As John Fogerty worked on Green River, the second of three studio albums his band Creedence Clearwater Revival would release in 1969, the rock singer felt a twinge of doubt. CCR’s first two records were hits on college radio, and a single, “Proud Mary,” had peaked at No. 2 on the charts. But as the band’s bassist Stu Cook would later recall in an interview with Goldmine magazine, Fogerty had an “almost morbid fear of being off the charts.”
So, as Fogerty prepped the new album, he took a moment to reflect. Just about a year ago, I set out on the road... A thought popped into his head. “I sat down and wrote about being on the road, being a musician—not the happy, glamorous part,” he explained to a CCR fansite in the 2000s. “Rather, I projected myself ahead maybe 10 years, as a country musician singing that minor hit I had 10 years ago.”
The song was titled “Lodi” after a town in California, the type of place where you get stuck on a journey to somewhere better, and it would stand as a counterpoint to later songs like “Travelin’ Band” with its cross-country whirlwind of jet planes and big shows. Fogerty couldn’t shake the feeling that a bad moon might be rising over CCR. What he couldn’t have known was that he was right. “Lodi” had escaped from his subconscious as a kind of psychic premonition.
Things got bad and things got worse, I guess you will know the tune...
To this day, no one in CCR can agree on how the band came to its 1969 deal with Fantasy Records. They had initially signed to Fantasy in 1964 under a different moniker, the Blue Velvets, but with a hit under their belts it was time to renegotiate with label head Saul Zaentz.
“Zaentz promised us that he would tear up the contract as soon as we had our first hit,” Fogerty remembered in Bad Moon Rising: The Unauthorized History of Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Well, somewhere around the time of Green River, I go into Saul and I’m told there’ll be no tearing up of any contract.”
Zaentz did have an idea: Although he wouldn’t change how much he was paying the band, he knew of a way they could keep more of what they were already getting. You see, there’s this little thing called taxes. You make money, you pay the government. It’s not always a great system and sometimes the feds come after you, but so long as you don’t cheat (or you’re not dumb about it), you’re okay most of the time.
Of course, then there are people like Burton Kanter and Paul Helliwell—the very reason the Internal Revenue Service exists. Both lawyers by trade, the duo made a living by helping rich guys like Zaentz cheat the system, using tax-dodging banks in exotic locations like the Bahamas and Switzerland. Kanter had recruited Zaentz using his position as a board member at Fantasy and fed the label’s money into a Nassau-based joint venture owned by himself and Helliwell. Zaentz was ecstatic over the arrangement, according to members of CCR, because of the reduced tax burden.
The Bahamian bank in question, the Castle Bank and Trust, was notorious in the industry for its association with Helliwell, a smooth operator with shady connections. In addition to his responsibilities at Castle, he chaired or sat on the boards of close to a dozen banks in the Miami area, some with ties to organized crime. If someone was moving money in Miami or the Caribbean, it’s a safe bet Helliwell was involved. And money was moving—CCR’s. The Zaentz deal called for Fantasy to retain its same cut of the band’s earnings from record sales, but the label would now send the band’s share to Castle, where it would sit and collect interest untaxed. The band normally deferred on legal matters to bassist Stu Cook’s dad, Herman, a lawyer who counseled the Oakland Raiders, and according to Fogerty in his autobiography Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music, he asked Stu to run the contract by his father, who then signed off on it. Other members remember things a bit differently, however. Drummer Doug Clifford, speaking with a British magazine in 2014, attributed the band’s financial woes to John, stating that he acted as the band’s manager during this period despite having “no concept of the business side. Zero. None. Nada.”
All of this, naturally, created a problem. If no one connected to the band knew how the contract worked, where was the money going?
By the ’70s, that decade of the eternal orgasm, Creedence Clearwater Revival were the biggest rock band in the world. Green River and its follow-up, Willy and the Poor Boys, sold more than half a million units each; Cosmo’s Factory went platinum; and the band had over a half-dozen singles chart. CCR couldn’t be stopped—except, maybe, by themselves.
