Singer-songwriter John Fogerty was the chief architect behind Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of the most popular rock bands of the 1960s and 1970s, before enjoying a sporadic if frequently successful solo career into the new millennium which found him continuing to explore the deep vein of Americana he tapped with such songs as "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising," "Fortunate Son," "Who'll Stop the Rain" and other iconic songs of the decade. Fogerty's brawny, soulful baritone and stinging guitar anchored Creedence's signature sound, a heady mix of rockabilly, R&B, country and extended jamming shot through with the rough-hewn poetry of his lyrics, which evoked Southern folklore, blues idioms and a Louisiana twang that would influence generations of roots rockers and alternative country and folk musicians. Creedence would split in 1972, after which Fogerty focused on his solo career, which continued to grow in stature and popularity into the new millennium. John Fogerty's vast songbook of hit tunes, which stretched over four decades, made him an enduring and influential figure in the history of American popular music.
Contrary to popular belief, John Cameron Fogerty was not born in America's Deep South, but rather in Berkeley, CA on May 28, 1945. He and older brother Tom Fogerty attended Portola Junior High School in El Cerrito, CA, where they met future bandmates Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. United by their common love of early rock and R&B pioneers like Little Richard and Bo Diddley, the foursome began playing together as the Blue Velvets. The Fogerty brothers penned four singles in 1961, which received minimal airplay on Oakland radio, before landing a contract three years later with the San Francisco-based jazz label, Fantasy Records. The label's co-owner, Max Weiss, renamed the quartet the Golliwogs, a name taken from a controversial character from British children's novels, in an attempt to cash in on the British Invasion. The Golliwogs released a slew of singles between 1965 and 1967, including such future Creedence songs as "Walk on the Water" and "Porterville," but found few listeners. During this period, Fantasy Records was purchased by music distributor Saul Zaentz, who took a liking to the Golliwogs and offered them the chance to record a full album on the condition that they change their band name. The quartet struck up on Creedence Clearwater Revival, a moniker that evoked images of forgotten rural Americana, which the band underscored with its signature blend of blues, rockabilly, country and Southern regional music.
Creedence cracked the Top 40 on the singles charts almost immediately with a cover of Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q" in 1968, and while they would cover a slew of classic tracks during their career, including "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," "Good Golly Miss Molly" and Lead Belly's "Cotton Fields," Fogerty soon became the group's primary songwriter as well as lead vocalist and guitarist. He struck gold in every capacity, reaching No. 2 with "Proud Mary," a melancholy account of hard times through the Deep South that also became a major hit later for Ike and Tina Turner while spawning approximately 100 cover versions over the next four decades. The single's flipside, "Born on the Bayou," was a ferocious slice of swamp pop driven by Fogerty's muscular vocals and twang-heavy guitar. By the end of the 1960s, Creedence had scored four platinum records, including Green River and Willy and the Poor Boys, and six Top 20 singles, including the jangly, folkloric "Bad Moon Rising" and "Down on the Corner." The band also played high-profile live performances on the "Ed Sullivan Show" (NBC, 1948-1972) and an early morning slot at Woodstock. But with their ascent to the top of the pop-rock scene also came considerable tensions between Fogerty and the other three members of the band.
In addition to serving as chief singer and songwriter for Creedence, Fogerty also controlled the band's finances and artistic direction, which refashioned the group's dynamic from a quartet to a three-piece rhythm section behind him. Tom Fogerty, in particular, took umbrage at the arrangement and left the band in 1971. Seeing that the band was in peril, Fogerty presented Cook and Clifford with a proposition based upon their desire to have greater creative input in the band: each member would write and sing their own material on the 1972 album Mardi Gras, but Fogerty would not contribute to the other members' material beyond playing rhythm guitar. When Cook and Clifford balked, Fogerty told them to take the deal or risk his departure from Creedence. The resulting album was a hit, reaching No. 12 on the Billboard 200, but was also pilloried by the press. Within a year's time, CCR - as they had come to be nicknamed - had disbanded under the weight of internal conflict as well as the beginning of what would become a decades-long fight with Zaentz and Fantasy Records over contracts and royalties.
