"The focus is on the songs and not the rock star BS that was taking over back then. […] John Fogerty wrote more classic songs in a three-year stretch than anyone other than the Beatles."
So wrote Stephen Malkamus for Rolling Stone about the rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival, or CCR. Even with their inclusion on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Greatest Artists, it’s hard to fully grasp the impact on the music world left by the California quartet.
What’s even more incredible is, as pointed out by Malkamus, the short life span the band had in the limelight. In a three-year span, from 1968 1970, when the full lineup was together, CCR released six studio albums, including three in 1969 alone! And as Malkamus stated, lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist John Fogerty, in that short span of time, wrote some of the most iconic songs in the genre’s history. CCR also reinvented classic covers and, with their song "Proud Mary," gave Tina Turner the anthem for her long and distinguished career, much like Aretha Franklin’s cover of "Respect" and Jimi Hendrix’s cover of "All Along the Watchtower."
While being compared to the Beatles is certainly high praise for any band, it also fits with CCR’s explosive breakup at the end of the decade and unresolved issues between members. Here is the tragic real-life story of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
John Fogerty and Doug Clifford were drafted into the Army
According to Song Meanings and Facts, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s famous anti-war tune "Fortunate Son" is sung from the perspective of a less privileged youth who cannot afford to evade the US draft. The song has become synonymous with the era to the point of parody. Songwriter John Fogerty and drummer Doug Clifford, who formed a high school band called "The Blue Velvet" along with John’s brother and guitarist Tom and bassist Stu Cook, lived this reality when John and Doug were drafted into the US military.
According to the US Army’s official website, knowing that his draft number was coming up, Fogerty immediately signed onto the US Army Reserves, where he worked as a supply clerk. While only on active duty for six months, Fogerty traveled to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, underwent advanced individual training at the Quartermaster School in Fort Lee, Virginia, and, between those periods, was stationed at Fort Knox.
Despite living among fellow soldiers, Fogerty told the Military Times that the Vietnam War was still unpopular with his fellow countrymen: "The war was very unpopular. Even with us in the military — we weren’t in love with that war. Nobody really wanted to go fight in a jungle." Fogerty’s time in the military gave him the perspective that eventually led him to write many of his famous songs over the rest of the decade. By 1968, as the war was still raging on, Fogerty’s and Clifford’s stints in the Army had concluded.
Creedence Clearwater Revival performs at Woodstock
Joni Mitchell’s lyric in her song honoring the famous festival, "by the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong" could summarize Creedence Clearwater Revival by the time of Woodstock. The band was at their zenith, having released their third album, Green River, two weeks prior. CCR came into Woodstock as arguably the top act. John Fogerty had this to say about walking onto the stage that night: "By the time we got to Woodstock, I felt we were the number one band. Assuming that The Beatles were God, I thought that we were the next thing under them."
However, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, Fogerty was so disappointed in CCR’s performance that he refused to allow their music to be a part of the documentary and live album released the next year. The band’s performance, because of technical difficulties and weather delays, was pushed past midnight on Sunday, August 17. As CCR performed to the 500,000-strong audience, Fogerty said the concertgoers were "all intertwined and asleep, covered with mud."
In an interview with the LA Times, Fogerty looked back on the festival and partially blamed their performance on the Grateful Dead playing too long before them, stating, "At Woodstock, they were just a bunch of drugged-out hippies." Live For Live Music says rain badly damaged the Dead’s equipment, and the band played only five songs during their hour-and-a-half set.
CCR’s continued success during tumultuous times
Whether it was the Beatles in the 1960s, Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s, or Guns N’ Roses in the 1980s, bands tend to hit snags once they’ve reached the top of the mountain. Creedence Clearwater Revial is only unique in this perspective in terms of how much contempt the bandmates felt for each other — or, to be honest, toward their leader, John Fogerty.
According to River Rising, following the release of their debut album and the success of the single "Susie Q," the band entered their first Hollywood studio to work on "Proud Mary." Fogerty told Sweden’s POP magazine that during the session, the three other members became interested in having more of a say in the band’s songwriting and recording process. Fogerty, who, aside from rehearsals and live recordings, worked alone on the band’s music, sat down at dinner with the band and plainly told them that his direction could keep them from returning to washing cars.
Despite being the youngest member of CCR and the younger sibling to bandmate Tom Fogerty, John was in charge, and under his strong and uncompromising leadership, the band, according to Louder, was the hottest group in America between 1969 and 1971. The group was a regular at summer festivals and on the pop charts. However, they were also a ticking time bomb, with Tom threatening multiple times to leave because of John. According to American Songwriter, their 1970 hit "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" told about the unhappiness the band was experiencing.
