CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL
One of our most popular FORGOTTEN HITS Series was the little "Crash Course" Profile we did on CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL back in 2003. We are happy to now be able to post this piece on our Web Page for others to enjoy! CCR are, in my opinion, the greatest authentic American Rock And Roll Band to ever have existed, so it is with GREAT pleasure that we revisit these guys one more time.
All of this success came hard-earned, however. After ten years of paying their dues around the Bay Area clubs (first as THE BLUE VELVETS, then THE VISIONS and then THE GOLLIWOGS), CCR pretty well knew their chops by the time it came to record their first LP. Their swamp-rock sound led many to believe the band was from the Louisiana Bayou ... and many thought the lead singer was black! In fact, JOHN FOGERTY, STU COOK and DOUG CLIFFORD first met in Junior High School while growing up in the sunny California suburb of El Cerrito. In 1958, at the age of 13, they put together their first combo, THE BLUE VELVETS, playing mostly instrumentals. Inspired by the growing popularity of rock and roll (but with deep roots in blues, R&B, gospel, Memphis Soul and the country sounds of Sun Records), the group stayed true to these roots their whole career, even recording songs like COTTON FIELDS and MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (along with OUTSTANDING versions of ELVIS PRESLEY, RICKY NELSON and RAY CHARLES covers.) Without any other competing bands in their junior high and, later, high school, they were soon playing at most school functions. JOHN's older brother TOM had his own band called SPIDER WEBB AND THE INSECTS and was beginning to write his own songs. He also wasn't afraid to sing lead, something THE BLUE VELVETS desperately needed, so, from time to time, he would sit in with JOHN's band. (When they were playing gigs that required singing, the group was billed as TOMMY FOGERTY AND THE BLUE VELVETS!) The band even landed a recording contract with the small ORCHESTRA RECORDS label and put out three singles which, today, are HIGHLY collectible. COME ON BABY / OH MY LOVE was released in 1961 and went nowhere, despite getting a little local airplay. The follow-up single, HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LONELY, was added to the playlist of local radio station KEWS (the program director at the time was none other than CASEY KASEM) and sold a few copies around the area. The third release was such a disappointment (YES YOU DID / NOW YOU'RE NOT MINE) that it ended the recording careers of TOMMY FOGERTY AND THE BLUE VELVETS. (Those first two Orchestra singles can now be found on the awesome CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL box set that was released a few years back.)
After watching a PBS Television Special called ANATOMY OF A HIT, the band became aware of a small record company down the road called FANTASY RECORDS. FANTASY was formerly known as CIRCLE RECORDS and was owned and operated by THE WEISS BROTHERS. They had quite a reputation as a small, independent label that released jazz records and switched their name to FANTASY in 1949. Amongst their stable of artists were DAVE BRUBECK, GERRY MULLIGAN, CAL TJADER and CHET BAKER. In the 1950's, they even released Beatnik-readings by ALLEN GINSBERG and a few very successful comedy albums by LENNY BRUCE. The reason they were being profiled on the PBS Special was because of the recent success of their jazz cross-over hit CAST YOUR FATE TO THE WIND by VINCE GUARALDI. (It eventually became a #22 hit on the pop charts in 1963.) Light bulbs went off in the heads of the young BLUE VELVETS ... after all, THEY were an instrumental band ... why not strike while the oven was hot?
They drove up the road to FANTASY RECORDS and auditioned for SOL and MAX WEISS and their sales and marketing manager, SAUL ZAENTZ. MAX WEISS told the band that instrumentals were not the way to hit the pop charts ... that CAST YOUR FATE TO THE WIND was a fluke ... and he ALSO suggested a name change ... he said THE BLUE VELVETS sounded "too '50's" ... they needed a more contemporary name. This is when they became THE VISIONS.
In early 1964, JOHN FOGERTY took a trip that would change his life and the career direction of the band. Inspired by groups like THE KINGSMEN, PAUL REVERE AND THE RAIDERS and THE WAILERS, John headed off to Portland, Oregon, to explore the music scene there. While sitting in with a few bands before an audience he didn't know (and, therefore, who didn't know him), John SANG for the first time. (Shyness had prevented this in the past ... but, after careful review of tapes of his performances ... and countless hours of practice ... the "SOUND" of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL was born.) If BURTON CUMMINGS was the "sound" of THE GUESS WHO then JOHN FOGERTY most certainly became the "sound" of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL. (One reviewer early on in their career commented that "If THE INCREDIBLE HULK could sing, he would sound like JOHN FOGERTY.")
In late 1964, FANTASY released their first single. It was yet another case of the band being totally taken off guard when they saw the record label ... they were now called THE GOLLIWOGS! (We've covered this very issue before in FORGOTTEN HITS with bands like the aforementioned GUESS WHO and even THE BEACH BOYS, BOTH of whom were SHOCKED to see these new monikers printed on the label when their first records were released!) They HATED the name ... but had total faith and trust in their managers ... enough to even wear ridiculous white wigs on stage. Up through this point, TOM and JOHN had written most of their original material together and TOM sang lead on all of those tracks. The rest of their set was filled in with instrumentals and R & B covers. All this began to change with JOHN's new-found voice and confidence. He began to take control of the band and guide their direction. Brother TOM willingly stepped aside, recognizing JOHN's abilities.