The following year, Fogerty released The Blue Ridge Rangers (1973), a collection of country & western covers attributed to the titular band but actually performed in their entirety by Fogerty himself. The album generated a Top 20 hit with a cover of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya," but Fogerty soon tired of his deal with Fantasy, which he believed had underpaid and overworked him since his days with Creedence. David Geffen at Asylum Records purchased his contract for $1 million, but his self-titled debut for the new label only generated a Top 30 hit with "Rockin' All Over the World." A subsequent single, "You Got the Magic" (1976), barely made chart placement, while its accompanying album, Hoodoo, was rejected outright by Asylum. During this period, Fogerty was still enmeshed in legal battles with Fantasy, which retained the rights to market his work with Creedence and his two solo albums to Europe and the rest of the world. Frustrated by this prolonged battle, he terminated his remaining connection with the label by agreeing to forgo any future royalty sales generated by Creedence music, a move that cost him millions of dollars but allowed him to finally and completely sever ties with the company. Fogerty then retreated with his family to a farm in Oregon, where he kept out of the spotlight for the better part of the next decade, aside from two minor reunions with his former CCR bandmates in 1980 and 1983.
In 1985, Fogerty emerged from his self-imposed exile with Centerfield, which quickly rocketed to the top of the Billboard albums chart on the strength of its lead single, "The Old Man Down the Road," a Top 10 swamp rocker cut from the same cloth as his Creedence song book, as well as the ebullient title track and "Rock and Roll Girls." However, his return to the spotlight was almost immediately upended by a lawsuit levied by Zaentz and Fantasy Records, which alleged that "Old Man" plagiarized the Creedence single "Run Through the Jungle." The $142 million case also addressed two additional songs on the album, "Mr. Greed" and "Zanz Kant Danz," which Zaentz viewed as veiled assaults on his character. Though Fogerty was required to change the title of "Zanz" to "Vanz," he prevailed against the plagiarism accusation by literally bringing his guitar to the witness stand and playing excerpts from both songs to show that they were part of his distinctive style and not carbons of each other. He subsequently sued Zaentz for the cost of defending himself against the copyright case and won, which set a legal precedent for expanding the standards for awarding attorney's fees in such cases.
However, the twin successes of Centerfield and his legal win were short-lived. His next solo effort, Eye of the Zombie (1986), failed to match the extraordinary sales of its predecessor, due in part to his darker, angrier tone. Fogerty also drew criticism for refusing to play any Creedence material on his tour behind the album, a decision prompted by his refusal to pay performance royalties to Zaentz. Though he finally broke his self-imposed ban in 1987, fans had few opportunities to hear Fogerty play his best-loved music in concert. He once again retreated from the spotlight, in part to mourn the 1990 death of his brother Tom from AIDS-related causes following a tainted blood transfusion. At the time of his death, Fogerty and his brother had not spoken in years. He also appeared unwilling to forgive his former bandmates Cook and Clifford, who were barred from performing on stage with him at the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and he also attempted and nearly blocked them from using the name "Creedence Clearwater Revisited" for their new act.
Fogerty himself remained out of circulation until 1997, when he released Blue Moon Swamp. The album was an unqualified comeback, peaking at No. 37 on the Billboard 200 and winning the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 1998 while also spawning an equally successful live tour, which was documented on the Top 40 live album and DVD Premonition (1998). However, it would be another six years before he released a follow-up with Déjà vu (All Over Again) (2004), which explored a variety of musical styles beyond his signature pop-rock-folk sound. The album was another success, peaking at No. 23 on the Billboard chart, and was followed by a lengthy global tour, including dates on the "Vote for Change" tour in 2004. The following year, Fogerty returned to the Fantasy label after its sale to Concord Records, which effectively removed Zaentz as head of the company. The new ownership's first gesture was to honor Zaentz's unfulfilled promise made four decades prior of a higher rate to future Creedence royalty sales.
After his induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005, Fogerty surprised many by quickly generating a new album, the Grammy-nominated Revival (2007), which surpassed his previous solo releases by reaching No. 14 on the albums chart while reaping near-universal critical praise, including placement in Rolling Stone's list of the Top 50 albums of the year. Two years later, he again departed Fantasy, this time for Verve Forecast, which distributed his own label, Fortunate Son Records. His first release under the new imprints was The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again (2008), which made a deliberate grammatical error in its title to poke gentle fun at the fact that the band, in its prior incarnation for Fogerty's 1973 album, had in fact been only Fogerty himself. For this version, he enlisted a crack team of players, including country veterans Buddy Miller and Herb Pederson, as well as guests Bruce Springsteen and Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmidt of the Eagles. The album also featured a Grammy-nominated remake of the soulful "Change in the Weather," which originally appeared on Eye of the Zombie. Fogerty's newfound burst of creative energy continued in the years that followed, with a 2011 tour devoted to performing individual Creedence albums in their entirety, while a 2013 album titled Wrote a Song For Everyone featured duets with performers like the Foo Fighters, Kid Rock and Jennifer Hudson. Fogerty also announced the publication of his memoirs, which were slated for a 2014 release.
By Paul Gaita