It may be one of the strangest – and most haunting – experiences a singer-songwriter ever faces: being restricted from performing their own music.
John Fogerty, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and former frontman of Creedence Clearwater Revival, knows from a similar experience what pop icon Taylor Swift is going through as she fights for control of her past hits.
The 29-year-old said Thursday she might cancel her scheduled performance at the American Music Awards and postpone a Netflix documentary because music executives Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta, of her former label Big Machine Label Group, refuse to let her perform her earlier music.
“Taylor is actually trying to, after many years of the record company owning her masters, she's trying to purchase them, have them revert back to her,” Fogerty told FOX Business. Fogerty does not have any inside knowledge of the actual agreement Swift signed.
While clashes between artists and record labels aren’t rare, the situation Swift finds herself in is. Fogerty himself was involved in the most notable, similar incident, which occurred in the late 1980s.
"My heart goes out to Taylor. I wish that there was something I could do to fix it."
The lead vocalist, guitarist and primary songwriter for CCR, Fogerty was accused of plagiarizing his own work by his former label Fantasy Records. After the group disbanded in 1972, Fogerty embarked on a solo career, and released his comeback album on Warner Bros., which included the hit track “The Old Man Down the Road.”
Though a success for Fogerty, it landed him in the courtroom in 1988. His former record label claimed the song was a copy of “Run Through the Jungle,” which he penned in 1970 and recorded with CCR. Fogerty said that had he lost the case, he would not have been allowed to own the new song as publisher and wouldn’t have been entitled to the songwriter’s share of it either.
“In other words, they were screwing me out of 100 percent of the proceeds of that song,” he said.
After taking his guitar to court and playing the songs for jurors, they sided in his favor.
But the courtroom battle didn’t end there. Fogerty countersued the record company and its executive, Saul Zaentz, for the reimbursement of legal fees, which he said at the time may have cost him $400,000, or “more than the song earned.” The case made its way to the Supreme Court in 1994, and eventually, he was awarded payment for legal fees in both lawsuits.
"Somebody like Taylor Swift comes along very rarely in the universe, somebody who can perform and write these wonderful songs and make these incredible records," Fogerty said. "And to treat her like that as if she was some kind of a criminal, and almost with some sort of vengeful glee, it’s such a despicable human emotion that they’re displaying."
"My heart goes out to Taylor," he added. "I wish that there was something I could do to fix it."
Swift's master recordings came under Braun's control after he acquired Borchetta's Big Machine Label Group for $300 million in June. She'd intended to perform a medley of her hits spanning the decade at the AMAs, but said Braun and Borchetta claim playing the songs on TV would be “re-recording my music before I’m allowed to next year.”
In a statement posted online, Big Machine denied the accusation, insisting that Swift owed the label millions of dollars.
"At no point did we say Taylor could not perform on the AMAs or block her Netflix special. In fact, we do not have the right to keep her from performing live anywhere," the statement said.
A spokesperson for Swift, Tree Paine, demurred. "Big Machine is trying to deflect and make this about money by saying she owes them, but an independent, professional auditor has determined that Big Machine owes Taylor $7.9 million of unpaid royalties over several years," Paine's statement said.
In August, Swift announced she plans to re-record her songs and create “new” master recordings. Last November, she signed with Universal Music Group, leaving Big Machine, because re-signing would mean she would not own her future work, she said.
Swift had attempted to buy the rights to the master recordings but did not agree to terms with Braun or Borchetta.
She encouraged her fans to contact Braun and Borchetta and support her, including through social media, something that wasn't around when Fogerty was with CCR. Braun and Borchetta reportedly requested Swift refrain from speaking negatively about them in public.
"Well, of course, because they're evil and she's telling the world what these guys are up to," Fogerty said. "She has a huge fan base. I would want them all to know how horrible this is and perhaps encourage the public to harass those two characters as much as possible ... Give [them] a hard time."