Had it not been for the toxic relationships, self-inflicted pressure, crap deals, and one control-freak member’s desire to run the entire show, Creedence Clearwater Revival may have been remembered for more than just a few great singles. By 1969, Creedence was the hottest band in America and it seemed like nothing could stop them.
While the rest of the rock ‘n’ roll world tripped their way through the ’70s, looking for any possible way to break boundaries, Creedence traveled in the opposite direction. Led by singer-songwriter John Fogerty, the band went back to America’s roots and the world of southern country blues. So what led to one of the most bitter and hostile breakups that rock ‘n’ roll has ever seen? Let’s find out!
Creedence Clearwater Revival was an American sensation. From 1968 until their breakup in 1972, the band dominated both the AM and FM radio waves, which was an unusual feat. In 1969, Creedence earned three platinum records, released three critically acclaimed records (Bayou Country, Green River, Willy And The Poor Boys), and played at Woodstock.
They were hands-down the biggest band in America. Some say that if the band had stayed together, they could have have been the biggest band in the world, especially because The Beatles were no longer together. “Creedence took America by storm,” Jake Rohrer, the band’s former tour manager and press officer, said. “They had the broadest demographic imaginable.”
According to Rohrer, you could find any type of person at a Creedence concert. There were pre-teens, grandparents, and almost every age in between. The band received fan mail from American soldiers in Vietnam and federal inmates from prisons stateside. “Creedence didn’t bring anything new to the culture,” Rohrer told Uncut in 2014. “What they did was remind Americans from whence they’d come. Their lyrics were just so American.”
The band’s sound was also something that set them apart from the rest. Their music was warm; their grooves were smooth; and Tom Fogerty’s rhythm was hypnotic. But while the band’s sound had a familiar, homey ring to it, their lyrics were emotionally and politically charged.
Instead of mentioning political conflict upfront, John Fogerty created allegories. “Creedence made music for all the waylaid Tom Sawyers and Huck Finns,” Bruce Springsteen said in 1993 when Creedence was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“For the world that would never be able to take them up on their most simple and eloquent invitation, which is: ‘If you get lost, come on home to Green River.’” But while the world was in love with Creedence’s stories from the bayous, Fogerty resented his music post-breakup. “I was afraid that I’d start singing Proud Mary and go off on a tirade,” the musician said. If one of Creedence’s songs came on the radio, Fogerty would immediately change the station.
So, does time really heal all wounds? In 2013, 30 years after the last time the band played together, Fogerty suggested that he would be interested in a Creedence reunion. However, his former bandmates remain skeptical. “Leopards don’t change their spots,” Stu Cook told Uncut magazine. He believes that this is the singer’s attempt to reboot his public image.
Drummer Doug Clifford feels the same. Clifford says that a reunion would have been nice 20 years ago, but now it’s too late. The drummer, who plays with Cook in Creedence Clearwater Revisited, says “I prefer the band I’m in now. We play Creedence better than Fogerty does.” It’s sad to say, but these former friends are used to badmouthing one another. So what exactly happened?
In one of Creedence’s greatest songs, Born on the Bayou, John nostalgically sang of the places where he had grown up. He sang about the Louisiana backwoods, the Cajun Queen, and a freight train “cooglin” on its way to New Orleans. But there was just one thing. The song was complete fiction.
Like all members of the band, Fogerty hailed from a Northern California town that sat between Berkeley and Richmond called El Cerrito. The town has beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding San Francisco area; it is a far cry from the all-American South that John loved. “I took note of them because they were so foreign to the place where I grew up,” the singer said.
In 1959, a 14-year-old John Fogerty and his two friends from school formed an instrumental trio called The Blue Velvets. Stu Cook was a well-off lawyer’s son and Doug Clifford was a classmate of Cook’s who happened to have a drum set. Fogerty’s older brother Tom was a singer and would sometimes borrow the trio for his own gigs and demo recordings.
By 1963, Tom joined the Blue Velvets permanently. For the next few years, the four band members spent their time touring small towns and military bases in Central and Northern California. They also had several name changes. They became The Visions, Tommy Fogerty & The Blue Velvets, and eventually The Golliwogs.
It was actually Tom, not John, who led the band in their earlier days by encouraging the boys to think of music as a possible career. Some even say that without Tom’s energy, who knows where the band might have ended up. But as the years went by, it was John who took over as the writer, singer, and leader of the band.