In all, six singles were released by THE GOLLIWOGS ... three for FANTASY RECORDS and three others for their subsidiary label, SCORPIO RECORDS. (The move to SCORPIO was calculated ... they had just released their first successful "rock" record ... by THE GRATEFUL DEAD ... and felt that FANTASY could continue its tradition as a jazz label if THE GOLLIWOGS moved over to SCORPIO, where they planned to distribute all future rock releases.)
Only one of these singles made any noise. BROWN-EYED GIRL (NOT the VAN MORRISION song) sold about 15,000 copies around the San Francisco / Oakland area. In hindsight, JOHN FOGERTY stated that he was glad it wasn't a bigger hit. ("If Brown Eyed Girl had been a hit, we would have been like every other one-hit artist.") The band wasn't quite ready for the discipline and perseverance that went along with a successful, lasting recording career.
In 1967, SAUL ZAENTZ bought FANTASY RECORDS from the WEISS BROTHERS. The first act he signed was THE GOLLIWOGS but, again, he felt a name change was in order. By 1967, the San Francisco sound had exploded and groups like THE JEFFERSON AIRPLANE, QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE and others were the order of the day. The band now needed a more psychedelic name. TOM FOGERTY met a friend from work for a drink one night and the friend started to tell him about a guy he worked with named CREDENCE NUBALL. TOM LOVED the name ... he had never heard of anyone named "CREDENCE" before. Adding an extra "E" to "CREDENCE", they next took "CLEARWATER" from a popular beer commercial and then added "REVIVAL" as a means of harkening back to ALL the musical influences they had experienced over their already ten-year old career. CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL was born and their first release under this new name was to be the JOHN FOGERTY song PORTERVILLE. Unfortunately, it tanked ... in fact, it never even charted at all ... and the band began to think they were never going to make it. As a follow-up release, they took an old '50's song first done by DALE HAWKINS (ironically, from Louisiana!). As was the way in 1967 / 1968, they added an extended jam-session to the song and their version of SUZIE Q was born. Clocking in at nearly 8 minutes, the song was split into two parts on both sides of the single. It caught on immediately in the San Francisco area and then broke here in Chicago. Soon, it was a nationwide hit, soaring all the way to #9 on the CASH BOX Chart. Playing it safe, they took another cover-tune, I PUT A SPELL ON YOU (originally recorded by SCREAMIN' JAY HAWKINS in 1956) and released it as the follow-up single. This time, it only went to #58. JOHN knew he was going to have to write their next hit himself ... and what a song it was. PROUD MARY, released in January of 1969, had all the makings of a song "standard" and has since become one of the most recorded and performed songs in history.
1969 was a banner year for CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL ... JOHN FOGERTY may have been at his prolific, creative peak as the band released THREE albums that year. BAYOU COUNTRY contained the monster hit PROUD MARY and went all the way to #7 on Billboard's Album Chart, selling two million copies here in the United States alone. The follow up LP, GREEN RIVER, did even better, hitting the #1 spot and going triple platinum. (Besides the hit title track, It also contained the hit BAD MOON RISING.) Then, at year's end, they delivered WILLY AND THE POORBOYS, featuring the two-sided hit FORTUNATE SON and DOWN ON THE CORNER. In August of 1969, the band performed at WOODSTOCK ... in fact, they were the first act signed for this mega-event. (Promoters felt that if they could bring in an attraction as big as CREEDENCE, other acts would follow suit and want to participate as well.) CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL was paid $10,000 to perform and then were scheduled to play at 3 am on Sunday morning, right in between THE GRATEFUL DEAD and THE WHO. In fact, most of the audience was asleep, despite a very loud set that included the songs BORN ON THE BAYOU, BAD MOON RISING and GREEN RIVER. FOGERTY has told the story many times over the years of what it was like to look out into this sea of stoned, sleeping bodies and then, off in the distance, about a quarter mile back in the total darkness of the night, spot one lone guy flicking his Bic lighter who called out, "Don't worry about it, John ... we're with you!" FOGERTY says, "I played the rest of the show for that guy."
Despite this career milestone, CREEDENCE were not featured on the original soundtrack or in the film. Despite pleas to include BAD MOON RISING, JOHN felt the overall performance wasn't up to the standard they had set for themselves and vetoed the idea of including any of his music in the film. (The tracks COMMOTION, GREEN RIVER, NINETY-NINE AND A HALF WON'T DO and I PUT A SPELL ON YOU do finally appear on the 4-CD WOODSTOCK Box Set that Atlantic Records released in 1994, the first time ANY of these songs have been commercially released.)
