Gary James' Interview With
Executive Assistant To Creedence Clearwater Revival
and John Fogerty
In the late 1960s, early 1970s, Creedence Clearwater Revival was one of the most popular Rock groups to come out of the Bay Area. Jake Rohrer knew the guys in the group before all of their success. When fame and fortune arrived, Jake went to work for Creedence. He shared his story with us.
Q - Jake, so many people on the Internet refer to you as the manager of Creedence, but Creedence didn't have a manager.
A - That's correct.
Q - So why are you referred to as the manager of Creedence?
A - You know, I don't know why the hell people thought that. It was a guy who had a website called Counter Punch. He saw some stuff I'd written for the Anderson Valley Advisor and liked it and he was an old Creedence fan and he wondered if he could run it. I said, "Sure, go ahead." (Laughs). He never asked me if I was the manager. He just figured that's what I was.
Q - What then do I refer to you as? Executive Assistant?
A - That's a good term. During the golden years, Creedence had John Fogerty as the manager. John called all the shots. Then there was me and Bruce Young. Bruce was the road manager and took care of the stage crew and all the lighting. Plus, he was the personal confidant to the band. When I first came on board, Bruce handled financial affairs for them. He took money around, collected money at gigs and that sort of thing. Then I came into the picture and Bruce and I would share those duties. Then my job was essentially taking care of the press and promotion and I traveled with the band on the road.
Q - When did you meet Creedence?
A - I met those guys in high school. They were a couple of years younger than me and I was sort of a backyard musician myself and I loved boogie-woogie piano and Rock 'n' Roll. And here comes these guys who could really play together as a band. They just blew me away. I said "I gotta meet these guys." And we became pretty good friends and remained that way even afterwards. The time I became available to work with them they invited me to come and be part of their entourage.
Q - So, you met John Fogerty, Tom Fogerty, Doug Clifford and Stu Cook in high school?
A - Yeah. I wasn't as close to Tom as I was the other three. Tom went to another high school. I think Tom was a year older than me.
Q - Of course, they weren't Creedence back then, they were going by the name The Golliwogs.
A - The Blue Velvets.
Q - That's even before The Golliwogs.
A - Yup. They didn't name themselves The Golliwogs. As far as I know, Fantasy Records did that. It was kind of a lame attempt to cash in on the British Invasion at the time.
Q - I read someplace that John and the other guys would practice in the band room. Did you listen to them then?
A - I think that goes back to the junior high school where that music room existed. I don't think we had such a thing in high school. When they came into high school they had already been playing as a trio in junior high school, in eighth grade.
Q - They played where, school dances, church dances?
A - Well, that was before I knew them and I'm not quite sure. I'm not exactly sure where they played in junior high school. I know in high school my introduction to them was what they called a school assembly in the school gymnasium. They played for the whole school. They were sophomores in high school.
Q - They played cover songs?
A - Cover songs and they had some of their own stuff.
Q - They did? Do you remember what they played?
A - Yeah, sure. The song they opened up with was called "Train Time" and they had written it. Probably John had written it. He would bend the upper strings on the guitar sounding like a train whistle. The lower strings would be emulating the driving wheels. Stu played acoustic piano and Doug had a drum set that probably was pretty limited. Probably a kick, snare, one or two cymbals. I don't really recall exactly. It started out modest.
Q - What did the kids at the assembly think of the band?
A - Oh everybody loved 'em.
Q - Teachers too?
A - (Laughs). I can't speak for all the teachers, but surely the school powers to be had agreed to the student assembly featuring them.
Q - After they graduated, didn't all the guys get jobs and worked the band on weekends?
A - Stu and Doug went off to college in San Jose, which is sort of close to the Bay Area. Tom was working for the local power company, PE&G (Pacific Gas and Electric) and he had a wife. John would marry shortly thereafter. I can remember John pumping gas. Then he was in the National Guard. Then all of a sudden, Stu and Doug came out of college and they had this little place in El Sobrante we called The Shire. We'd go out there and it'd be party time. We'd play music. That was the starting point for Creedence Clearwater. John and Tom quit their jobs. Stu's dad was the head of a pretty big law firm in Oakland. He wanted Stu to go to law school. Instead, Stu sold his car, which was a graduation gift, to help finance the band and they set out to make something of themselves.
