From the 1980s through 1997, John Fogerty refused to play any songs in concert that he wrote for his legendary rock band, Creedence Clearwater Revival.
During that period, he was embroiled in a series of lawsuits over the ownership and use of his Creedence songs. Most of the disputes involved Saul Zaentz, the former head of his record company in the Creedence years, Fantasy Records.
Eventually, Zaentz retained ownership of the Creedence catalog, but Fogerty made peace after his bitter battle, realizing that while he didn’t own his Creedence catalog, he knew – and so did his fans – who wrote the songs and that he should reclaim that part of his life and legacy by once again playing the songs in concert.
“That’s probably the most horrible decision anyone could make, and I’m sure it’s probably cost me in a business sense,” Fogerty said of his decision to not play Creedence songs in an early April phone interview. “But it was what my heart had to go through to get here. … That’s what I had to go through to really be grateful and thankful for what I have now.”
These days, Fogerty is so at ease with his Creedence past and his now-settled legal battles that he is even celebrating what many consider the pinnacle of his Creedence years with a tour titled 1969.
The tour stops at Bell Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 12. Tickets are $45-$95 at georgialinatix.com, (877) 428-4849 and at the James Brown Arena box office.
The tour title represents the year in which Creedence Clearwater Revival released three albums. Those releases – Bayou Country, Green River and Willy and the Poor Boys – and the hit songs from those albums (including Proud Mary, Lodi, Bad Moon Rising, Green River and Fortunate Son) – turned CCR into one of the era’s most popular bands and gave Fogerty a catalog that, even without his notable subsequent success as a solo artist, would have sustained his music career for as long as he wanted to play shows.
Ironically enough, Fogerty says his determination to crank out three Creedence albums in one year and his estrangement from his own catalog of Creedence songs for nearly two decades were dictated by the same motivation – to never make decisions based on business.
Just as Fogerty felt in his heart he deserved to gain ownership of the Creedence song catalog because he wrote the songs, he went on the songwriting jag that produced the three 1969 albums, not because he was motivated by profit, but because he was determined to prove himself as a songwriter and solidify Creedence’s standing as a band.
“Basically my band had one hit, Suzie Q,” Fogerty explained, mentioning CCR’s single from its 1968 self-titled debut album. “So we were in dire danger of ending up on the rocky shore of all the one-hit wonders down through the years of rock and roll. And I really, I’m a competitive person. I just really didn’t want that to happen. But when I looked at our situation, we weren’t on a big label. We were on a tiny little label, and a jazz label at that. They were very unaware of rock and roll, let’s say. We didn’t have a manager. We didn’t have a producer. We didn’t have a publicist.
“We didn’t have any of that. So I just kind of made up my mind well I guess, I actually said this to myself, ‘I guess I’m just going to have to do it with music,’ ” he said. “So I set, kind of put my shoulder to the grindstone, I guess you’d say, and just got really, really busy.”
The writing period for Fogerty actually spanned summer 1968 through the following summer, wrapping up before the recording session for Willy and the Poor Boys. But early on, he came up with the song that soon ended any talk of Creedence being a one-hit wonder.
“Once I had written Proud Mary, the heavens opened up,” Fogerty said. “Right there that afternoon as I was writing that song, I knew that this was a great song. I knew this was what they used to call a standard. They probably call it a classic now. This was far above any song I had ever written in my life.”
Fogerty was right about Proud Mary. It reached No. 2 on Billboard magazine’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart, cementing Creedence’s place as a hit-making band.
Bayou Country is also considered the album on which Creedence Clearwater Revival’s swampy mix of early rock and roll, folk and blues really came into focus. Fogerty said it was during the writing for that album that he thought back to a folk festival he had attended as a teenager, at which he saw Pete Seeger share a film of early folk icon Ledbelly playing a 12-string guitar tuned down from the normal E key to D.
“With the guitar tuned down in that key, it had this massive, big sound,” Fogerty explained. “It just sounded bigger because it was deeper than a normal guitar. I was fascinated with that.”
During that summer of 1968, Fogerty bought a Gibson 175 guitar he could tune down to D and use in his songwriting. Going down a step to the D key was the missing piece to the puzzle that completed the Creedence sound.
“I went along recording and writing these songs on the 175,” he said. “So that music on Bayou Country, Proud Mary, Graveyard Train, Bootleg, those are the ones I can remember from that album, those were played on the 175, the Gibson 175 tuned down to the key of D.”
With Bayou Country climbing toward the top 10 on Billboard’s album chart, Fogerty dove back into songwriting and in August, Creedence returned with Green River, an album Fogerty considers a high point for the band.
“It was my favorite album of the era because it was closest musically to the, I don’t know, to my bull’s-eye,” he said.
Then in November, Willy and
the Poor Boys arrived in record stores. Featuring the scathing anti-war song Fortunate Son (a commentary about how easily kids of privilege were avoiding having to fight in the Vietnam War) as well as Down on the Corner, it was greeted as yet another gem and reached the top five on Billboard’s album chart.
The next year, Fogerty would write another classic Creedence album, Cosmo’s Factory, before tensions started to intensify as Fogerty took further control of the group’s music and business.
Fogerty’s older brother, guitarist Tom Fogerty, left the band during recording of the group’s sixth album, Pendulum.
After the 1972 album, Mardi Gras, Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford split up, bringing the band to an end.
But the release of six straight hit albums from 1968 to 1970 remains one of the most impressive runs for any band in rock history.
And now Fogerty is celebrating the memorable year of 1969 by playing the trio of that year’s albums on tour.
He credited his wife, Julie, with the concept for the tour.
“I’ve been dancing around that for years and years because people would make note of the three albums in 1969,” Fogerty said. “And sometimes I’ve gone out and done shows that presented this album or that album in its entirety. It’s funny that it was staring me in the face. I never thought of it.
“Julie, finally one day said, ‘Why don’t we focus on that one year?’ It was like well yeah, especially (because), I think at the time I thought it was a pretty cool thing. But now, as a concept for a show, I think it’s just a really great idea.”