Fortunate Son

Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music
By John Fogerty with Jimmy McDonough
[Little, Brown & Co.]

“To me a record is a presentation,” writes John Fogerty. “You’ve thought all about it, the arrangement, the mix – that’s why you can hear the singer a little louder that the drum or the bass. You’ve prepared this. You need to have the music be a bed for your song, so you can present your song. One of the huge secrets of Creedence was that this music was brain-numbingly simple, but it’s the right simple.” This nugget of secrecy is amongst the many bits of enlightenment shared by Fogerty in his newly published autobiography.

 The life and music of Fogerty, one of America’s most celebrated American songwriters, singers, band leaders and guitar players, began in 1948 in the East San Francisco Bay city of El Cerrito, California. The third of five children, John Fogerty had a fairly typical ’50s upbringing. His parents’ divorce was hard on him but he did have a loving family…and four brothers with whom to explore and grow. His brother Tom and he were most severely bitten by the music bug and while in high-school the two Fogerty brothers joined up with two other local boys, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford, to form Tommy Fogerty & the Blue Velvets. They signed with local label Fantasy Records and morphed through the Golliwogs and into Creedence Clearwater Revival. The rest, as they say, is history.

Except it has been an unkind history for Fogerty. Both his band and his label severely did him wrong and he spent around 1973-1985 covered by the pall of a severe identity crisis. Not wanting to play CCR songs (one reason being that the horrible deal Fantasy perpetrated on him would have funneled all proceeds to them, not him), he didn’t have much to play. “I had been so far away from songwriting for so long that I was sort of scared of it,” writes Fogerty.

Throughout Fortunate Son, Fogerty shoots straight and does not disparage anyone; he only tells the truth. The truth is, many screwed him, including his own brother Tom. Yet the main fact that comes through is his love of music. His musical maturation during the ’60s is highlighted by the simultaneous evolution of musical and studio technology. It is hard to believe that originally CCR was an all-Rickenbacker band! His influences are many and Fogerty has a great love for all of them. During his story of the “Folk Police” he says, “Pete Seeger’s influence on me was probably greater than any of the rock and roll guys.” His favorite band was Booker T & The MG’s. Their guitarist is revealed to receive the second highest Fogerty accolade. He shares, “The solo in ’Proud Mary’ is me doing my best Steve Cropper.” Later on in his career, Fogerty was practicing hard on the Dobro. “All paths of the Dobro eventually lead to Jerry Douglas,” he writes. Casually, he goes further, “Jerry Douglas is my favorite musician of all time.”

Another of Fogerty’s favorite guitarists was Albert King, a huge influence and someone who ended up opening for CCR at the Fillmore. To this day, Fogerty remains humble in the presence of greatness. As a young man he was incredulous as to whom CCR was more popular than. A funny story is shared when CCR opened for the star duo of the time. “[Sonny & Cher] were the big time: ‘I Got You, Babe.’ So we do our set, and by God, there’s such cheering going on that we’re going to get to do an encore. Outstanding! They open the curtain. We come out doing ‘Walking the Dog.’ We did it more funky, like Rufus Thomas. We’re rockin’ away when suddenly – whoosh! The curtain closes again! What? It turned out that ‘Walking the Dog’ was Cher’s very first number of their set. Ixnay!”

Although “Run Through The Jungle” receives much exploration when Fantasy sued Fogerty when they claimed his 1985 hit “The Old Man Down the Road” sounded like the CCR hit, more is revealed. He writes “A journalist misheard ‘Down on the Corner’s line ‘Willie goes into a dance and doubles on kazoo’ as ‘the devil’s on the loose.’ That’s a cool line! Into ‘Run Through The Jungle’ it went.”

Many pages are spent on the backstabbing and heartache that appeared in his life. The truth is told. He treated all those around him fairly and they took advantage of him. “I was only pulling for the band, he writes. “I never ever thought of myself any other way through all the years I was in it. I gave the other guys equal share in the songwriting income.”

Even after brother Tom left the band, he soldiered on with the CCR trio. “Elvis hit the big time with D.J. Fontana, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black. And Elvis went off and left them,” he indicates. “It was a big deal to me when Elvis turned his back on the other guys, went on without them. I felt he screwed his band, and I didn’t want to do that.” So he stayed with Cook and Clifford and Fantasy…only to regret it.

As is currently known, Fogerty’s identity crisis passed and for years he’s been playing his old CCR tunes. There are many reasons for this but the most illuminating reason came from an unlikely source. In 1987 Fogerty went to see Taj Mahal in Los Angeles. At the club were Bob Dylan and George Harrison. They both got on stage and soon asked Fogerty to join them. Dylan did a Dylan song and Harrison did a Carl Perkins song. Dylan said, “All right, John, we’ve all done a song. Do ‘Proud Mary.’”

“Sorry Bob,” Fogerty said. “I’m not doing my old songs. I don’t do them anymore.” Fogerty writes, “Instead of arguing about it, Bob Dylan, in his genius and ever so influential way said, ‘If you don’t do ‘Proud Mary’, everybody’s gonna think it’s a Tina Turner song.’” They nailed it and all had a laugh. Fortunate Son is a must read for anyone interested in American history, music, guitars or the life story of a really nice/cool guy.