Q - And how did they do that? Did they play the club circuit? Did they make a demo tape?
A - As The Golliwogs they did several records. Even before that as The Blue Velvets they had a record that first year in high school. They played for some Black guy. I forget his name. They'd been in the studio that early. As The Golliwogs, in the final year of The Golliwogs, they played up and down California's Central Valley a lot, where Lodi is. You wonder where that song came from. Then all of a sudden, the San Francisco music scene, following Monterey Pop and all that, started to happen. This might have been before Monterey Pop. I forget exactly. That was '67. So, that's when it was. Christmas Eve of 1967 John announced to the other guys, Creedence Clearwater Revival. That was going to be their new name. And that's essentially when they said, "Okay, we are going to be serious about this," and they were looking at what was going on in San Francisco and that's where they set their sights.
Q - Then Fantasy Records signed them to a record deal.
A - They were signed as The Golliwogs. They made, I don't know how many 45s, probably half a dozen. One of them was a regional hit in the Sacramento area.
Q - Did John ever run any song by you and say "Hey Jake, what do you think of this?"
A - No. Songwriting was a very solitary endeavor for John and he worked very hard at it. John studied the music business. John is a smart guy. He looked at what was going on. Their first album, two singles came off of it, were covers, "Suzie Q" and "I Put A Spell On You" and then they had some of their original stuff. Some of that original stuff they'd also recorded as The Golliwogs. It had kind of this psychedelic feel to it. There was audio psychedelics in there just because that's what everybody in San Francisco was doing. But, when John wrote "Proud Mary" and everything that followed that, I mean it was like he had blinders on. He instinctively knew the music had to be worthy. It had to be radio ready. He also knew that once he got his foot in that door, when it swung open, and that actually happened with "Suzie Q" and in a bigger sense with "Proud Mary", John had to get his foot in there and not let that door close on him. He went to work and he wrote that string of incredible songs, one after the other. Radio perfect. (Laughs). That put them on the map of course.
A - As smart as John Fogerty was and is, he was wearing too many hats. The lead singer, the lead guitarist, the producer, the arranger, the manager, the songwriter.
A - Well you know, that's sort of where Bruce and I came in and maybe why some people thought I was his manager too. John made the overall decisions and choices for the band. Again, I'm talking '69, '70, what I call the "Golden Years". He had Bruce and I there to pick up whatever he needed to be done. Stu and Doug both talk about that, "we should've had a manager." They see that had they had this financial wizard who could see the future, they could of made many more millions and millions of dollars. Personally I think that's just hindsight.
Q - Creedence made millions of dollars and John took the money and he put it in a bank in the Bahamas that failed. Creedence lost all the money they made.
A - He's incorrect about that, yes. As a group, the four of them, guided by not only Stu's father, the head of the big law firm and the best accountants money could buy, they got sold down the river really into an offshore trust scheme that these high-powered attorneys from Chicago put forth. At the time, as I recall and I've heard this figure before, I can't swear to it, but 60% of what they made would go to taxes. So, this offshore tax plan was offered by Burton Cantor. He was the head of a big Chicago law firm. Eventually everybody on their masthead was indicted, but they put together the offshore tax scam with Castle Bank And Trust. This was not John's idea by any stretch. This was something they all did together as a group under the auspices of their lawyers and accountants, who later got their asses sued for allowing this to happen.
Q - Did the group ever recover any money?
A - There was at that time, and this is when the group was apart, I was working with John and Stu and Doug and Rus Geary, going at this production company at The Factory, there was True Castle Bank. There was like $1,500,000, $2,000,000 in this bank in Canada and that was money that was earmarked for John because it was songwriting money. This was a time when the Central Bank thing was coming under an IRS challenge. John had had about enough of this. So, we grabbed that $2 million or so. I spent two days going around putting it in various banks for him in protected accounts for he and his wife. John was going to go to the IRS and say, "I'm tired of this bullshit. How much do I owe you?" Then I think the others... The band's attorney goes to Nassau to meet with Castle Bank And Trust and he arrives and the doors are chained shut and all the furniture is moved out. There might have been a shredder left. Even 60 Minutes did a story on Castle Bank And Trust. It was also thought to be a CIA front. It was full of criminals and gangsters.
