Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Interview with Jake Rohrer, author of A Banquet of Consequences



The Rock and Roll Chemist is privileged to bring you the following interview with Jake Rohrer, former go-to guy (think of him as a quasi-manager) for legendary 1960s rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival.  As a bit of background, in the photo above Jake Rohrer is pictured at his desk in the CCR Berkeley headquarters, the "Factory," circa 1970.  The woman in the photo is Jake's sister, Mary Goodrich, who helped him run the fan club and hold down the office when they were on the road (photo credit: Deiter Zill).  His recently published memoir, A Banquet of Consequences: Sex (not too much), Drugs (plenty), Rock & Roll (of course), and the Feds (who invited them?) is at once unpretentious and profound, dramatic and humorous, and goes far beyond his association with Creedence Clearwater Revival which could even be considered secondary to the rest of his story. Today he lives with his wife in rural upcountry Maui, where they farm the land, maintain a recording studio, and administer their music label featuring the traditional music of Hawaii.  


I've previously reviewed his excellent memoir, A Banquet of Consequences, and Jake was kind enough to elaborate on his life and career by answering some questions I had about his book. I hope you enjoy reading our interview as much as I enjoyed speaking with Jake.


RNRChemist: Jake, thanks so much for speaking to me regarding your excellent book and your fascinating story.  Let's get right into some questions!  First up, the obvious one: what motivated you to write a book about your life?

JR: Simply the joy of writing (discovered while incarcerated) and thinking I'm probably not very good at fiction.  Recent loss of the retail CD markets and loss of music markets in general found me with lots of time on my hands. I turned to writing.

RNRChemist: Can you give a little background into your upbringing? What was it like?

JR: I was raised by successful, caring, and loving parents; We had everything we needed in the America of the late forties and throughout the fifties.  Home life was supportive and comfortable, lacking only in progressive idealism which wouldn't come along until later on.

RNRChemist: How did you first get involved with the guys who ultimately became Creedence? What did you do over the course of working for them?

JR: They showed up on my high school campus in the fall of 1960 as the Blue Velvets, a genuine rock & roll band.  I was enamored by their music and sought them out as friends.  About nine years later I was working for them as their representative in press relations, public relations, touring support, general factotum, diplomatic attache, and all around front man.

RNRChemist: You had a pretty successful (by the sounds of it) auto dealership business that your family ran. Was it hard to leave that behind to go into the music world when CCR hit?

JR: Not hard at all when looking at the invitation to come work for CCR.  I'd lost my father who started the business before I was born. The joy and challenge of the auto business was eventually gone with him.  I was ready for a change and who could resist the opportunity to work on the world stage of rock & roll with close and admired friends?

RNRChemist: What was the relationship between the guys in CCR like back in the early, pre-fame days? Was there any hint of the bitterness that was to come?

JR: None that I ever saw. These guys were like brothers (Tom and John, of course, actually were), supportive, respectful, fun loving, music loving and hard working. They were great friends to me and among themselves.

RNRChemist: During the band's heyday, what was it like? How was the relationship between the guys?

JR: It was like a dream come true, everything they did seemed to work like magic. They were treated like royalty everywhere they went.  They were personally close and proud of their achievements. John's leadership and musical abilities were respected and held in high regard by the others.  I wasn't aware of any internal dissension until just before Tom left. I could feel anxiety building and it felt to me as though what had been taken for granted, an easy-going and humble acceptance of fame and accomplishment, had somehow turned into something precious and breakable.  Suddenly it seemed like all that success wasn't enough. Things relaxed for a couple of years after Tom left the band, then--to me inexplicably--the tension and anxiety returned around the recording and release of Mardi Gras.

RNRChemist: What were your initial impressions of John? Doug? Stu? Tom? How about since they split up in 1973?

