Bad Moon Rising: The Unauthorized History of Creedence Clearwater Revivalby Hank Bordowitz
"Who'll Stop the Rain"..."Fortunate Son"..."Proud Mary"..."Down on the Corner"..."Green River"..."Lookin' Out My Back Door".... From 1968 to 1971, Creedence Clearwater Revival were the great American rock band, ruling the charts and reviving an American roots-rock sound that was unequaled. Through the catchy songwriting, vibrant guitar playing, and strong vocals of leader John Fogerty, the group captured the imaginations of their generation.
The story began with two brothers, Tom and John Fogerty, who shared a love of rock and roll. Tom was the elder and original leader and singer; John was the guitar whiz whose talents could not be denied.
John's school chums Stu Cook and Doug Clifford joined forces with the Fogertys to form a band that was first called the Blue Velvets, then the Golliwogs (in an ill-fated attempt to cash in on the Beatles' fame), and finally found its name -- and true calling -- when in 1967 they declared themselves to be Creedence Clearwater Revival. As John's vocal and songwriting skills blossomed, Tom wisely gave him center stage.
Yet, it was not an easy ride to fame; Fogerty's creative leadership was resented by the other band members, and ill-conceived contracts with their management and record company left the group laden with crippling financial burdens. Plus, as the other three members fought for recognition and an equal say in the band's repertory and sound, internal dissension grew. First John's brother Tom quit to pursue a solo career, and then the remaining trio was torn apart by further artistic differences.
When the band dissolved in 1972, John Forgerty should have been able to continue as a successful solo performer. Instead, still burdened by a souring relationship with his record label, bad publishing deals, and tangled contracts, his career quickly fizzled, and he abandoned the sound and repertoire that he helped create. The upshot has been over a quarter-century of legal wrangling, broken careers, and -- saddest of all -- lost potential.
This book reveals it all, as told by the surviving band members, their producers, business associates, close friends, and families. Drawing on thousands of documents and court records -- many made available to this author for the first time -- the tragic and triumphant tale of one of America's most beloved bands unfolds. Years of detective work reveal how a combination of music-industry misdealings and artistic, personal, and family dissension brought down one of the greatest groups in the history of rock.
"Bordowitz’s recounting of all the acrimony is well detailed and not too hyperbolic. This is a must read for CCR-philes." —Booklist
"If Hank Bordowitz’s Bad Moon Rising isn’t ‘the saddest story in rock ’n’ roll,’ . . . it certainly comes within kissing distance." —USA Today
"A new, pretty good examination of the group." —Houston Chronicle
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Read an Excerpt
"I Was the Leader Already."
In 1958 rock music had passed its infancy -- it was more like a toddler -- but it still was not reputable. Not many high schools had even one rock band, let alone junior highs. Especially not in a quiet, working-class suburb like El Cerrito, California. Only a twenty-mile drive from the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco, only perhaps ten miles from the University of California Berkeley, culturally those towns might have existed on another planet. During the '50s through today, El Cerrito epitomizes the quiet suburb.
Jeff Fogerty, son of Creedence rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty, still lives a couple of towns away. He asserts, "El Cerrito is like the most un-hip place to be in the Bay area. It's this little, small, sleepy town two towns north of Berkeley." Even so, the '50s wrought changes on the former Spanish settlement like the decade changed nearly everything in America. Classic old adobe houses gave way to more modern homes. Old sounds gave way to new.
When John Fogerty was thirteen years old, in 1958, he got the yen to form a rock band. Most parents and even a lot of kids found rock and roll distasteful. Certainly, in Eisenhower's rosy-cheeked, apple-pie America, healthy adolescents had better things to pursue -- especially in El Cerrito. Fogerty, however, had entertained the idea of forming a band for close to five years. "I envisioned being exactly what I am now since I was eight," he recalled in 1986. "I remember as early as 1953, when I was about eight years old, that I was going to name my group Johnny Corvette and the Corvettes. I had already made my choice: I was thinking about making a career out of music. Of course, I was Johnny Corvette. Somehow I was the leader already."
It started when his eldest brother, Jim, turned him on to R&B, like Ray Charles. "Around 1953, I started to notice rhythm and blues songs by Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and things like that," he told Jim Delahant in 1969. Nearly a quarter of a century later, Fogerty commented to the LA Times's Robert Hilburn, "My idols were guys who were really gritty and were real rockers. I wanted to live up to what they did."
