Fortunate Son -- John Fogerty
Little Brown & Company
It seems like we’ve had a run on nonfiction books during the last few weeks. We had the Lafayette story, the lost books of the Bible story, and now the memoir of John Fogerty with the new book, Fortunate Son. I guess it’s just a phrase that I’m going through. I almost always read fiction books, but there was have been some very interesting nonfiction selections lately.
I love music, and Creedence Clearwater Revival is just one of those groups whose music gets stuck in my head whenever I hear it. “Down on the Corner” and “Looking Out My Back Door” get my feet tapping and head nodding. There’s something about that music that gets deep into your soul. That was one of the reasons I picked up this book from the library.
The second reason was because I think we’ve all heard the stories about how John Fogerty was screwed out of any earnings for the music he wrote and performed. I was interested in seeing what that looked like from the perspective of the artist. How would Fogerty relate that story? That was probably the biggest determination to reading the book for me -- the uncensored truth behind the David and Goliath scenario.
I’ve heard many stories about how arrogant John Fogerty is, and that was the driving force behind Creedence breaking up. I mean, when even your brother drops out of the band because of attitudes, there has to be some nugget of truth in that rumor. Even when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, John refused to perform with the other members of his former band. Instead he played with session players along with Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson. So, yeah, the guy is arrogant and stubborn.
This aspect of John Fogerty’s life is readily apparent in his writing. The tone throughout the book drips with condescension. Fogerty has 70 million reasons to be arrogant. He’s written some of the most seminal music 1967-1972. This music endures 45 years after it was written, and will continue to be a part of the American music scene for generations to come.
One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was the stories behind some of those great songs that we hear every day on the radio. From “Suzie Q” to “Swamp Water,” we learn how the muse influenced John Fogerty to write hit after hit. LIke some writers, he keeps a journal with ideas for the next song in it. I know I do this with story ideas, so I felt even the smallest connection with John Fogerty.
Fogerty’s relationship with his band and his recording company were quite vitriolic. He pulls no punches with either. It is safe to say that in his opinion he was the sole reason for the success of Creedence Clearwater Revival. No one else could write songs or music at the same caliber that he did. He explains that the proof is easy to see with the release of “Mardi Gras” in 1970. John Landau of Rolling Stone called it the worst album by a major rock band.
As for his relationship with his label owner, Saul Zaentz, to call it a cluster would be the nicest way to phrase it. After Fantasy records owned virtually every right to the songs Fogerty wrote, Fogerty signed away all the rights just to escape the onerous contract that was keeping him from earning any money from his hard work. At the same time, the band had the record company invest their earnings on their behalf. When the investments were found to be less than ideal and they lost all their money, the band tried recoup some of the losses. They sued the company, and were able to regain a small portion of what they’d lost. As a result, Fantasy turned around and sued Fogerty for $140 million. So, that was the type of relationship they had.
John Fogerty had all that working against him. For a time he even stopped playing music from his CCR days. He didn’t want to make any more money for the company he felt was robbing him. Eventually, he relented on his boycott of his own songs and once again regaled his fans with old favorites.
Throughout the entire book, the only crack in the wall of arrogance was when he was speaking of his family. There is a true and deep admiration for his wife and children. He even tells how unfair he was to his first wife during their marriage. His family means a lot to him. It pained him that his brother, Tom, was estranged. Business got in the way of blood. There is a very real sense of regret with regards to Tom as well as his first wife.
Fortunate Son by John Fogerty is a unique look behind the scenes at the life and times of both the artist and his band. With music that still resonates with listeners nearly a half century later, Fogerty adds to that legend with a narrative in his own words. The raw truth of this book can simultaneously make you cringe, laugh and cry. It is the story of a man who put every ounce of energy into his craft, demanded perfection, and earned accolades as a rock god.
Craig Bacon would pay more than a nickel to listen to Willie and the Poor Boys. He’ll meet you down on the corner.