Book Review – Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music by John Fogerty

Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music by John Fogerty was published in 2012 and I finally got around reading it this month.  I was able to snag an ebook copy from my local library and put it onto my Kobo Reader without having to leave the couch.  What an age we live in!

What attracted me to Fogerty’s story (besides being a huge Creedence Clearwater Revival fan since I was a teen) was all that in fighting!  I knew CCR had a ton of hits in its short period of time, (3 albums loaded with top 40 hits in 1969 alone!) and then they were done as quickly as they started.  John was CCR’s singer, song writer, and lead guitarist, who no longer acquainted himself with any of his former band members.  And I’ve always wondered what went on there.

Well dang, I found out!  I mean, the story is all from John’s perspective so take it with a grain of salt.  But there is no denying how after CCR, John went on to have an amazing professional career, winning Grammys and performing with professional classic rock royalty like Bruce Springsteen, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, etc.  Meanwhile, the rest of the band pops up on the “old fart” circuit performing at casinos and smaller venues as Creedence Clearwater Revisited. So, it is clear to me where the talent lies.

creedence-clearwater-revival

From left: Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, John Fogerty

Not only does John throw all of his former band mates under the bus, he then takes the bus to the local gas station, fills ‘er up, checks the tire pressure, and heads back for more.  And after reading his story, I can see why.  Between the years of 1968 to 1970 CCR was the #2 best-selling rock band in the world with The Beatles holding the #1 slot.  You would think this amount of success would have Fogerty financially set for life.  But early in their career the band signed a recording contract slanted heavily towards the label, Fantasy.  This contract would see the first 180 songs CCR would produce committed to the label.  This poor business decision would not only eroded John’ relationship with his band members including his brother/rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty, it would also see him lose control of CCR’s music.

The band made a pact to put all decisions on licencing their music to covering artists, commercials, TV Shows, or films, etc. to a vote.  Shortly after the band breaks up in 1971, Fantasy purchases Tom Fogerty’s vote and frees him from his part of the 180 song debt.  Bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford follow shortly after.  This means that not only is the remainder of the 180 song debt placed solely on John’s shoulders, but he will be out voted on any licencing decision by Fantasy 3 to 1.

The CCR tune you heard in “Forrest Gump”?  Fantasy’s decision.  ‘Fortunate Son’ used to hock denim in a Wrangler TV spot?  John had no say in the matter and he hated the ad.

John confronts Tom one day and asks him how he could sell out his music like that.  Tom replies with “I just wanted the money.”

John begins whittling down now his 180 song debt with his first solo project in 1973, Blue Ridge Rangers.  The album is a compilation of 12 traditional and country covers with every instrument played by John; and with just a hint of passive aggression John decides to leave his name off of the cover sleeve (This was changed on the vinyl re-issues and the CD).   It was a commercial flop with a majority of the public led to believe that is was a new country album by a group called “Blue Ridge Rangers”.  John doesn’t mind as his purpose is to be free of the 180 song debt and get back to writing for himself.  Fantasy has the last laugh, however, by informing him that the album will not count.  His debt is not simply any 180 songs, but 180 “rock songs”.

John also had to regularly fight for his cut of the royalty money he was owed as Fantasy would hold onto it for various reasons.  In an early 80’s he filed a lawsuit for a portion of the money owed to him, and he allowed his band mates to join him since each of their lawsuits were filed too late and the statute of limitations had run out.  Not only did He and his band mates win the money owed to them, but John was also awarded freedom from the ridiculous 180 song debt.  John was finally able to write for himself again, but Fantasy wasn’t done yet.

In the mid-80’s John puts out his first “debt-free” solo album, Centerfield, and it is a smash hit.  Fantasy then sues John for plagiarizing CCR.  Da faq you say?  Yep.  Despite John being the sole author of both tunes they claim the album’s first single ‘The Old Man Down the Road’ is a ripoff of CCR’s ‘Born on the Bayou’.  They were suing John for plagiarizing himself!  During the trial it is reviled how Fantasy was put up to this ridiculous claim by his former band members.  They are the ones who convinced the label that John was restructuring old CCR songs.  This was AFTER John had allowed them in on the previous lawsuit against Fantasy.  They only want that money, man.

john fogerty

John Fogerty performing in 2005-ish.  Rare is the photo of him not wearing plaid.

Besides spending way too much time in court and money on lawyers, Fortunate Son does offer John’s insight into many of the tunes he famously wrote.  He also gives shout outs to the songs that he grew up listening too which helped shape his music and guitar tone.  I was making notes throughout my read and now have a killer song list on Spotify titled “John’s Recommendations and Influences”.

