John Fogerty finally got what he has been seeking for five decades now. Namely, control over the global publishing rights to his Creedence Clearwater Revival song catalog. In the end, he did it by purchasing a majority interest in those rights from Concord Records, the owner of Fantasy Records – CCR’s record label since 1964.
“It’s not a 100% win for me,” Fogerty told Billboard magazine, “but it’s sure better than it was.”
What it was originated with a contract Fogerty and the other members of CCR signed with the Fantasy label in 1969. At the time, they had become the Number 1 American band and, briefly, the most popular band in the world following the Beatles breakup. A new contract was in order given the band’s success and they were offered one. Lacking sophistication, lacking knowledge of the law, and lacking an understanding of the music business, CCR did not realize they had signed a bad contract.
How bad was the contract?
For Fogerty, it meant the loss of all control over his compositions from his CCR days. All of the hits he wrote for CCR – “Proud Mary,” “Down On The Corner,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Fortunate Son,” and others – were owned by Fantasy. Those songs could be used in movies, television shows, and commercials without his knowledge or consent. On top of that, he received only a small fraction of the revenue earned by his songs. He also was on the hook to deliver hundreds more songs in the coming years. To get out of the obligation to deliver more songs, Fogerty signed away his publishing rights and royalties in 1980.
In addition to the property and economic loss, there was a personal cost as well. CCR was more than just John Fogerty. Stu Cook, Doug Clifford, and John’s brother Tom were the other members of the band. Their friendships, which predated their high school days, were destroyed in large part because of the 1969 contract. As for John and Tom, the two brothers did not speak to each other for years. They had not fully reconciled at the time of Tom’s death in 1989.
The villain in this story is Saul Saentz, the head of Fantasy and the one who apparently orchestrated the contract’s details. Saentz aggressively and litigiously defended the contract for decades. The best-known example was when Fantasy sued Fogerty for copyright infringement “The Old Man Down The Road.” Fantasy claimed the song’s chorus was identical to the one in “Run Through The Jungle,” a song Fogerty wrote for CCR. Fogerty successfully defended the charge after appearing as an expert witness in the case.
The legal battles with Saentz and Fantasy took their toll on Fogerty. For a time, the rock music icon became a virtual hermit, unable to write creatively and unwilling to go out on tour. It was a 1990 visit to the gravesite of blues legend Robert Johnson that led to an epiphany. Fogerty realized that Robert Johnson was the true spiritual owner of his own songs, just as Fogerty was the spiritual owner of his. It did not matter what businessman owned the rights to them. Spiritual ownership could not be denied. Thereafter, Fogerty decided to start making a new album and to perform his old CCR material regularly in concert – much to the delight of his legion of fans.
Some may think the driving force behind Fogerty’s quest to regain the rights to his music is a monetary one. Yet throughout his quest Fogerty has made it clear it was not the money, though he has acknowledged a loss of royalties was a factor. As he told Billboard, “I’m the dad [of these songs]. I created them. They never should have been taken away in the first place. And that hijacking left such a massive hole in me…”
So how does he feel now that has regained control of his music?
“I’m really kind of still in shock,” he said. “I haven’t allowed my brain to really, actually, start feeling it yet.”
You have to believe one thing, though. He won’t part with the rights to his music again any time soon.