JR: As high school friends I looked on them as fun loving, talented guys.  Stu, and especially Doug, were gregarious and outgoing.  John was quieter, seeming more serious, but still ready for a good time.  I looked on all of them as capable and smart.  I didn't get to know Tom until I came to work for them and knew him even less after he left the band. Now he's gone, gone, gone...I still occasionally communicate with Stu and Doug and value their friendship. A few years back I was in Columbia, Missouri, visiting my son and his family, and Creedence Clearwater Revisited was performing in town.  Stu and Doug took the time to come to my son's home for a dinner and autograph session with all my son's pals and their wives, all totally thrilled.  What great sports. They did that for me and I love them for it.  John:  John is John, so different from anyone else I've ever been close to.  He was a loner when I worked for him, and I assume he still is. There was a quiet intensity about him and yet a warm and smiling side as well. Except for some pleasantries exchanged when I was a witness in a CCR related lawsuit, we haven't spoken since we parted ways in 1977. Sure, I miss him. He was a close friend and confidant who I greatly admired. I can't even imagine how he's changed since then.  I guess I have, too.  He acquired a new wife and family and I wish him only happiness. My greatest disappointment concerning John was when he refused to perform with Stu and Doug at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.  I thought it malicious, a blight on his legacy. Here was an  opportunity to mend old wounds, to revisit and celebrate their greatness. I don't know why the HOF people let the show go on.  Stu said it best: " ... it wasn't John Fogerty they were inducting."

RNRChemist: CCR's never ending legal battles with each other popped up again when Stu and Doug recently sued John over use of the Creedence name in promotions. If you had to take sides in this mess, which side would it be and why?

JR: This is a business dispute that will be settled by lawyers.  It's not up to me to take sides on a subject that sure isn't any of my business and I know very little about.

RNRChemist: After they split and you stopped working for them, you worked with John for a while as he started his solo career. What sort of things were you doing for him?

JR: A while was about four years, the same amount of time I spent in prison. I generally acted as his representative for matters of business and the public, very much what I had done with the band. We spent a lot of time in Troy, Oregon, building John a house while he acquainted himself with the finer points of hunting and fishing and the great outdoors. We also drank some whiskey and played country music in the local honky tonk. We spent some limited time in L.A. after John signed with Geffen (Asylum), but it never felt to me like we boys from Berkeley fit with the L.A. scene. John's solo career didn't really take off until "Centerfield" in 1985 when I was seven or eight years gone from his employ.

RNRChemist: Why do you think he developed such writers block around that time, which lasted the better part of a decade?

JR: I think John lapsed into a dark, quiet place, struggling with the reality of all that had gone down during his professional career: from the beginning he and the others were tied to a crappy, one-sided contract (like most musicians of the day were), the loss of his band, the loss of their money in a sham off-shore trust, the loss of confidence in his song writing, a bitter battle with Saul Zaentz and Fantasy Records, equally bitter battles with band members, and who knows what else? I believe he convinced himself that he was a victim, that others had taken unfair advantage of him, and he just wouldn't let go of that idea. I think that sort of thinking only holds you back.

RNRChemist: You pull no punches about your time in the drug trade during the 1970s...what led you into that world?

JR: The ease of opportunity and I needed a job.  All of a sudden I was making rock-star money, and I liked the sense of freedom it afforded. I didn't have a lot of moral hangups about drugs; I don't have an addictive personality and thought cocaine easy to deal with. It was rampant throughout the music business and I never thought much of it.  I was later to realize how insidious a drug it is, that it sneaks up on a lot of people, and truly, we're better off without having it around as a recreational habit.

RNRChemist: Did you ever worry about getting arrested or killed by a rival dealer while you were doing that?

JR: No. I entered into a fraternity of honorable guys who didn't believe in violence. Rule number one: you don't lie, cheat or steal, and you don't rat on your brothers. Like all good things, that didn't last forever, and the huge profits attracted the kind of people who were as willing to cut your throat as look at you. Things got somewhat dicey down the road.

RNRChemist: You were ratted out by the guys higher in the operation than you were and got a pretty heavy prison sentence while they got off relatively easy. You could have been really bitter and angry about that but you weren't, which I thought was quite impressive. Why were you able to keep a different perspective on it?

