With a raft of successful albums and best-selling singles under their belts, Creedence Clearwater Revival had the world at their feet. From the outside, it seemed as though the good times would never end for the world-famous rock band — but that wasn’t so. Behind the music and public image, things were falling apart for the group. But why? What happened to them?
Up there with the best
In their prime, Creedence Clearwater Revival were right up there with the best of them. For a brief three-year period from 1969 to ’71, they were undoubtedly one of the most exciting bands in the United States. They were doing things differently and distinguishing themselves from their many peers.
Sticking to their roots
Many rock bands around this period were really trying to push boundaries. Creedence, on the other hand, sought to rein in any overly experimental urges and to concentrate on more traditional rock ’n’ roll methods. Their sound was a throwback to the earlier days of rhythm & blues and rockabilly — a more simple type of music defined by insistent and snappy beats.
The band’s approach worked. People couldn’t get enough of the group, and they ended up selling millions of records. Weirdly, they never managed to bag a number-one single in the U.S., though they did in plenty of other countries. In any case, they achieved an insane amount of success by any reasonable metric.
And yet... something went very badly wrong somewhere along the way. The band’s success should have seen them sitting at the top of their game for decades to come, but that’s not what happened. Creedence Clearwater Revival disintegrated, and we’re going to take a look at why.
The seeds of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s success were sown when its members were only in their young teens, as the group’s drummer Doug ‘Cosmo’ Clifford explained to the Louder Sound website. As Clifford told it, the tale seemed like a pretty typical one for teenage rock star wannabes.
“What do you play?”
Remembering the moment he met lead singer and guitarist John Fogerty, Clifford said, “There was this shy kid playing Fats Domino on the piano. So I went up to him and said, ‘That’s authentic Fats.’ He said, ‘Yeah. What do you play?’ I said, ‘Drums. Do you want to form a band?’ He said, ‘Yeah, but actually I play guitar.’”
The duo of Fogerty and Clifford then recruited a kid named Stu Cook to play piano for them. Cook, of course, later switched to bass, which was around the time Fogerty’s older brother Tom came on board. Clifford has recalled the impact this had, remarking, “We were fledglings, but Tom already had the vision of a career and making records.”
The young band soon heard about a record label called Fantasy, and they decided to send over a demo. It worked, and soon the label was putting out the band’s first ever single. Unfortunately, the label also changed the group’s name without consulting them. It had originally been The Blue Velvets, but Fantasy released their single under a name which would be considered extremely offensive nowadays. The band, apparently, weren’t happy about that.
Ultimate team player
This period was when John Fogerty really came into his own as a songwriter. He started out making songs alongside his sibling Tom, but he soon began taking things in his own direction. Clifford explained to Louder Sound, “Tom was great about it. He was the ultimate team player. It took a lot of fortitude, particularly as he was the older brother and leader of the band, to give it up for his younger brother.”
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Things were beginning to fall into place for the band. By 1967 the group was committed to making a go of it, and they concentrated on the band on a full-time basis. They also changed the name, choosing Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Creedence” was named after a pal of Tom’s, “Clearwater” had been mentioned in an advert for beer, and “Revival” was chosen as “a statement of intent.”
As bassist Cook remembered it, the band was feeling pretty confident around this time. He said, “We considered ourselves pretty professional already. We had a real work ethic about the band. We rehearsed every day in a shed in Doug’s garden.” This shed ended up becoming known as Cosmo’s Factory.
Creedence released a cover of a song called “Susie Q” and with that came success. Radio stations around America picked it up and played it, introducing the band to a wider audience for the first time. And listeners really responded to the straightforward rock music, which stood in contrast to much of the more psychedelic rock scene at that time.
Telling a story
The group really defined themselves in opposition to the thriving hippie movement of the late ’60s. Cook recalled, “We’d been brought up on Top 40 radio, where the song was the thing, not the guitar solo. You told the story and then you were done. And that was John’s real skill, to be able to write songs like that.”
