John Fogerty Explains Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Hall of Fame Meltdown
There have been many bitter and awkward moments at the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony during the past three decades. It’s an event that brings together bandmates that have sometimes not spoken in many years, often times after brutal lawsuits and mudslinging in the press. Few situations, however, were quite as volatile as what happened when Creedence Clearwater Revival got in back in 1993. The narrative for years has been that drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook were stunned when John Fogerty refused to play with them, and stood near the podium in enraged silence as he went over to perform Creedence tunes with Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson.
In an exclusive excerpt from his new book, Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music (out today), John Fogerty finally tells his version of what went down that fateful night. He also delves into aftermath of that incident, when Cook and Clifford decided to start an oldies band called Creedence Clearwater Revisited, kicking off a legal rumble that continues to this day.
The Hall of Fame called in late 1992. They said, “We are going to induct Creedence Clearwater Revival into the Hall of Fame. Would you perform with the other band members?” I said, “No.” I had gone to every ceremony except one, so what I did tell them was that at the end, when everybody’s onstage, jamming, if we all happen to be onstage, that’s fine. I’m just not going to stand on a stage with those people, three in a row, play our songs, and be presented as a band — particularly because these guys just sold their rights in that band to my worst enemy. I also made it very clear that if I didn’t play at all, that was fine too.
It wasn’t like this hadn’t happened before. After Bill Clinton was elected, they wanted Creedence to play the inauguration in January 1993, and I had rejected it. I said, “I’m not playing as a band with Creedence. I don’t play with those guys. We will never play as a band again.”
Prior to 1993, there had never been a ceremony where the actual inductees played their songs. When Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee and James Brown got inducted, they didn’t perform at all. It just wasn’t done that way. The year that Creedence got in was the first year that the inducted artists actually got up and performed. So this was a new concept. After I made it clear that I wasn’t going to play with Stu and Doug, the Hall of Fame came back to me with another way of looking at it: they wanted the songs to be heard, so they proposed getting other people — including Bruce and Robbie.
I expected to have fun that night. But Stu and Doug were playing a role that they had concocted. Had I known they were going to pull that, I would have made a different speech. Instead, I sidestepped saying anything about group haggling and the chicanery that had gone on, and I talked about the great music we had made. The truth was, they had turned their backs on our group, dishonored the music, and sold out to Saul Zaentz, taking money and making a side deal that didn’t include me.
I didn’t want to get into that, but they acted to the public like they were victims, playing for sympathy! It was phony.
I had run into Doug and Stu the day of the ceremony, or perhaps the day before, in the very room where the inductions would be held. I wanted to be very clear about my intentions and their expectations. I told them, “Considering what you have done, I will not play with you. You guys went and joined with my worst enemy.”
Stu said, “Well, we did kinda leave you twisting in the wind.” They knew this, but during the ceremony they still pretended to be shocked. As if they were pure as the driven snow.
Anyone who has ever been in a band knows how disgusting it is that these guys sold their voting rights to an outsider. They have shamed themselves forever. Nothing will ever change that.
If the fans were disappointed with what happened at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, I regret that. I’m very sorry about that. To the fans, all I can say is, things in the real world change. Particularly if things that are unpleasant happen between the members of a band, you’ve got to understand that they may not be happy to see each other again. But if you asked me a hundred more times, when the conditions were like this, I would do the same thing. I didn’t — and don’t — respect these people for what they have done.
The year before Creedence got in, the Yardbirds got inducted. I was there. That was funny. Jeff Beck is the world’s greatest rock and roll guitar player, and of course he was in the Yardbirds. When it was his turn for his acceptance speech, he said, “They kicked me out [of the band] …. Fuck them!” And that was that, ha ha. My mouth dropped open. And then my brain caught up with his words. That was absolutely right. What other emotion could he have? He stuck up for himself.
I had tried to reconcile with Tom long before he died. I’d think about Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, how they had a feud for years and didn’t speak, but they reunited, and their mother was so happy.
I wanted to do that with Tom for our mother. I mean, “How hard can this be?” That picture of the Dorseys was in my head: The two brothers reconcile and their mother is so happy. So I started a dialogue. I think I wrote him a letter — “It would be a shame not to do this for our mom.” We talked on the phone at least once.
