The erstwhile Creedence frontman has a new book, Fortunate Son, that details his ups and downs with fellow bandmembers and his record label. It’s clearly an exorcism of sorts for Fogerty. For readers, though, while a fascinating read it may also feel a bit like a self-congratulatory exercise in the airing of dirty laundry…
BY JOHN B. MOORE
When it comes to record companies screwing over the artists that make the music they profit from, the list is a long one. But from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, few deals were as blatantly lopsided as the one Creedence Clearwater Revival signed with Fantasy Records. Despite owning a slew of hits created by the band, and more specifically singer/guitarist John Fogerty, the label ended up suing the front man in the 1980s because a song, “The Old Man Down the Road,” on his Centerfield solo album, sounded too much like a song he wrote and sang on from his CCR days – so he was being sued for allegedly ripping off himself. (Go HERE to read about the fascinating legal wrangling that ensued between Fogerty and Fantasy.)
Over the past few decades, Fogerty has talked a little bit about his clashes with Fantasy chief Saul Zaentz, but he finally discusses the relationship and history in full detail in his memoir, Fortunate Son (published by Little, Brown & Company). The book feels almost like an exorcism of sorts for Fogerty, who also goes into great detail about his falling out with his bandmates, including his brother Tom, in the mid-‘70s, when all members wanted more say in the writing of songs.
“As I have been quoted as saying, the worst thing that happened to my band was the Beatles, because the guys in my band thought they could be the Beatles,” Fogerty writes. “Not only did the Beatles have three of the greatest songwriters ever, they had two great singers plus another pretty good singer – and actually a fourth guy with so much personality that it worked.”
He then asks the reader rhetorically if he feels like he was a tyrant in Creedence: “I don’t feel like I was.”
To the reader though, you can’t help but feel like he was at the very least pretty damn difficult to deal with (though it is easy to argue that the guy who wrote “Proud Mary,” “Run Through the Jungle” and “Long As I Can see the Light” deserves his fair share of ego). No one has yet disputed his assertion that he had to teach his CCR band members the various song arrangements on their instruments in the studio.
“Was I sure-handed, a perfectionist, even bullheaded about what I wanted? Yeah, you bet, sometimes. And sometime not… I didn’t sit there and berate or belittle someone in front of everybody else. That just wasn’t in my makeup.”
Along with finally telling his side to oft-discussed CCR music lore, Fogerty shares a number of interesting anecdotes and facts here, like his penchant for punk rock (he liked The Ramones and Bad Religion’s Sorrow is one of his favorite records). He also finally explains the genesis of the song Willie and the Poor Boys, which came to him on tour as he saw an ad in the paper for the “Winnie the Pooh Super-Pooh Package.”
“I just loved how that sounded, and I wanted to create a cartoonish Winnie-the-Pooh story in a song, with a mythical group.”
The book, a long time coming for many classic rock fans, is a solid read, though perhaps a bit too self-congratulatory. But hell, if you can’t tell the world how great you are in your own bio, who will? [Below: Fogerty performs a Creedence medley on the April 29, 2015 broadcast of the Letterman show]
There’s an interesting Swedish media interview with Fogerty from 1998 well worth viewing that finds him opening up about his CCR-related frustrations. Meanwhile, Billboard magazine recently published a short excerpt from the Fogerty memoir that’s also worth checking out—including the readers comments that follow the excerpt, as they dive straight into the old Fogerty-versus-Creedence-bandmates debate. The excerpt reads, in part:
In 1988, Saul sued me, claiming that my  song “The Old Man Down the Road” was an exact copy of the Creedence song “Run Through the Jungle.” There was a lot at stake in this case. We’re talking about two songs that had been on the radio and earned a lot of money… If Saul won, he would own this new song, just as he owned the older one. My lawyer asked him why he sued. Saul answered, “Well, that bass player in Creedence… came to my office and played John’s new album.” Stu said, “‘John is ripping off Creedence! You should sue him!’” I felt that I had been intentionally stabbed in the back. For Stu to go see Saul — a person who’d cheated and lied and really treated all of us like crap — and do that?
Way back in 1968, I had made an agreement with Tom, Doug and Stu to be equal partners. I let them share in my songwriting money. At the time, I thought I was dealing with people who understood the responsibility of what we had. But in 1988, they sold their votes to Zaentz for $30,000 each — that’s right, thirty pieces of silver. Stu told me, “I don’t care what they do with the music — just give me the money”? I was disgusted.
When the Hall of Fame called in late 1992, they said, “We are going to induct CCR into the Hall of Fame. Would you perform with the other band members?” I said, “No.” I’m just not going to stand on a stage with those people three in a row, play our songs and be presented as a band — particularly because these guys sold their rights in that band to my worst enemy…After Bill Clinton was elected, they wanted Creedence to play the inauguration in January 1993, and I had rejected it. I said, “I don’t play with those guys. We will never play as a band again.”
Worth one additional final note: almost as a prologue to publishing the memoir, late last year Fogerty and surviving former bandmates Doug Clifford and Stu Cook (brother Tom Fogerty passed away earlier) jumped into a legal skirmish that was purportedly over unpaid royalties. Lurking in the background, of course, was Fogerty’s long-simmering resentment towards them for having toured as “Creedence Clearwater Revisited” and performing classic CCR songs, and Clifford and Cook’s asserting that Fogerty himself had engaged in unlicensed uses of the CCR “trademark.” Fascinating stuff – go HERE to read up on it.