TOPANGA, CALIFORNIA —
Although he wrote the classic Americana songbook, it took John Fogerty more than 30 years to come to terms with the realization he really was one of rock music's fortunate sons.
For one incredible 12-month run, this blue-collar kid from a San Francisco suburb had been the leader of a band that reshaped popular music. In 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival sold more records and had more hit songs - including classics like "Proud Mary,'' "Lodi,'' "Green River'' and "Bad Moon Rising'' - than even the Beatles.
Then three years later, it was over. The biggest band in the world had imploded in one of the most acrimonious splits of all time, one followed by decades of lawsuits and angry allegations.
Even though Fogerty would go on to a successful solo career, he says now that it was a split so intense that it sent him into depression-driven drinking binges that lasted for days.
"Which is a stinking way to live,'' he adds with a shy smile as he sits in the barn of a friend's house in Topanga, the wooded arts colony nestled in coastal canyons between Santa Monica and Malibu.
Dressed in his trademark plaid flannel shirt, jeans and boots, Fogerty sat down on a scorching fall day to talk about his just-released memoir, "Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music,'' which he hopes will set the record straight about the band's estrangement.
He recalls how just asking him about the possibility of a Creedence reunion used to send him into a towering rage.
"I'd go, "ARRRGH, I WILL NEVER ... ,'' he screams as he throws his hands up in mock anger. Then he laughs and shakes his head, adding he's finally let those feelings go.
"So to answer your question,'' he says with a smile, "I don't know. Maybe.''
But he doubts it, and so do Creedence's other surviving members.
"Things are too broken,'' says drummer Doug Clifford, who tours these days with bassist Stu Cook under the name Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Cook chuckles when he says, "I think it would be a milestone if we could just sit down and have a beer.''
Although Fogerty reminisces fondly at times about the early days of a group founded by his late brother, Tom, and the two friends he'd known since junior high school, he says things fell apart when the others came to believe they were equal to the Beatles in talent. But while the Beatles had three great songwriters, two great singers and four members with outsized personalities, he says, Creedence had only him.
He wrote all the songs that became hits, he says, because no one else could. He sang all the leads in that instantly recognizable tenor for the same reason, and he arranged the band's unique, fuzz-guitar-driven sound he calls "swamp rock'' because that was his vision.
While Clifford and Cook don't disagree with that assessment, they say it was Fogerty's unwillingness to let them have any say in anything that finally destroyed Creedence.
"The songwriting he gets an A-plus for,'' Clifford says in a phone interview. "But when it comes to his shift to management, he gets an F-minus.''
After the band disintegrated, Fogerty turned to solo work, re-establishing his brilliance as a songwriter with "Centerfield,'' a song that's played at Major League Baseball games all over the country.
But another hit song, "The Old Man Down the Road,'' prompted his former record label, Fantasy, to sue, claiming he'd copied it from the Creedence hit "Run Through the Jungle,'' which he also wrote.
Although Fogerty prevailed in court, the experience left him so angry that for years he wouldn't perform any Creedence songs because Fantasy owned the publishing rights. Meanwhile, his output of new material dried up as he drank heavily. He went 11 years between recordings until "Blue Moon Swamp'' won the Grammy for best rock album in 1997.
He credits his second wife, Julie, and their children with putting him on the path to both sobriety and musical harmony, while inspiring him to sing his old songs again and write new ones.
These days, the 70-year-old Fogerty awakens at 4 o'clock most mornings to work on music before taking his daughter, Kelsy, to school. Sons Tyler and Shane play in his band, and with the book done, he's looking to record a new album.
Asked how he feels knowing that, despite all the travails, those old albums made him a legend, he nearly falls out of his chair laughing.
"In all sincerity, I don't walk around feeling like that guy,'' he says.
After some thought, he adds: "That guy who gets to go out and play those songs live, that part I'm very grateful for.''