If 1969 was a big year for the band, 1970 was even bigger! Their next LP, COSMO'S FACTORY, went all the way to #1 and spent over two months on top of Billboard's Album Chart. It eventually went on to sell upwards of 8,000,000 copies and produced a few more Top Ten Hits: the two-sided hit TRAVELIN' BAND / WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN went to #2 and was followed by UP AROUND THE BEND (also #2 in CASH BOX) and their first National #1 Single, LOOKIN' OUT MY BACK DOOR. (CCR holds the record in BILLBOARD MAGAZINE for the most #2 records without ever having a #1 ... however, BACK DOOR DID top the chart in CASH BOX ... in all, five of their singles peaked at the runner-up spot in BILLBOARD, considered the music industry's "Bible".) Drummer DOUG CLIFFORD's nickname was "COSMO" and "THE FACTORY" was the name christened by the band to the warehouse where they rehearsed. In fact, on this LP cover, CLIFFORD was pictured up front in the band photo ... confusing some of the fans who already couldn't recognize this "faceless" band. (One of the biggest beefs by band members TOM FOGERTY, STU COOK and DOUG CLIFFORD was, despite being the biggest selling band on the planet at the time, NOBODY knew who the members of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL were ... they were not instantly recognizable ... they were not household names ... because JOHN was the front man, he was the ONLY one the public knew ... and JOHN was gladly ... and, some may argue, rightfully ... taking ALL of the credit for the band's success.)
In 1969 and 1970, CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL outsold THE BEATLES and became the biggest rock and roll band in the world. When THE BEATLES announced their breakup in early 1970, CCR appeared to be heir-apparent for the rock and roll crown. (FOGERTY even commented at the time that, as much as he hated to see THE BEATLES disband, it also meant that there was now much less competition for the rock and roll throne.) FANTASY RECORDS was so sure of the popularity of the group that their next LP, PENDULUM,shipped a million copies the day it was released later that year. But internally, problems were beginning to come to the surface.
JOHN FOGERTY had guided their career to the top of the charts by writing and singing all of their original material. He even chose and sang the cover material the band recorded. In fact, although all of the other band members sang background vocals in concert, they were NOT allowed to sing on the records ... the whole band would lay down the basic track and then FOGERTY would come back to the studio alone to do any additional instrumentation, vocals and sweetening. The system was obviously working ... and JOHN didn't want to mess with success ... but the other band members began to feel that CCR needed to operate more as a democracy than a dictatorship ... and the PENDULUM album became a turning point.
Although FOGERTY still wrote all of the original material on the LP, the other band members were allowed to contribute overdubs and vocals for the first time. To give the LP a little bit of a different sound, FOGERTY added organ and saxophone to his repertoire and, in fact, the album sounded QUITE a bit different than the standard CCR fare. It also stopped at platinum, the first LP since their self-titled debut to do so. They still managed a Top Ten Single (HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THE RAIN peaked at #3 in CASH BOX in late-winter, 1971), but a couple of months after the LP's release, TOM FOGERTY announced that he was leaving the band.
Having been the original lead singer (and, at the very least, co-writing their earlier GOLLIWOGS material), TOM felt it was time to move out of his younger brother's shadow. Ironically, after a huge publicity / release party (at a cost of reportedly $30,000) to launch the PENDULUM LP (with the goal to make the names JOHN, TOM, STU and DOUG as instantly recognizable as JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE and RINGO), the band began to disintegrate. (Perhaps even more symbolically, as a last ditch effort to try to save the band by renegotiating a better contract with FANTASY RECORDS, CCR actually interviewed ALLEN KLEIN as a potential manager at one point! KLEIN was now available, having just driven the last nail into THE BEATLES' coffin a few months earlier!)
After the departure of TOM FOGERTY, CREEDENCE continued to tour as a trio. (In fact, it was this new lineup that I saw in concert in early 1972 ... all I can say is, as big a CREEDENCE fan as I was my whole life, they SURE were loud!!!! It was almost as if they were over-compensating for their missing member by trying to fill in any potential "hole" in the music with volume.) By the time of their next LP, MARDI GRAS, STU COOK and DOUG CLIFFORD had wrestled "equal share" of the material for this album. As such, we only got three new JOHN FOGERTY tracks (plus a GREAT cover of the RICKY NELSON classic HELLO, MARY LOU.) All of the other tracks were written and sung by bassist COOK or drummer CLIFFORD. It became the worst-selling album of their career and broke a string of five straight Top Ten Albums and six straight platinum sellers.
Not one to say "I told you so," JOHN decided to pack it in. Six months after SOMEDAY NEVER COMES, the last new CCR single, fell off the charts, FOGERTY was back as a solo artist, albeit under the moniker of THE BLUE RIDGE RANGERS, and had a Top Ten Hit with his cover version of the HANK WILLIAMS monster JAMBALAYA.
According to BAD MOON RISING, probably the definitive biography on CCR (written by HANK BORDOWITZ), STU COOK's father, an attorney, on a business trip to Texas, was once sitting at the hotel piano bar when the pianist began to play PROUD MARY. Waiting for the song to finish, a very proud, beaming HERMAN COOK went over to the keyboard and asked "Where did you learn that song you just played?" "Oh," the pianist replied, "haven't you heard that one before? That was 'Proud Mary,' a big hit by Ed Ames."
