At a time when rock music was evolving away from the forces that had made it possible in the first place, Creedence Clearwater Revival brought rock back to its roots with a concise synthesis of rockabilly, swamp pop, R&B, and country. Although the band's tight, punchy arrangements were a group effort, their vision belonged to singer, songwriter, guitarist, and leader John Fogerty. Fogerty's classic compositions for Creedence evoked enduring images of Americana, and they simultaneously reflected burning social issues of the day. The band's genius was their ability to accomplish this with the economic, primal power of a classic rockabilly ensemble.
The key elements of Creedence had been woodshedding in bar bands for about a decade before their breakthrough to national success in the late '60s. John's older brother Tom formed the Blue Velvets in the late '50s in El Cerrito, California, a tiny suburb across the bay from San Francisco. By the mid-'60s, with a few hopelessly obscure recordings under their belt, the band — including Tom and John with two high-school friends, drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook — signed to Fantasy, releasing several singles as the Golliwogs that went nowhere. In fact, there's little promise to be found on those early efforts; they were extremely derivative of the British Invasion and other R&B and rock trends of the day, with few hints of the swampy roots rock that would characterize CCR. The group only found themselves when John took firm reins over the band's direction, singing and writing virtually all of their material.
On their first album, 1968's Creedence Clearwater Revival, the group played it both ways, offering extended, quasi-psychedelic workouts of the '50s classics "I Put a Spell on You" and "Suzie-Q." The latter song became their first big hit, but the band didn't really bloom until "Proud Mary," a number two single in early 1969 that demonstrated John's talent at tapping into Southern roots music and imagery with a natural ease. It was the start of a torrent of classic hits from the gritty, Little Richard-inspired singer over the next two years, including "Bad Moon Rising," "Green River," "Down on the Corner," "Travelin' Band," "Who'll Stop the Rain," "Up Around the Bend," and "Lookin' Out My Back Door."
Creedence also made good albums — Green River, Willy and the Poor Boys, and Cosmo's Factory all rank among the best of the rock era — but their true forte was as a singles band. When the Beatles broke up in early 1970, CCR was the only other act that provided any competition in the fine art of crafting bold, super-catchy artistic statements that soared to the upper reaches of the charts every three or four months. Although they hailed from the San Francisco area, they rarely succumbed to the psychedelic indulgences of the era. John Fogerty also proved adept at voicing the concerns of the working class in songs like "Fortunate Son," as well as partying with as much funk as any white rock band would muster on "Travelin' Band" and "Down on the Corner."
With John Fogerty holding such a strong upper hand, Creedence couldn't be said to have been a democratic unit, and Fogerty's dominance was to sow the seeds of the group's quick dissolution. Tom Fogerty left in 1971 (recording a few unremarkable solo albums of his own), reducing the band to a trio. John allowed drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook equal shares of songwriting and vocal time on the group's final album, Mardi Gras (1972), a gambit that illustrated the extent of John's contributions to the group.
Creedence Clearwater Revival split not long after the release of Mardi Gras. After releasing The Blue Ridge Rangers, a collection of country and rockabilly covers he recorded on his own, John Fogerty released an eponymous solo album in 1975 on Asylum, then entered a decade-long silence. He reemerged victorious with Centerfield in 1985, but he remained in a legal battle with Fantasy Records and Saul Zaentz, who went so far as to sue the singer/songwriter for plagiarizing himself. Fogerty won the case and by the end of the '80s, he began playing CCR songs again. Eventually, he returned to Fantasy, long after Zaentz had left the company.
Tom Fogerty maintained a solo career through the 1970s, sometimes recording with the band Ruby, but he became ill in the '80s after an unscreened blood transfusion. During that procedure, he contracted HIV, which led to his death in 1990.
As the four members of CCR pursued new musical ventures, Fantasy continued to reissue their classic studio albums over the decades. The 2001 box set Creedence Clearwater Revival: Box Set dug into unreleased material, including recordings from the Gollywogs. Many years later, the Gollywogs received their own anthology. In 2019, CCR's Live at Woodstock set was released in time for the festival's 50th anniversary. ~ Richie Unterberger