John Fogerty’s new book, Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music, was partially born out frustration with the way he often saw his story portrayed in the press. “I’d talk to a newspaper or magazine, and what I said never really came out right,” he says. “In fact, it really looked bad in print when I saw myself complaining or anything about something. Finally I just said to myself, ‘I’m gonna write a book.'”
He began the process about eight years ago by hiring someone to interview him on video camera about his entire life. “I was asked a zillion questions in an attempt to get the whole story out of me,” he says. “I don’t know how many hours we shot, but it ended up not being a book then.” They wound up calling up Jimmy McDonough, best known for his stellar 2002 Neil Young biography Shakey, and had him put the pieces together. “I want to stress that this is not ghost-written,” says Fogerty. “Jimmy mainly acted as the interviewer. He said to me, ‘John, this book is in your voice.'”
Fortunate Son tells the whole story of Fogerty’s life, from his times in the Army Reserve to the rise of Creedence Clearwater Revival through their highly acrimonious breakup and the never-ending battles with his former bandmates and Fantasy Records president Saul Zaentz, who controlled the publishing rights to the Creedence tunes. He also gets personal, explaining how he screwed up his first marriage and how a drinking problem nearly derailed his second one.
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We spoke with Fogerty about the book, his ongoing war with the other members of Creedence, Donald Trump and why he’s never seen The Big Lebowski.
As I read the book, I kept thinking about how the band caused you nothing but grief. Do you ever think you would have been better off as a solo artist?
That’s an interesting question. It’s really funny because I basically formed that band when I was 14 and always thought of myself as a band member, but even when we started I knew I had more music in me than the other guys, including my brother Tom. But by the time I wrote “Proud Mary,” I had evolved, and something quite different started to happen. I knew I had something I didn’t have before. I knew that’s where good stuff would be created, like Lennon/McCartney, Irving Berlin, Leiber and Stoller or today somebody like Bruce [Springsteen] or, of course, Bob Dylan. I knew I was inside that place, wherever that was, where those people created that stuff. I very much felt that the other guys in the band weren’t there, but even at that point I still felt like part of the team.
Were they of any benefit to you?
Yeah, I think so. What you’re getting is that all those personalities were so difficult for me. We never really had a manager, and I think those people were unmanageable. They had a real problem with taking direction. Let’s say I was in a band with John Lennon before I wrote “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.” I think I would have pretty much followed him.
Sure, but can’t you see it from their perspective? They resented being in a band where they didn’t feel important.
I look back now and see that, yeah. I didn’t understand it then. We didn’t think of ourselves as a business, but nowadays because of Google and other things, there are so many young entrepreneurs who are basically just kids coming up with these monumental businesses. That is kind of what we did. It was a band, but let’s say you were on a team that had invented Google or whatever; you had envisioned something and gotten it done. I just thought it was good for all of us. I didn’t understand.
There is one scene I talk about in the book where [my brother] Tom is angry about “Green River” or angry with me. He said to me, “You’re getting quite a repertoire.” That wasn’t a compliment or praise, but I didn’t understand what was going on
He said years later that as your big brother, he wanted to lead you, not the other way around.
It seemed so. Years later, [my wife] Julie said to me, “John, they’re just jealous of you.” I didn’t harbor those feelings, so I really didn’t have any clue why it was getting so tense.
You write so many negative things about surviving Creedence members Doug Clifford and Stu Cook in the book. I’m curious, what’s the kindest thing you can say about them right now?
You have to go back to when we were kids. Way back then, I liked Doug’s energy. He was full of energy all the time. And the thing about Stu is that he’s pretty intelligent, and that seemed to be a strong quality.
But since your childhood, no real grounds for praise?
What you have to understand is that even though I’m the guy in that band who wrote, produced and arranged all the songs, and therefore really brought them success, and Saul Zaentz was the guy who robbed us and owned all of our music and treated us pretty badly, somehow they flipped that on its head over the years, and now I’m the bad guy. Over the years, Tom, Doug and Stu would would quote Saul as if he was giving them good information and I was the crook, as if I ruined their lives somehow.
Jumping forward in time, your wife writes in the book that the night she met you at the bar in 1986 you were dancing to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” I have a hard time picturing that.
That really happened. That night I met her is a magical thing in my mind, just one of those life-changing things. I’m sure I had a few drinks in me when I danced to “Sledgehammer.” I’m not much of a dancer, but I’m glad it happened.
You never use the word “alcoholic” in your book. Do you think you were one in the late 1980s and early 1990s?
Well, I certainly was acting like one. Everything I was doing was alcoholic. The only difference, I suppose, is that an alcoholic can’t help himself. He’s physically addicted, and if he has one drink, he’ll go on a five-day bender. That’s not the case with me anymore. I can go out to dinner with Julie and have a glass of wine and that’s it. But I do want to say that I was psychologically addicted.
How many times do you think you’ve seen The Big Lebowski?
I’ve never seen the whole movie.
No. I’ve only seen little snippets of it here and there.
I just haven’t sat down to do the whole thing. At the time, I didn’t realize what was going on and then it became this whole thing. There’s a few of those I’ve never seen, like Forrest Gump or Rocky Horror Picture Show. But I’ve seen Cinderella 80 times.
I’m shocked. When people of a certain age hear “Creedence,” the first thing they think of is The Big Lebowski.
