As a happy ending to one of the music industry’s darkest and longest tales, John Fogerty has gained worldwide control of its Creedence Clearwater Revival publishing rights after half a century of struggle.
At a time when Fogerty’s peers such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young are selling their copyrights for hundreds of millions of dollars, the iconic Rock & Roll Hall of Famer has done the opposite: He recently purchased a majority stake in the global publishing rights to his historic CCR song catalog from Concord for an undisclosed amount. The treasury includes such rock classics as “Proud Mary”, “Down on the Corner”, Fortunate Son, “Bad Moon Rising”, “Up Around the Bend” and “Green River”.
Concord has owned the rights since 2004, when the company bought Saul Zaentz‘s Fantasy Records. One of the first steps Concord took was to reinstate and increase Fogerty’s artist royalties, which Fogerty had surrendered to Zaentz in 1980 to get out of his Fantasy deal and had not received for 25 years.
Concord retains the CCR master recordings already in its catalog and will continue to manage Fogerty’s share of the release catalog for an unspecified limited period.
Sitting on the spacious patio of his Southern California home with his golden retriever, Creedy (short for Creedence) by his side, Fogerty, 77, admits getting control of his copyrights is a day he never thought would come. “I tried really hard,” he says, to get them back in the decades since he signed his label and publishing deal in 1968 with Fantasy, but suffered setback after setback at the hands of Zaentz, who died in 2014.
“I am the father [of these songs]. I created them,’ he says. “They should never have been taken away in the first place. And that hijacking left such a big hole in me.” With the support and love of his manager and wife of 36 years, Julie Fogertyhe says he got over the anger that plagued him for decades over Zaentz’s treatment, but the longing to own his songs never went away.
“The happiest way to look at it is, well, it’s not everything,” he says of getting majority but not full ownership. “It’s not a 100% win for me, but it’s definitely better than it was. I’m really still in shock. I haven’t allowed my brain to really, actually, begin to feel it yet.” Fogerty, who had retained his writer’s share of his CCR copyrights, also owns the masters and release of his solo material, including hits like “Centerfield,” “Rockin’ All Over the World” and “Almost Saturday Night.”
The recovered CCR credits number more than 65, mostly written by Fogerty during the group’s short but extremely prolific career. As one of America’s pioneering rock bands, CCR enjoyed tremendous success, including landing five top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 between 1969 and 1970 before breaking up in 1972. Their popularity continues with new generations: CCR’s Chronicle: The 20 Greatest Hits, released in 1976, has spent 622 non-consecutive weeks on the Billboard 200, the fifth-highest of any album on the chart. More than 50 years after its initial release, the CCR hit “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s 2021 Rock Digital Songs Sales Chart.
The latest effort to gain ownership of his release began 18 months ago when Fogertys realized that under US copyright law the rights to his compositions would begin to revert to him in a few years when the songs turned 56 years old, but it would not have included rights outside the United States “Julie began to think bigger and [told Concord], ‘John would like to buy his songs. He wants to find a way, says Fogerty.
“While John is having the time of his life out on the road, his kids playing with him and celebrating this music, [I thought]why can’t we take the few years back [before the titles revert] and don’t let them give them to us, but we buy them, says Julie Fogerty. “Whatever the value plus a little bonus. We’ll figure out how to come up with the money and we’ll just buy it. [Concord’s] don’t want to lose because they want the value.”
Concord initially declined, and Fogerty was again withdrawn. “I was kind of a bump on the log and said, ‘Never going to happen,'” he says.
Julie Fogerty then brought in Irving Azoff, who had briefly managed Fogerty more than 20 years ago, to help mediate. She says Azoff called Concord’s chairman and CEO Scott Pascucci and said, “‘Scott, you’ve made so much money on Fogerty. Do you want to be known in the music business as Saul Zaentz or [revered late Warner Brothers Records head] Maybe Austin?’ And I think he heard that. And [Concord president] Bob Valentine has also been incredible.’” Azoff encouraged the Fogertys to pursue worldwide rights, advising that they would have to give up an ownership percentage to do so.
“John Fogerty is one of music’s greatest treasures. Now, finally, after decades of suffering, I’m thrilled to see John regain ownership of his music,” Azoff says. Billboard in an email. “And kudos to Concord for understanding that doing what’s right for artists is also great for their business.”
