In a happy ending to one of the music industry’s grimmest and longest tales, John Fogerty has gained worldwide control of his Creedence Clearwater Revival publishing rights after a half-century 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 bought a majority interest in the global publishing rights to his historic CCR song catalog from Concord for an undisclosed sum. The treasure trove 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 moves Concord made was to reinstate and increase Fogerty’s artist royalties, which Fogerty had relinquished to Zaentz in 1980 to get out of his Fantasy deal and had not received in 25 years.
Concord retains the CCR master recordings already in its catalog and will continue to administer Fogerty’s share of the publishing catalog for an unspecified limited time.
Seated on the spacious patio of his Southern California home with his golden retriever, Creedy (short for Creedence) by his side, Fogerty, 77, admits gaining 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’m the dad [of these songs]. I created them,” he says. “They never should have been taken away in the first place. And that hijacking left such a massive hole in me.” With the support and love of his manager and wife of 36 years, Julie Fogerty, he says he had gotten 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, yeah, it isn’t everything,” he says of acquiring a majority, but not full ownership. “It’s not a 100% win for me, but it’s sure better than it was. I’m really kind of still in shock. I haven’t allowed my brain to really, actually, start feeling it yet.” Fogerty, who had retained his writer’s share of his CCR copyrights, also owns the masters and publishing to his solo material, including such hits as “Centerfield,” “Rockin’ All Over the World,” and “Almost Saturday Night.”
The reclaimed CCR copyrights number more than 65, mostly written by Fogerty during the group’s short, but extremely prolific career. As one of America’s seminal rock bands, CCR had a tremendous run, 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, CCR hit “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Rock Digital Songs Sales Chart in 2021.
The latest effort to gain ownership of his publishing began 18 months ago as the Fogertys realized that under U.S. copyright law, rights to his compositions would begin reverting back to him in a few years as the songs turned 56 years old, but that wouldn’t have included rights outside the U.S. “Julie began to think larger and [told Concord], ‘John would like to buy his songs. He’d like to figure out a way’,” Fogerty says.
“While John is having the time of his life out there on the road, with his kids playing with him and celebrating this music, [I thought], why can’t we take those few years left [before the titles revert] and not have them give them to us, but we’ll buy them,” Julie Fogerty says. “Whatever the value plus a little bonus. We’ll figure out how to come up with the money and we’ll just buy that. [Concord’s] not going to lose because they’ll have the value.”
Concord initially declined and Fogerty was once again resigned. “I was sort of a bump on the log going, ‘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 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] Mo Ostin?’ And I think he heard that. And [Concord president] Bob Valentine has been incredible as well.’” Azoff encouraged the Fogertys to pursue worldwide rights, advising they would have to give up an ownership percentage in order 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 tells Billboard in an email. “And kudos to Concord for understanding that doing the right thing for artists is great for their business as well.”
“John’s songs are some of the greatest compositions of the 20th century,” Valentine said in a statement. “We’ve been honored to own and represent these works ever since we acquired Fantasy in 2004. Given the unique set of circumstances around the history of John’s relationship with Fantasy, we were more than happy to oblige John and Julie in working out an agreement for these songs to revert back to him early. And we’re profoundly grateful that John has agreed to partner with Concord for the remaining worldwide copyrights on the share of these 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 winding 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 taking his artist royalties for decades, in 1985, Zaentz sued Fogerty for $144 million, alleging the artist’s then current hit, “The Old Man Down the Road,” ripped off CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle.” Even though Fogerty had written both songs, Zaentz claimed Fogerty was now plagiarizing a song Zaentz owned. After Fogerty won, his effort to be reimbursed for 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 stomach Zaentz making money off his performances, but he softened his stance in 1987 with a little prodding from Bob Dylan. While at revered North Hollywood, Calif., club the 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 gonna think it’s a Tina Turner song,’” referencing Ike & Tina Turner’s 1971 cover. “It’s Bob Dylan, for crying out loud. In my mind, I was still committed that I wasn’t going to do those songs, but I decided I guess I can give that up for three minutes.” Later that year, Fogerty began incorporating CCR songs back into his set.
Fogerty last tried in 1989 to buy his publishing when he and Zaentz sat face-to-face with legendary rock empresario Bill Graham acting as a mediator. They agreed on a sum, but then 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 publishing company would go in on a deal with him. “I met with the top guy, and he looked at me and said, ‘It’s not sustainable.’ That might have been, at least as business kinds of things go, the worst day of my life,” Fogerty says. “I don’t think I could even impart to [Julie] how final that was: ‘There’s no hope for you. You’re dead.’”
He had a freeing revelation shortly thereafter when on a jog, he was listening to a radio therapist counsel a woman who had been with a man who refused to commit to marriage. The therapist told the women her boyfriend was never going to change, and she needed to understand that. “The light goes on in my head as I’m listening and I just fell on the ground,” Fogerty says. “I actually started laughing. I realized it was never going to happen. It was a horrible realization. Anyway, that was the end of that: Saul was a jerk and will be eternally that and, in some way or fashion, I got over that.”
When asked if he now would pursue ownership of his CCR masters, Fogerty says, “My heart of hearts would love if that ever happened, but I’m not actively sitting around worrying about that. The fact that I didn’t own my own songs was much more bothersome to me because of the treatment that 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 joyful now than in any time in my life…. The last years of Creedence got to be like every band that dissolves, it was so tense. I mean, I miss my brother, [Creedence rhythm guitarist] Tom, who passed at a time when we were not really in each other’s lives [in 1990]. I’m looking forward to getting 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’d like “to take these iconic songs and reintroduce them to the new generation because I think the songs will be around forever,” adding there’s talk of 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 tried to erase him.”
For Concord’s part, which released Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall last year without Fogerty’s participation, Valentine tells Billboard he hopes regaining his copyrights “gives John a sense of closure for the years of the feelings that he’s had ever since he signed with Fantasy…. Also, hopefully, [with] that sense of peace that it’s a new beginning. We hope he will be reinvigorated and continue to do things that promote the catalog. It’s extraordinarily important — not only culturally as one of the greatest American bands ever, but it’s an important component of Concord’s legacy. We hope it gives him a feeling 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 specter” that has haunted him for so long finally gone, he says with a big grin, “I’m ready to feel really good about music.”