A little bit of this, a little bit of that

This week, I’ve gathered some interesting anecdotes, historical notes, strange coincidences, amusing back stories and personal reflections from rock music’s golden years to share with you all.

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On May 13, 1950, a boy was born prematurely in Saginaw, Michigan, and put on oxygen treatment in an incubator.  Evidently, an excess of oxygen aggravated a rare visual images-54condition known as “retinopathy of prematurity,” which caused total, irreparable blindness.  The lack of sight seemed to turn to an advantage, as the boy realized his heightened sense of hearing allowed him to acutely absorb music of all kinds.  He sang in the church youth choir at age four.  In rapid succession, he learned piano, drums and harmonica, all by age nine.  No one could have possibly predicted the dizzying heights this prodigy would attain by his mid-20s.  Stevland Hardaway Judkins — later Stevland Morris when his mother remarried — became, by 1962, “Little Stevie Wonder,” a true phenomenon who evolved into Stevie Wonder, one of the two or three most important musical artists of our time.

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Wild Cherry was a straight-ahead rock band in 1975, struggling along as they played Unknown-50nightly gigs in clubs around their native Pittsburgh.  One night, a group of black patrons approached them during a break and said, “Hey, are you white boys going to ever play any funky music tonight?”  Lead singer Rob Parissi immediately sat down and wrote a song around that thought.  The group worked on it over the next week, coming up with a dance groove they liked, and found a sympathetic producer at Epic/ Cleveland International to record it.  Two months later, “Play That Funky Music” was the #1 song in the nation, ultimately snagging two Grammy nominations in the year disco began its rule of the airwaves.

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When James Taylor was a young unknown songwriter on the East Coast in the 1967-1968 period, he had little luck getting noticed by record labels and music industry types.  Struggling with his insecurities and a predilection for drug use, Taylor decided to go to images-55London for a while to see what opportunities might happen there for him.  Sure enough, Peter Asher, a talent scout working for The Beatles‘ new label, Apple Records, heard Taylor’s demos and brought them to the attention of Paul McCartney and George Harrison, who both agreed they should sign him.  When Taylor came into the studios to record his music, some of the songs were still incomplete and in need of tweaking.  As he worked on “Carolina in My Mind,” he couldn’t help but notice McCartney, Harrison and Ringo Starr in the control booth listening in.  Naturally, this unnerved him, but it gave him the lyrics he needed for the bridge:  “And with a holy host of others standing ’round me, still I’m on the dark side of the moon, and it looks like it goes on like this forever, you must forgive me…”

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In 1974, Genesis was in the process of writing and recording its opus, “The Lamb Lies Unknown-49Down on Broadway,” when Peter Gabriel was approached by film director William Friedkin, who was then riding high with his hugely successful movie “The Exorcist.” Friedkin images-53was keen on making a science fiction film and was looking for “a writer who’d never been involved with Hollywood before.”  As a fan of Genesis, he had read the sleeve notes on the back of the “Genesis Live” LP — a typically fantastical short story by Gabriel — and thought maybe they could collaborate.  Gabriel was excited about it, but the other members of Genesis weren’t receptive to him putting the band, album and tour on hold for this side project.  When Friedkin heard his offer might result in the demise of Genesis, he backed off, since his sci-fi project was still just a nebulous idea and, as a big fan of Genesis, he wanted the group to continue.  We’ll never know what Friedkin and Gabriel might’ve come up with.

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In late 1974, Fleetwood Mac‘s guitarist/singer Bob Welch announced he was departing, leaving remaining members Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie in a bind.  They had lost guitarists before; founding member Peter Green had abandoned the group four years earlier, as did Danny Kirwan in 1972.  But this time, they had just relocated to L.A. from their native London and were in precarious trouble financially.  Maybe this was the end of the line for the once top-ranked British blues band.  Fleetwood Unknown-48was determined, though, and went to visit a new recording venue called Sound City.  While he was there, he heard a guitar player named Lindsay Buckingham working on material in one of the studios.  Intrigued, he introduced himself, and within the hour, he asked Buckingham if he’d like to join Fleetwood Mac as their new guitarist.  “That sounds great, we’d love to,” he replied, “because my girlfriend comes with me.”  He was referring, of course, to Stevie Nicks, the singer-songwriter who had been his lover and professional partner for several years.  Fleetwood hesitated about accepting Nicks as well but then decided, what the hell, let’s go for it.  Eighteen months later, the group that had never managed much chart success in the US had the #1 album in the country.