PROUD MARY had been covered by recording artists from ALL genres of the musical spectrum, from ELVIS PRESLEY to IKE AND TINA TURNER ... but as part of what he believed to be a standard artist's contract, JOHN FOGERTY had signed away the rights to all of his songs in a 1967 contract with SAUL ZAENTZ, President of FANTASY RECORDS. Of course, back then, no one could have possibly imagined what that song catalog would one day be worth. Acting as the band's manager, JOHN put his seal of approval on the deal. Even STU's father (who looked over the contracts) didn't have the legal expertise to question this arrangement. (In all honesty, he probably figured that this was just a phase STU was going through anyway ... it would never amount to anything and he'd soon out grow it and eventually follow in his father's footsteps and go to law school.)
Up until the MARDI GRAS album, JOHN FOGERTY had written every CCR original track ... JOHN had sung every CCR vocal ... JOHN had produced and arranged every recording ... he even ran their business affairs, acting as their manager ... and, along the way, made decisions as diverse as not allowing the WOODSTOCK footage or recordings to be used to not allowing CREEDENCE to perform encores at their live performances. As more and more pressure built internally by the other band members wanting their say ... JOHN realized it had already cost the band his brother ... he finally gave in on the MARDI GRAS album and allowed STU and DOUG to each contribute one third of the LP. It was a HUGE mistake ... not only were they not ready for such an undertaking, it was the final straw in destroying a band already in a weakened state.
ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE called MARDI GRAS "the worst album ever made by a major group." JON LANDAU wrote that "In the future, MARDI GRAS may be known as Fogerty's revenge. After all the carping about his egotism, and after the published complaints from his co-workers about his hogging the show, he has done what I never thought he would: allowed his cohorts to expose themselves in public. Ceding six of the new album's ten selections to drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook may have been an invitation to artistic suicide for them, but it sure proves that John was right all along. The result is ... the worst album I have ever heard from a major rock band."
During the recording of the MARDI GRAS album, JOHN was already at work on his first solo release. Since he only contributed three new songs to the CCR LP (and, some say, refused to play on the songs contributed by STU and DOUG), JOHN had free time on his hands and devoted that time to recording what would become THE BLUE RIDGE RANGERS album. By the time of that album's release in early 1973, CCR was pretty well represented on the record shelves: solo albums by JOHN FOGERTY, the second solo disk from his brother TOM and DOUG CLIFFORD's first solo LP were all now available. Only JOHN's album sold well enough to make the charts ... THE BLUE RIDGE RANGERS peaked at #47 early that summer.
Released with virtually no reference to JOHN FOGERTY's involvement (other than the producer's credit on the back cover), it simply featured five silhouettes of FOGERTY against a sunset on the front cover, each pictured playing a different instrument. It was, for all purposes, an anonymous release. The first single release, BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAIN BLUES, failed to make the charts. The follow-up, a great re-working of the HANK WILLIAMS classic JAMBALAYA, made CASH BOX MAGAZINE's Top Ten. (It stopped at #16 in BILLBOARD but was a #5 smash here in Chicago.) The next release, HEARTS OF STONE, went to #33.
Even JOHN wasn't guaranteed chart success by virtue of his previous resume ... his next two releases BACK IN THE HILLS / YOU DON'T OWE ME and COMIN' DOWN THE ROAD / RICOCHET, both failed to chart. (Both were non-LP singles and are now quite collectible.) They would also be his last releases for Fantasy Records.
Because of the stipulations in the contract the band signed with FANTASY RECORDS, they owed the label a specific number of new masters each year. When the band split up, the contract stated that all former members of CCR owed the label 24 tracks per year ... EACH!!! In addition, JOHN still owed masters from the previous year's contract! In all, he was supposed to turn in 36 new tracks in 1973. If he didn't, the missing tracks would be added to NEXT year's commitment ... by 1974, JOHN would owe FANTASY over 50 tracks!!! Between the pressure of having to come up with this much new material and the resentment he began to feel toward his label, JOHN developed writer's block. (Along with a little case of "blue flu" too, I imagine.)
FANTASY RECORDS had done VERY well by way of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL ... they were the label's cash cow. It is said that in 1969 and 1970 alone, FANTASY earned more money on CCR sales than in their previous 20 years in business combined! With that money, SAUL ZAENTZ was able to build and upgrade two new buildings to house his label. He also bought several other small jazz labels, expanding the company's jazz portfolio ten-fold. By the early '70's, he began a foray into films and, in 1973, produced the year's biggest hit, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. JOHN felt (perhaps rightfully so) that since it was HIS music that allowed ZAENTZ the ability to afford these new ventures, a new deal could be worked out regarding royalty rates and masters commitments. ZAENTZ wouldn't budge and soon FOGERTY put the word out that he would be available to any label who could get him out of his FANTASY contract.
A bidding war of sorts began ... the primary players were ATLANTIC RECORDS, WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS and music giant DAVID GEFFEN, who owned ASYLUM RECORDS. GEFFEN's solution was simply to BUY FANTASY!!! When all was said and done, they simply bought out FOGERTY's contract but one of FOGERTY's concessions was to forfeit all future royalties from his back catalog. (This move would go on to cost him MILLIONS over the next 25 years. With STU's, DOUG's and TOM's majority votes to allow CREEDENCE music to be used in films and commercials ... not to mention the fact that this music has NEVER been off the radio for the past 40 years ... these three guys went on to make a FORTUNE off the music written by their leader. The resentment felt by JOHN over this fact ... despite it being HIS concession ... has never gone away and sadly, those wounds have yet to heal.)