The name Golliwogs, as they were known at the time, was gimmicky and racially offensive and it was forced upon the band by their label, Fantasy Records. According to Uncut magazine, the band hated the name. But in 1966, the band had even more pressing matters: Doug Clifford and John Fogerty received their draft notices.
Instead of avoiding conscription, the two men decided to enlist. Fogerty was placed in the US Army Reserve and was never activated, while Clifford joined the US Coast Guard Reserve. Clifford’s unit ended up being activated, but by a stroke of luck, the drummer was never sent overseas.
The band then re-signed with Fantasy, which was now run by a new owner, and the boys were finally given a chance to choose their own name. The band decided on Creedence Clearwater Revival. While the first part of the name came from random sources (“Creedence” was the name of Tom’s friend and “Clearwater” came from a beer commercial), “Revival” signified the band’s music style.
The band wanted to return to ‘50s-style rock ‘n’ roll. “I didn’t like the idea of those acid-rock, 45-minute guitar solos,” Fogerty said in 2014. “I thought music should get to the point a little more quickly than that.” Growing up, the singer was into mainstream rock ‘n’ roll as well as country blues. Despite the growing threat that Clifford or Fogerty might be sent to Vietnam, the band had a newfound confidence.
With their new name, Creedence began taking over the airwaves city by city. Even if Creedence was the third band billed, they would blow the other bands out of the water. Creedence’s label began to take notice and, in 1967, they gave Creedence the opportunity to record their first full-length album.
Creedence’s 1968 self-titled debut album was a modest seller at first. It wasn’t until its standout track, Suzie Q, was picked up by AM radio that the band began to see some mainstream success. The cover reached number 11 on the US charts and was the band’s only Top 40 song not written by Fogerty. Nine years into their career, Creedence had finally received the recognition they deserved.
That summer, Fogerty received his discharge papers from the Army, and he penned a song about a man leaving the city life behind and finding peace on the river. The singer called the song Proud Mary, and it was his message to America that Creedence’s success was just starting.
Proud Mary was the band’s first megahit, and it would have topped the US charts in 1969 had it not been for Tommy Roe’s catchy single, Dizzy. The song was covered by several artists, including Ike & Tina Turner, whose cover reached number four on the US charts and earned them a Grammy Award.
The band then released Bad Moon Rising, which also peaked at number two on the US Billboard Top 100. As soon as the single’s popularity began to wane, it was replaced by Green River, which peaked at number two behind The Archies’ single Sugar, Sugar. “We worked on a 12-week cycle,” Clifford told Uncut magazine in 2014. “John’s theory was that if we ever went out of the charts, our career would be over and we’d be forgotten.”
According to Clifford, Fogerty’s need to dominate the charts put a lot of pressure on everyone, including the singer. However, Fogerty believes that this pressure is what stimulated his mind. By 1970, the singer-songwriter was America’s most social-political writer since Bob Dylan. If you ask Fogerty about the origins of any of his songs, he will quickly answer that it relates to the context of the times.
Effigy was the songwriter’s response to President Nixon walking out of the White House one day and sneering at the anti-war protesters outside. Fortunate Son was an attack on the draft, and most of the band’s Bayou Country album was written while John watched the nation’s reactions to the 1968 assassination of Bobby Kennedy on TV.
Fogerty wrote most of his songs while staring at the four corners of his small apartment. The beige walls were bare since the singer was broke at the time and couldn’t afford any decorations. But while many writers may find this environment boring or uninspiring, John saw his bare apartment as a blank canvas that allowed his mind to run wild.
“I could go anywhere and do anything, because I was a writer,” he said in a 2014 interview. “I was conjuring that place deep in my soul that was me.” The singer-songwriter, who was a self-proclaimed loner who rarely socialized, was the one who kept the band on schedule.
When it came to rehearsals, Fogerty made sure that the band was overly prepared. They rehearsed until their songs were perfect, which enabled them to record full albums in just a matter of days. The band also had a “no alcohol” rule in their dressing rooms before shows, and they stayed far away from the growing drug culture.
According to Clifford, other bands called Creedence boy scouts because they were all married with families and wouldn’t get high with the rest of the rock ‘n’ rollers of the time. And while the rest of the rock music world was focused on their looks, Creedence stuck with classic jeans and flannel shirts. The band looked more like shaggy workmen instead of budding rock stars.
As the band began to tour the country, they were relieved that Louisiana and Georgia welcomed them with open arms. Creedence had been nervous about playing in the South, seeing as no one really knew that they were from Northern California. Regardless of their upbringing, Creedence embraced southern culture, and the South understood that.