I loved getting John’ perspective on not only his music, but life and how he (when he was able too) chose to live it.  The book goes off on tangents once in a while as John talks about his relationship with his current wife, and it even switches to her perspective at times.  It’s fine… but I was here for the dirt!  So, I mostly skipped it.

You won’t find much of the debauchery and drug abuse that follow most rock ‘n roll bands here.  According to John, one CCR member would pour shaving foam into the backs of hotel television sets to watch them blow up, and that is about as mischievous as the book gets.  But if you are into vendettas and lawsuits, you’ll get plenty of that here.  John is an interesting guy and I only gave you a taste here of what the book has to offer.  Highly recommended.

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Mars’ Top 8 Albums from 2018

Top 8?  Yeah, the last few years have been tough on me and 2018 was no exception.  I needed a lot of comfort food this year and that came from writing/listening to my favorite band, AC/DC.  It did get my mind off things but it meant spending less time with albums from 2018.

The fact that you are reading this all, really, is because of my wife, Sarah.  As I talked to her about needing to cut down on time spent creating content in 2019, her one request was a post on my favorite albums from 2018.  She is always looking to highlight the positive when things become overwhelming and negative.  What she describes as “the light in the shadows”.  So this post is dedicated to her.

So, here we go.  8 lights that found a way to shine in 2018:

corrosion

#8 Corrosion of Conformity – No Cross, No Crown

This was an immediate buy for me with Pepper Keenan back in the band on lead guitar and vocals.  Well, by immediate I mean the first moment I found a deal.  It was released in January and I believe I grabbed it sometime in March.  The album is a bit uneven but most of the tracks are a stoner-rockin’ good time.  This is where you belong, Pepper!

 

saxon-thunderbolt

#7 Saxon – Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt is my first Saxon album and I was blown away by how much these geezers can rock!  Nah, forget rock.  This is MET-TAALL!  You can read my full review of the album here.

 

 

both sides of the sky cover

#6 Jimi Hendrix – Both Sides of the Sky

This is an excellent collection of half done/hidden/vaulted tracks from the greatest guitarist of all time.  A lot of what is here has been released before on compilations and bootlegs, but with mixing board in the hands of Eddie Kramer (The engineer on all of Jimi’s classic albums), you’ll be hard pressed to find a place where these tunes sound better.  You can read my full review here.

greta van fleet_peaceful army

#5 Greta Van Fleet – Anthem of the Peaceful Army

Take away all of the comparisons to Led Zeppelin and you have a great rock ‘n roll record.  Grip tightly onto all of the comparisons to Led Zeppelin and you have a great rock ‘n roll record.  Honestly, I don’t know why GVF’s strong Zeppelin vibe is seen as negative by some.  How many times have we put on a classic rock album and said “They don’t make them like this anymore”? Then, someone does it (and does it WELL) and it gets crapped on.  *shrugs*

jann arden these are the days#4 Jann Arden – These Are The Days

These Are The Days opens with the fantastic ‘Everybody’s Pulling on Me‘, and Christ on a cracker did 2018 feel that way at times.  The tune has a perfect old school Mo-Town/Doo-Wop rhythm that Jann’s voice cuts through as she delivers the melody.  The rest of the album is solid too.  Especially ‘All The Little Things‘.  It’s the kind of album that you listen to and think, I’ve heard this before. Is this a cover tune? Then you realize it is all new, but the tunes are connecting with you.

Sarah and I thought about skipping on seeing her perform live in Oshawa this past October.  Even though we needed a break, we made the effort to move some scheduling around to make it work.  I’m so glad we did!  That show was not only rockin’ but hilarious too.  Would do again.

judas priest firepower#3 Judas Priest – Firepower

The Priest is back, baby!  The best Priest album in decades.  DECADES!  I pre-ordered it when ‘Lightening Strikes‘ hit the YouTubes and I don’t do that often. Besides over-staying its welcome a wee bit, the album is otherwise solid.  I almost wish they would hang it up here and go out on a high note.   Easily my vote for the best MET-TAALL album of 2018.

 

sloan 12 cover#2 Sloan – 12

It kills me not to put this at number one.  KILLS ME!  It is so good.  That perfect mix of rock and pop, 12 is a pleasure to listen to from start to finish.  Usually, after listening to an album a number of times I get tired of a song or two and find myself skipping to the tracks I love.  That hasn’t happened with 12 yet, and I’m not sure if it ever will.

We did see Sloan in May at The KEE to Bala and these guys put on a show!  Even though Sarah’s boyfriend, Patrick Pentland, wasn’t there due to a family illness we had a fantastic time.  Almost all of 12 was performed, and I was not complaining!  You can read my full review of 12 right here!