I said, “Tom, I think we should each write down all our issues, the things we think we’re mad about. Write it all down, get it out in the open, and we’ll talk about ‘em.”
I’m trying to do this the right way. Face it. Deal with reality.
So I write a letter. The very first thing I say is, “Number one, Tom, you sued me” — referring to the lawsuit that he and Doug and Stu initiated against me over the songwriting royalties in the Canadian bank during the Castle Bank era. “Two, you sided with Saul.” And so forth. There were probably about eight points on my list.
I get a letter back and he says, “No! I didn’t sue you.” Tom’s reasoning for why I couldn’t say that he sued me was the fact that on the morning of the Castle Bank trial, he walked up to my attorney and said, “I’m not suing John anymore.” That was in 1983. But I’d already had to deal with the lawsuit since 1978! That meant going to depositions, meeting with and paying my attorney to prepare a defense, and dealing with all the anxiety that goes with the legal system. Many thousands of dollars later, Tom decided to drop the lawsuit. In his mind that meant he didn’t sue me.
So I sent him the cover page of the lawsuit filing, which said “Tom Fogerty vs. John Fogerty.” I don’t think we got any further than that. Unfortunately, our mom passed away.
I’d still get crazy letters. When Saul sued me over “Zanz Kant Danz,” Tom wrote to me, taking Saul’s side and ranting about how the “Kant” in the song’s title stood for Burt Kanter, one of the Castle Bank heavies. He ended the letter, “Saul and I will win.” In the late eighties, Doug was proposing that Creedence reform even though Tom was very sick. (The world didn’t know that he had AIDS then, and I sure wasn’t at liberty to be talking about it. It was family business. Until his son, Jeff, started talking about it openly after Tom passed, I wasn’t going to break that trust.) All I could think was, Oh, great — Doug and Stu want to drag Tom around the world in a wheelchair.
I thought they really wanted to do this for themselves. It was bizarre and disgusting to me. Immediately you get cynical — “Okay, c’mon: what’s the angle here?” Maybe I’m just sticking up for my brother. I wouldn’t think he’d want to be carted around in a wheelchair for some concert.
I went to see Tom a couple of times in 1990, shortly before he died. He was very thin and fragile-looking. Always wearing sunglasses, even indoors. And still kind of detached, in that way he had been, going all the way back to 1969 or 1970. After I won the plagiarism trial, I ran into Tom. He said, “Congrats on the trial.” Like it was a science project. He had become so aloof, maddeningly detached.
Even the very last time I saw Tom, he told me, “Saul’s my best friend. I can count on him.”* He came out with that out of the blue. Tom forced you to suspend reality. His reasoning wasn’t based on the laws of the universe, like gravity and how light travels. You had to abandon logic to have a conversation with him. We just made small talk, like two old-timers at the country store watching the log burn: “Yep, it’s gonna be a tough winter, don’t you think? The leaves need to be raked …”
I’m not good at BS. I see no point. Time is precious to me. But what could I say? He was fragile, dying. So I was the good soldier, the dutiful brother.
Tom passed away on September 6, 1990. I was sad that life had been taken from Tom. And that sadness was mixed up with all the other emotions. I was pissed that Saul had mangled our relationship, because he certainly messed it up. Tom was an unwitting pawn. But all that sure doesn’t mean anything wherever Tom is now. I used to say, “I can’t wait. I’ll meet him again. I’ll yell at him. We’ll have a showdown in space.”
But I’ve forgiven Tom.† I’m not angry anymore. Tom may have been motivated to get money for his family because he was dying.
I can see how that would hinder a person’s judgment. I don’t carry that around, and I think that’s important to say. I love my brother. I sure loved the old family days, the way we were as kids. I don’t have to chew on a bunch of perceived infractions from the dim past that don’t affect anything anymore. It’s resolved, and somehow Tom knows it’s all right, wherever he is.
In 1995, Stu and Doug formed an outfit called Creedence Clearwater Revisited to go out and play my songs on the oldies circuit. You can probably guess how I felt about this. Just imagine: you’re driving down the road one day, and you see a sign next to the Walmart — “Tonight! One night only: the Beatles!” Yeah, right. You know something is wack. Then you drive a little further down the road and you see a Kmart, and the sign says, “Tonight: Creedence!” Sadly, that could actually be true.