John Fogerty finally relents
Despite overthrowing the Beatles by 1969 as the highest-selling band in the world, Creedence Clearwater Revival could not sustain itself. John Fogerty was described as an "autocrat" by Uncut and even admitted later in life that he held "maniacal control" over the band. Per the VH1 documentary Legends: John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival, the group had reached a boiling point by 1970. Doug Clifford had this to say: "Things were getting very difficult in the business arena. It was taking a toll on John, it was taking a toll on us because we weren’t involved in these meetings and we weren’t getting information back from John."
A meeting was called on the eve of recording their seventh album, and the three other members of CCR demanded more say in the band. Rising pressure within the band, his failing marriage to his wife Martha Paiz, and the desire to remain on top of the music scene eventually led John to concede to their demands.
Tom Fogerty Leaves Creedence Clearwater Revival
Soon after the meeting that was supposed to ease the tension between John and the rest of the members of Creedence Clearwater Revival, the first shoe fell. Tom announced he was leaving CCR in January 1971. In an interview with Uncut, drummer Doug Clifford, Tom’s closest ally in the band, said of the anger between the two brothers, "Tom had put up with a lot of sh*t from John. […] He didn’t want Tom to succeed." John saw it from a different perspective, according to The Guardian: "The best I can say in Tom’s case is he was the older brother and the younger brother had a lot more talent, therefore he was jealous even to a greater degree than the other two in Creedence Clearwater Revival."
Tom tried to downplay his exit, saying "it wasn’t planned," that there was no bad blood, and that he needed to develop his own talent. Doug and Stu now had more power in CCR with fewer members and John loosening the reins. Still, Tom left the biggest band in the world at their peak. According to the Houston Chronicle, the band had been named the world’s top vocal group by NME right before his exit. Tom wrote only one released song during his tenure in CCR, "Walk on the Water."
With Tom gone and the quartet now down to a power trio, it was time for Creedence Clearwater Revival to return to the studio and pump out another classic album, 1972’s Mardi Gras. That was the plan, at least. With the continued tension and anger in the band toward leader John Fogerty, the three split the songwriting and singing responsibilities between them, and CCR’s seventh studio album became their final and most disappointing. Rolling Stone‘s Jon Landau referred to Mardi Gras as "Fogerty’s Revenge" and called it the worst album released by a major rock group.
According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the album was boosted to No. 12 on the Billboard album chart thanks to the Fogerty-penned tune "Sweet Hitch-Hiker." Still, John Fogerty only wrote three songs for the album and sang a cover of Ricky Nelson’s "Hello Mary Lou." Stu Cook and Doug Clifford took the new freedom Fogerty gave them and penned and sang their own songs.
The album failed to generate the same critical and commercial success as CCR’s previous efforts. Songs by both Stu Cook and John Fogerty seemed to describe their strained relationship and the band’s inevitable demise, such as "Take It Like a Friend" by Cook and "Lookin’ for a Reason" by Fogerty. According to the Daily Review, Fogerty told Jon Landau that he allowed the members to sing their songs to illustrate how much better he was by comparison.
John Fogerty fights Fantasy Records
Unsurprisingly, Mardi Gras was the last straw for Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the group dissolved shortly after. However, this wasn’t the end of conflicts between CCR and John Fogerty. Fogerty fought everyone connected to CCR’s music, and in the years after the band’s breakup, that included the label that owned the songs he wrote and sang. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Fogerty refused for decades to perform his old CCR songs, blaming the bad deal he made with Fantasy Records in his early days for his boycott.
Per the deal, Fantasy had the exclusive publishing rights to Fogerty’s music. Fogerty said of the situation, "I realized I was being treated very poorly and that I wasn’t being paid anywhere near a proper way. In the back of my mind, I wanted to own my songs — my children, you might say."
Fantasy Records head Saul Zaentz and Fogerty grew to hate each other during and after CCR. When the group broke up in 1972, Saul refused to let John out of his contract, something he did for the other members, until he fulfilled the agreement. Fogerty refused to work with Zaentz and, when he realized he couldn’t win back his publishing rights from Fantasy, refused to perform his classic CCR songs, Forbes reports. When Zaentz sold off his interest in Fantasy Records, Fogerty returned to the label, released the album Revival in 2007, and became more comfortable performing his old songs again.
