When you talk about classic rhythm sections, you probably think about John Bonham and John Paul Jones or Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. But Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, drummer and bass player, respectively, for Creedence Clearwater Revival, were responsible for recording some of the most driving and potent rhythm tracks ever laid down on tape. Clifford was a very simple drummer, but had a feel that perfectly complemented the songs of John Fogerty. For years, â€œCosmo,â€ as he was affectionately known to friends, backed the guitarist/singer on a number of hits including â€œProud Mary,â€ â€œBorn on the Bayou,â€ â€œBad Moon Rising,â€ and a host of others. But egos and politics came into the picture and a band that had sold millions of records, performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, appeared at Woodstock, and developed a sound that would live on for decades, was broken apart.
For years, Doug Clifford has toured as part of Creedence Clearwater Revisited, a group that performs all the CCR songs in a type of greatest hits package. Stu Cook is on bass, of course, and the group is rounded out by Fogerty soundalike John Tristao on vocals, Steve Gunner on keyboards and guitars, and Tal Morris on lead guitar. The songs sound uncannily like the originals, driven in huge part by the presence of the original CCR rhythm section.
When you play all of these Creedence songs on tour, what feelings to they bring back? Are they good memories? Bad memories?
Well, it wouldnâ€™t be bad memories, or otherwise I wouldnâ€™t be out there flogging it, because traveling is not easy these days and youâ€™ve got to have something to look forward to. The songs are great; they always have been. Anything that happened in between and after the fact really doesnâ€™t matter to me — and certainly not when Iâ€™m playing the songs.
Are there any certain songs that mean more to you than the others?
â€œBorn on the Bayouâ€ is my favorite Creedence song and thatâ€™s the first one we do, so it goes by pretty quick. But theyâ€™re all great songs; theyâ€™re all a lot of fun. Weâ€™ve got a great band and everybody enjoys what weâ€™re doing, and weâ€™re having fun out here.
Can you describe what it is that you do with Stu Cook as a rhythm section?
Well, he plays bass and I play drums, and weâ€™ve been doing it for 50 years. Itâ€™s ridinâ€™ a bicycle and thatâ€™s what weâ€™re doing; weâ€™re out there enjoying riding that old tandem bike and keepinâ€™ it chugginâ€™ the way it should be.
When you first started playing with Stu, was there an instant chemistry that happened?
Weâ€™ve been doing it for so long that, yeah, itâ€™s pretty automatic. Thereâ€™s something going on. Letâ€™s put it this way, Iâ€™m not worried about Stuey, and we just get the thing done.
Can you talk about working with Elliott Easton?
Elliott is a great guitar player and he certainly was a student of our music. He learned to play his instrument from the Creedence records as a teenager and I know how that works and how effective that is, because I did the same thing with a lot of different artists when I was growing up. So, it kind of entrenches a lot of cool things. So he was a natural for that position.
Can you describe what the early days of CCR felt like? Working with John Fogerty?
In the early days it was fun; the later we got going it became a drudgery, because he insisted on being the business manager. He was a very talented artist and had no business prowess whatsoever and got the band into basically deals that were the worst possible scenario, and it seemed like those were all the ones he signed. And the ones that were really decent deals and some were universally new, it was tough to see things going haywire when he really didnâ€™t know anything about what he was doing. We needed professional help and he wouldnâ€™t do it. So many, many things happened; we have an entry-level recording contract to this day.
We werenâ€™t in the Woodstock movie; we just got in (new producerâ€™s cut re-release) but because he waited to long to sign the deal, weâ€™re only in the bonus tracks. Things that he could use in his career right now, being in the directorâ€™s cut, itâ€™s incredible. I mean, you figure it out.
You touched on Woodstock â€“ what was that experience like?
It was magnificent. People were in the worst of conditions weather-wise, mud, rain, no potable water, not enough food, no real shelter, but yet there was genuinely peace and love there. Iâ€™ve never seen anything like it; it was truly the pinnacle of that movement and thereâ€™s never been anything like it since.
What did you think of your performance?