In 1975, JOHN released his first REAL solo album. Titled simply JOHN FOGERTY, it was not a rousing success, peaking at #78 on the Billboard Album Chart. It did produce two more FOGERTY classics, however ... despite pretty lax chart showings, ROCKIN' ALL OVER THE WORLD (#25) and ALMOST SATURDAY NIGHT (#78) are two of JOHN's better known songs ... both rockers in the spirit of the best CCR material. (ALMOST SATURDAY NIGHT was covered by both DAVE EDMUNDS and RICK NELSON in the early '80's with marginal success and, a few years later, ROCKIN' ALL OVER THE WORLD was used by BOB GELDOF as the Theme Song for his fundraising LIVE AID Concerts.) Another non-LP single was released in 1976 ... YOU GOT THE MAGIC stalled at #87 and almost hinted at disco! A follow-up LP, HOODOO, was rejected by the label as being too weak and soon JOHN started to question his own abilities again. GEFFEN told him to take as much time as he needed to get it right ... little did he know that FOGERTY would not release another album until 1985, nearly nine years later!!!
If JOHN FOGERTY didn't spend much time in the recording studio between 1976 and 1985, he certainly made up for it by spending time in the court room! While JOHN fought his demons in court (and in the press), the other former members of CCR kept rocking along.
TOM FOGERTY released four solo LPs for FANTASY, then formed a new band called RUBY ... ironically, a name once considered after THE GOLLIWOGS days (and before they settled in as CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL) ... and released a couple of LPs on his own PBR Record Label. By 1981, he was back on FANTASY, where he released three more solo LPs. Along the way, he played with JERRY GARCIA, MERLE SAUNDERS and a few other Bay City legends. Drummer DOUG CLIFFORD released a solo album and then re-teamed with STU COOK as part of THE SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET for a couple of releases. They also were members of THE DON HARRISON BAND, who had a minor hit with their version of 16 TONS in 1976. In the late '70's, they were involved in recording sessions with a couple of artists who would go on to become '80's superstars: ELVIS COSTELLO and HUEY LEWIS. Then, in 1985, STU landed in SOUTHERN PACIFIC, a very successful country band which also included former DOOBIE BROTHERS JOHN McFEE and KEITH KNUDSEN. Although never coming close to the success they enjoyed in CCR, TOM, STU and DOUG carried on as musicians and friends.
In 1969, when CREEDENCE tried to negotiate a better royalty rate with FANTASY, SAUL ZAENTZ turned them on to a tax shelter instead ... it seems FANTASY RECORDS was depositing all kinds of money into CASTLE BANK AND TRUST in the Bahamas ... and ZAENTZ gave CCR the opportunity to do the same (in lieu of a royalty increase, btw!) At the time, the band was never in need of the money ... while they were together and successful, they earned enough between record royalties, touring and JOHN's publishing rights to live a pretty high life. Once the band split up, however, and fell on darker times ... and even JOHN's records weren't guaranteed chart successes anymore ... they had to dip into these funds for the first time. Imagine their shock and surprise when they found out that CASTLE BANK AND TRUST was gone ... closed up shop and disappeared off the face of the earth! JOHN estimated that he personally lost over $10,000,000 in deposits there and soon he was hauling SAUL ZAENTZ and all of FANTASY's financial advisors into court to try to recoup the band's losses. In a way, the former members were now "united" in their efforts to regain what was rightfully theirs. The court battle would be long and hard fought ... and during this time, NO new JOHN FOGERTY material would be released. Finally, after nearly eight years in court, they were awarded about $8.5MM ... JOHN's share was $4.5MM and the balance was split equally between STU, DOUG and TOM. The burden lifted, JOHN felt that he could finally write again.
In the late '70's, TOM FOGERTY tried to reunite the band ... a meeting was held at his house that went well into the early morning of the following day ... but despite STU, TOM and DOUG agreeing to put any old issues behind them, JOHN wouldn't cooperate. He felt that they had cheapened the work they did as CCR by allowing his songs to be used in film soundtracks and commercials and compilation albums. FANTASY must have repackaged the original seven albums seven different ways by then (and several more times since!!!) and each time they sold to a new generation and audience. He resented the fact that they were still making money off the old CCR recordings and he wasn't (even though it was HIS concession to forfeit those rights in order to get out of his contract.) Years later, when the entire CREEDENCE catalog was reissued on CDs, JOHN lost untold millions in this ridiculous concession. The band WOULD reunite, however, on a couple of important occasions. In 1980, they performed at TOM's wedding when he remarried. (Imagine that ... think about how many times you've heard PROUD MARY played at a wedding ... but to have JOHN FOGERTY and CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL sing it at a wedding is just TOO cool for words!) In 1983, JOHN, STU and DOUG all attended their 20-Year High School Reunion at El Cerrito High and it was announced that THE BLUE VELVETS would be performing. STU and DOUG were shocked that JOHN even attended. After the dinner, he asked them if they wanted to play. JOHN said, "We'll do three tunes and the last one will be 'Proud Mary' and by the time we get up there, I'll figure out what the other two will be." (LOL) Whether it was a celebration of having just won their court case or seeing all their friends again after 20 years (or a combination of the two), the mood was right and the band played for nearly an hour and a half, performing most of the old '50's covers they used to do as THE BLUE VELVETS and finishing up with PROUD MARY. DOUG said later, "We would have liked to play longer but we ran out of tunes." JOHN said that so many people had asked him if they were going to play and were so proud of them and the fact that they had come out of their high school that he finally thought to himself, "What kind of asshole goes to his twenty year reunion and WON'T play?!?!"
