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BOOK REVIEW: Fortunate Son by John Fogerty

| 18 November 2015 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Fortunate Son by John Fogerty

Hachette Australia
October 2015
Hardback, $35.00
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

Music Biography

9.5 /10

Fortunate Son by John Fogerty

Reading former Creedence Clearwater Revival mainman John Fogerty’s autobiography (ghosted by the redoubtable Jimmy McDonough) isn’t like studying a textbook or poring over a stuffy propaganda document, it’s more like sitting around a table while Uncle John regales you with stories from his eventful life.

Like any life, those stories are both good and bad, and he’s not going to fob you off with just the good stuff, or make light of the struggles he’s been through – oh no. Fogerty has struggled more than most, naively signing a contract as he first started out which saw him lose ownership of not only his songs, but pretty much his creative soul as well.

In many ways FORTUNATE SON can be seen as a cautionary tale. Don’t sign anything until a lawyer you trust reads it through and advises you of every possible outcome. Always sign an agreement between bandmates. Verbal agreements aren’t worth a damn when unscrupulous former bandmates get desperate (or greedy). Loopholes are cruelly exploited when lowlife businessmen only view an artist as a cash cow.

Fogerty’s story is well known in the music business. He and his three CCR bandmates (including brother Tom) signed with Fantasy Records, which was quickly taken over by the amoral Saul Zaentz, who then crushed the spirit of the band with his insatiable greed. Zaentz made millions from CCR, nearly destroying Fogerty as he was forced to write six best-selling albums in three years, and was paid peanuts for the privilege.

In this wonderfully touching book Fogerty tells of the anxiety and stress he experienced as he found himself virtually friendless (he was playing in bands from his early teens and had little time for anything outside of music) as his record label and bandmates ignored him, taking his talent for granted and leaving him to do most of the work, right down to teaching them (and even sometimes recording their parts after they left the studio) what to play.

Even after the band spluttered to a halt in 1972 Fantasy claimed ownership of Fogerty’s solo career, and again he struggled to stay in touch with his creativity, knowing that everything he would do would make someone else rich and see him treated like dirt again.

Fantasy had more dirty tricks up their sleeve: they refused to count one solo album as contract-fulfilling because it was country music and not rock. Zaentz even sued Fogerty for his excellent solo single of 1985, The Old Man Is Down The Road, claiming it was a ripoff of his own earlier song Run Through The Jungle. He won, thankfully, but still had a million dollars in legal fees to pay.

The seventies and eighties saw Fogerty embrace his bitterness – not unfairly, but irrevocably to his own detriment. Alcohol, women, anger, an inability to create, debilitating perfectionism. He suffered a lot through this time – tragic for such a talent whose work had meant (and still does) so much to so many.

The most charming parts of his book see Fogerty name checking a veritable who’s who of early rock n’ roll, blues, country, bluegrass and rockabilly as prime influences; and meeting second wife Julie. The light she brought into his life, Fogerty readily admits, may be the only reason he is still here, and certainly the only reason he is still making music – not that it was an instantaneous change, mind you.

Fogerty is uplifting telling his tale, explaining how he ever-so-slowly came to accept and even forgive those who had done him so wrong. He describes the arduous legal battles that may not have overturned the contracts and unfair claims upon his creative work (a legal travesty, in our humble opinion) but also how they helped him come to an understanding in and of himself.

When he finally does start to see the light it is revelatory: Yes, what they did was and is unfair. It wasn’t right. But he can’t keep letting them ruin every other part of his life. With Julie by his side Fogerty learnt to trust and love and be an artist again, no small feat for such a humble, proud and principled man.

FORTUNATE SON is a beautifully written book, fascinating and revelatory, and a must for all fans of American rock n’ roll, and all students of the music business in general. Just don’t let it happen to you.

Category: Book Reviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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