The “betrayal” that stopped John Fogerty playing Creedence Clearwater Revival songs

For decades, John Fogerty couldn’t bring himself to play his most beloved songs during live performances because it would financially benefit the person he most despises. It left him in an uncomfortable situation where there were no winners, only losers. Despite overcoming the issue from a legal perspective, part of it will always remain unresolved.

As a naive, young artist in the 1970s, Fogerty sold away the publishing rights to his Creedence Clearwater Revival catalogue. After countless attempts to reclaim ownership over the years, it wasn’t until 2023 that he finally became the proud right holder of his own collection of songs again.

The person responsible for the 50-year debacle is the late Saul Zaentz, who formerly owned Fantasy Records. The label controlled the distribution and publishing rights to the band’s material, which they later poorly invested, inadvertently spending millions of dollars that should have belonged to Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Despite Creedence Clearwater Revival parting ways, Fogerty was still legally tied to Fantasy as a solo artist before finally breaking free and releasing a solo album with Warner Bros in 1985. On the LP, he vented his frustration with Zaentz, who proceeded to accuse Fogerty of plagiarising material that belonged to Fantasy.

The sour ordeal would have made most artists turn their back away from the music industry indefinitely, but Fogerty won the case and refused to give up. Sadly, the rest of his bandmates were freed from the grip of Zaentz, and even on his death bed, his brother Tom labelled the record owner his “best friend”.

During an interview with The Word in 2006, Fogerty confessed: “Tom was in total denial. It’s one of the sadnesses of my life. Not only did it never get resolved, but Tom wouldn’t even look at it in a real way. They call that denial.”

Fogerty added of the decision to keep him tied to a contract: “It was an amazing betrayal by my best friends, though I didn’t know that until many years later. Going to a shrink, he said, ‘That’s betrayal.’ Oh OK, I just knew I was stabbed in the back. I had done so much to make these other people wealthy.”

Understandably, Fogerty could not play any songs belonging to Fantasy during his live shows because it would bolster Zaentz’s pockets. However, during a concert for Vietnam veterans in 1987, he finally allowed himself to sing from the Creedence Clearwater Revival songbook and has never looked back.

In the same interview with The Word, Fogerty explained how the blues singer Robert Johnson, who was similarly hard done by his record label, inspired him to reclaim his songs. “I was standing there and I thought about Robert Johnson and who owned his songs. The typical case for a long-gone blues guy is that a smart lawyer in New York City gets to own the music, someone whose only feeling is for the money,” he explained.

Fogerty added: “It disgusted me, but then I thought, It doesn’t matter: spiritually, they’re Robert’s songs; he owns them forever. And I realised that was my predicament: everyone knows I wrote those songs; they don’t care about the money, they know the songs came from my heart. That was a revelation to me.”

Zaentz eventually passed away in 2014. As grotesque as it sounds, this was a day that Fogerty had waited decades for, but when it finally rolled around, the singer-songwriter revealed to Forbes that he “had very little feeling at all, almost none.”

Thankfully, whenever Fogerty now steps on stage to perform ‘Proud Mary’ or ‘Bad Moon Rising’, he can fully enjoy the moment without thinking about the potential financial consequences of his actions. Nevertheless, the lack of closure he got on the “betrayal” during his brother’s lifetime leaves a pain that’s impossible to erase.

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