Success was bitter. CCR began as John and Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, and Doug Clifford, four California boys looking to start a commotion. But John was a domineering personality who demanded things his way, and the rest of the band weren’t ready to stand in the background playing second, third, and fourth fiddle. Tom, John’s brother and the band’s rhythm guitarist, was particularly vocal about what he would later call a dictatorship. “Doug and I used to joke that we felt like we were caught in a Fogerty sandwich,” Cook recalled in Bad Moon Rising. “The brothers were the bread and we were the bologna in the middle.” John, itching for a fight, started flying solo in interviews, heightening the perception that CCR were a one-man band. It didn’t help matters when he would take credit for the songwriting duties—which, while true, still furthered the perception that CCR were really The John Fogerty Experience. Critics took notice. Barry Gifford, retroactively reviewing the band’s self-titled debut for Rolling Stone in 1972, observed: “Fogerty’s a gas but Creedence Clearwater’s Revival may not be worth it.”
“Fuckin’ lawyers, fuckin’ Fantasy, fuck fuck fuck!”
The constant bickering was too much for Tom, and he split in 1971 in an unusually caustic fashion. Asked for his thoughts on the band, he called them a “bunch of egotistical maniacs.” CCR scrambled to put out another record in his absence the following year, Mardi Gras, but the magic was gone. Fogerty, in an attempt to counter charges of egomania, demanded that CCR’s remaining members, Cook and Clifford, contribute more songs. The record bombed.
The experience stung Fogerty, and he decided on an exit strategy, because by this point he was feuding with not only Cook and Clifford but Zaentz and Fantasy as well. If the fights in the band were volatile, then Fogerty and Zaentz were engaged in an all-out war. Summarizing his feelings on the situation in his autobiography, Fogerty noted a recurring thought running through his head most days: “Fuckin’ lawyers, fuckin’ Fantasy, fuck fuck fuck!”
Preparing for the band’s imminent demise, Fogerty contacted their attorney and asked him to withdraw his money from a holding company. He hadn’t touched any of it since signing the new deal, so, he surmised, it should get him by while he decided what to do next. There was just one problem: According to friend of the band Jay Rohrer in Bad Moon Rising, when CCR’s attorney went to the Bahamas to sort out Fogerty’s finances, he found “chains across the door” of the Castle Bank and Trust.
Historically, organized crime in the United States has gotten by on the basis that it’s more difficult to convict wiseguys than it is to ignore them. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover refused to even acknowledge the existence of the Mafia until 1957. How do you catch what doesn’t exist? Taxes. Remember, Al Capone didn’t go to prison because of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre; he ended up in the slammer because he didn’t pay his protection money to the capo dei capi, Uncle Sam.
Beginning in 1965, the Internal Revenue Service launched a program known as Operation Tradewinds to investigate the Mob’s obscenely lucrative gambling and banking operations in the Caribbean. Tradewinds was so successful that in 1971 the IRS expanded the program to target drug smugglers, creating an offshoot known as the Narcotics Traffickers Project. California was especially fertile ground for this objective, there being no shortage of heads and pushers in the Golden State. So when a California drug dealer opened a $25,000 account in the Miami-based Bank of Perrine in 1972, the feds took notice. Oddly enough, the man deposited a check that had come from the Bahamas, drawn from the Castle Bank and Trust. Something was up.
With Castle now in its sights, the IRS upgraded its investigation into a full-blown operation: Project Haven. Haven investigators identified a particularly skilled Tradewinds informant and tasked him with finding out more about the Bahamian bank. Dubbed TW-24, the informant made use of an unusual tactic that had become popular among IRS agents, along with other intelligence agencies, over the years: the “honeypot.” In such scenarios, female agents or informants were used as bait, through sex or at least the prospect of it. The Nazis, for example, ran a brothel known as Salon Kitty to collect political intelligence during World War II. Our own alphabet agencies, in an alleged pursuit of justice, haven’t been above such lechery.
Starting sometime in 1971, the IRS was responsible for a program known as Operation Leprechaun. The stated purpose was to investigative political corruption, a noble cause to be sure, but the IRS’ tactics left something to be desired. Agents hired women to act as informants and go into clubs to monitor (and, some say, encourage) the extracurricular activities of public officials. The sexcapades extended to Project Haven. Shortly after it kicked off, TW-24 ingratiated himself with Castle’s managing director. He then introduced the banker to his “close friend,” a woman of considerable talents. The informant arranged a date between the two, and while they were out, he entered the banker’s apartment and broke into his briefcase, stealing and photographing the shady papers inside without the man ever knowing they were gone.