Sheepdogs - changing colours LP#1 The Sheepdogs – Changing Colours

As difficult as it was to put Sloan in the #2 spot, Changing Colours was easy to place at #1.  No other album got more play by me in 2018.  The addition of my BFF Jimmy Bowskill to The Sheepdogs finally had me standing up and acknowledging a band that I have ignored for a while.  No matter what my mood, Changing Colours seem appropriate to play.  It is late 60’s/70’s rock done to perfection in 2018.

The Sheepdogs also had us visiting The KEE to Bala again in August.  Man, these guys rocked it!  BFF Jimmy had the half stack of Marshalls singing sweetly all night long.  Glad to hear their drummer is doing well with battling the big C!  You can read my full review of Changing Colours right here.

So, even though I only have eight albums, I guess you could say 2018 still had a quality over quantity vibe for me.  Also like how 3 Canadian artists cracked my top 5!  It will be interesting to see how long that record holds.  Anyway, here’s hoping more time is spent with the Rock ‘n Roll in 2019!

AC/DC – For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) Album Review

Way back in the early 90’s “Canada’s music station” Much Music aired a program called Spotlight (They might still do for all I know).  Spotlight was 30 minutes of content dedicated to one band or artist.  You would get a few excerpts from interviews and some of the band’s history, but the videos were the major draw.  Yeah, kids.  This is how it was before YouTube.

As I was just getting into the band at the time, I hoped for an episode focused on AC/DC… and then it happened!  My  collection was still young and growing, so this was where I heard a few of their songs for the first time.  ‘Jailbreak‘, ‘Flick of the Switch‘ and a live version of ‘Let’s Get It Up‘:

This one stood out to me as a song I needed to get first.  The video captured the Back in Black line up at their finest.  Brian Johnson wailing away in a Harley Davidson shirt and little Angus lugging around a big brown Gibson SG.

I was on a mission for my next trip to Sam the Record Man to get me a copy of For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) which featured the tune as track three; a CD copy no less!  We had two CD players in the house back then, and I didn’t own either of them.  My parents had one hooked up to the living room stereo that I could use with headphones and my sister had one in a Ghetto blaster she earned by selling the most tickets for a raffle.  So this meant I couldn’t listen to the album in my room, but I knew I was going to dig it enough that an inferior cassette would not satisfy me.  Thankfully Sam’s had it and I raced home to give it a spin.  And was disappointed.  This album was…. slow.

And you know, after all of these years the disappointment has faded but I still feel the same way.

Most of the action is at the top with the title track kicking it off.  It is a bit of a slow burn before it gets going.  Eventually it gets to cannons exploding everywhere.  I mean, what else can you say about a tune that starts with the lyric:

We roll the night, to the guitar bite

… and eventually goes down the gutter to…

So pick up your balls, and load up your cannon

It is a classic and a cracking good time.

The 2nd track, ‘Put the Finger on You‘ is a hidden gem.  The kind of tune that isn’t played often.  Next time you’re in charge of the tunes at a party, pull this one out of your hat.  People will ask, “That sounds good. What album is that from?” Well… maybe.  It happened to me once, so maybe it will happen to you too.

Let’s Get It Up‘ was a big let down after getting hooked on the natural swing of the live version.  It is at a slightly slower tempo and missing the same bite.  Still, a good AC/DC tune, just not great.

Inject the Venom‘ is The Phil Rudd Drumming Showcase.  I have been listening to this song for 25 years and only noticed it a short while ago.  I’m so focused on what Angus is doing it took a cover band on YouTube giving the drummer some camera love to open my eyes:

Is Phil really doing all of that in this song?  Sure enough I go back to my album and listen to what I was missing.  In fact, Phil has a lot of bright moments throughout the whole record.  The tunes are still the 4/4 rockers but they really let him pound on some skins outside of the snare for a change.  Anyway, not their best, but good tune.

Snowballed‘ is OK.  It has a nice groove but I’ve always hated the way it is mixed.  Brian’s vocals are a little buried for me.  Even Mal’s guitar feels kind of mushed.  If this tune was in braille the person reading it would only feel Angus’ lead licks pop up off of the page.

Evil Walks‘ brings us back to “Good” status as it begins side two.  A cynic could say the band is trying to replicate Highway To Hell’s ‘Night Prowler‘, but it is a little better than just a clone.  I’m no expert lyricist but I think Brian hits a home run here:

Black shadow hangin’ over your shoulder
Black mark up against your name
Your green eyes couldn’t get any colder
There’s bad poison runnin’ through your veins

The next three tracks are a bit of a slog to get through.