He recalled walking around as early as the fifth grade with a blues band playing in his head. He would sing all the parts, grunting for the drums, developing mental images of how the music would sound.
His resolve solidified when he first heard Carl Perkins. "Carl Perkins," Fogerty says,"was the first one ever to make me think about being a musician and singer. Elvis was a star. Carl was a musician. I wanted to be more like Carl."
Born on May 28, 1945, John fell smack in the middle of the five Fogerty boys. His oldest brother, Jim, was on a track that would eventually lead to work as an accountant. His immediate older sibling, Tom, had already started to make a name for himself locally as a singer when John made the momentous discovery of the power of rock and roll. Dan, about four years younger than John, eventually would own a chain of pizzerias. The youngest Fogerty sibling, Bob, took many of the photographs for his brothers' records and promotional material. He wound up in the role of John's personal manager.
Growing up in this large family could not have been easy. John's father, Gayland Robert Fogerty, worked in the print shop of the Berkeley Gazette. He had trouble with alcohol, and perhaps other mental disorders as well. He left home around 1953, fairly soon after bob's birth, about the time John was eight.
Tom recalled, "We come from a strict middle class, middle income background. We got a pretty fair deal, I guess. Our parents divorced when I was eleven. Hell, everybody I knew came from a 'broken home.'"
"My grandfather and grandmother either divorced or separated because my grandfather was drinking pretty heavily at that point," Tom's son Jeff adds. "So she raised all five boys by herself. Eventually she became a full-time teacher."
The divorce left Lucile Fogerty to care for five growing boys spanning sixteen years in age. She worked as a store clerk while studying for her teaching degree. Then she taught handicapped children.
Things got pretty thin at times around the Fogerty house. Their father, Gayland, often missed child-support payments. "I come from what they are calling a dysfunctional family," John recalled. "I did use a lot of energy on that subject. I did hate my father. I always wished it had been better."
"Most of my struggles were mental," he said in 1970. "My old man wasn't around when I wanted an old man. My mother was a teacher who was supposedly making a good living. She really didn't get involved in my life. When she would, we finally got to the point where I said, 'Don't get involved with me. I don't want you any more. I've been doing it on my own for so long. Leave me alone.' Until a week before our first hit record, it was right there in the back of my mind, I may never get out."
John's musical life began to replace the family life he was missing: "I was always ashamed. I never brought my friends home. My room was in the basement -- cement floor, cement walls. I just grabbed music and withdrew." By age fourteen, John had grabbed music hard, giving in totally to the rock and roll bug.
"John used to work relentlessly at home, in his room, for hours after school," CCR drummer Doug Clifford remembered, "maybe spending fourteen hours a day listening to the guitar parts and making sure he could play those things note for note and then listening to the vocal. That was really important. That's why John Fogerty, a white kid from El Cerrito, can sound like a black kid from the south. It was something he spent years doing and perfecting. It's a real tribute to John and a tribute to the artists that influenced his vocal style."
Tom and John came by this talent honestly. Their mother, Lucile, was musical as well. In high school, her perfect score in a "Music Memory" contest won her notice in the local Montana Tribune. She and twelve fellow students correctly identified several compositions, naming the composers and spelling the names correctly. By her days of parenthood in the 1950s, she gravitated toward the Bay Area's rapidly growing folk music scene:
We had this great series of music festivals in the Bay Area in the '50s and my mom took me for at least four years. You'd end up with only 100 people in an auditorium, and there's Pete Seeger talking about Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie and how music could have meaning. He spoke about songs about the unions and the depression days, but also about contemporary problems, like the House Un-American Activities Committee. It showed how music could be a force.
If Seeger reenforced the power of the message on Fogerty, another serendipitous folk festival experience solidified music's visceral power:
I'll never forget seeing Ramblin' Jack Elliot. They were testing the sound system at one of those workshops. He gave them a record to test the PA and all of a sudden, [he sings like Ray Charles] "You know the night time...." All right! That was great. A lot of people didn't know what that was, but it went right through me. I saw the joining in that moment. It was all just music!