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David Robert Jones, born in working-class England in 1947, showed an interest in music Unknown-46at an early age, learning recorder and ukulele and singing in the school choir.  He especially shone in a “music and movement” class that presaged his mesmerizing stage shows.  His father changed his life the day he brought home a stack of 45s by American R&B artists.  “I thought I’d heard God,” said the boy when he heard “Tutti Frutti.”  He moved through a number of ragtag rock bands in his teen years, playing saxophone and guitar and often handling lead vocals, even winning a contract or two along the way, but nothing came of the records from that period.  In 1966, Davy Jones of The Monkees became a celebrity, so David Jones knew he’d better change his name and, in honor of “the ultimate American knife” he’d always admired, he became David Bowie.

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Some people are so damn talented.  Steve Winwood was only 15 when he joined his older brother in the Spencer Davis Group, where he played keyboards and sang with an images-52.jpegexpressive, high, bluesy voice that even then drew comparisons to the great Ray Charles. At 18, he wrote two songs with Spencer Davis that became Top Ten hits in the US and the UK, “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “I’m a Man.”  At 19, he formed Traffic, one of the most inventive British bands of the late ’60s.  At 21, he joined forces Unknown-45with Eric Clapton in Blind Faith, producing amazing tunes like “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Sea of Joy.”  He then reformed Traffic at 22 to produce more classic albums like “John Barleycorn Must Die” and “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.” By the time he was only 26, he disbanded Traffic and took a well-deserved break for a few years.  Then at 32, he finally kicked off a hugely successful, Grammy-winning solo career.  Incredible.

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Savvy bands know that relentless touring is the best way to increase awareness and support for their music.  Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, following the release of Unknown-44their breakthrough LP, 1979’s “Damn the Torpedos,” certainly knew this, and their venues and crowds got commensurately bigger as they did so.  As the group returned to the studio, MCA Records decided they would (literally) capitalize on the band’s success by slapping a $9.98 “superstar pricing” on the next release (“Hard Promises”) instead of the then-customary $8.98.  Petty balked at the obvious greed, and withheld the master tapes in protest, which helped make the issue a popular cause among music fans.  When he threatened to rename the album “$8.98” to drive home his point, the label reluctantly backed down.

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Everyone has heard the story about how the introduction of Yoko Ono into John Lennon’s life was a key factor leading to the breakup of The Beatles.  Probably less known is the story of how singer Rita Coolidge played a role in the premature breakup of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  To be fair, CSN&Y was a volatile mix of egos from the get-go, with each member brimming over with musical talent and confidence.  They each felt their songs were better than those of the others, and each wanted more than just two Unknown-43songs apiece per album, and more time in the spotlight during concert performances.  In the midst of this tense atmosphere, Stephen Stills met Coolidge, had become very attracted to her, and was eager to build a relationship with her.  The twosome arrived at a party one night, and within minutes, Graham Nash turned on his British charm and spirited Coolidge away.  This enraged Stills, and it proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.  He swore he would never work with Nash again, and headed off to pursue a solo career.  CSN(&Y) split up weeks later, and though they would reunite years later, the momentum they’d built was lost, and things were never quite the same between them.

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Unknown-47In the election year of 1972, shock-rocker Alice Cooper was getting plenty of exposure with the single “Elected” and its just-in-fun lyrics about running for president.  The rock journalists knew the whole thing was just a joke, but a few hard news reporters from Time Magazine and The Washington Post starting asking him his opinion on the political issues of the day.  One demanded to know which candidate he intended to support in November.  He laughed out loud and responded, “If you’re listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you’re a bigger moron than they are.”

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In the early ’60s, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon had Unknown-51been playing club gigs using the name The Detours and, for a brief spell, The High Numbers.  Nobody was particularly enchanted with those names, but they kept on until something better came to them.  One night, Townshend, who still lived at his parents’ house, was heading out the door to see another band play at a local club.  His hard-of-hearing grandmother, who also lived in the Townshend household, asked him where he was going.  When he mentioned the name of the band, his grandmother shot back, “You’re going to see the who??”  A light bulb went off in Townshend’s head, and after a quick huddle with the rest of the group, The Detours officially became The Who.