JR: I was bitter at first. I wasn't caught doing anything, I was told on. It was only one guy, the guy who was said to be at the top of the chain and they were letting him go in exchange for being an informant. It wasn't an "operation" per se.  There wasn't a  gang or cartel involved. It was  a group of non-violent, independent entrepreneurs who knew and trusted one another.  When I finally accepted responsibility for my actions, realizing that I had created my own karma, things got easier. I became convinced that I was far better off serving my time than the informant who traded his prison time for a life sentence of a different nature. I looked back on the drug life as a facade, an ugly and dangerous waste of time.

RNRChemist: You also mention in the book that while prison isn't anything anyone should aspire to, you "enjoyed" your time there (relatively speaking) and are thankful for it. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

JR: Sure. A better man came out than went in. There was plenty of time for reading and contemplation.  I discovered the joy that can come from writing. It's also opportunity to get your temple (body) into shape and kill off your bad habits.  I went in weighing 230 pounds and came out under 180, lean and in great shape. I quit my tobacco habit. I originally called my book "The Fortunate Son," because I've always considered myself fortunate.  I was fortunate to have the parents I did, to grow up where I did in the era that I did, to do the things I've done.  And I was fortunate to go to prison when I did, before sentence requirements got so crazy, and fortunate to be in prison circumstances where I could play sports, play music, enjoy a camaraderie with fellow inmates, all of these things--it was like going back to high school again even though I was in my forties, lacking only females. I came out feeling twenty years younger. Imagine a second chance at youth. Even today I sometimes I walk around feeling like I must be in that Paul Newman movie, "Somebody Up There Likes Me," so grateful to be alive in good health, able to extract the joy from each passing day.  I don't want to paint a picture of every single day being something great.  Shit happens.  In prison and out, yesterday, today and tomorrow. But, taken as a whole experience, I got value out of prison. I accepted being locked up, I had earned that, and made up my mind to make the most of it.

RNRChemist: Are you still in touch with any of the characters from your time in prison you mentioned in the book?

JR: Sure. Foremost my brother. We've always been very close. I've never, though, been able to find my "amigo," Chris, from my days at the medium security prison at Terminal Island.  I met Chris, who'd spent half of his life behind bars, on the day I walked in, and he became my friend, teacher and benefactor, significantly easing my transition into the prison environment.

RNRChemist: You mention at the end of the book that while your time in prison doesn't seem too bad based on the stories you told, there were some bad things that happened that you didn't want to include in the book. Is there any chance you could share some with us, if you don't mind?

JR: No "bad" things happened to me in prison. I was never assaulted, disciplined, or sent to the "hole."  I was never caught doing any of the bad stuff we did. The negative I was balancing consisted mostly of a rigid control by a bureaucratic system that never let you forget who's in charge. Boredom, missing loved ones, and occasionally having to take shit from some nasty, mean-spirited guard whose sorry existence revolved around keeping other people jailed. Worse than that, having to take shit from that guy's boss, a similarly dull-witted, mean-spirited, bureaucratic robot whose sense of purpose in this world was predicated on extracting society's revenge from those under his dominion. I witnessed a lot of what I considered mean and cowardly behavior by prison administrators, most of whom were morally and intellectually inferior to those over whom they held their sway. On the other side of that coin were those working in the prison environment who were fair-minded, decent, thinking and warm human beings.

RNRChemist: What have you been up to since you were released?

JR: That's almost like the whole second half of my life. Here's a thumbnail: right out of the halfway house, I went to work for an old friend in his law office in downtown Oakland.  I was the investigator, paralegal and office administrator. I stayed with that job for ten years, until one day my wife announced, "I'm going to Maui. You coming?"  Of course I was.  Most of my family lived on Maui and we already owned a home  there. I had no idea what I would do when I got there, but I knew that first I had to build a garage and a cottage for my aging mother.  One day my brother asked if I could write some radio commercials for his travel business. I had an 8-track cassette recorder and a couple of AKG C-1000 microphones. Sure I can. My wife and I had been playing music together (she ukulele, me guitar) for kicks and supporting hula halau (schools) on the mainland and on Maui. I wrote clever commercials, doing the music and voice over, and my wife would sing the jingle. They were very successful and provided a good part of our income for several years. Another day, local spiritualist and recording artist, Lei`ohu Ryder, brought my wife home from a heiau (ancient Hawaiian temple) work party with a broken leg. Learning that I had worked with CCR (she was a big fan) and that I had the beginnings of a recording studio, she ventured, "Let's make a record!"  Sure I can. That kicked off our label, Ululoa Productions, and my career as a producer and engineer. Our first recordings, Lei'ohu's "Lady of the Mountain" and Ata Damasco's Hawaiian gospel album "From the Valley to the Throne" still sell in respectable numbers today, 14 years after release. Over the next decade or so, we produced, manufactured and released over 20 commercial CDs of mostly traditional Hawaiian music by mostly local Maui artists, as well as many recording jobs for other artists. Hawaii is a small market and now, without distribution and retail stores to sell them, the death knell has all but tolled for retail CDs. Our once busy studio has few projects today. We still administer our label and our releases are still available, but the market isn't what it was. With time on my hands, I thought about writing a book