Meanwhile, SAUL ZAENTZ wasn't doing too badly either ... in 1977 he bought STAX RECORDS, the source of much of CCR's earliest inspiration ... BOOKER T. AND THE MG's were the label's house band after all, and at various times, DUCK DUNN, STEVE CROPPER and AL JACKSON were all rumored to be joining JOHN's new replacement band. (Ultimately, they would all end up jamming on a SHOWTIME / JOHN FOGERTY Television Special.) In 1985, SAUL's movie company released AMADEUS, which went on to win eight Oscars, including Best Picture.
In 1985, JOHN released the biggest solo album of his career. CENTERFIELD went all the way to #1 and was certified double-platinum. The single ROCK AND ROLL GIRLS went to #20 on the Pop Charts and was yet another 2-sided hit ... CENTERFIELD (the B-Side) peaked at #44 (and has been played at ALL kinds of baseball sporting events ever since!) It was the initial single, however, that got all the attention. The B-Side of that hit, BIG TRAIN FROM MEMPHIS became a Top 40 Country Hit but the A-Side, THE OLD MAN DOWN THE ROAD, landed FOGERTY back in the court room. So did a couple of the LP's tracks ... MR. GREED and ZANZ CAN'T DANZ were, without question, directed at JOHN's former boss (although when questioned about the lyrics to ZANZ, JOHN blew it off by saying "All I did was write a song about a Pig.")
ZAENTZ didn't see the humor in JOHN's new tracks. Under threat of a lawsuit, he re-released the LP with a new title for the final track ... it was now called VANZ CAN'T DANCE ... but SAUL ZAENTZ felt the damage had already been done. By this time, the LP had already sold 750,000 copies ... it would be hard to undo the damage already done in a song about a break-dancer who assembled crowds for his pocket-picking pig to rob. A Claymation video was even made for the song and aired on M-TV, even though the song was never OFFICIALLY released as a single. ZAENTZ filed suit for $144 Million in damages, stating that due to his portrayal as a "thief, robber, adulterer and murderer," he was having a hard time maintaining a trustworthy business relationship with his FANTASY artists. (Go figure!)
But SAUL wasn't done there ... he ALSO filed what turned out to be a landmark lawsuit against FOGERTY for plagiarizing himself with the song THE OLD MAN DOWN THE ROAD ... ZAENTZ claimed the song was a direct copy of JOHN's CCR hit RUN THROUGH THE JUNGLE ... a copyright that was held by JONDORA MUSIC, FANTASY's publishing house. Suddenly, JOHN was back in court, defending himself against copying himself! Music charts were summoned and JOHN, dressed in a dark blue business suit, performed both songs before a judge and jury. Again dragging on for months into years, JOHN finally proved that THE OLD MAN DOWN THE ROAD was NOT a copy of RUN THROUGH THE JUNGLE but, rather, just part of the "John Fogerty style of songwriting," illustrated on SEVERAL CREEDENCE tracks and solo tracks over the years. Appeal after appeal ... all the way to the coveted Supreme Court ... followed. Once again, JOHN lost MILLIONS in his court battle to prove his innocence and, even though he won the battle, he had not won the war ... his latest case was to recover lost court costs and attorneys fees. After all, if he was innocent of these charges, why should it have cost him all this lost time and money. Ultimately, the Supreme Court awarded JOHN his hard-fought victory ... a victory for all musicians and songwriters past, present and future. JONDORA's case was ruled "frivolous" and thrown out of court. Once again, a tremendous weight was lifted from JOHN's shoulders and he could play music again.
Meanwhile, the CENTERFIELD album was doing gangbusters. (In fact, ironically, the title track just may have become JOHN's best copyright yet ... it was picked up by Major League Baseball and played at everything from the Game of the Week to the World Series!) JOHN now felt an urge to perform before an audience again. He was determined, however, to NEVER play CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL songs again.
It truly was a shame ... here JOHN FOGERTY had created ALL this incredible music and now he was denying himself his legacy by refusing to perform ANY material live in concert associated with CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL. (I suppose there IS a certain justice in insuring that your old label boss and former bandmates don't get rich on material that YOU provided them with ... but to cheat the REST of the world out of enjoying this music, too, is just plain WRONG!!!)