C.O.D.‘ is a product of Mutt’s love with his fake backing vocals.  We all know the band’s back-up singers are not Crosby, Stills, and Nash.  It is cute when they chime in to support Bon or Brian (See ‘Put The Finger On You‘), but they are given the lead for the chorus and the result is a hollow machine shouting “C.O.D.”  Ew.

Keep on Breaking the Rules‘ is boring.  Right?  OK.

And ‘Knight of the Long Knives‘ is the album’s best example of Mutt’s overproduction as he tries to make three sing along choruses all work at the same time.  The tune has a cool riff (that Mötley Crüe TOTALLY stole 3/4ths of for ‘Dr. Feelgood‘. Fight me on it.) but the chorus becomes tiresome quick.

Now ‘Spellbound‘.

In Martin Popoff’s book AC/DC: Album by Album he interviews Brad Tolinkski, the author of the liner notes for the 2003 remaster of FTATR.  He is quoted as saying Spellbound is “the worst song AC/DC ever wrote”.  (I checked the liner notes.  He does not make that claim there, lol.)

Well, this simple blogger freakin’ loves this one.  Just a some solid blues lyrics:

Beaten by a blind man
Wrong way up a dead end
Screaming through a speed trap
As I tear into a tail pipe
I can do nothing right
I never sleep at night
Can’t even start a fight
My feet have left the ground
Spinning round and round

I don’t know if Brian is singing about a car crash or if it is a metaphor for another kind of crash, but I dig it.  I like the walk up to the big riff, the chugging of the chords, and Angus’ attack on the solo.  I wouldn’t take it over ‘Night Prowler‘ or ‘Ride On‘ but I will… put it up there.  Yup, I said it.  It wraps up the album on a bit of a downer, but I am a very forgiving person.

I’ve always adored the packaging for this album. That cannon over the metallic bronze says “sexy hard Rock ‘n Roll” to me.

Some say For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) is the beginning of the end for AC/DC.  Their “Last good album” or “Their first bad album”.  Meh, that’s a little melodramatic.  To me, it is a good rock record that was held back from being great by a failed attempt to make AC/DC more radio friendly.  It is why the lyrics are toned down, Mutt is over-producing, and that most of the songs are sluggish instead of swinging like AC/DC should.

I think the band knew they didn’t get it 100% right fairly early on too.  This is the only one of their albums (besides their first Aussie one) for which they did not make any promotional videos.  Only live concert footage of ‘For Those About To Rock‘ and ‘Let’s Get It Up‘  were handed over to MTV.

There was an interview with Angus in that Spotlight show (I wish I still had it) where he talks about not bull shitting the kids or they will see right through you.  I think he was referring to the lessons the band learned from FTATR, because that is what I saw when I was a kid.  That live version of ‘Let’s Get It Up‘ is coming from musicians who are being genuine.  The studio version was not.  And I’m sure it is the reason why Angus and Malcolm went into the self production business (For better or worse.  We will get there soon!) for the next two albums.

Even the gate fold knew the live show was where it was at.

To enjoy For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) you have to look at what the album has instead of what it doesn’t; difficult to do when it is the follow-up to Back In Black, but you must try.  Despite the album being overproduced at times, I have a real affection for Angus and Malcolm’s guitar tone on it.  For me, their sound has been refined to perfection.  It is warm with a heavy growl.  I love it.  And the tunes may not all work well together when played back to back, but if you throw them into the shuffle with a few other albums, your head might bob at bit when ‘Inject the Venom‘ comes up.  It might.  Mine does.  So maybe yours will too.

As an AC/DC album: 3/5
Compared to the everything else: 3.5/5

AC/DC – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (INT) Album Review

dirty deeds acdc

AC/DC in 1976.

After several previous attempts to squeeze in some studio time while committed to a heavy touring schedule, a still fledgling AC/DC recorded their third album, Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap, in 1976.  Two versions of the album were made.

The first was published by Albert Studios and released in Australia and New Zealand.  It featured all new tracks and a cartoon album sleeve that most notably featured Angus Young in the background flipping the “Australian Bird”.

dirty deed aus cover

Australian Cover

The band decided to change the track list for those outside of their native region for various reasons, and thus a second or “international version” of Dirty Deeds was delivered to their worldwide publisher, Atlantic Records.  Some of the changes had a thread of logic to it.  ‘Rocker’, for instance, was in heavy rotation in their live sets, but the studio recording wasn’t available to the international audience.  So, it was included to give those outside of Australia a chance to buy the tune.  Other changes, like dropping the album’s first single (and one of its better tunes), ‘Jailbreak’, were mind-boggling.