Q - Fantasy Records also put their money into a bank in the Bahamas that didn't fail.
A - I can't say that's correct, but it's my understanding that Fantasy pulled the lion share of the money out before it all went to hell and Creedence didn't. So Fantasy was also a part of that.
Q - Now, I understand why there was such tension in the group. I never knew about Stu Cook's connection to their money problems. There's probably a lot of hatred and animosity there.
A - I don't think so. No one held that against Barry Ingle, who was the attorney from Stu's dad's law firm. I think the idea came from Fantasy. I think Burton Cantor and his people approached Fantasy and said, "Hey, we have this offshore tax set up. We'll save you guys a lot of money." I think Fantasy introduced it to Creedence and before Creedence got involved in it they had it okayed by their personal lawyer who was a member of Stu's dad's firm and I think Stu's dad probably looked at it as well. There was no animosity there. Nobody intended to screw anybody over, except the people that put together the Trust.
Q - I forgot to ask you, when you left high school when you graduated, what did you do?
A - I was an auto dealer. My dad was an auto dealer. I worked in the auto business. I would help those guys with their cars. Stu or somebody would bring their cars in on weekends and we'd work on it. Anyway, I kept their cars running for 'em.
Q - What was it like traveling the world with Creedence?
A - Oh man, it was a magic carpet ride. It was a time of a lifetime. I loved being on the road with the band. It was just so exciting and the adrenaline at every stop. And of course, the band in those years, everywhere they went they were treated like royalty. Then we got our own Learjet and started doing these extended tours. There was always the band and me on the Learjet. We went all over the world in that thing, actually not all over the world, but we did take it to Europe.
Q - What years were you with the band on the road?
A - From the end of summer of '69 through early 1973 when it all fell apart.
Q - Was it John Fogerty who hired you?
A - Actually, the band. As I recall I had some interaction with Doug. John, Stu and Doug, all three of them when they first got their first big paychecks, my dad's dealership sold French cars. I always liked the Peugeot. I always thought it was an honest, well-made car. So they got their first big paycheck. They came out to me, and my dad had died tragically a couple of years before and I was the dealer. Each bought a new Peugeot from me. Then later that summer I think Doug got a little restless and I got him a new Porsche from the local Porsche dealer. It was sort of during that time that I was getting soured on the automobile business. I had taken on a couple of partners I wasn't really happy with and told Doug I was looking to do something else. Doug didn't say anything. He went to the band and said, "Hey, our old pal Jake is available." The next thing I knew, John has called me up and said, "Why don't you come to work for us?" So that's how it came about.
Q - You didn't have anything that resembled a 40 hour work week, did you?
A - No, especially when we were touring. On the other hand, we had our headquarters we called The Factory and that I really did work out of mostly, depending on what was going on, you know like a five day work week. The band would come down there and rehearse almost daily.
Q - What were your job duties on the road?
A - I would handle all of the local press, interview requests and all that sort of thing, the hotel rooms. I would guard the dressing room door and make sure the uninvited wouldn't get in and that sort of thing.
Q - Did you ever have any creative input into the band? Maybe deciding what goes on an album cover?
A - I would help the art director at Fantasy get things together. I know on one album they credited me for one thing or another. On "Mardi Gras" there's kind of a antique picture of a girl holding a tambourine. That was some relative of mine. My sister came up with that.
Q - Creedence never got into the trouble that other bands seemed to get into. There was no tearing up hotel rooms, getting drunk or out of hand or getting arrested.
A - No, we were pretty levelheaded guys. That didn't mean we wouldn't smoke a joint if we felt like it, but we kept it together. Tearing up hotel rooms is kind of a childish thing to do. We had party rooms in every hotel we stayed in. What we'd do in those party rooms is have informal music gigs. That's where I could sit in with the band and depending on who we might be traveling with as opening acts, all kinds of people would sit in. We just had great informal jam sessions usually playing traditional Blues stuff, Country stuff, roots stuff. Just what ever. That's where John put his ideas together for the Blue Ridge Rangers project.