I just didn’t even know what was happening for about 10 years.
Do you think if you were just starting now as a 22-year-old, that you’d make it in today’s music business?
Yeah. I think if I had enough songwriting and singing talent that I’d be a person of my time. I’d be a kid who understands his own time like I did back in 1968 and 1969.
There was so much rock music in the culture then, though. Things are so different now.
Well, I think I would be influenced by what a young person is influenced by now. I would still play guitar, but there would be room for sampling and drum machines and, what do you call it, hip-hop and everything happening now.
Keith Richards recently said that rap is for tone deaf people. Do you think that’s fair?
Well, how can I say it? It’s a way of making music that’s a lot less musically involved. It’s more like poetry and rhythm. How can I say this? It certainly has validity to people that enjoy it. For me, everything starts sounding the same to me after two songs, and I get bored. But the songs are hard-hitting. People have something to say, and they’re presenting it in an artistic form. But I have to admit, I’m from my time, and it’s a little harder for me to understand or feel totally at ease with it.
Gene Simmons of Kiss says that rock is dead. Do you think that’s an overstatement?
I don’t know. You’ll have to talk to Dave Grohl. I don’t think that he feels that way. People that make rock music, like Tame Impala or Mumford & Sons, may do it a little different, but it still qualifies as rock & roll. There’s still great songwriters and great records. I wouldn’t say it’s dead. But there was a point where rock & roll was pop music. It was an interchangeable phrase. It’s not that way now.
Are you going to support Hillary Clinton for president?
I don’t know. I always get a little uncomfortable with people supporting candidates. Last time around with John Kerry and Vote For Change, I was amazed by the outcome. Certainly Hillary is more in line with my philosophy than anyone else I can think of right now. Now, if Bill Clinton was running, I’d vote for him in a heartbeat, but that won’t work.
So you’re not for Bernie Sanders?
I’d have to see more about him, but I’m probably for Hillary at this point. But I want to see people develop more of what they have in them. Believe it or not, when Donald Trump first started making noise, I didn’t think that would last five minutes. The fact that he’s the frontrunner just blows my mind. In the beginning, there was a lot of shock value, and I haven’t read all his statements, but I do happen to think that at least he’s shaking things up. I sure like that. The fact he’s a billionaire means he can’t be bought. I mean, I’m a little distrustful of billionaires in the first place, but I like that he’s outside the normal political circles.
So a part of you likes Trump?
I like the rebelliousness of him and the fact that he’s upsetting a lot of Republicans. I think that’s cool.
But if it’s Trump against Hillary …
Of course, I’d vote for Hillary. I’m a lifelong liberal, and for me, that has always translated into being a Democrat. Our system in America isn’t perfect, but liberals tend to have the little guy in mind. When they talk, at least, they’re in favor of trying to make everybody’s lot in life better. I never heard a lot of talk like that come out of Republicans.
If you could go back in time to 1967, what advice would you give yourself?
Get everything that you agree with your partners in writing. Also, make damn sure that a real lawyer actually reads the contract. As I talk about in the book, we gave the contract to Stu because his dad was a lawyer. Word came back from Stu that his dad said it was okay to sign. The only person in the world that knows whether or not that is true is Stu.
What about if you could travel back to 1972?
Wow. That’s a tough one. [Long pause.] If you’d said 1970, I would have said, “You know what, let’s have this band take a long vacation.” I was really trying to get Tom to take a long vacation. In the end, he just wanted to leave the band. It set us down a course that was irreversible. But Tom was adamant, and he couldn’t be reasoned with. It broke my heart, and it set Doug and Stu against me. It was a whole different dynamic.
What are the odds you’ll ever stand on a stage with those guys ever again?
I wouldn’t see why that would ever happen, but I’m not like I was 20 years ago, where I’d say, “That’s impossible! You’re crazy!” I’m not angry now. But I would certainly give Doug and Stu a wide breadth if I saw them coming down the street. I’d probably step over to the other side of the street and say, “Okay, what do you guys want?” The fact they’re running around calling themselves Creedence just sticks in my craw.
Are you curious to just sit down with them one day and talk this stuff out?
I’m not seeking that out. They’ve been pretty poisonous to me. I’m willing to listen for a few minutes, but I’m not sure what they could tell me that would be of great interest, unless they were really listening themselves.
When Saul Zaentz died, did you feel anything?
No. It’s funny. That was the same weekend that Phil Everly passed away. I heard about Saul first. I just looked at Julie and said, “Oh … meh.” A long time ago, I always thought I’d dance a jig on his grave. I’d go to the service, stand there and go “Ha! Ha! Ha!” and dance up and down on the pile of dirt they dug up. But now it doesn’t mean anything to me.
Are you working on any new songs right now?
I find myself writing down titles and bits of music. I practice guitar every day. I’m obsessed with it. Lately I’ve started to go, “Wow, that could be a cool little lick. Maybe you should make a song out of that.” It means I’m gearing up.
Cool. That should do it, but before I go, I really encourage you to sit down and watch The Big Lebowski. It’s a fantastic movie.
Some day I want to sit and watch it with Julie. The other thing is, we have kids. Your entertainment time is precious. My daughter Kelsey is about 14 now. That means I watch a lot of Spongebob Squarepants.