I never thought we’d be a K-tel compilation band. Acting like one-hit wonders, so desperate in their old age that they’ve got to get together and fool the public into thinking this thing is somehow the remnants of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Which it’s not. Man, I never intended to be in a band that turned into that.
As I’ve explained, we even talked about it specifically. We had agreed long ago that any version of our group that called itself Creedence Clearwater Revival would have to include all of us, or else it just couldn’t be.
How did this happen? It turns out that Stu and Doug had pounced on Trisha, Tom’s widow, a couple of years after he died and gotten her to sign over her well-wishes — not her vote, because Tom had already sold that. I’m going, “Well, wait a minute. They sold all their votes to Saul, so shouldn’t it be up to him?” I can’t tell you how disgusted I am with Doug and Stu. You’ve got to be a pretty slimy, sneaky person to do that. And I’m pretty disappointed in her for signing it away.
Why and how was that ever allowed? People say, “John, you oughta sue them!” At first I took it to court. To my way of thinking, these guys were trying to rip off the public and confuse them. I won, and then it went to a higher court and they reversed the decision. I thought it was wacky. I daresay judges who actually understand what rock and roll bands are about are few and far between. Stu and Doug had a letter from Trisha giving Tom’s vote to them; it gave them a majority, and in business a majority vote wins. But we’re not IBM; we’re four guys who made a vow, a pact. Try explaining that to a judge. And then there was that feeling of, “There’s John again. This guy does nothing but file lawsuits.”
Finally, around 2000, I thought, Why is it my job to make sure there is truth in advertising, and purity in rock and roll? Why am I the guy who’s got to go spend the rest of my life battling this crap so that this stupid charade that calls itself Creedence Clearwater Revisited won’t be allowed to foist its phoniness on an unsuspecting public? This can’t be my job anymore. Instead, I worked out a way to charge them a royalty, but these two guys are so devious that they’ve refused to pay that — and it was a very tiny amount, let me tell you.
And right now they are suing me because I’ve advertised the fact that I’m doing Creedence songs when I present an album like Green River in concert. The distinction? I don’t pretend that I’m Creedence: I say I’m going to play some Creedence music (all of which was written by me). I wouldn’t bat an eye if Stu and Doug decided to tour as “Stu and Doug.”
I hope it’ll all get sorted out at some point. I just hope that people don’t go to see them expecting something good. There is an old truth in the world, I don’t know who said it first, Plato or Socrates: When you have no taste, you can do anything.
Reporters always ask me if Creedence will ever reunite. A few years ago, someone asked again, and I was surprised that I didn’t have my usual reaction, which is not until hell freezes over. But I’m not angry anymore. So my answer was this: while it isn’t something I’m actively trying to make happen, maybe there’s some situation where it could happen. I don’t know.
This of course got back to Stu and Doug, and their reaction was something to the effect of, “We would never have a reunion, it’s too late, and besides, we have Creedence Clearwater Revisited and we’re doing so well. Why would we want John in our band?” Oy.
I guess they’re still angry. In early December of 2014, just as I was finishing this book, I learned that I was being sued by Stu and Doug over trademark issues. This came right after I’d done a tour of Canada focused on all the songs I wrote for Creedence in 1969. Unlike those guys, though, I didn’t claim to be some version of Creedence; I was just doing the songs I’d created.
Y’know how it is when people act overly paranoid, and you realize they don’t have much?
I could get into all the details, but you’ve read enough about this stuff already. I won’t inflict it upon you again. The important thing to understand is that this time, it didn’t really get to me. In the past, the people around me didn’t want to deal with this stuff. I had to fight it by myself. Now I have so much support from Julie. She just rolled up her sleeves and got into it. This time I wasn’t alone.
* Saul Zaentz did not attend Tom’s funeral. So much for being Tom’s ”best friend.”
† Apparently sometime recently, Doug read in the paper that I’d said I’d forgiven Tom. “Forgiven him for what?” was Doug’s response. Oh, I dunno, Doug. Maybe for calling the guy who stole our life savings his “best friend.” Doug is clueless.
From the book Fortunate Son by John Fogerty. Copyright © 2015 by John Fogerty. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.