Q - When I saw Creedence in 1972, Bo Diddley was on the bill and I believe Tower Of Power as well. Who else did Creedence have open for them?
A - Creedence always handpicked the people that would play with them. Foremost among them was Booker T and the MGs. The band loved Booker T, who was an instrumental band like The Blue Velvets used to be. They always looked on Booker, Steve Cropper, Duck, and Al Jackson as the epitome of musicianship in a Rock 'n' Roll quartet. So they loved those guys. I remember when we first invited them to come play with us. That's when Creedence was riding the crest of a huge wave and they flew out from Memphis and we had this meeting in The Factory and this incredible jam session with all eight of 'em. I had that recorded and I lost the recording in a fire. It was a terrific night. So, we really loved Booker and Duck and all those guys. They had a camaraderie, the two bands. They just really respected and loved one another. Then Tony Joe White became one of our touring partners. He would put together a band that usually included Duck Dunn on bass and a couple of other guys. Who else did we tour with? Tower Of Power 'cause Doug loved their drummer. We toured with Ike and Tina Turner.
Q - Must've been a great show.
A - It was. I'll never forget at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, kind of run by the Mormons, Tina mimicked this blow job on the microphone. It so outraged them, they stopped the show and brought up the lights. (Laughs). It was fun playing with them too. I don't know what happened between Ike and Tina. There's a lot of stories that Ike was just a vicious bastard. Maybe he was. When we got together and had parties after those dates, The Ikettes were always there. They were Tina's little backup singers. They were just lovely young Black girls and they were just super. We had a lot of fun with 'em. But Ike and Tina would never come and just kind of hang out. They stayed aside to themselves.
Q - Did Creedence get a lot of groupies?
A - There's always a lot of groupies. (Laughs). What did Keith Richards say? They're like the Red Cross, they're always around. (Laughs).
Q - Did you cross paths with Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix?
A - I never met Hendrix. I think the band members probably did. I met Janice a couple of times, last time at Shea Stadium in New York. There was a big gala summer program with just a ton of top bands. It was the peak of Creedence's popularity and power. They closed the show. I remember backstage, Paul Simon was there, John Kay, Poco was one of the bands and probably half a dozen others. Janice was running around, I don't know, trying to put herself in front of cameras. It was kind of sad. This is just a month before she died, but it was obvious, at least to me, that Janice was in big trouble. Before that, I'd met her in San Francisco at the International Auto Show. She was on the arm of a guy from an early radio station, KMPX, Mylon Melvin. She was smiling and vibrant and happy. I'd heard this one song of hers, before she recorded anything, that they played on KMPX. It was with Jorma Kaukonen on kind of an acoustic Blues guitar and Janice was singing this Blues number and somebody in the background on a typewriter. You know, just kind of pecking to the rhythm of the song. Really got a charming little tape. That was Janice just coming out. Like I say, she was a lovely, vibrant presence and then two years later she was a month away from death.
Q - Hard livin', hard drinkin', hard drivin' person.
A - Yeah. And Jim Morrison... The band had this ostentatious penthouse at The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. We called it the Frank Sinatra suite. It had spiral staircases and a grand piano and a pool table and all that. Jim Morrison and his bodyguard, his name was Babe I believe, came and joined us one evening. This was just a month before he died. He was inebriated, but I'd liked him. I sat down at the piano with him. He played me this sloppy version of a song he'd just written. It was called "She Wore Yellow Be-bops In Her Hair" and with each verse the be-bops would change color. I was kind of charmed by his song and I was kind of charmed by him, even though he was inebriated, on what I'm not quite sure. Probably pills and booze. I saw Doug's comments in your interview that he thought he was a big jerk. I don't remember that. Or, at least not at that meeting. I don't remember him being a jerk. I just remember him being kind of quiet and stoned.
Q - People who were around in the 1960s tend to regard that time period as being quite glamorous. As you look back on it, was it?
