CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVISITED
Hit makers, Fame, Lawsuits and Survival in the Music Business
by Todd K Smith
“We put Creedence Clearwater Revisited together because we still wanted to play our old songs. Doug and I could have gone it alone but who wants to watch basically a rhythm section, for 90-minutes?”
~ Stu Cook
The break up of Creedence Clearwater Revival is one of the saddest, most complex and tragic in rock n’ roll history. From an unprecedented year in 1969 where the band released three career-defining, full-length records, half a dozen hit singles and an invitation to headline Woodstock to their complete and utter demise 24-months later is jaw dropping. A volley of lawsuits kept the band from working for 23 years, then in 1995 original bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford staged one of the greatest comebacks in rock history.
High school buddies from El Cerrito, California, Cook and Clifford formed their first band in the early ‘60s called The Blue Velvets. For several years they were the back up group for local singer Tom Fogerty and by 1964 had done some recording for Fantasy Records, an independent Jazz label out of San Francisco. Little brother John was budding as a songwriter and joined the group just as management changed their name to The Golliwogs. Neither the name nor the product saw much success and the band dismantled after John and Doug were drafted in 1965.
Regrouping two years later, the four changed their name to Creedence Clearwater Revival (Creedence after a friend of Tom’s, Clearwater, a beer commercial, Revival a gospel term celebrating the band’s renewed interest in music) and signed again to Fantasy Records. 1968 saw the release of their self-titled debut and yielded the regional hit “Suzie Q” a cover of rockabilly singer Dale Hawkins’ with standout tracks “I Put a Spell On You” and “Porterville.” A steady string of live dates around the country including a hot bed in Chicago where WLS was passionately playing the record stirred up a robust fan base.
“The next year was magic,” says Stu Cook in our recent phone interview. “1969 was one of those very special years in music and one I’m glad I got to be a part of.” On the road CCR had penned seven tracks that would make up the bulk of Bayou Country, their sophomore offering to Fantasy Records. Where the first disc hinted at John Fogerty’s rise as a primer singer and songwriter Bayou cemented it. “Born on the Bayou” and “Proud Mary” proved the 24-year was no flash-in-the-pan and before radio could saturate the airwaves with Bayou fever, “Bad Moon Rising” and “Lodi” from Green River released three months later followed in quick secession.
Toward the end of the year, Willy and the Poor Boys continued Fogerty’s streak as “Down On The Corner” and the militant “Fortunate Son” become FM mainstays. “John was good at writing songs - no doubt about it,” says Cook “but he was not so good at business, at least not as good as he thought he was.” As his fame grew to soaring heights, so did John Fogerty’s ego taking over every aspect of the band from songwriting to business decisions. The band got a bitter taste of that after their set at Woodstock. “John didn’t like the performance and refused to release the song to the movie or soundtrack,” says Cook. “That’s always stung quite a bit, especially now that it legendary.”
Eventually the band was included on the 1990 commemorative Woodstock box set through a legal loophole. But the die had been cast and while working on Cosmo’s Factory (1970) cracks began to widen especially between brothers John and Tom. Considered the band’s finest effort producing a handful of perfectly crafted pop rock that included “Travelin’ Band,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” and “Who’ll Stop The Rain” Tom Fogerty felt underutilized and significantly left out. Pendulum (1970) continued the alienation but proved John’s moment as a writer as he meticulously crafted every song bringing in keyboards, horns and even a choir. The tight, dry production lacked the spontaneity of earlier records but sales went through the roof. During this zenith, Tom Fogerty left the band while “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?’ appropriately sang his swan song.
Marti Gras (1972) was recorded as a three-piece with Fogerty informing Cook and Clifford each member of the band would now write and sing his own material. Fogerty would only contribute rhythm guitar to his bandmate’s songs, a political affront the rhythm section considered extremely insulting as they had spent years supporting Fogerty’s compositions. “After awhile his control of the band became overwhelming and there was a mutiny,” says Cook. “The madness had to end,” and in 1972 it did.
Fogerty distanced himself from the band releasing The Blue Ridge Rangers project and two solo albums then, dogged by overwhelming contractual obligation, dropped out of the music business completely. Cook and Clifford joined vocalist Don Harrison and guitarist Russell DaShiell in the ill-fated Don Harrison Band. Fogerty resurfaced in 1985 after David Geffen bought his contract from Fantasy Records opening the gate to the multi-platinum Centerfield. Other solo records and tours came but for the next twelve years he refused to play anything from the CCR catalog. Tom Fogerty, after seven solo records died of AIDS in 1990 from a contaminated blood transfusion. He and John remained estranged to the bitter end.
“When we returned to performing as Creedence Clearwater Revisited in 1995 the response was overwhelming,” says Cook. “Our first couple of shows were coliseums and the crowds went nuts. It was amazing to see them so enthusiastic and even more astonishing was all the young people that were way into the music. We are now playing to three generations. Doug (Clifford) and I will be 63 this year; fans that were into us back in the day are bringing their kids and even grandkids to the show. It’s absolutely amazing.”
Recently Cook has been listening to the Foo Fighters. “I love that band,” he says, “I love their business model, the chemistry within the band, their sense of humor. It’s nice to see the way they treat each other. You can learn a lot about a group by how they interact on stage. The crowd picks up on that. After all these years I think we finally got that. Our working model is based on love. When Doug and I first put this thing together we wanted to find people that loved the music not only good musicians, but respected each other and genuinely appreciated each other and their contribution to the band. All of us make up the revisited part even the audience.”
When asked if the current group have plans to write new material Cook is very matter-of-fact. “Our intention was never to add to or dilute our catalog. People come to see us because of our past hits. We change up the arrangements on some of the songs. I will move things around or try something new or different. But it’s the familiar tunes that everybody loves that we enjoy performing. It’s like growing up. After many years of life we understand the field we’re playing in. We make better decisions and it’s more fulfilling.”
CCR play 70-80 dates a year and tour primarily from April to October. “We started with Elliot Easton (of the Cars) on lead guitar and John Tristao (of People) on vocals,” says Cook. “It was originally just a short term thing doing private parties and the occasional show, now it keeps us busy most the year…all over the world. South America and Europe the audiences can be huge. After a show like that, you realize you’re doing the right thing. The songs are so recognizable, as soon as we connect with the audience, the party starts!”
Creedence Clearwater Revisited with be playing at the Silver Legacy in Reno, NV April 18th. Show starts at 8:00 PM. The band is Stu Cook (bass), Doug “Cosmo” Clifford (drums), John Tristao (vocals), Steve Gunner (guitar and keyboards) and Tal Morris (guitars).
Website: Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Silver Legacy