Because of their mother's interest in folk music, there was always at least a cheap guitar around the Fogerty house. John shared it with his brother Tom. He also created his own imaginary bands by copying his favorite records:
I remember when I was eleven or twelve, Jody Reynolds' "Endless Sleep" was out. I learned to play E, A, and almost B7 on an old Stella with strings this high off the fingerboard. I was screaming the song, and my mom came in: "What are you doing?" It was the first time that I got that rush of playing and singing.... One day, I was playing the piano and this old high hat we had around the house. It was an old song by Ernie Freeman called "Lost Dreams" that had a real loud kick drum. I'm playing piano with one hand, the high-hat with the other and singing the melody. And my mom comes in again and says, "What in the heck are you doing?" It was crazy, but it all made sense to me.
"Tom and I went and rented an electric guitar for five dollars a month," he recalled. "It was a real piece of growl, but we managed to make two strings go 'bing, bing' and play the piano." They would eventually record the parts on piano, high-hat, and rhythm guitar, and John would add lead parts to this music. Once again, and not for the last time, Lucile found this "weird" but it played an important role in John's musical development.
Eventually, the "piece of growl" guitar just didn't suit John's needs. He found a Danelectro Silvertone guitar and amplifier in the Sears catalog. "I convinced my mom that I could make the time payments. The guitar cost $80. Ten months of payments, $8 interest. My mom had to co-sign and I paid for it from my paper route."
Then he cut classes and taught himself to play. "I'm really not sure how I passed eighth grade," he admits. "Some of the teachers must have been on my side."
After a few months, he felt proficient enough to look for kindred spirits. He found them in two of his schoolmates from Portola Junior High School in El Cerrito. First, he met Doug Clifford, another would-be rock-and-roller. Clifford also lived in the East Bay area all his life. Born in Palo Alto on April 24, 1945, Clifford's father was a machinist and his mother was a cosmetic clerk. The younger (by three years) of two boys, he went to school in Livermore, Manhattan Beach, and Palo Alto, before attending Portola Junior High. Doug recalled that he tended toward hypochondria as a kid. He found polio, as it still plagued kids his age at that time, especially frightening. On the other hand, he also was a wiry, athletic kid who would put on circuses early in life. He even had a special clown suit. Later on, he'd pantomime to Elvis records.
While not bookish, Doug developed a fondness for nature well before most people showed an interest in ecology or even gave it much thought. He had a particular fondness for entomology, taking up butterfly collecting in grade school.
Around the time he started at Portola, Doug bought an old snare drum and balanced it on a flower pot stand. Then he allegedly took a couple of old pool cues into the school shop and turned them into drumsticks on the lathe. In this way, Doug took his first steps toward playing the drums.
John and Doug discovered they shared a love of the blues, the kind of blues they heard on the local R&B station in Oakland, KWBR. "For a long time," Doug recalled, "before there was any such thing as even Top 40, before that existed, the only real music...well, it was rock music to us. It was called rhythm and blues then. They played it on the black music station in Oakland. That was our popular music when we were young. The music...they call it blues, but it was such a wide variety." Fogerty recalled among his favorite songs that KWBR played were "Smokestack Lightnin'" and "Moaning in the Moonlight." With that common interest, Fogerty and Clifford started to try to bring their love of music together as musicians. "Doug wasn't the first musician I ever met," John quipped, "but he was the first sane one."
They played together and decided they sounded awful. For one thing, just guitars and drums didn't cut it. When John would start playing the licks he spent hours memorizing in his bedroom, they sounded thin just over the drums.
Doug suggested that they add another player to the band. He had been sitting in front of Stu Cook in homeroom for two years. "I was twelve or thirteen," Stu recalled. "Doug and I met in junior high. John was actually in the same junior high with us. We all met in the music room in junior high."
In addition to having alphabetically similar names, Stu and Doug discovered that they were born mere hours apart. They became fast friends, getting involved in all manner of mischief. Doug recalls one time when Stu set himself afire after finishing off some lawn work too late to bring the debris to the dump. John enjoyed reading the works of Mark Twain, but Stu and Doug had some actual Tom and Huck adventures in their time.
"Doug and I met in our homeroom the first year of junior high school," Stu recalls, "and we've been blurting out ever since. A couple of fuck-offs."
