For Creedence Clearwater Revival, the beginning of the end came during a group meeting in October 1970, when John Fogerty's bandmates dropped a bombshell on him: After nine Top 10 hits in three years – all written by Fogerty – they wanted Creedence to become a democracy, with everyone contributing equally to the songwriting. "They just wanted to go into the studio and come up with songs by osmosis," Fogerty writes in his new memoir, Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music. "These guys had no clue about what was necessary. A vision. That's just the truth....To me that was scary...a disaster....Can I go so far as to say catastrophic?"
Creedence lasted just two more years, dissolving after the disastrous Mardis Gras, on which bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford wrote songs for the first time. In Fortunate Son, Fogerty opens up like never before about the short and tumultuous life of the band – as well as his up-and-down solo career and personal struggles. It's a story that Fogerty, 70, has wanted to tell for years. "I always felt frustrated when I read articles about myself," he says. "Sometimes I looked really bad. I'd see myself ranting or complaining or something. Finally, I just said, 'I'm going to write a book.'" Eight years ago, Fogerty sat down in front of a video camera and spent countless hours telling his entire life story, which he later spun into the book.
Fortunate Son covers everything from Fogerty's pre-Creedence days in the Army Reserve to his battle with alcohol in the 1980s and 1990s, something he's rarely discussed. Fogerty stops short of calling himself an alcoholic, but his drinking got so bad that it almost cost him his relationship with his girlfriend, Julie (now his wife). "I can have a glass of wine with dinner now and be OK," he says. "But I was psychologically addicted. I was doing everything that an alcoholic does."
The biggest villain in the book is Saul Zaentz, the former label head who owned Creedence's copyrights. Zaentz sued Fogerty for plagiarism because he felt the singer's 1984 hit "The Old Man Down the Road" was too similar to CCR's "Run Through the Jungle" – the only time an artist was ever sued for ripping himself off. (The suit was dismissed.) "He robbed us and owned all of our music," Fogerty says.
Even after Creedence broke up, Fogerty still owed Zaentz his next thanks to an unfortunate contract CCR had signed in their early days. "Music, my career – it all seemed to be in the rearview mirror, with every avenue blocked off," he writes. "And my gift was gone."
By the late 1980s, the other members of Creedence – including Fogerty's brother, Tom – sold their shares in the band to Zaentz, which Fogerty compares to Judas betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Tom Fogerty died in 1990, his feud with his brother still unresolved. Today, Cook and Clifford play casinos and state fairs as Creedence Clearwater Revisited, with a Fogerty sound-alike on vocals. "It sticks in my craw that they run around calling themselves Creedence," Fogerty says. In other words, don't expect any sort of reunion tour. "I'm not going to seek that out," he says. "They've been pretty poisonous to me, and in life itself, I'm pretty happy."
Fogerty's last album, 2013's Wrote a Song for Everyone, was a stellar covers set, but he hasn't re-leased an LP of original material since 2007's Revival. He hopes to remedy that soon. "Every day I practice guitar," he says. "Lately, I've started to go, 'Wow, that could be a cool little lick. Maybe I should make a song out of that.' I'm gearing up." Another thing he hopes to do soon is finally watch The Big Lebowski, the 1998 stoner classic that introduced his music to a new generation of fans. "It's become this whole thing," he says. "Someday I'll watch it. Right now, I've got kids. We watch a lot of SpongeBob SquarePants."
From issue #769 (December, 2015), available now.