In spring 1971 during my senior year in Missoula, a life insurance salesman claiming to be one of John Fogerty’s brothers approached me. I was as skeptical about the need for life insurance as I was that this young man possessed kinship to the songwriter and musician I so greatly admired.
Because Fogerty’s words and sound had such a great impact on me, however, I was willing to endure a sales pitch—hell, maybe even buy a policy—if there was even the slightest chance of gaining some inside dope about the man behind those strange, swampy licks and Cajun-tinged vocals jumping out of my radio:
The ones I first heard in 1968 that caused me to remember and then quickly forget Dale Hawkins;
The ones that allowed me to picture myself on a Mississippi River boat, washing dishes and pumpin’ ’pane.
At that point, I’d never been to New Orléans or California, but he had me looking out my backdoor and floating down a green river in such vivid detail that I thought I’d been there, doing just that right at his side.
These recollections came to mind as I read Fogerty’s new autobiography (released November 2015), “Fortunate Son”—the fourth in a series of music tomes I’ve read over the last six months, including Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash: The Life; Peter Guralnick’s opus about Sam Phillips and Sun Records; and Mitch Ryder’s Devils & Blue Dresses.
Back in 1971, I wrote a music column for the daily college paper based on very little understanding of music theory and today I still can only strum a dozen or so cowboy and barre chords, so I’m clearly not qualified to critique Fogerty’s—or any—music. My impressions arise from gut feel and what my ears like. Those receptors find Fogerty’s words and vocals refreshing, original, haunting, and every other gold-star, platinum-plated, glorifying term a legitimate music reviewer could employ to laud his work.
Yet, his detailed explanations of how that amazing sound came together prove the least interesting aspect of his book, written in part with is wife Julie. Though he spends considerable time—probably too much—trying to convince us he is over the pain unjustifiably inflicted by Fantasy Records, its head Saul Zaentz, and his CCR band mates, the recurring and likely unintended theme of the book is his boundless humility.
As implied previously, I’ve consumed a vast number of biographical accounts penned by or ghosted for musicians, and all of them—with the exception of Fortunate Son—find a way to self-glorify that musician’s perceived or real “genius.” At times, as I read Fogerty’s words, I shook my head thinking: how can a person that possesses so much talent and has had such an enormous positive impact in his field feel so insecure and be so lacking in self-esteem?
As I closed the book, I just wanted to walk up, wrap my arms around him, and whisper, “It’s okay, John. You really have earned your place. Just enjoy it . . .
“Oh, and by the way, if that really was your brother back in Missoula in 1971, please, pass on my apologies for not executing that policy he mailed me.”