But not everyone thought the band’s origins were irrelevant. “I remember Duck Dunn of Booker T & The MG’s telling me that when he found out the guys who’d done ‘Born On The Bayou’ were from Berkeley, he was going to go and burn all his Creedence records,” Jake Rohrer said. Luckily, the two bands ended up becoming friends, and they even toured together.
While other bands relied on psychedelic effects in the recording studio, Creedence used the same slap back echo that was used by many artists in the ‘50s. “I was greatly influenced by the early records of Elvis Presley and I just thought that was the way that music should sound,” Fogerty said in 2014.
Sticking to the classic phrase, “Less is more,” Creedence sought to create simple music that the everyday Joe could relate to, no matter what his political affiliation was. “That’s where the power of John’s songs lay,” Doug said in an interview with Uncut magazine. “We reached the masses with strong messages and feel-good music, and that really was our greatest achievement.”
In April 1969, Creedence was the first act to sign a contract for the Woodstock Festival. Before the band agreed to play, promoters actually had trouble finding major musicians to play at the festival. Many people may not remember that the band headlined Woodstock, given that they were omitted from the festival’s 1970 film. However, the omission was entirely Fogerty’s decision.
The band was given a 3 a.m. start time, following the Grateful Dead’s notoriously awful performance, meaning that the audience was well on their way to falling asleep. Fogerty’s thought that Creedence’s performance was lackluster, and he refused to have them remembered as such. The other band members disagreed with John, calling their performance “Classic Creedence Clearwater Revival.”
By the end of 1969, the band was on top of the world. They had three top ten albums, four hit singles, and three charting B-sides. In January, Creedence released another double side hit, Travelin’ Band/ Who’ll Stop the Rain, and they were featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine the following month. Nobody could have predicted what happened next.
After capturing America’s heart and minds, the band somehow found a way to implode on itself. It didn’t matter that they were childhood friends, or that John and Tom were brothers. Toxicity bubbled to the surface, making Creedence’s breakup one of the most bitter and hostile divorces that rock ‘n’ roll has ever witnessed.
According to Fogerty, the breakup began with a band meeting. The meeting was odd because the band never had meetings. Fogerty was the band’s flannel-shirted leader who dictated every move the band made. Why did they need to sit down and have a meeting? Everything was going smoothly, or so John thought.
The singer-songwriter was irritated that the other Creedence members wanted to have a say in how the band was run. “Suddenly everybody wanted to be a general,” Fogerty told Uncut. This new concept of democracy didn’t fly too well with the band’s dictator, whose system seemed to be working wonders up until now. However, as John soon came to find out, commercial success wasn’t the only metric for overall success.
Part of Creedence’s problem was that they were an incredibly small operation. Even at the peak of the band’s fame, Creedence traveled with only two roadies and their tour manager Jake Rohrer. The band had no entourage, no booking agent, and no PR firm. Creedence was like a small family business that accidentally creates a brand as marketable and famous as Coca-Cola.
“John was our manager,” Clifford later said. According to the drummer, this was not a good idea. “He had no concept of the business side. Zero. None. Nada.” Cook, who holds a business degree from San Jose State University, agreed with Clifford. He believes that the band was constantly limited by John’s vision of how the band was “supposed to be run.”
It wasn’t just the day to day aspects that frustrated the rest of the band. It was also the fact that the band was, and still is today, tied “to the worst contract signed by any band in history.” Fogerty said that he would convince the label to give them a new contract, but he fell short of his promise.
The rest of the band confronted John about his inability to manage Creedence, which was now the number one band in America. They demanded that he bring in another manager. “So what does John do, in an act of what I can only describe as brutal cynicism?” Cook rhetorically asks. “He brings us Allen Klein.”
Klein was an industry powerhouse, but he was at the center of controversy for the bands he managed. The Rolling Stones accused him of withholding millions in royalties, stealing the rights to their music, and not paying their taxes for five years. The Beatles also had their fair share of problems with Klein, especially with the way that he handled their money and careers post-breakup.
So, in the midst of the Beatles and Rolling Stones drama, Fogerty brought Klein in for a meeting. Luckily, the rest of the band had their reservations about the sneaky manager and decided to send Klein packing. With no other options, Fogerty resumed the role of Creedence’s manager.
