Book Review – Fortunate Son by John Forgerty

John Fogerty, Fortunate Son & Survivor Of The Cutthroat Music Industry

The Story Of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Leader

Fogertyy Fortunate Son book“I am a bit of a control freak,” admits John Fogerty in his autobiography Fortunate Son: My Life My Music (Little, Brown & Co. – 2015).

It’s a justifiable sentiment, because if John Fogerty was not a control freak, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) would never have become one of the most popular rock bands in the world.

Many CCR fans may be unaware, that Fogerty‘s bandmates; bassist Stu Cook, drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford and Fogerty‘s older brother, rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty, until CCR’s final album, contributed nothing to the band in terms of music, lyrics, production, mixing and arrangements of songs.  Without John Fogerty, Creedence Clearwater Revival was nothing, according to Fogerty.

While that may sound like a self-inflated opinion, it is probably more of an objective fact. Between 1968 to 1972, John Fogerty as lead singer, sole songwriter, lead guitarist, arranger and producer, garnered over 20 hit singles and millions of album sales. CCR’s commercial success during that time was rivaled by no one except the Beatles and possibly Led Zeppelin.

For all that success, John Fogerty was paid back with multiple lawsuits brought against him by his bandmates and the band’s own record company, Fantasy Records and its vindictive, unscrupulous owner Saul Zaentz. This resulted in a torturous 15 year period where Fogerty would not play any of the songs he had written and made into radio staples. These are songs that will stand the test of time, including, Proud Mary, Up Around the Bend, Fortunate Son, Bad Moon Rising, Green River, Born on the Bayou, Who’ll Stop The Rain, and Down on the Corner. The riffs of many of these songs are uniquely Fogerty, recognizable after just a few notes.

John Fogerty tells the story of four young kids from El Cerrito, a small town outside of San Francisco, who just wanted to make music and get a record deal. The band signed a contract that Fogerty believes may not have ever been looked at by a lawyer.

That contract tied John Fogerty to what amounted to an endless period of indentured servitude. When the band officially broke up, the other members were released from their obligations, John Fogerty was not. In five years the band cranked out seven studio albums containing multiple hit singles and toured all over the world. Those albums made Saul Zaentz wealthy.

Fogerty explains how Zaentz, broke promise after promise to negotiate a better deal and contract for the band. Fogerty’s songs were owned by Fantasy and the band’s earnings were moved into a shady offshore banking scheme that took all their money. Fogerty accepts some of the blame for these actions. What was unacceptable was Zaentz and Fogerty’s former CCR bandmates suing Fogerty multiple times.

Arguably the most notorious and contentious lawsuit occurred in 1988 when Zaentz sued Fogerty for releasing a song called The Old Man Is Down The Road on his solo album Centerfield. Zaentz claimed plagiarism of a Creedence song Run Through The Jungle which of course was written by John Fogerty. In doing so Zaentz sued John Fogerty for stealing from John Fogerty!

As preposterous as this lawsuit may sound now, at the time it would have been a huge defeat for all songwriters had Zaentz prevailed. Fortunately Fogerty won the case. What startled and hurt Fogerty the most was during testimony he discovered drummer Doug Clifford, was the one who brought up the similarities of the two songs to Zaentz and suggested Zaentz sue Fogerty.

It is apparent John Fogerty did not have a ghost writer for this book as many celebrities do. As great of a songwriter as Fogerty is, the book is messy in its narrative and timeline. Many details of Fogerty’s life are inexplicably omitted. He describes being one of five boys and doesn’t name two of his brothers. Basic details such as the birth order are left out.  Fogerty doesn’t identify himself in a family picture as if the reader is supposed to recognize the the adult Fogerty as a child.  What became of Fogerty’s first wife and their children? Time jumps back and forth within chapters. You re-read certain sections, saying “did I skip something?”

The savior of John Fogerty’s life is second wife Julie who co-writes later chapters of the book with John. The two have now been married for nearly 30 years and it is Julie who has put back the broken pieces to make John Fogerty whole again.

Barring the book’s sloppy structure, the great information fully overwhelms the bad. John Fogerty is honest in describing his anguish and pain. His long battle with alcohol abuse is brutally self reflective with no excuses. The fallout with brother and bandmate Tom Fogerty also took a toll on John. Tom sided with Saul Zaentz in disputes with John. Tom once naively described Zaentz to John as his “best friend.”

When Tom Fogerty died in 1990 from complications from AIDS, acquired from a blood transfusion, “best friend” Saul Zaentz did not attend his funeral.

Fortunate Son is a fascinating memoir from one of the most creative songwriters of all-time. Fogerty’s love and respect of all types of music clearly come through with mentions of songs, personalities and musicians, many little known, except to music afficianados. Fogerty’s influences come from a wide spectrum including Elvis Presley, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie, and Chet Atkins to Lightnin’ Hopkins, Hoagy Carmichael and Brian Wilson.

Fogerty pays homage to those who artists who came before him and those who have arrived after him. Fogerty describes where CCR’s songs emerged from, the process he used to create them, their instrumentalization and their mixing and production. If you are a musician the details will be interesting, if not, they may be too detailed. For fans who like to interpret lyrics, Fogerty describes what many of his songs are about.

The emphasis on his songs is because Stu Cook and Doug Clifford since 1993 have toured as Creedence Clearwater Revisited without John. With the exception of the final original Creedence album, 1972’s Mardi Gras, both Cook and Clifford never wrote any of the music or lyrics that made Creedence famous.

By 1972 Tom Fogerty had left the band. Cook and Clifford wanted democracy in the creative process. Over his own doubts, Fogerty gave it to them. Each member of the band contributed three songs which they wrote and sung themselves. The Cook and Clifford songs on Mardi Gras are banal. Two of Fogerty’s three contributions became hits, Sweet Hitchhiker and Someday Never Comes. So much for creative freedom, the album was panned by fans and critics alike.

It should be noted that John Fogerty shared all songwriting credits and the band’s meager earnings after Zaentz took the majority of their money from record sales and song publishing.

The magic behind Creedence was all John Fogerty, hence the control freak moniker that Fogerty agrees with.  Interviewers who now ask Cook and Clifford about classic CCR songs and how they were developed, is like asking a person who is a flight attendant on a jet airliner how to build and fly one.

John Fogerty is the pilot and builder of CCR. Fans who want to understand the man should take a look at Fortunate Son.

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