Replacing A Famous Frontman Is 'PURE TORTURE', Says CCR Singer
"When I grow up, I'm gonna be the singer in a famous rock and roll band....and then every day I'm in the band is going to be an absolute nightmare!"
Not something you'd hear coming from a wanna be famous musician teenager as he dreams of one day joining a rock and roll band. It's likely John Tristao had the same dream every other teenage musician had. Then his dream came true....for a brief moment or two only. In fact, if it were up to him, his story would end on the day he got the call to join Creedence Clearwater Revival. Now that would be a happy ending. Unfortunately, the rest of the story plays out like a Jordan Peele horror film. In fact, Jordan may be inspired to come up with a script after he reads Tristao's recent interview with Rolling Stone's Andy Greene.
Rolling Stone has a series called King for a Day, which features interviews with singers who had the difficult job of fronting major rock bands after the departure of an iconic vocalist. Tristao told Greene that he was a huge CCR fan growing up and was bummed like every other fan when the band broke up in the early 70s. When bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford tried to put some of the pieces back together in 1995 as Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Tristao found himself singing the songs he grew up on. He was now taking on the John Fogerty role as the band's new frontman.
“The public was thinking, ‘You’re replacing John Fogerty?’” Tristao recalls. “No, no, no, no. You don’t replace John Fogerty. I’m representing John Fogerty. He doesn’t want to do it. I’m representing his vocal parts. Nobody is taking anybody’s place. That is strictly, for lack of a better term, a great cover band.”
Tristao ended up spending 21 years fronting Creedence Clearwater Revisited, playing around 1,800 shows. All in all he did a solid job singing the CCR classics but he struggled many nights to hit the high notes of certain songs like “Up Around The Bend". That didn't sit well with Stu and Doug, particularly Stu.
"At first they dropped the key to “Up Around the Bend,” but they weren’t happy about it," said Tristao. “'It just doesn’t sound right.' I said, 'Stu, trust me. The audience doesn’t know we’re dropped down a step. But the point is, I’m able to get through it. I think that’s more important than actually being in the correct key.' But it’s just one of those things. He wouldn’t let up. Eventually, they put it back in the original key. And I went back to struggling."
As if dealing with Stu wasn't bad enough, there were the so-called "fans" of the band.
“It was high stress all the way to the end, all 21 years,” Tristao said. “There were times when it was OK, and if I did a great show, I felt big relief. But the fans beat me up real bad, which I kind of expected. Fans don’t let you replace their idols. It’s that simple.”
So why, then, did Tristao stick around that long? Why not quit?
"I had to decide, 'Am I going to do this? Or am I going to bow out now before I get committed?' I decided, 'I’ll take whatever they throw at me, and I’ll do it for the good of my family.' That was the goal."
In 2015, Tristao was out of Creedence Clearwater Revival and, guess what? This story is just as brutal. Here's what he told Greene:
Why did you leave the group in 2016? I suffered what’s called a dissection [type] B. My aortic valve exploded. I had two aneurysms that popped. And I’m one of only three people in the world that’s ever lived through it.
Jesus Christ. Yeah. That’s why they call it the Widowmaker. You know, it’s astounding how common aneurysms are. Doctors don’t even worry about them until they reach 5.9 centimeters. Mine was 5.2, but it’s still burst.
I had the first attack, went to the hospital. They did a bunch of tests, and sent me home saying I had gas. “Gas? Hey, guys, this was more than a fart, trust me.”
I was home for three days, and the other one burst. I went back to the hospital. They had to helicopter me into the University of Washington Harbor View because it was the only facility that could handle the procedure I needed. I was out for three days when I got there. I don’t know if I was in a coma or not. I could still hear even though I was out, and I did hear more than one person say, “He’s not gonna make it.” “Hey, I can hear you.”
Did you resign from the group? No. There’s no nice way to say it. They kicked me out.
Because you were sick? Well, to be really fair, I’ve got really severe arthritis in my ankles. During the last year of touring, I was finding it harder and harder to walk these hundreds of miles through airports. Then it was even getting tough for me to go up the stairs to get on stages. My feet hurt so bad. I think they saw the writing on the wall. It’s arthritis. It doesn’t get better.
At this time, I’m 65 years old. When they saw the opportunity to replace me, the guy that I had as a backup guy, Dan McGuinness, was 30 years old. He was half my age. I think they saw the opportunity, which I really don’t blame them for. But how they did it was just a kick in the teeth.
How did they do it? They called me up one day and Stu said, “Well, John, we’re gonna move on.” I said, “Move on? I just had surgery. My heart exploded. Give me a minute. It’s only been five months.” And they said, “We’re gonna move on and put Dan in the seat.”
And like I say, I understand it. I really don’t fault him for that. But they just kicked me to the curb. The hard part for me was when I was in the hospital, my room alone was $150,000 a day. I was in there almost a month. So when I came out, I had a bill of $2.4 million. My insurance wouldn’t pay any of it. So needless to say, that broke me.
Doug and Stu both retired in February of 2020 and haven't performed since. If they do decide to reform, they'll be looking for a new singer. You interested in the gig? Mmmmmm, no thanks. I'll pass.
Read Andy Greene's entire Q&A interview with John Tristao HERE.