Things went stratospheric for Creedence around March 1969 after the group released the single “Proud Mary.” The song did really well, and John Fogerty was really finding his way as a songwriter. As Cook remembered it, this was when the band really clicked. He told Louder Sound, “We just went in and did it. It felt automatic. It was just how we played together. We’d learned the songs thoroughly. There wasn’t anybody else in the studio pulling strings, just the four of us.”
The band became known as “swamp rockers,” in reference to their sound. According to Clifford, everyone was perfectly fine with that label. He said, “That was okay. At least it meant people cared enough to make up labels. We used to chuckle about it, particularly when people thought we came from Louisiana.”
No end to success
Throughout 1969 the band toured extensively, playing some massive festivals alongside greats such as Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Plus, the albums and singles kept coming and selling well. It almost seemed like there would be no end to the success of Creedence Clearwater Revival. But, of course, such a pace of life would soon take its toll.
Clifford told Louder Sound, “John was convinced that if we weren’t in the charts the public would forget about us. So after we’d recorded three singles — that’s six tracks — we’d go into the studio and record four more tracks to make up an album. That put a tremendous amount of pressure on John, but he was able to do it.”
In terms of the music, John Fogerty’s output around this time was as good as ever. But beyond that, tensions were mounting. The younger Fogerty was something of a control freak, insisting on writing and producing all the band’s music. That was fine, but when he also decided he wanted to manage Creedence, problems emerged.
A critical mistake
Clifford appreciates Forgerty’s musical prowess, but he definitely had an issue when his bandmate tried to take control of the business end of things, too. He said, “John was brilliant at all the musical things, but he had no experience at managing, particularly at the level we were involved at. It was a critical mistake, and ultimately it broke up the band.”
Clifford and Cook soon began to feel John Fogerty’s attempts at managing the band were failing. He was out of his depth, apparently, and struggling to make sense of the deals being offered to them. Clifford said, “We could all see that it was driving him nuts. We were there as bandmates, and with ideas to try and help him out of this logjam, but he just got more and more withdrawn, as if we were attacking him. It was very frustrating.”
A world tour
Clifford went on, “I suggested that we should go out on a world tour for a year and work on a couple of albums’ worth of songs along the way, meanwhile we’d get a team of professionals to come in and sort out the mess with Fantasy. Then we could come back with a new deal and hopefully resolve John’s songwriting deal.” He reiterated his band-member’s concerns that their audience would forget about the band, but added, “I felt that a world tour would keep us in the public eye.”
About to get messy
As it happened, the band ended up touring around Europe. They played some pretty impressive venues along the way, plus the singles and records kept coming. Their music releases were all doing well, but negotiations soon stalled between the band and their label, Fantasy. Plus, things were about to get messy between the two Fogerty brothers.
Cook explained, “Tom had graciously stepped aside to let John try his new way with the band that turned out to be so successful. But now he wanted to be more involved musically. He felt that it wouldn’t hurt the band if he got to sing a song on the album.” The bassist said personally he had been open to the idea, but the lead guitarist showed no intention of letting his brother take a more active role. He observed, “John wasn’t going to give him any room.”
Then there were three
This was a critical point in the band’s history, and it wouldn’t play out well. Fogerty Sr. was getting sick of his little brother, and he repeatedly warned that he wanted to quit the band. Finally, at the start of 1971 he made good on his threats. Tom left the group, leaving only three members to carry on.
The three remaining members set out on tour without Tom Fogerty, visiting Europe, Japan, and Australia. But things weren’t good. Tension was rife within the band, which was clear to see when their new record Mardis Gras came out. The album lacked cohesion, each member having written a third of the songs each on their own. It wasn’t a success.
It’s not entirely clear who made the decision to split the album between the three members. Most of the accounts suggest Cook and Clifford argued with Fogerty, insisting they wanted their own songs on the record. Those two, though, say that isn’t at all what happened. The truth, in all likelihood, will never be fully known.
Speaking about the idea he and Clifford pushed for their own songs to appear on Mardis Gras, Cook said, “It was the complete opposite to that. Tom may have wanted to contribute songs, but Doug and I never wanted to.” Yet the bassist claimed Fogerty had presented them with the decision to make the next album a three-way split as a fait accompli. He added, “And he would not be singing on our songs because his voice was ‘a unique instrument’. He didn’t even play guitar on them.”