RNRChemist: Any regrets or things you'd have done differently during your time with CCR? After?

JR: Hindsight is always 20-20 and life's been too good for regrets. Sure, there are things I would have done differently, but I don't dwell there.

RNRChemist: Some quick hit questions:

Favorite band?

JR: I just don't know. I hardly listen to rock music anymore.  I'm more likely to listen to real rock and roll out of the fifties than anything else in that vein. Who's better than Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and those other great pioneers? I still like the Stones, Allman Brothers, Creedence (of course), loved the Blasters and the Beatles. I like Zeppelin until Plant starts screaming at me. Most current bands sound like digital noise to me. I like roots music, Americana music, traditional music, blues... like good food and wine, I want to taste the earth from which it came from. The music I love has that same earth-connection, regardless of genre. I like those records that make me pull to the side of the road and wait for the end so I can write down who and what I just heard.

I've also developed an interest and fascination for the great philharmonic orchestras of our day.  I love watching those superb and dedicated musicians interpret the tempos and arrangements from the conductor, working together, and the tremendous sound they create from their acoustic instruments. They sometimes remind me of the best rock & roll band you can imagine, on a great night.

RNRChemist: Favorite album?

JR: I literally have thousands of albums (yeah, 33-1/3 rpm) and CDs collected over a lifetime. How could I have a favorite?  The best new release I've come across in recent months is Dave and Phil Alvin singing the songs of Big Bill Broonzy.  Wonderful stuff.  Right now I'm listening to Dion DiMucci, Bronx in Blue, released a few years back. He was seventy years old when he recorded that. What a great voice, great chops, then and now. It's hard to start naming names. There's too much great music out there. I recently mastered about 60 hours of cassettes to CD from the late, great KFAT radio in Gilroy, CA.  I did it for Gilbert Klein, a KFAT stalwart, for love of the music and the memories. I just don't think Pandora can compete with KFAT. Or most of the other stuff I can pull off my shelves.  Or pick the music that means something to me.

RNRChemist: As far as CCR goes, what's your favorite CCR album and song?

JR: Green River and "Green River."  Willy and the Poor Boys, a close second.

RNRChemist: Finally, after you wrote the book, did you look back and think "wow! What an interesting life I've had so far!" ?

JR: No, not really.  Everyone's life is interesting, or can be.  I take more pleasure in reading what I wrote, "Wow!... I nailed that scene!"

RNRChemist: Jake, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me; your insight and perspective on your life and on music are really inspiring and fascinating.  And for my readers, I highly recommend you pick up Jake's book...it's an incredible story and a very enjoyable read. Thanks again, Jake!

3 comments:

  1. Interesting guy. Seems to have the ability to extract the best from whatever situation he's in.

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  2. Great interview as always. I always enjoyed CCR as a band growing in the late 60's. They sure had that unbridled sound that was so representative of that era.

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    1. Thanks! Jake was a very cool guy to interview and I really admire his perspective on life and the various trials and tribulations he had. He seemed to always stay positive and use each experience as a way to better himself and that's a quality too few of us have.

      And you're right about CCR...great band. I read the perfect quote about them...that they were simultaneously a throwback and progressive. I think that sums it up perfectly, don't you?

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