A - I found it glamorous and exciting being on the road with Creedence, and representing them everywhere we'd go. I was elated. The business itself was still in its infancy. Creedence signed their contract with Fantasy some years before and it was at the top of the page in old English script, it said Standard Recording Agreement. Of course it was penned by lawyers that had the label's rights foremost in their mind. It tied people to just unconscionable contracts. John was so angry at Saul Zaentz. When the boat came in, he sort of assumed that Saul was part of our brotherhood and would help tear up the contract, and when that didn't happen, John became estranged from Saul and increasingly bitter as the years went by.
Q - After Creedence broke up, you did what?
A - I stayed with John Fogerty for another four or five years, just as his support person and confidant. I did all his business.
Q - Did you go on the road with him?
A - Well, he wasn't on the road in those days. Actually, we went up to Oregon. I had this invitation from an old friend to come up to Oregon. It's a long story. This old friend had grown an acre of marijuana out there in Idaho someplace and had been arrested. He was somebody who meant a lot to me. He was a friend of my dad's. I didn't have any money to speak of at the time. I went to John and said, "I got this guy who means a lot to me who's in big trouble." John just opened his wallet and said, "Take whatever you need. Get him out of there." What a prince! So I did. I got him the best lawyer in the Pacific Northwest. He used to be the Attorney General for the state of Washington. He just went in there and blew the case out of the water before the preliminary hearing. So, it was Max, (Jake Rohrer's friend) who lived up there who invited me and John to come up to Oregon and go up in the canyons with a string of mules on horseback and clean up some old camps that this packer up there had. John was really excited about doing that. It was something he hadn't done as a kid and he wanted to do, and we did that. Before we got out of there we were playing at barn dances and John just became charmed and enamored with life as it was. You know, this was way off the beaten path. Before we got out of there John had become a business partner with a packer up there. We went back year after year. We built a big house for John. So that's the stuff we were doing. David Geffen came along and signed John. He bought out most of John's Fantasy obligations. John started making albums all by himself for Asylum Records, which was Geffen's label. That never worked out as good as it should, but that's what we were doing.
Q - When John was doing these barn dances, did he ever get recognized?
A - Oh, yeah. (Laughs). I think word would go out. You have to imagine this place. The nearest town is Lewiston, Idaho and that's two hours. The word would go out and eventually the word would go out that the guy who owned the resort where we would have these parties would get word out because people would come to town and he'd sell a lot of beer. He'd make a lot of money. He had this celebrity band there which consisted of me, John and a couple of pickup guys.
Q - What were you playing?
A - I play guitar.
Q - So, John was playing lead and you were playing rhythm?
A - Yes. I was never an accomplished guitarist like John. I played piano before I met him. There were even some hot licks I'd teach John on the piano and he taught me how to play the guitar, to the extent that he showed me his first chords and that sort of thing.
Q - You're the kind a guy who should have a radio show on the Sirius Radio Network.
A - I'm going to write a book. How's that? I basically have it already written. A part of it deals with Creedence. It's kind of a memoir. If you want to ask what I did after John and I parted ways...
Q - Yeah.
A - I became a drug dealer in a pretty high end way. I did that for a few years until I got told on and did a few years in federal prison.
Q - What were you selling?
A - Cocaine mostly. It was a pretty executive role I guess. We, a few guys would put together an importation thing. They were all 10 kg of cocaine out of Peru and there were a few partners. By the time we got done, everybody had put $50,000 to $75,000 in their pocket. I was about to go back to work in the automobile business and I thought the hell with that. This works! (Laughs).
Q - Did you have any celebrity clientele?
A - No, not really. I was sort of a wholesale distributor to other people.
Q - What happened to you after that?
A - I came out of prison and went to work in a law office. A friend of mine was a lawyer. This was something that would get me out of the halfway house and I stayed there for ten years, working as his paralegal and running the office for him. Then I came to Maui and had no idea what I was going to do. I started doing some radio commercials for my brother and the next thing I knew I started building a studio. My wife and I put together our own label and I've got twenty commercial releases under my belt. We actually made a living at that for ten years until the CD market went to hell. There's no way downloads come close to making up for lost CD sales. I just think it's a very dismal industry right now.
Q - Until somebody figures out a new plan.
A - Yeah, I don't know what that's going to be. Neil Young's got something in mind, but I'm not sure what it is.
Q - If we knew what the next big breakthrough was, we could both become multi-millionaires!