In 1985, hot on the heels of his very successful CENTERFIELD album, JOHN agreed to do a SHOWTIME Television Special. For this occasion, he assembled a "super group" of musicians including BOOKER T. JONES and DUCK DUNN of BOOKER T. AND THE MG's along with saxophonist STEVE DOUGLAS, drummer PRAIRIE PRINCE and guitarist ALBERT LEE. Instead of playing CCR hits ... or even material from his CENTERFIELD LP ... they performed old '50's classics by RAY CHARLES, BO DIDDLEY and HANK BALLARD. (Now HERE's a concert that ought to be released on DVD ... I was fortunate enough to have a friend tape this for me the night it originally aired and it has been a prized possession ever since!)
After feeling the rush of performing in a band again, FOGERTY decided that he wanted to tour. Not performing CCR material, however, really limited his song list to the CENTERFIELD tracks. Choosing to include only the two obvious hits from his self-titled solo LP, ROCKIN' ALL OVER THE WORLD and ALMOST SATURDAY NIGHT (by now, these tracks were already ten years old!), JOHN decided he needed to release another new album first to have enough material for a live show. EYE OF THE ZOMBIE was released in the Fall of 1986 and, although it went gold, it was a disappointing, weak follow-up to an album as strong as CENTERFIELD. It ultimately peaked at #26 but the title-track single stalled at #81. Announcing in advance that he would not be performing any CREEDENCE material at his shows, he was still besieged with screaming requests everywhere he played. (JOHN maintained that the CCR material no longer held any good memories for him ... that every time he heard one of those songs, it reminded him of how he had been screwed by his label and bandmates who were still making money off his genius ... and besides, performing them was only putting money in THEIR pockets.)
One night, after attending a show in L.A. by TAJ MAHAL, JOHN went backstage after the concert to jam with TAJ and fellow concert attendees BOB DYLAN and GEORGE HARRISON. DYLAN wanted to perform PROUD MARY but JOHN refused. After constant harping, FOGERTY told him to let it drop. BOB DYLAN (in his infinite wisdom) then told FOGERTY, "Hey John, if you don't do these tunes, the world's going to remember PROUD MARY as TINA TURNER's song."
The following year, JOHN agreed to perform at a benefit concert saluting Viet Nam Vets. Back in 1970, CCR was asked if they would perform for the soldiers stationed in Viet Nam. JOHN said, "Bring them home and we'll play for them." Now was his chance to make good on that promise. So many of CREEDENCE's songs played a part in the memories of this unjust war. While JOHN was singing about running through the jungle, these guys WERE running through the jungle. A song like WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN took on a whole new, special meaning and will forever be associated with the War in Viet Nam.
JOHN kicked off his portion of the show with the opening guitar riff from THE OLD MAN DOWN THE ROAD, which he then segued into BORN ON THE BAYOU. (Kinda funny after the whole "plagerizing-himself" court case ... heck, all his songs sounded alike anyway! LOL) He performed DOWN ON THE CORNER, WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN, UP AROUND THE BEND, THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, BAD MOON RISING and PROUD MARY that night ... the curse was over ... JOHN FOGERTY was back ... and so was the music of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL. He told the crowd, "I want to tell you something real short and sweet. I'm talkin' to the vets here. I, myself, have gone through about twenty years of pain. I looked it right in the face and said, 'Well, you got a choice. You can do it for twenty more years or you can just say, 'That's what happened. You can't change it, that's just what happened.' So I'm telling you guys, that's what happened. You got the shaft. You know it and we know it. It's reality. So drop it."
In an effort to kick-start his inspiration, JOHN made a pilgrimage to Morgan City, Mississippi, searching out the roots of some of the music that he held dearest to his own heart. Once there, he convinced SKIP HENDERSON, a used guitar dealer from New Brunswick, NJ, and COLUMBIA RECORDS (who had just released an award-winning box set celebrating the music of blues legend ROBERT JOHNSON), to erect a monument commemorating JOHNSON's final resting place. They likened the search for JOHNSON's unmarked grave to their own FIELD OF DREAMS. They were successful in convincing COLUMBIA RECORDS to "pony up $17,000" to build the monument and pay off the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church's mortgage. He later convinced HENDERSON to erect a similar monument in the New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery to mark the final resting place of CHARLEY PATTON, one of JOHNSON's mentors. Kinda cool. FOGERTY later said that, once he came to the realization that all that was left of JOHNSON was his music, he would someday be in the same situation ... and to deny the music he wrote for CCR was denying his own legacy. It is said that after this epiphany, JOHN came to peace with his past and began performing Creedence music again in concert.
By 1988, TOM FOGERTY had become very sick. Struggling with back pain (and undergoing several operations), he developed pneumonia. Apparently, during a blood transfusion, TOM had been given AIDS-contaminated blood. He recovered well enough to finish one last album and then, as a dying request, asked STU, DOUG and JOHN to reunite ... just one more time ... in his living room. Not for the cameras, not for the press, not for the recording studio ... just for the sake of all they had been through together as a band. All three agreed ... and then JOHN never showed. TOM died on September 6, 1990, and never realized his final wish.
In 1992, BILL CLINTON was elected President. FLEETWOOD MAC reunited and performed DON'T STOP, his campaign theme song, at the inauguration. CLINTON (the Rock and Roll President), asked CREEDENCE to get together just for one night to perform at the inaugural bash. Despite being a CLINTON supporter, JOHN declined stating simply "I do not play with those people anymore."
