Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Guaraldi in Bayou Country?

For a few overlapping years, both Vince Guaraldi and Creedence Clearwater Revival were housed at Fantasy Records; the rock band signed with the label toward the conclusion of Guaraldi's decade-long relationship with the company.

Nothing special about that, of course; Fantasy represented all sorts of acts, starting with Chinese opera (!) and jazz artists in the early 1950s, and progressing to folk, blues and rock as the musical landscape changed in the '60s.

But the "association" between Guaraldi and Creedence is intriguing for two reasons.

In the first place, the band eventually to be known as Creedence signed with Fantasy specifically because of Guaraldi. As discussed in this historical essay at the band's official web site, John Fogerty, Doug Clifford and Stu Cook -- billing themselves as the Blue Velvets -- started playing small-potatoes gigs and backing up San Francisco-area artists in 1959. John's older brother Tom came on board in 1960, at which point the band became known as Tommy Fogerty and the Blue Velvets. Despite cutting several singles on the Orchestra label, the boys didn't see any action during the first few years of this new decade.

Quoting now from the relevant paragraphs:

In 1963, a jazz artist named Vince Guaraldi put out a single called "Cast Your Fate To The Wind." It became that rarest of entities, a jazz instrumental hit. PBS did a special on the "Anatomy of a Hit." Watching this special, the band got excited when they discovered the label was Fantasy, across the bay in San Francisco. The fact that a local record company was breaking music on a national scale impressed the band. In March of 1964, John and Tom took some Blue Velvet original instrumentals to Fantasy, hoping to sell the tunes to Guaraldi.

The band's energy and audacity impressed Fantasy records co-founder Max Weiss. He signed them as a rock group rather than just for their instrumentals. He also suggested they change their name; the Blue Velvets sounding so passé and '50s. They chose The Visions. Between the time they recorded "Little Girl (Does Your Mama Know)" backed with "Don't Tell Me No Lies," and the release of the 45, Beatlemania happened. Hoping to capitalize on this, without having to go to England and sign a Merseybeat band, Weiss released the record as "The Golliwogs," a sobriquet the band would live with for the next three and a half years.

The assumption, then, is that if Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" hadn't hit, the brothers Fogerty might never have approached Fantasy ... and who knows? Given the butterfly effect, they also might never have achieved their eventual fame.

As for the second reason the Guaraldi/Creedence pairing is interesting ... well, both ended up deeply unhappy with Fantasy. In early 1966, Guaraldi sued to be released from the label; the resulting legal skirmish took awhile to settle down, but in the end the pianist won his freedom ... and started earning a lot more money, since he no longer was bound by the hideous Fantasy contracts.

While Guaraldi and Fantasy were sparring, the Weiss brothers sold the label to Saul Zaentz, who had worked with the company for years. Zaentz championed the Fogerty brothers, encouraged the band to change its name, and the rest is rock history. Unfortunately, the relationship between the band and Zaentz became famously rocky, first as a result of an investment scheme that soured and prompted years' worth of lawsuits; and later when John Fogerty left Creedence and Fantasy, recorded a hit on another label ("The Old Man Down the Road") and was infamously sued by Zaentz ... for plagiarizing his own sound! Fogerty's eventual response — a song initially called "Zanz Kant Danz" — has become one of rock's best high-profile acts of revenge.

And there you have it: Guaraldi, Creedence and Fantasy Records. Who could have imagined it?

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