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In 1969, a band known as Steam recorded a song called “It’s the Magic in You Girl,” selected by their label as a potential hit.  They were then told, “Okay, now record Unknown-52something else, anything at all, to put on the B-side of the single.  It can be instrumental, it doesn’t matter.  Whatever you want.”  They started doing a light, accessible groove, jamming for 20 minutes while the singer added a bunch of “na na na”s and other off-the-cuff lyrics, and they were done.  The producer edited it down to the best three minutes, slapped it on the back of “It’s the Magic in You Girl,” and shipped it out. As it turned out, DJs thought the A-side was lame and ignored it, but they were taken by the catchy ditty on the B-side.  Within a few weeks, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” was the #1 song in the country.

 

 

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Looks like we’re in for nasty weather

Periodically, I use this space to pay homage to artists who I believe are worthy of focused attention — artists with an extraordinary, influential, consistently excellent body of work and/or a compelling story to tell.  In this essay, I share the sad tale of a driven, talented musician who reached the mountaintops of rock and then found himself bottoming out, the victim of naiveté and greed:  John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

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The history of popular music is littered with hundreds of cases of rapacious managers and record labels screwing artists and songwriters out of their rightful share of profits and royalties from the music they have written and recorded.

It happened to The Beatles.  It happened to The Rolling Stones.  It happened to many bands because they were usually just kids in their teens or early 20s, with no understanding or proper advice on how to avoid the charlatans and greed heads who

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Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969:  John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook

manipulate the artists’ naiveté and make off with most of the money made from the sale and airplay of their hit records.

What happened to John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival is perhaps the most heartbreaking story I’ve heard about what can and did happen in this brutal, unsavory business.

There are those who will read Fogerty’s 2016 autobiography “Fortunate Son:  My Life, My Music” and feel little sympathy.  They’ll see him as an egotist with no business sense who made some very bad decisions that haunted him for decades.  But I see him as a guy with 51y68mxuP6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_a dream, a strong work ethic, a fierce determination and, perhaps to his detriment, resolute trust that those around him would be true to their word and treat him fairly.

Fogerty grew up in El Cerrito, California, a small town north of Berkeley, where his hardscrabble childhood was marred by divorce, family alcoholism and estrangement.  In high school, he formed a band with fellow classmates Stu Cook (bass) and Doug Clifford (drums), eventually recruiting older brother Tom Fogerty (rhythm guitar) from a rival group and branded themselves The Blue Velvets.  They were just having fun, Fogerty recalls, playing school events and parties while covering the rock and roll hits of the late ’50s and early ’60s.

In 1964, The Blue Velvets signed to Fantasy Records, a small, San Francisco-based label run by Max and Sol Weiss, specializing in jazz and comedy records.  They were renamed The Golliwogs, but had no luck releasing records under that name, and by 1967, a man named Saul Zaentz took over Fantasy Records, and became the group’s manager.

Fogerty had spent a year in active military duty, and upon his discharge, he and the band decided “it was time be more serious about getting really good.  We made a regimen of practicing every day, because we figured this was going to be our last fling at the big dream.  So we were gung ho.  It was acknowledged that I seemed to have a clear idea of what we should be doing musically, because not only was I able to sing, but I understood the music enough that I could teach.  I knew how the instruments should sound.  My arrangements had become more focused.  I had the strong belief that we could actually achieve our dream.”

Zaentz gave the group a pep talk and told them he believed in them, and was eager to sign them to a new contract.  “We put faith in him because he seemed like he was our friend,” Fogerty recalls.  “At that time, Fantasy consisted pretty much of just the five of us — Stu, Doug, Tom, Saul and me.”