It was beginning to look like the world would never see a reunited CCR again. In 1993, they were inducted into THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME. JOHN had appeared at the ceremonies several times in the past, performing at the jam session at the end of the program and even inducting BUDDY HOLLY into the Hall. The same year that CREEDENCE was being inducted VAN MORRISON, THE DOORS, RUTH BROWN, FRANKIE LYMON AND THE TEENAGERS, SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE and DINAH WASHINGTON were also given the honor. Fellow Inductees CREAM reunited to perform at the event and there was every reason to believe that CCR would do the same. (In fact, JACK BRUCE told the press that "If the three of us can be together, ANYBODY can be back together.")
STU COOK and DOUG CLIFFORD came prepared to play ... they were never told otherwise. However, once backstage, they were informed that JOHN FOGERTY would be going on without them. In fact, he would be joined on stage by ROBBIE ROBERTSON of THE BAND and BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. Naturally, they were outraged. CREEDENCE was, after all, being inducted as a GROUP ... not just as JOHN FOGERTY, solo artist. Although all three members (and TOM's son JEFF) made it to the podium to say a few words and accept their award, it would be JOHN, ROBBIE, BRUCE and the house band that would be performing CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL material that night. As soon as the first song began, STU and DOUG elected to leave the ceremony, heartbroken and betrayed.
When it came time to celebrate WOODSTOCK's 25th Anniversary, JOHN was again approached about the CREEDENCE material contained in the vaults. Once again, he vetoed the use of this material. When the film was re-released to theaters and on video, it was as if CCR had never even been there. Once again feeling as if their past was being taken from them, STU, DOUG and TOM's son JEFF lobbied ATLANTIC RECORDS under the guise of "majority rule" and ultimately got four tracks released on the 4-CD Box Set that was also released at this time. It was important to them that their work as CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL be recognized as important enough to have participated in the most significant rock concert / festival ever held. Naturally, JOHN saw this as another case of his old bandmates letting their personal greed get in the way of what he felt simply wasn't a very good performance.
Despite ALL the pain and hurt that had been inflicted on them by JOHN's actions the past 23 years, in 1995 STU and DOUG approached him once again about reforming the band. They felt the music deserved to be heard and played again and, since JOHN wasn't touring anyway, why not put the band back together and take all these great songs out on the road. Once again, JOHN refused. It was out of this frustration that CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVISITED was formed. Adding former CARS guitarist ELLIOT EASTON, STEVE GUNNER on keyboards and JOHN TRISTAO on lead vocals (doing, I'm told, a pretty formidable FOGERTY impression), STU and DOUG were now able to play the music that was part of their own legacy. They have always maintained that the band is a TRIBUTE to the great music of JOHN FOGERTY, not a rip-off, but, naturally, JOHN has never seen it that way. (TRISTAO, by the way, was a latter-day lead vocalist for the rock group PEOPLE who, in 1968, had The Top 20 Hit I LOVE YOU, a FORGOTTEN HITS favorite.)
In 1997, FOGERTY released his next solo album, the award-winning BLUE MOON SWAMP, and soon was out on the road himself, playing both CREEDENCE material and music from his new album. It was one of the best concerts I have ever seen. (An injunction to try to stop STU and DOUG from using any name including the words "creedence," "clearwater" or "revival" was eventually overturned ... the band went out of their way to announce the fact that, other than themselves, this was NOT the original band members so as not to mislead the public ... and they continue to tour to this day ... some of the folks on the list have written in to say that they are EXCELLENT and, if you only go to enjoy the great music created by this band, you will not be disappointed. (On the other hand, ONE reviewer likened the performance of the CCR Rhythm Section without FOGERTY akin to GEORGE and RINGO going out on tour as THE "NEW" BEATLES with hired-hand JOHN and PAUL sound-alikes ... HARDLY the real thing and NOT very satisfying!!!)
While JOHN FOGERTY has been in and out of hibernation over the past several years (and, therefore, NOT circulating these great hits), CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVISITED has a steady string of shows coming up, including an extended appearance in Las Vegas. (NOTE: Since this piece first ran in 2003, FOGERTY has released a couple more solo albums, a "Live" DVD and made SEVERAL appearances, both in concert with his new band and at various "Superstar" fund-raisers ... he continues to perform his new hit solo music alongside his best known CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL tracks ... and puts on a VERY satisfying performance. His latest CD release, issued in 2007 on his old FANTASY Record Label, was boldly called REVIVAL and even featured a tune called "CREEDENCE SONG"!!! Seems to me he's finally come to grips with his past!)
The story of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL has, perhaps, one of the saddest endings of any rock and roll story ... it TRULY is a shame that after ALL these guys have been through, they've been unable to mend some of these 40-year old fences. Their legacy lives on forever, however, as the great music this band created will never leave us. I hope that you have enjoyed our tribute to one of my favorite bands of all time.
Copyright Kent Kotal / Forgotten Hits, 1998 - 2014 ... All rights reserved