The cover sleeve received a drastic change too.  It’s true enough that the bird flipping cover wasn’t going to fly in the more uptight parts of the world, but what they replaced it with is this “high concept” image featuring group of d-bags hanging out in front of a cheap hotel with their identities hidden behind black bars over their eyes.  

dirty deeds US cover

International Cover

Hipgnosis, a British art design group who had done brilliant work in the past, including the album covers for Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, was hired for the job.  While their style fits those bands, it doesn’t mix with AC/DC or the album’s greasy sense of humor.

But even with an altered track list and a weird cover, Dirty Deeds is pretty darn good.  And if you lived anywhere outside of the USA or Canada you were going to get a version of it to rock out to in 1976.  If you lived in those two countries you were going to have to wait another five years.

At the time, Atlantic Records had different department heads controlling what the label put out in different regions.  The Americans would see to what was released in the USA and Canada, while those running the show in Europe basically covered the rest of the world.  Europe published the album, but America did not.

The exclusion put the band in a serious funk as they were set to go on their first tour of North America and promote Dirty Deeds.  The decision is believed to be the beginning of the end for Mark Evans as AC/DC’s bass player, and for a time put lead singer Bon Scott on thin ice with the rest of the band.

The Dirty Deeds story might have ended there if AC/DC hadn’t hit the big time with the release of their first two Top 40 selling albums back to back with Highway to Hell in ’79 and Back in Black the following year.  The band’s back catalog saw a surge in sales, and the increase in American import sales of Dirty Deeds from Australia was enough to finally motivate Atlantic to give the album an official release in the land of the free.

Ah, no. ‘Rocker’ was recorded in 1975. *pushes up nerd glasses*

Of course, that decision went on to create even MORE drama/controversy.

You See, Dirty Deeds is not a straight up AC/DC album.  Even when it is positioned in the right place on the time line, it is still an oddity.   The band’s first album, Aussie High Voltage, acts like a proper first album should.  It stumbles at times (‘Love Song’) but is filled with enough potential (‘She’s Got Balls, ‘Show Business’) that hindsight can clearly tell you where this band is headed. 

Their second album, T.N.T. is the first ‘real’ AC/DC record.  The international version of High Voltage is a compilation of the bands first two albums, and T.N.T. makes 80% of it for a reason.  It is stacked with the big rock riffs the band would become known for.  Dirty Deeds has plenty of big riffs like the title track, ‘Squealer’, and ‘Problem Child’, but the other tunes have the band still experimenting with what works.

‘Ride On’ has a slow blues groove, loaded with raw emotion.  It might be the best song they ever wrote and no other tune comes close to its style in their repertoire.  ‘Ain’t No Fun (Waiting Around To Be A Millionaire)’ not only has a long title, but it is an endless boogie jam that creeps up to almost the 7 minute mark (the OG version is 7:32).  It is also crammed full of lyrics that tell the story of a band trying to make it.  Other AC/DC tunes have similar lyrics, but no other is structured like it. 

‘There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin” is a Chuck Berry inspired, mid-tempo tune that sounds like a left over from their first album; the last of its kind from AC/DC.  And finally, ‘Big Balls’ is a party novelty song loaded with sexy double entendres.  A genre they would toy with now and then, but never go as full-out as they do here.

So in a lot of ways, Dirty Deeds acts as the band’s second album by showing its experimentation.  Now, imagine this not only being AC/DC’s follow-up to their biggest album of all time, but the greatest rock and roll album of all time.  That is how it was delivered to the ears of Americans and Canadians in 1981.

When Atlantic positioned Dirty Deeds as the successor to Back in Black, many believed how its shift in style and its featured former lead singer Bon Scott instead of the current one Brian Johnson, confused the casual fans and hurt the sales of its true follow up, For Those About To Rock.  Even though FTATR did sell well enough when it was release later that year, its numbers were dramatically lower than both Back in Black and Highway To Hell.  As for myself, I believe FTATR would have sold the same number if Dirty Deeds was in the mix or not.   FTATR is a good album, but not as good as BiB, Highway, or even Dirty Deeds

So, that is the legacy of the international version of AC/DC’s Dirty Deed Done Dirt Cheap.  Despite getting passed by the Americans in 1976, it eventually went on to become the band’s third best selling album with 6 million copies sold in the USA alone.  A number that is bumped by the timing of its release, but impressive none the less.  I do hope to one day get my hands on a proper copy of the Australian version so I can dive deep into the songs and discuss how many of its tunes capture Bon at his best.  

As an AC/DC album: 4/5
Compared to everything else:  Shut yo’ face, this has ‘Ride On’!