“John’s songs are some of the greatest compositions of the 20th century,” Valentine said in a statement. “We have been honored to own and represent these works ever since we purchased Fantasy in 2004. Given the unique circumstances surrounding John’s relationship with Fantasy, we were more than happy to oblige John and Julie to work out an agreement for these songs return to him earlier. And we are deeply grateful that John has agreed to partner with Concord for the remaining worldwide copyrights on the share of those songs that we will retain.”
Fogerty was represented by Barnes & Thornburg partner Jason Karlov and associate Amanda Taber. Reed Smith’s Steven Sessa and Josh Love represented Concord.
The tortuous journey to reclaim his rights and undo the damage from his contentious relationship with Zaentz has been long and at times debilitating for Fogerty.
In addition to receiving his artist royalties for decades, in 1985 Zaentz sued Fogerty for $144 million, alleging that the artist’s then-current hit, “The Old Man Down the Road,” ripped off CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle.” Although Fogerty had written both songs, Zaentz claimed that Fogerty was now plagiarizing a song owned by Zaentz. After Fogerty won, his effort to recover his $1.3 million in legal fees went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1993.
For years, Fogerty refused to play CCR songs live, unable to keep Zaentz from making money from his performances, but he softened his stance in 1987 with a little prodding from Bob Dylan. While in venerable North Hollywood, California, you club Palomino, Fogerty, Dylan and George Harrison joined headliner Taj Mahal on stage. “The crowd started asking for ‘Proud Mary,'” Fogerty recalls. “Bob looked at me and said, ‘John, if you don’t do ‘Proud Mary,’ everybody’s going to think it’s a Tina Turner song,” referring to the 1971 Ike & Tina Turner cover. “That’s Bob Dylan, for crying out loud. In my mind I was still determined not to do those songs, but I decided I can give it up for three minutes.” Later that year, Fogerty began incorporating CCR songs back into his set.
‘They tried to erase him’
Fogerty last tried to buy his publisher in 1989, when he and Zaentz sat face to face with the legendary rock empresario Bill Graham acts as a mediator. They agreed on a sum, but months later in final negotiations in the early ’90s, Fogerty says Zaentz doubled the price to a figure Fogerty couldn’t afford. Fogerty went to Warner Chappell and asked if the publisher would agree to a deal with him. “I met with the top guy and he looked at me and said, ‘It’s not sustainable.’ It could have been the worst day of my life, at least as business things go,” says Fogerty.” I don’t think I could even give it to [Julie] how final it was: ‘There is no hope for you. You’re dead.'”
He had a liberating epiphany soon after when, on a run, he listened to a radiotherapist counsel a woman who had been with a man who refused to commit to marriage. The therapist told the women that her partner would never change, and she needed to understand that. “The light goes on in my head while I’m listening and I just fell to the ground,” says Fogerty. “I actually started laughing. I realized that was never going to happen. It was a terrible realization. At least that was the end of it: Saul was a fool and will be forever, and somehow I got above the.”
Asked if he would now pursue ownership of his CCR masters, Fogerty says, “My heart would love if that ever happened, but I don’t actively sit around worrying about it. The fact that I didn’t own my own songs, was much more bothersome to me because of the treatment I received.”
For now, Fogerty, whose last release was the socio-political track, “Weeping in the Promised Land,” in 2021, is focused on playing live. With his two sons in his touring band, he says, “playing is more gratifying now than at any time in my life… The last years of Creedence were like any band that breaks up, it was so tense. I mean, i miss my brother [Creedence rhythm guitarist] Tom, who passed away at a time when we weren’t really in each other’s lives [in 1990]. I’m looking forward to going to heaven and playing in God’s band, and Tom will be there.”
With control over how his music is used now, Julie Fogerty says she wants to “take these iconic songs and reintroduce them to the new generation because I think the songs will be around forever,” adding that there is both a biopic and a documentary about Fogerty. “But it’s mostly, I think, just connecting John to those songs. There were a lot of years where he felt like they were trying to erase him.”
For Concord, which published Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall last year without Fogerty’s participation, says Valentine Billboard he hopes to regain his copyrights “gives John a sense of closure in the years of the feelings he’s had ever since he signed with Fantasy…. Also hopefully, [with] the feeling of peace, that it is a new beginning. We hope he will be revived and continue to do things that promote the catalog. It’s extraordinarily important – not just culturally as one of the greatest American bands of all time, but it’s an important part of Concord’s legacy. We hope it gives him a sense of partnership and moving forward in a way that makes him feel more invested in the songs and Creedence with us.”
As Fogerty moves into the next chapter with the “lingering ghost” that has haunted him for so long finally gone, he says with a big laugh, “I’m ready to feel really good about music.”