How Creedence Clearwater Revival unwittingly financed The Lord Of The Rings movies

Creedence Clearwater Revival CCR 1970 Doug Clifford Tom Fogerty Stu Cook John Fogerty in London, England (Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage)
Creedence Clearwater Revival CCR 1970 Doug Clifford Tom Fogerty Stu Cook John Fogerty in London, England (Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage) /

The story of how Creedence Clearwater Revival is connected with The Lord Of The Rings is a story of how entitlement and money affect creativity and art. The nexus of this strange connection is a man named Saul Zaentz. Once upon a time, Zaentz owned the film rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved fantasy books; he produced an animated Lord of the Rings movie directed by Ralph Bakshi in 1978. In another life, Zaentz was also the manager of the legendary swamp rock outfit Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Zaentz owned Fantasy Records, the label Creedence Clearwater Revival was signed to. Fantasy was a small niche label that distributed jazz records, at least until they acquired the million-selling rock band behind hits like “Bad Moon Rising” and “Have You Ever Seen The Rain.” Creedence Clearwater Revival became the label’s cash-cow. In 1971, when Fantasy built a new headquarters in Berkeley California, it was nicknamed “the house that Creedence built.”

Fantasy Records owned the publishing and distribution rights to all of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s music, an arrangement that Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty was understandably not happy with. But Zaentz’s true passion was film, and he used the money he made off Creedence Clearwater Revival to establish a film production company that specialized in adapting novels. Zaentz’s productions included such illustrious titles as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus and The English Patient.

Creedence Clearwater Revival’s money made The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy happen

In 1978, Zaentz acquired the film rights to The Lord of the Rings and produced Bakshi’s animated adaptation through this same company. Zaentz still owned the film rights in the 1990s when Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was in preproduction with New Line Cinema. It wasn’t until 2022, eight years after Zaentz passed away, that The Zaentz company sold the rights to The Lord of the Rings. So to make his trilogy of movies, Jackson and company had to pay Zaentz a licensing fee.

A number of ugly lawsuits followed the release of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Actors sued over a lack of revenue from merchandise bearing their likenesses, and Jackson himself sued over profits. Zaentz also sued New Line in 2004, claiming that he had not been paid his full royalties. However, unlike the actors and Peter Jackson, who were demanding fair recompense for work they had done, Zaentz was entitled to royalties by dint if what he owned, not what he did.

Which brings us back to CCR. John Fogerty extracted himself from Zaentz’s grip but did not come out unscathed. He was famously bitter about the Fantasy Records deal for decades and was estranged from his brother and bandmate Tom Fogerty. The whole affair reached surreal heights when Zaentz sued Fogerty for effectively plagiarizing himself. Zaentz alleged that “The Old Man Down The Road,” a song from Fogerty’s solo album Centrefield, sounded like “Run Through The Jungle,” a Creedence Clearwater Revival song that Zaentz owned. Fogerty retaliated with a song called “Zanz Kant Danz (But He’ll Steal Your Money),” the video for which is truly unforgettable.

When I think of someone living off someone else’s work, I can’t think of a purer example than suing someone for “copying” something they themselves wrote. Saul Zaentz did not write “Proud Mary” or “Fortunate Son” any more than he wrote The Lord Of The Rings, yet he was entitled to the profits from all of them.

And it wasn’t just the profits either. In 2011, The Saul Zaentz Company took legal action against several small businesses in the UK that used the word “Hobbit,” including a cafe in Sarehole, near where J.R.R. Tolkien grew up, called The Hungry Hobbit. The Saul Zaentz Company was able to do that because of property that Zaentz purchased, not property he created.

Still, it’s funny to think that, given the reverence people in the countercultural movement had for The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and with the history of rock stars like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Elton John and George Harrison financing the Monty Python movies, that a famous counterculture rock band like CCR bankrolled a Lord of the Rings movie, but unwillingly.

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