Fogerty said the band had always hated the name Golliwogs, and Zaentz encouraged them to select a new name.  In the spirit of other long-winded band names of the time (Quicksilver Messenger Service, Strawberry Alarm Clock), they came up with Creedence Clearwater Revival.  As Fogerty remembers it:  “Credence Nuball was a friend of Tom’s, and I liked the idea of credence, which means credibility, belief, positive vibe.  Then ‘clearwater’ came from an Olympia Beer commercial, and a public service announcement I saw about the push for clean water legislation.  And I really liked the i46126980432_4b3f5ae8a2dea of our band having a renewal, a resurgence, so ‘Revival’ fit.  It seemed like quite a mouthful, but we loved it.”

Creedence told Zaentz they wanted to record in a proper studio so they could make a more professional-sounding record, so they booked time in RCA Studios in LA.  That resulted in their first breakthrough:  “Susie-Q,” a cover version of the 1957 Del Hawkins rockabilly classic.  The album version was an eight-minute jam with Fogerty solos and vocal adornments, but the single version, at 4:30, hit #11 on the charts, giving them a foothold on the ladder to further success.

And that’s when Zaentz insisted on the new contract.  Recalls Fogerty, “We didn’t have any legal representation, but Stu’s father was an attorney, so we decided to have him

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Saul Zaentz (below left) with CCR

give it to his dad to look it over.  We were told the contract looked fine and was okay to sign.  To this day, I don’t think Stu even showed it to his father.  I take my share of the responsibility for signing it in January 1968, but at the time, I thought ‘Saul is our friend.  He isn’t going to screw us, right?’

“How innocent and naive we all were.  That contract was terrible for all of us financially — our royalty rate was 10 percent, paid out of net sales, not gross — but for me, as the sole creator of the material, there were long-reaching implications.  Saul owned the copyright on all our songs, lock, stock and barrel.  But I didn’t really discover this until two years later.”

Fantasy was now owed 180 songs over seven years ( about 25 per year) — and if not completed once that period ended, they’d still be owed.  “In our best year, 1969, we recorded three albums, or 26 songs.  Besides me, nobody wrote songs in Creedence that amounted to anything, so when we broke up, the other guys were all set free.  Not me.  Fantasy Records not only chiseled me out of a fortune, they still owned my future.  I was basically enslaved.”

Creedence_Clearwater_Revival_-_Green_RiverMeanwhile, Fogerty began one of the most remarkable songwriting streaks that rock has ever seen. Between late 1968 and early 1972, Creedence was the nation’s most prolific, most successful band, and all the hit songs (and most album tracks) were Fogerty compositions — “Proud Mary,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Lodi,” “Green River,” “Commotion,” “Down on the Corner,” “Fortunate Son,” “Travelin’ Band,” “Looking Out My Back Door,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Up Around the Bend,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.”

“I was very driven,” he says. “It was life and death.  We didn’t have a publicist, we didn’t have a manager, we didn’t have a producer, and we were on the tiniest label in the world, so we had to do it with music.  And that pretty much meant me.”

Fogerty perfected a simple approach, writing basic rock and roll melodies with relatable lyrics, and using recording techniques and specific types of guitars to get the sound he images-50wanted on the records.  He said he was disappointed when he discovered that the others in the group weren’t much interested in learning, preferring to party and leave the hard work to Fogerty.

“It was very frustrating, because they chose to see this as me trying to be in control of every detail about our recordings and how they sounded.  To some extent, they were right — I took over doing all the vocals, both the lead vocals and the harmonies on overdub, because they just didn’t sound as good when the others sang.  But to me, this was all about making the very best records we could, and the results prove I was right.”

Five albums — “Bayou Country,” “Green River,” “Willy and the Poor Boys,” “Cosmo’s Factory,” and “Pendulum” — were all multi-platinum, Top Five chart successes, and “Green River” and “Cosmo’s Factory” reached #1 in 1969 and 1970, respectively.  They were every bit as popular as any other band at that time.

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My first encounter with Fogerty’s music, like so many of my earliest discoveries, came at a wonderful little independent record store called, oddly enough, Fantasy Records, located in the bohemian Coventry Village section of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, about two miles from my home.  Albums cost $3.99 back then, and each day the proprietor would put a different new album on sale for only $1.99.  It was a great ploy to get customers to MI0000677925stop in regularly, and I would ride my bicycle there at least twice a week, eager to see which album was on sale.  One day, it was “Bayou Country,” and although I’d never heard of Creedence Clearwater Revival before, I liked what I heard coming out of the store’s sound system, so I plunked down my two bucks and took the album home.