Cook was born in Oakland on April 25, 1945. His father was a lawyer and his brother Gordon served as a high-ranking officer for the Australian Department of Corrections.
Clifford knew that Cook had been taking piano lessons (mostly classical) for years. Cook also played the trumpet, as had his father. Doug also knew that Stu enjoyed KWBR nearly as much as he and John did.
"I was listening to that station," Stu recalled, "the first time my mother ever told me to turn the radio off. The first time I remember, anyway. They were playing a song called 'Natural, Natural Ditty.' And if I only knew then what I know now, no wonder she wanted me to turn it off. I mean, that was the biggest boogie ever, man."
Cook and Clifford had even tried making music together at various times, but neither of them went about it with John's determination. For them it was fun; for John it was deadly serious. The three of them were able to find common ground, however, in the music itself.
"We were all on the same wavelength, really," John recalled. "I just had to decide whether I would join their band or they would join mine. I chose the latter. Once we got started we were literally the only group playing in school."
Doug decided he needed more than just his snare, and petitioned his parents for a drum set. "Both my parents worked," he recalled. "I wanted a drum set, so they gave me the opportunity to get a job. I was the gardener and the maid. I did the dishes during the week. That's how I got my bread for the set. They didn't have to do that. They could have said, "Look, we're working, you work also."
Fully equipped with a small kit, a Silvertone guitar, five-watt amp, and the house piano wherever they played, John, Stu, and Doug called their group the Blue Velvets. While they all enjoyed the blues, they practiced popular instrumentals so they could play at sock hops and parties. These ranged from surf music to Duane Eddy to versions of tunes by Ray Charles. They learned the jukebox standards and hits of the day. With greased back hair and white dinner jackets, they went out and became working musicians. John remembered:
When we started, we had ducktails and the matching outfits. We were trying to be like the Viscounts and the Wailers. You know, a teen band. The first thing we played was for sock hops at Portola Jr. High School. Doug and I had been together since April, we got Stu in September, I think, of '59, and we played the school at the end of '59. And then the next summer we went around to all the county fairs representing El Cerrito Boys' Club! That kind of thing.
An early Blue Velvets show might have included tunes by Duane Eddy, Johnny and the Hurricanes, and the Ventures: "Wipe Out," "Louie, Louie," "Midnight Hour," "The Hully Gully," and "Annie Had a Baby." "We were really getting down!" Fogerty recalled fondly in 1997.
"We only knew so many songs," Doug Clifford remembered. "So what we did was play a song over again and tell the audience we had a special request for it."
In addition to the sock hops, carnivals, and fairs, another outlet for the members of the Blue Velvets was school assemblies. They played quite a few of these.
"I remember the first time I saw these guys," Jake Rohrer, a longtime friend and later general factotum for the band recalled:
It was 1960. Word had reached me that there was a guy in school that could play the guitar and piano. They had an assembly, and out come the Blue Velvets. John was pretending that he was a heroin addict. He had a tire pump that was supposed to be his syringe. I think he held the stem of the tire pump to his arm while Doug pumped him up before they started their gig. I still remember the song they played. It was something called "Train Time." John was cranking out these great chords on his Sears and Roebuck Silvertone guitar that sounded just like a train whistle. Stu played the piano. They were really good. I was blown away because I was just the guy at school who could play piano, and here were these little punks who could play better than me!
During his first year of high school, John went from the public system to parochial St. Mary's High -- where Tom had just graduated. He recalled one assembly he played there:
St. Mary's High -- the all-boys school. I got to my solo and went up on the high strings. I was jumping up and down. Everybody started freaking out. Then Brother Frederick stopped the assembly. Getting the boys excited. "The boys" -- there was always this taint of homosexuality going on. Then everybody left the event in shame, as though we had done some disservice to the Christian movement.
Ever the truant, Fogerty missed a lot of his first semester at St. Mary's. They threw him out and he would up back at El Cerrito High with his buddies in the Blue Velvets.
Excerpted by permission of Schirmer Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Macmillan. Copyright © 1998 by Hank Bordowitz.
Meet the Author
Hank Bordowitz is a veteran music journalist, a former recording artist, and a music business consultant. He is the author of seven critically acclaimed books, including Billy Joel, Dirty Little Secrets of the Record Business, Every Little Thing Gonna Be Alright, and Turning Points of Rock and Roll.
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