Clip: John Fogerty Is Closer to Peace With a Label
John Fogerty Is Closer to Peace With a Label
By ANTHONY DeCURTIS
Published: November 1, 2005
Battles between artists and record labels are as old as the history of
recorded music, but rarely has the tension between art and commerce
grown as personal as in John Fogerty's epic struggle with Fantasy
Records and its longtime owner, Saul Zaentz, over the lucrative
catalog of songs that Mr. Fogerty wrote for Creedence Clearwater
Revival in the late 60's. That cache of roots-rock gems, including
"Proud Mary," "Who'll Stop the Rain" and "Fortunate Son," was the
focus of decades of vindictive lawsuits, artistic paralysis, bitter
denunciations and even desperate fraternal warfare.
So Mr. Fogerty's return to the label in the wake of its sale last year
to the Concord Music Group represents a powerful personal deliverance
for him. This week, Fantasy is releasing "The Long Road Home: The
Ultimate John Fogerty - Creedence Collection," a 25-track CD
encompassing, for the first time, both original studio versions of Mr.
Fogerty's classic Creedence songs and later solo work, like
"Centerfield" and "The Old Man Down the Road." Next year, Fantasy will
release a live DVD, recorded during a show Mr. Fogerty and his band
performed at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles in September. And
plans for a new studio album are also in the works.
The 60-year-old songwriter finds his homecoming immensely satisfying.
"This is just wonderful," he said by telephone. "We're working very
closely together and it feels great." Norman Lear, the television
producer and one of Concord's owners, returns the love. "We're hoping
John enjoys a re-emergence on the international scene," he said. "He's
writing a lot, so we hope to record a lot of new material. It will be
great to cheerlead his voice. He has a lot to say."
Mr. Fogerty's warm feelings, however, do not extend retroactively to
Mr. Zaentz, who would not be interviewed for this article, or other
former Fantasy executives. "The way I view Saul Zaentz and his
henchmen, shall I say - well, that probably gives it away," Mr.
Fogerty said. "I still view them in the same light. If I was walking
down the street and those rattlesnakes were walking towards me, I
would give them a wide berth."
Creedence Clearwater Revival - which placed 20 songs in the Top 20
and, in 1969, outsold the Beatles - made a fortune for Mr. Zaentz, who
owned the copyrights to the band's songs, the vast majority of which
Mr. Fogerty wrote, sang and produced. After Creedence split up, in
1972, Mr. Fogerty found his deal with Fantasy intolerable, and finally
had to cede an even greater portion of his royalties to Mr. Zaentz to
extricate himself from it so he could record elsewhere. To top things
off, much of the money Mr. Fogerty and Creedence had made was lost in
an offshore tax-shelter deal arranged by Fantasy.
Lawsuits flew around all these issues - the members of Creedence won a
significant judgment in the tax-shelter case, for example. But none of
those actions match the Dickensian flair of Mr. Zaentz's allegation
that Mr. Fogerty's song "The Old Man Down the Road," from his 1985
album "Centerfield," was an illegal remake of Creedence's "Run Through
the Jungle," one of the songs to which Mr. Zaentz owned the copyright.
Essentially, Mr. Zaentz sued Mr. Fogerty for plagiarizing himself - to
the tune of $140 million. Of course, Mr. Fogerty had provoked Mr.
Zaentz with two thinly disguised attacks on the album: "Mr. Greed" and
"Zanz Kant Dance" (eventually changed in the face of still more legal
threats to "Vanz Kant Dance"), which Mr. Fogerty coyly described as "a
song about a pig." Mr. Fogerty won the plagiarism case, with one
aspect of it - whether Mr. Fogerty could sue Mr. Zaentz for
reimbursement of his legal fees - eventually reaching the United
States Supreme Court.
Mr. Fogerty found it nearly impossible to work while all this was
going on, twice going for nearly a decade without recording. He also
refused for many years to perform his Creedence songs. "I'm too
honest," Mr. Fogerty said. "I couldn't sing 'Proud Mary' in front of
people and try to feel as happy as that song is." Even today, with Mr.
Fogerty's connection to his Creedence material freshly renewed, a
reunion with the band's other two surviving members looks extremely
unlikely. Stu Cook, the band's bassist, and Doug Clifford, its
drummer, who currently perform as Creedence Clearwater Revisited, and
Mr. Fogerty's older brother Tom, who played guitar in Creedence and
who died in 1990, all continued their business relationships with
Fantasy long after Mr. Fogerty severed his, a fact that poisoned their
connection to him. The breakdown was so severe that the brothers
failed to reconcile even at the point of Tom Fogerty's death.
"I dearly loved my brother Tom," Mr. Fogerty said. "As time went on,
though, Tom insisted that Saul was his best friend, which he said many
times to me and, of course, in the press. So Tom basically took sides
with my worst mortal enemy. That was hurtful." When Creedence was
inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Mr. Fogerty
refused to perform with Mr. Cook and Mr. Clifford.
Mr. Fogerty's new deal with Fantasy does not restore the ownership of
his songs to him. "John would like to own his songs, and unfortunately
we can't do that, because we just paid a lot of money for them," says
Concord's president, Glenn Barros. Mr. Fogerty is philosophical. "You
know, maybe it happens in 'Cinderella,' but it doesn't in real life,
where those people buy a company and then turn around and give it
away," he said, "even though I am the main inventor of the property
that generates all that wealth. I'm the guy that wrote and sang all
those songs, and arranged and produced the records. So sometimes
there's a lot of irony within my being. It's like, 'Gee, everybody's
all excited about something that basically came out of one guy - me!'"
However, the new arrangement does restore the portion of Mr. Fogerty's
royalties that he had given up to get out of his recording contract
with Fantasy. "They were very generous in that regard," Mr. Fogerty
said of Concord's management. "That was a wonderful first step."