The documents were explosive. Not only did they confirm the prior trafficking case and identify over 300 creditors (including, yes, CCR), but they revealed connections between Castle and a constellation of domestic banks like the Bank of Perrine and others in the Caribbean. What stood out was that these banks, in addition to functioning as conduits for tax evasion and drugs, shared an unusual characteristic. A name.
“Paul Helliwell is dead.”
The words jumped off the page. There were others, of course, but these were the most important because they stated, in no uncertain terms, that the head of the Castle Bank and Trust had expired in a sauna and, consequently, that CCR’s assets were now frozen. John Fogerty, who received the news from his attorney via a telegram from the Caribbean, didn’t know what to make of it. When CCR signed the 1969 deal with Fantasy, Fogerty was led to believe Helliwell was just some lawyer. A nobody. But now that Helliwell was dead, something was very wrong.
Fogerty wasn’t alone in his distress. IRS agents working the Haven case were blindsided by a sudden twist: In 1975, as they were preparing indictments, IRS commissioner Donald Alexander abruptly suspended Haven, demanding the agents publicly identify their informants and placing the operation’s lead investigator, a decorated ex–Coast Guard vet named Richard Jaffe, on administrative leave. The betrayal seemed to confirm a lingering suspicion Jaffe had. After a clandestine meeting with Haven informants at a hotel in the Bahamas three years earlier, he had received a detailed report from an anonymous party that outlined classified information discussed during that meeting. At the time, he wasn’t sure whether the source was warning him or sending a threat, or possibly both. Now it was clear: Someone had been trying to kill Project Haven for years.
It turns out the IRS' big problem—and CCR's for that matter—wasn't that they were dealing with Mob money. The Castle Bank and Trust was a front for none other than the Central Intelligence Agency. Paul Helliwell, himself an ex-spook involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion, had set up domestic banks like the Bank of Perrine to funnel clients into his Caribbean proprietaries. The goal of this shell game, according to an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, was to move money to fund covert actions. That most of these involved Cuban exile groups based out of Miami, home to Helliwell’s law firm and the CIA’s anticommunist JMWAVE covert operations station, was more than a coincidence. The IRS had collided head-on with the CIA and were instructed to cease all investigations into Castle and, as one Agency attorney told investigators, to “keep out of certain accounts.”
Good luck suing a ghost
All told, Creedence Clearwater Revival deposited $5 million in the Castle Bank and Trust between the years of 1969 and 1975. CCR filed a lawsuit against some of the parties involved, but they would never receive restitution from the bank or the CIA directly. Castle moved to Panama and dissolved two years later, rendering its assets untouchable, and the CIA...is the CIA. Good luck suing a ghost.
Sitting down with Cameron Crowe for Rolling Stone in 1976, John Fogerty had hit a crossroads in his life. "All those years of hear about how Monk and Miles and the Duke got screwed and became disillusioned with their careers," he started, thinking back over the past few years of his life. Fogerty may have been referencing jazz legends who experienced intense bursts of fame only to fall victim to financial troubles, but he was also speaking to the circumstances he now found himself in.
Fogerty was still having it out with Fantasy. Not only had he been scammed, but CCR had broken up in the interim and, per the band’s contract, he still owed the label songs. Not wanting to create further problems for himself, he had done the only thing he could think of and formed a makeshift group he dubbed the Blue Ridge Rangers. The label refused to accept the record under their agreement because it didn’t sound like Creedence Clearwater Revival—it was country music.
Much as he had predicted in 1969, John Fogerty had become that country singer looking back in time. As he spoke with Crowe, the two were in his adopted home of Troy, Ore., a spot buried deep in the state’s thick wilderness. When he wrote “Lodi,” its namesake had 28,000 residents; Troy had a population of just 27 people. Fogerty finished the thought: “I always used to say, ‘That’s dumb. That’ll never happen to me. I’ll never stop making records.’ And then it happened to me.”
It would be another seven years before the band would recover their lives and losses, winning $8.6 million from the accounting firm responsible for managing their money. For the time being, John Fogerty was stuck in Lodi again.