to all Creedence songs and with whom Fogerty was involved in various lawsuits for rights and royalties.
But, as he retells in this autobiography that takes its title from perhaps his most enduring calling card, three events happened that changed his mind.
He saw how much the songs personally meant to Vietnam veterans. He visited the grave of bluesman Robert Johnson and had an epiphany about musical legacies. And he heard Bob Dylan loud and clear when the Bard of Hibbing said to Fogerty, “If you don't do 'Proud Mary,' everybody's gonna think it's a Tina Turner song."
Fortunate Son follows Fogerty’s own story of his life from beginning with a youth growing up in Northern California — still shocking to some who just assume he is from Louisiana based on many of his songs — through early musical endeavors and finally Creedence Clearwater Revival. That band's odd name was inspired by a combination of a South African janitor, a beer commercial, and the anti-pollution movement. And it was still better than the group’s last name – the Golliwogs.
But even as they marched their way to becoming the most successful American band of their era, Fogerty found himself at odds with the rest of the group — bassist Stu Cook, drummer Doug Clifford, and his own guitarist brother, Tom.
“Why are my own people so mad at me all the time?” he writes wonderingly.
It seems that according to Fogerty, hit records, sold-out shows and women weren’t enough to satisfy the other guys. They chafed at John’s leadership and direction while pretty much wholly depending on him to write their material (despite the decided-upon four-way writing credits).
After Tom left the group, the band limped on for a couple of more years. John Fogerty continued to record and perform sporadically while battling alcoholism and financial ruin (thanks, offshore bank accounts and investments!). He was also chafing under a contract that intially required him to write and record an unimaginable 34 – 34! – new songs a year. And no covers allowed.
Fogerty adds that the legal battles with both Zaentz and his own former bandmates sapped much of his energy. Zaentz even sued Fogerty for allegedly plagiarizing himself -- claiming that his solo hit “The Old Man Down the Road” was a rewrite of Creedence’s “Run Through the Jungle.”
Fogerty won the case. And while Zaentz died last year, Fogerty hopes to eventually claim back his catalogue. He and brother Tom never did make up before the latter died in 1990. And when Creedence was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Fogerty refused to play with Cook and Clifford.
And the bad moons continue to rise. Just this year, a fresh lawsuit was launched against Fogerty by the pair (who today perform as part of Creedence Clearwater Revisited) when on his last tour, Fogerty performed two Creedence records in their entirety.
While this may make Fortunate Son sound on the surface more like a legal thriller than musician autobiography, Fogerty devotes ample space to his writing and recording career as well as his sheer love of rock and roll music, particularly as a teenager.
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He’s particularly chuffed that his baseball-themed “Centerfield” has become such a lasting hit, even if it does happen to be on George Bush’s iPod. Fogerty was not a fan of Dubya. Still, he had to have been bemused that many wrote that the former president was the living embodiment of the lyrics to “Fortunate Son.”
Throughout the book, Fogerty writes with a plain — if not too deep — style as comfortable as one of his trademark plaid flannel shirts, which he was sporting long before grunge came around.
If the book has a fault, it may come in Fogerty's naivete in matters of relationships both personal and professional is somewhat hard to fully believe. Sometimes the reader may feel like the author is an observer rather than a participant in portions of his own life.
Today, John Fogerty still has his issues in regards to the management of his music. But with a wife, Julie, that he’s intensely devoted to (she even get to write some chapters on her own), sons who play in his band, and a rich wealth of anthem-worthy material whose appeal has not tapered off in more than 45 years, John Fogerty is indeed a fortunate son.