Trying to save the band
Cook went on, “I said, ‘That’s not what we want. And Creedence fans are not going to understand this.’ And he said, ‘If we don’t do it this way, then I’m going to quit right now.’” The bassist reflected that in retrospect, the other two members should probably have upped sticks and walked out there and then. But that’s not how things panned out at the time. He told Louder Sound, “At the time we didn’t want the band to break up. Artistically that was a mistake, but we felt we were trying to save the band.”
Regardless of the truth of the matter, one thing is crystal clear: they failed to save the band in the end. Just a few months after Mardis Gras was released, Fogerty broke the group up and blamed their last record for his decision. Creedence Clearwater Revival was no more.
The Blue Ridge Rangers
Cook and Clifford were both freed from their commitment to Fantasy, but Fogerty was still bound to the label. He soon released a solo record called John Fogerty/The Blue Ridge Rangers, for which he performed all the instruments himself. It did pretty well, but it didn’t exactly set the world alight.
Fogerty wasn’t happy. He seemed to think Fantasy had done a bad job in pushing his album, so he refused to make any more music for the label. The problem, though, was that he was contracted for eight more records. The label sued him, and things got very messy. Eventually, an agreement was made. The musician gave up the rights for his existing catalog of Creedence songs, and he was released from his contract.
Free from Fantasy, Fogerty released a new solo record in 1975 on a label called Asylum. The album was a critical success, but audiences didn’t really buy into it so much. Things never really improved from there. He made a record called Hoodoo, but shortly before it was due to come out, he canceled it. His label had told him it wasn’t good enough, and that was that. Fogerty disappeared from the spotlight for around a decade.
While all this was happening, Cook and Clifford were doing okay. They both started working with musician Doug Sahm, which suited them down to the ground. They also worked together with the Don Harrison Band, and they both got into production work as individuals. Tom Fogerty, meanwhile, was releasing solo records.
Consumed by bitterness
When the ’70s had ended, the time had come for a reunion. Tom Fogerty got married in 1980, which seemed like the perfect occasion for the group to play together again. Sadly, it didn’t go well. Cook recalled, “It was a short set, and there was no doubt that Tom was still consumed by bitterness.” The former bandmates tried again later, but without the older brother. Of this gig, Cook said, “It felt and sounded great. And I thought John might be getting over his bitterness, but I was wrong.”
By the middle of the 1980s Fogerty was ready to step back into the spotlight. He brought out a number one record called Centerfield, but even this success was tainted. A couple of songs seemed to take aim at Fantasy Records and its owner, who wasn’t happy. So, he brought a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the solo artist.
Fogerty managed to get out of trouble here by altering the name of one of the offending songs, but then he ran straight into more legal trouble. Fantasy came back on the scene, claiming one of the songs on Centerfield was really similar to an old Creedence number. The label held the rights to this Creedence tune, and it tried to sue Fogerty for allegedly plagiarizing his own tune! After a bizarre court battle, he got out of this one, too.
Hall of Fame
By 1990 any hope of a full Creedence reunion was lost forever. Tom Fogerty passed away that year, taking his dispute with his sibling to the grave. As for the other three, they never exactly made up either. The group were added to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in ’93, which should have seen them perform together at the ceremony. Fogerty, however, insisted on playing with Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson instead of his old bandmates.
A couple of years later, Cook and Clifford established Creedence Clearwater Revisited, which annoyed Fogerty. As Cook explained to Louder Sound, “John maintained that the trademark could only be controlled by unanimous decision. We said it was a majority, and the court saw it that way. In the end we settled for money, which didn’t seem to be about saving the name or preserving the honor of his creations.” Even after all these decades, Fogerty and his old bandmates still couldn’t get along.
Fogerty never played Creedence songs during the early days of his solo career, but he started doing so again in the mid-’90s. Then, in 2004 Fantasy Records was taken over by another label. This led to Fogerty signing up with them once again, essentially reuniting him with a label he’d left so bitterly all those years ago. His story had almost come full circle, though not every wrong had been righted. The history of Creedence Clearwater Revival will always be one of bad blood and bitterness.