I think I must’ve played that record every day for two months.  “Born on the Bayou” in particular simply mesmerized me, and the band’s version of the Little Richard classic “Good Golly Miss Molly” was a close second.  Fogerty’s growl was so distinctive and unusual, and the band played tight rock arrangements that grabbed me.  And let’s not forget the amazing groove of the album’s closer, “Keep on Chooglin’,” an infectious jam the band often saved as the finale at their live shows.  I didn’t know what “chooglin'” was, but I didn’t much care.  I sure loved the sound of it.

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By 1972, the other members of Creedence mutinied, insisting that they be able to contribute songs and record them their way.  Fogerty, against his better judgment, acquiesced, and the resulting album, “Mardi Gras,” was by all accounts a failure, with only Fogerty’s song “Sweet Hitch-hiker,” getting any airplay.  It would prove to be CCR’s final album.

Mardi-GrasOnce Fogerty learned the particulars about the implications of the onerous contract he had signed, he found it so soul-crushing that he lost the desire, and ability, to write hit songs.  The muse had left him.  Almost as soon as the band was over, he realised the songs no longer flowed like water from a tap.  He’d never known where they came from, and when they no longer came, he didn’t know where they’d gone.

What followed were decades of legal strife, bad blood and creative paralysis.  In fact, Fogerty even became estranged from his own songs.  He refused to perform them for another 25 years, even though this audiences wanted to hear them.  The associations were too painful, he said, and he couldn’t stand the thought of Zaentz making any more money from them.  Whenever one of his old hits came on the car radio – which happened often – he would turn it off.

Fogerty claims Zaentz repeated broke promises and went back on his word in their dealings together.  The fact that Zaentz used the money made off Creedence’s music to launch a hugely successful movie producer career only made things worse for Fogerty.

It took him more than a decade to mount a solo comeback.  In 1985, Fogerty managed to score a #1 LP, “Centerfield,” with a Top Ten hit, “The Old Man Down the Road,” but even 220px-John_Fogerty-Centerfield_(album_cover)that was tainted after Zaentz sued him, saying “The Old Man Down the Road” plagiarized Fogerty’s earlier hit, “Run Through the Jungle.”  He couldn’t believe it.  “How can you steal your own song?”  He took some satisfaction out of playing both songs live in a courtroom, demonstrating there was only a modicum of similarity, thus winning his case.

But the damage done to his spirit was profound.  Fogerty was shaken by the malicious, and mean-spirited way in which he had been treated by his adversaries.  He withdrew from touring, becoming isolated as he began drinking heavily, losing all sense of the drive and determination that had served him so swell in earlier years.  It wasn’t until the ’90s when he met his current wife Julie, who he credits with saving his life and turning him around.

He finally began playing his old catalog again, partly because other musicians like 250px-John_Fogerty_at_the_2011_Cisco_Ottawa_BluesfestGeorge Harrison urged him to do so. In a reference to Ike and Tina Turner’s #4 hit cover version,  Harrison said, “John, if you don’t start playing ‘Proud Mary’ again, people are going to start thinking Tina Turner wrote it!”

In 2013, Fogerty recorded “Wrote a Song for Everyone,” an album of Creedence songs done in collaboration with such artists as Bob Seger, The Foo Fighters, Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, My Morning Jacket and Jennifer Hudson.  It peaked at #3 on the album charts that year.

These days, Fogerty is much more serene and matter-of-fact about his life and the music business.  “When I was coming up, I met so many rock ‘n’ roll people from the first wave who were bitter,” he says. “I was 22 and I’d think: ‘Why is he so angry?’ You’d think with lots of hit records and success that you’d be very happy.  Of course, we both know that in a lot of cases, that’s not what happens. In fact, show business seems to be unusually full of folks who things go wrong for.  They were justifiably frustrated.

“But I’ve learned that frustration is a destructive emotion, and you just have to let it go, as difficult as that often can be.  I focus on the things I’m grateful for, like Julie, and my love for music.

“I’m fortunate I was given the gift of being able to write and record all those Creedence songs that ended up in the soundtracks to millions of people’s lives.  What a blessing.”