In 1959, while attending Portola Junior High School in El Cerrito, California, classmates John Fogerty (vocals, guitar), Stu Cook (bass), and Doug Clifford (drums) began playing together as the Blue Velvets, cutting their teeth on early rock instrumentals and the jukebox hits of the era. They later became a quartet with the addition of John's older brother, Tom Fogerty (guitar, vocals), and released a handful of independent singles to local radio. In 1964 the Blue Velvets joined the roster of San Francisco's Fantasy Records, a label which at that point was primarily known for jazz artists like Vince Guaraldi and Dave Brubeck. In an attempt to compete with the burgeoning British invasion, label co-founder Max Weiss urged them to change their name to the Golliwogs. Despite releasing a number of singles over the next few years, their early efforts yielded little attention and in 1966 John Fogerty and Doug Clifford were drafted into the U.S. Armed Forces. Fogerty's time in the Army Reserves proved to be somewhat transformative in terms of shaping both his creative vision and political views and in 1967, he and his bandmates gladly abandoned the unfortunate Golliwogs moniker in favor of the more eclectic Creedence Clearwater Revival. By then Saul Zaentz had bought out Fantasy's original partners and promptly offered the newly minted CCR a contract, albeit one that would later come back to haunt them.
The group released their eponymous debut album in May 1968. Although it bore a few sonic traces of the psychedelic era, it served to introduce the fiery delivery, tight arrangements, and Southern musical influences that would become CCR's hallmark. It also gave them their first hit in "Suzie Q," a sprawling cover of Dale Hawkins' 1957 rockabilly song which found its way into the Top 40 in November of that year. The album also cemented John Fogerty's all-encompassing role as the band's frontman, chief songwriter, lead guitarist, producer, and arranger. Having had their first taste of success, CCR entered their peak period a few months later with the release of Bayou Country, their breakout second album. The first of three LPs released in 1969, Bayou Country reached number seven on the pop charts and was certified platinum thanks in large part to lead single "Proud Mary" and its swampy B-side "Born on the Bayou." With its catchy tune, Mississippi River imagery, and themes of escape, "Proud Mary" was an immediate hit and went on to become one of CCR's most enduring songs. Of the many covers it inspired, it was Ike Tina Turner's revved-up 1971 soul rendition that did nearly as well as CCR's, earning the duo a Grammy Award. Riding a wave of newfound momentum, CCR released their third album, Green River, in August 1969, giving them their first chart-topper and adding two more Top Five singles -- the jaunty but foreboding "Bad Moon Rising" and the twangy "Green River" -- to their growing clutch of hits. They also toured relentlessly in support of it and were one of the headlining acts at the Woodstock Festival in Upstate New York that summer, although Fogerty deemed their set unworthy of inclusion on the live album and asked that it be omitted. Completing this remarkable year, CCR released their fourth album, Willy and the Poor Boys, in November. The harmony and groove-filled "Down on the Corner" gave them yet another Top Five hit, but it was Fogerty's gutsy protest song "Fortunate Son" that made a more lasting statement. Arriving at the zenith of America's involvement in the Vietnam War, "Fortunate Son" became one of the defining anthems of the anti-war movement and has retained that status through subsequent decades. In 2013, the Library of Congress added it to their National Recording Registry for its cultural and historical significance.
At the dawn of the 1970s, CCR were at their commercial peak, riding a string of hit albums and singles that had placed them in the upper echelon of American rock music. Without pausing for reflection, they kicked off January 1970 with the double A-side of "Travelin' Band" and "Who'll Stop the Rain," appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine the following month. Two more instant CCR classics, "Up Around the Bend" and "Run Through the Jungle," appeared a few months later as the group headed to Europe for their first international tour. With four more hit songs already on the charts, "Lookin' Out My Back Door" and "Long as I Can See the Light" helped turn the band's fifth album, Cosmo's Factory, into a massive success, sitting at number one for a nine-week stint in late 1970. By then, CCR had caught on globally as well, with the album also topping charts in Australia, the U.K., and parts of Europe. They ended the year with yet another album, Pendulum, which yielded a pair of Top Ten hits in "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" and "Hey Tonight." It also marked the first time CCR had made a record containing entirely original material, though the influence of their R&B and blues heroes remained, especially that of Booker T. the M.G.'s, with whom they had recently jammed. It was also the final record to include the group's original lineup as a disgruntled Tom Fogerty departed in February 1971. The price paid for Fogerty's unyielding control of CCR's affairs and creative vision was growing dissent among the other bandmembers. After Tom's departure, they carried on wearily as a trio with John reluctantly agreeing to cede some creative control to his remaining bandmates. However, even this attempt at democracy was somewhat heavy-handed; rather than simply allowing Cook and Clifford a little more artistic input, he insisted that each member now write and sing his own material to be split evenly on future albums. Their first release as a trio was Fogerty's "Sweet Hitch-Hiker," an energetic rocker that proved to be CCR's final Top Ten hit. Cook's bluesy B-side, "Door to Door," made little impact. When their seventh album, Mardi Gras, was finally released in early 1972, it was maligned by critics as uneven and lacking cohesion, though the group's momentum still helped it achieve a number 12 chart placement. The growing frustration over the band's direction and its lousy contract with Fantasy continued to mount and, following a grueling two-month tour, CCR called it quits in October of that year. For an impressive five-year period, they had performed at the top of their game, leaving behind a deep catalog of studio albums and hit songs, all of which fell under the ownership of Fantasy Records.
CCR certainly weren't the first rock band to attach themselves to an unfavorable record contract, but the bitter legal battles between Fantasy owner Saul Zaentz and John Fogerty unfortunately become a part of CCR's post-breakup mythology, stretching all the way into the 2000s when Zaentz finally sold Fantasy to the Concord label which attempted to restore some contractual goodwill with the band. Starting in the mid'-70s, in order to deny them any more royalties, Fogerty rebuked the label by refusing to play any of his CCR material live. After the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and his solo career saw a late-'90s revival, he softened his stance and re-embraced his old catalog, much to the delight of longtime fans. Tom Fogerty died in 1990 having mounted a moderately successful solo career and in 1995, Cook and Clifford launched the Fogerty-less Creedence Clearwater Revisited with various guest singers in order to take the old catalog on the road. A proper reunion never materialized, though CCR have remained an iconic band with a multi-generational fan base thanks to a steady succession of archival releases and compilations. In 2019, their Live at Woodstock set finally saw the light of day in honor of the festival's 50th anniversary. ~ Timothy Monger, Rovi
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