Classic Tracks: Creedence Clearwater Revival "Fortunate Son"

Mar 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Matt Hurwitz


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L to R: John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty and Stu Cook

L to R: John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty and Stu Cook

The year 1969 was a hot one for Creedence Clearwater Revival. The San Francisco Bay Area group had burst onto the scene the summer before with its self-titled LP, and followed up with three more albums the next year: Bayou Country (featuring the huge hit “Proud Mary,” which placed CCR on the road to success), Green River and Willy and the Poor Boys. The group was in its prime.

Creedence had been recorded by Walt Payne at Coast Recorders in San Francisco, and Bayou by Hank McGill at RCA Studios in L.A. But Green River brought CCR to a new San Francisco studio, Wally Heider Recording (now Hyde Street Studios). Heider already had a successful studio in the heart of Hollywood — his original facility at Selma Avenue and Cahuenga Boulevard — but by the end of 1968, he had decided to expand northward to service the burgeoning recording market in the San Francisco Bay Area.

That same year, Heider hired a 27-year-old musician and self-taught engineer named Russ Gary, though that was not Gary's introduction to the studio. Three years prior, Gary's Long Beach band, Lloyd Terry & The Victors, had done a session at the L.A. facility. “Wally himself was the engineer,” Gary recalls. Gary had actually begun recording in his own garage, like many budding engineers. “I started getting pretty good and getting more little pieces of homemade equipment. I never had any equalization, but I did buy a few good microphones.” Not long after, he got a job (working for free) in Santa Ana, Calif., with former Gold Star mixer George Fernandez at his studio, United Audio Recording. Eventually, Gary made his way to Heider's place, working as a second engineer alongside such mixers as Bones Howe and Chuck Britz on records for such artists as the Fifth Dimension, The Association and Waylon Jennings.

By late 1968, Heider was ready to staff his new Bay Area facility, which was to have been headed by staff engineer Rik Pekkonen. When Pekkonen declined to relocate, Gary volunteered to go, working under his old boss George Fernandez. “I did what I could to help get the place wired, helping Frank DeMedio get the place ready,” Gary says. DeMedio was a key player in the design of the studio; he and Heider were alumni of Bill Putnam's United/Western Studios (now Ocean Way). Within a few months, however, Fernandez and Heider parted ways, and Gary was promoted to full recording engineer.

Though he recorded a few smaller bands, a month after his promotion, in March 1969, Gary and the studio had a visit from John Fogerty, who gave the facility the once-over and booked a demo session. “I guess he wanted to see if I, and the studio, made the grade,” says Gary.

The engineer was more than happy to be recording Fogerty's brand of swampy rock. “I'm a Southern boy,” says the native Virginian. “I'm a countrified rock 'n' roller. I was right at home. Those guys played the music I really liked.”

Russ Gary in Wally Heider’s Studio C, 1969
Photo: By Kind Permission of Jim Marshall

Russ Gary in Wally Heider’s Studio C, 1969
Photo: By Kind Permission of Jim Marshall

The single three-hour session resulted in two instrumental recordings, “Glory Be” and “Briar Patch.” “I did a quick mix, and they took off, and I didn't know if I'd see them again,” he says. But shortly thereafter, the group booked time and recorded a pair of tracks for their next single, “Green River” and “Commotion,” followed, after a brief break, by sessions for the remainder of the Green River album.

Green River was a huge hit, making it to the top of charts, with “Bad Moon Rising,” “Lodi” and the title track leaving their marks. Shortly after release, it was back to Heider's to record Willy and the Poor Boys. Released in November 1969, the album reached Number 3 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart, as did its catchy lead track single, “Down on the Corner.”

But it was “Fortunate Son,” which peaked at Number 14, that truly captured some of the intense emotions of the times. The song became an anthem for countless young people of the era, resentful of the Vietnam War and of the further injustices between classes — it's told from the perspective of a young man who doesn't have the connections to stay out of the military.

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