John Fogerty’s lawsuits against Saul Zaentz
With the money he made and royalties he received from Creedence Clearwater Revival, Saul Zaentz went on to have a very successful career as a film producer. He won three Academy Awards as a producer for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, and The English Patient, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
There have been few artists who have hated their label head more than John Fogerty hated Saul Zaentz, and their battles in court played out over the course of decades. On his 1985 album Centerfield, two of Fogerty’s songs stuck out to Zaentz. The first, "The Old Man Down the Road," led Zaentz and Fantasy to sue the artist because the song sounded similar to the CCR tune "Run Through the Jungle," which was also written by Fogerty! The judge ruled in favor of the artist after he demonstrated in court the differences by playing live for the judge, according to Ultimate Classic Rock.
Another song, originally titled "Zanz Kant Danz," was Fogerty lambasting the film producer as talentless and a thief, and the eponymous character, Zanz, is literally a thieving pig. The chorus sang, "Zanz can’t dance, but he’ll steal your money / Watch him or he’ll rob you blind."
Unsurprisingly, Zaentz threatened to sue Fogerty, who relented and changed the title to "Vanz Kant Danz," according to SongFacts. The two butted heads until Zaentz’s death in 2014, at which point Fogerty’s social media simply posted the video for "Vanz Kant Danz," NPR reports.
Tom and John Fogerty’s relationship
Tom and John Fogerty’s story, unfortunately, does not have a happy ending. Tom left Creedence Clearwater Revival and firmly put himself in Saul Zaentz’s camp in John’s legal battles against Saul and Fantasy Records. Sometimes, broken trust and relationships cannot be repaired, even if the parties are blood relatives, and it was a bad batch of blood that was Tom’s demise. According to Rock and Roll Garage, during the 1980s, Tom went to the hospital for a blood transfusion and became infected with the HIV virus from tainted blood.
According to Louder, John said he attempted to mend fences with his brother for the sake of their mother. The pair talked on the phone and agreed to write down the grievances they had with each other so they could work them out. However, after John accused his brother of suing him and Tom denied it, the pair split again. Tom had filed suit against John in 1978, though Tom dropped the suit five years later.
I Love Classic Rock reports that the pair never reconciled before Tom’s death, leaving John to move forward regretting his fallout with his brother. John had this to say about forgiving his brother: "At some point, I made a point to myself of forgiving my brother. I just felt like I had to do that because he wasn’t around for me to get to work it out with him."
CCR is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The only positive aspect of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony was that it didn’t turn into a riot. Aside from that, the ceremony was wracked with bitter emotions between the three surviving members. Following the presentation given by Bruce Springsteen and speeches from the three living members, a reunion performance was expected. Instead, as Ultimate Classic Rock reports, John Fogerty refused to share the stage with Stu Cook and Doug Clifford and instead gave a performance with a band of other rock musicians, leaving two CCR members to watch others play their songs.
According to WMMR, the reason for the snub was Fogerty’s bitterness over the continued lawsuits against him by Fantasy, which the two surviving members had a role in. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fogerty wrote in his autobiography about the bad blood between himself and Clifford that led to the difficult induction ceremony. He said that his lawyers had asked Saul Zaentz why he sued Fogerty for the song "The Old Man Down the Road," and Saul told them that Clifford had played the song in his office and pushed the record executive to sue. When Fogerty learned of CCR’s induction, he originally didn’t even want to stand next to his former bandmates.
Ironically, another classic rock band of the late 1960s, Cream, was inducted and performed together that same night, despite their tumultuous breakup that was on par with CCR’s.
Will there ever be a Creedence Clearwater Revival reunion?
While a true Creedence Clearwater Revival reunion is impossible without Tom Fogerty, there have still been rumors and hopes that the three surviving members will put aside their differences and perform under the CCR name. This has largely been wishful thinking, as the band remains extremely angry at each other.
In 1995, following the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame snub, Doug Clifford and Stu Cook began touring as Creedence Clearwater Revisited, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. The group announced their retirement following their 2019 tour, which irked John Fogerty, as the announcement came right at the beginning of his residency in Las Vegas. Fogerty told Rolling Stone, "They could have said it two weeks ago or the day after next week. But it’s them dogging my career, so it’s not unusual."
Fogerty had sued the duo in the past, challenging the use of a similar name to the original band and forcing them to change it until an appellate court ruled in their favor. In 2014, the two members and the estate of Tom Fogerty sued John for trademark infringement over a series of album-length performance concerts. Fogerty countersued. So while it seems that CCR’s days of performing are long over, their short time in the spotlight left the world a collection of classic rock anthems.