For years, John Fogerty refused to record new music and refused to perform his old songs, blaming a bad deal with Fantasy Records' head Saul Zaentz - legal action then followed.
It seemed all hat was behind him when the former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman returned for his blockbuster solo album Centerfield in 1985. The lawsuits and issues with his songs were far from over though.
"I don’t own them, still," Fogerty told Ultimate Classic Rock. "But hopefully I'm going to live long enough that they finally revert to me. It's a period of about 56 years, and so far, we've been celebrating the 50th anniversary of 'Proud Mary,' so you do the math. It should be pretty soon."
Zaentz sued over a song he claimed defamed him - 'Zantz Kant Danz' from Centerfield. He even went so far as to charge Fogerty with plagiarizing Creedence Clearwater Revival's 'Run Through the Jungle' on his comeback hit 'The Old Man Down the Road'. Zaentz lost the suit over copying CCR, and Fogerty ended up changing the other song's title to 'Vanz Kant Danz'.
While he's gone on to release six more solo studio projects, and even performs CCR-themed concerts today, Fogerty still has bad feelings over the whole issue.
"At some point, 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. I’m talking about owning the songs themselves, the publishing, but I realized that I had been lied to by Saul and I wasn’t going to get to own them. He wasn’t going to allow me to own them," Fogerty said.
This was the way things went ever since Fogerty exited Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1972, while he still owed Zaentz's Fantasy Records more songs. But Fogerty refused to do business with someone he said so badly mismanaged his career. Things got nasty pretty quickly.
"He had let the other members of Creedence out of their contract, but he didn’t let me out of that same contract. So, although I knew that Saul owned my music and by that point had also stolen my life savings in an offshore tax shelter – in another miserable part of the story, he had basically stolen our life savings and gotten away with it. After all that, I found myself in the horrible position of having to give any new music, any new records, to Saul Zaentz. That was why I stopped."
Fogerty suddenly found himself in a classic-rock Catch-22: "I just felt like I was playing into Saul’s hands if I did, as he was going to profit more from me out there performing the songs. It was a horrible career conundrum and choice, because it’s suicide to a career. Your fans want to come see you sing those songs; they don’t want to hear you sing other songs. It was just really horrible on my career."
The late Zaentz eventually sold his interest in Fantasy Records, and Fogerty almost immediately re-signed with the label, releasing 2007's Top 20 hit Revival. He also started playing CCR's music again.
"I remember hearing stories of old-time guys like Irving Berlin, and there were certain parts of their business plan that you learned as a young up-and-comer. And I suppose someday I’ll be, 'John Fogerty, that guy that outlived the whatever thing and he finally got his songs back!' I hope that it goes that way," Fogerty said.
Fogerty never saw Creedence Clearwater Revival's songs as any different from his solo work. In fact, the first project Fogerty oversaw upon his return to Fantasy was 2005's The Long Road Home, a gold-selling compilation that blended tracks from both eras.
"Put it this way: I was alone when I wrote each one of them. They’re all solo songs, so I don’t differentiate. Obviously, I know that the world knows 'Proud Mary' [as CCR]. As a songwriter and a guy who’s been thinking about it since he was one year old, it’s all part of the evolution or the arc that I’ve had in music."
He composes the exact same way, even now. "When I go to write a new song, it’s my same personality, the same father who’s dying to birth another new wonderful song – or not. You work at it. The same guy that wrote 'Proud Mary' is hoping to dare the fates and the gods and come up with another one, but he realizes that’s a pretty tough assignment."
CCR reached No. 2 with 'Proud Mary' in 1969, then Ike and Tina Turner put their own spin on the tune, taking it to No. 4 in 1972. "I first heard it in the car," Fogerty remembers. "I believe it was in the wintertime and it was probably suppertime, and I just thought it was the coolest thing – and I still do. It was a wonderful divergence from the original."