Eventually, Fogerty was able to convince Fantasy Records to sit down for a contract renegotiation, but the result wasn’t much better than what they started with. According to Cook and Clifford, Saul Zaentz made many promises to the band, but never seemed to follow through. To make matters worse, Fogerty was the only band member present at these meetings with the label.
“We were not allowed to go to meetings. And John wouldn’t communicate with us afterwards,” Clifford said in 2016. “Once it started to go sour, he dealt with it on a very personal level.” According to the rest of the band, Fogerty turned down a contract that would have made the band tens of millions of dollars.
According to Cook and Clifford, Creedence was offered a deal that would have given them 10 percent of Fantasy Records, which really meant 10 percent of the band, seeing as they were the label’s only chart-topping act. Fogerty, however, denies this claim. He says that the percentage was closer to one percent. “I don’t think he understood about stock options and stuff,” Clifford told Classic Rock magazine in 2016.
Clifford and Cook say that lawyers tried to help Fogerty navigate the contract, but they couldn’t get through to the stubborn frontman. The rest of the band members tried to help Fogerty out, but he began distancing himself from Clifford and Cook as if they were personally attacking him.
The band set off on their European tour in the spring of 1970, headlining at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Creedence kept rolling out the hits with their fifth album, Cosmo’s Factory, which spent nine weeks at number one. While the band was experiencing immense success, relationships between the bandmates began to turn toxic.
Clifford and Cook were frustrated with how Fogerty was handling the contract negotiations, which were now at a standstill, but there were new problems on the horizon. Tom had previously stepped aside to let John try his hand at leading the band, but now Tom wanted to be more involved musically. He wanted to sing a song on the next album, but John saw this as a new threat.
While the rest of the band was willing to see what Tom had to offer, John immediately shut the idea down. He didn’t want his brother singing on any of Creedence’s tracks. The situation deteriorated. Tom threatened to quit on several occasions, only to have Clifford and Cook talk him into staying. Tom’s resentment grew, and John responded by tightening the reins on the band.
“Tom would have done a damn good job on La Bamba,” Clifford said in 2014. “John didn’t want him to sing it, in case we had a hit with it. He didn’t want Tom to succeed.” But John says that’s not the case. He just wanted to stick with what made the group successful in the first place, and that meant that Tom wouldn’t sing.
In February 1971, just a month after their Pendulum album release, Tom made good on his threat. With Tom launching his solo career, Creedence debated whether to replace Tom. After playing around with the idea of letting Duck Dunn join, Creedence decided to continue as a trio. What happened next is still up for debate, even 50 years later.
There is so much “he said she said” that it’s impossible to know which side to believe. Fogerty claims that Clifford and Cook came up with a false story about giving them a bizarre ultimatum while riding in a limousine. Today, Clifford and Cook remain adamant that the ultimatum and limo were real.
Fogerty claims that Clifford and Cook demanded the right to write and sing a third of the album each or else they would leave. But the two allies say that it was actually Fogerty who threatened to leave if the two didn’t write and sing their part of the band’s next album. They claim that this was Fogerty’s way of punishing them for supporting Tom.
“Stu and I wanted some input, but the last thing we wanted to do was sing,” Clifford told reporters at uncut. “But, anyway, we wrote and sang three songs, and of course the album was doomed to fail.” And fail it did. Rolling Stone magazine reviewer Jon Landau went as far to call it “the worst album I have ever heard from a major rock band.”
Ask Fogerty about the album today, and he will tell you that he knew the album was going to be dreadful. “I’d known these guys since high school and I figured I had a good handle on their abilities,” the singer-songwriter said in 2013. “The phrase I kept repeating to myself was, ‘I guess they deserve a shot.'” Fogerty went on to say that Clifford and Cook originally thought the failed album was really cool, but later changed their tune.
Regardless of who said what, Creedence was a sinking ship. The band officially broke up in 1972, and resentment between the bandmates grew deeper and deeper. Fogerty’s previous mismanagement of the band’s affairs got them in trouble with the IRS, and Clifford and Cook realized that they lost millions in a banking scheme.
The rift between the two brothers remained until Tom’s death in 1990. Sometime during the ’80s, Tom contracted AIDS from an unscreened blood transfusion. His dying wish was to have his former band play together one last time, but John declined. Things only got worse when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
John refused to play with Clifford and Cook. Instead, he played Creedence music with an “all-star band” that didn’t include his former band members. This cemented the divide between the surviving members. It’s safe to say that the bayou will freeze over before Creedence Clearwater Revival plays together again.