I thought it was fine; particularly as late as it was. We flew all the way from L.A. and had a real rough day of filming an Andy Williams special and everything had gone wrong. But we still made it; we could have said, â€œWell, we canâ€™t get into the place,â€ but we tried and we got there and we waited and we waited and we waited to play, and there were some technical problems. But waiting to play just fueled the fire for you to get up there and when we got up there, I thought we kicked ass.
Which songs did you play?
Iâ€™m not really sure of what songs were in the set, to tell you the honest truth; I donâ€™t know all of them. But I know there was â€œBad Moon Rising,â€ â€œCommotion,â€ â€œChooglinâ€™,â€ and â€œBorn on the Bayou,â€ of course. â€œGreen River.â€ I donâ€™t really remember the set, but I do remember the ones that were filmed.
The first CCR record came out in â€™68 and you played shows in San Francisco and were part of that whole scene. It seems like such a creative time.
It was; it was a true pop renaissance, so it was a very exciting time, and it was great to be part of it.
Do you remember any of the shows in particular? Any of the bands with whom you performed?
When we played the Denver Pop Festival, the police gassed us and there was tear gas. Hendrix and Joe Cocker and several other bands. Itâ€™s kind of hard because youâ€™re playing and then youâ€™re backstage and itâ€™s hard to get a conversation and Jimi was pretty well limber, shall we say, so it was pretty tough to handle a conversation. I talked to Joe Cocker once and I couldnâ€™t understand a word he said; he was pretty well off on some cheap wine and God knows whatever else. There was a whole variety of things. You tried to catch as much as you could of the shows, but a lot of the times youâ€™re moving and going to the next place.
Do you remember the Ed Sullivan Show?
Oh, of course; thatâ€™s one of the highlights. That was the biggest television show in the world at the time.
Did you play live?
We ad libbed the band parts and John sang. We found that the guy who was doing the mixing, the old standbys, really didnâ€™t know how to do rock and roll. So we would bring a track and ad lib it. Trying to lip sync it was kind of difficult and John knew that so he just sang the tracks live.
Mardi Gras was CCRâ€™s final record â€“ any feelings about that as the bandâ€™s final recording?
We were shafted; we were shanghaied. That was an ultimatum from John after weâ€™d finished a year of touring and he said, â€œYou do a third and you do a third and Iâ€™ll do a third and I wonâ€™t sing on your songs because I have a unique voice.â€ And we told him that wouldnâ€™t be Creedence; thatâ€™s not what the fans want. He said, â€œWell, if you donâ€™t do it, weâ€™ll break up right now.â€ Well, we didnâ€™t want to break up the band but as it turned out if weâ€™d of been thinking it through, he was setting us up to take the blame and telling everybody that that was our idea and we insisted on it. Now why in Godâ€™s name would we insist on something like that?
Itâ€™s so difficult to understand what happened with the band. If CCR hadnâ€™t had success, it would be easy to see why everybody wanted things to change. But you had so much success with the group that it just seems such a shame that all this went down. Itâ€™s really sad that you and John couldnâ€™t figure things out.
It was not allowable. When we tried to talk to him about it â€¦ Stu has a degree in business and we were the only guys in the band who went to college and just because the guy is a brilliant songwriter doesnâ€™t mean he knows his ass about business. In fact it was quite the opposite and this is how he used to run the band. Tom Fogerty was the original lead singer with us before we were Creedence and it was his dream, he brought us along, and once he saw Johnâ€™s talent he let the young man go. But then after that was done, John wouldnâ€™t allow Tom to sing or submit any songs or anything; he cut him off completely which we disagreed with. We said, â€œLet him singâ€ and so therefore I think that was the punishment for Stu and I. When Tom left the punishment, I think that was the punishment that we got because we supported it. Itâ€™s cutting your nose off to spite your face ; he does it all the time in business and throughout his career. Itâ€™s why he doesnâ€™t own his songs to this day and thatâ€™s why we still have an entry-level recording contract. So, it is what it is and itâ€™s not something he would ever admit to making a mistake. Itâ€™s just how it is and most people donâ€™t know about it.
You did tour as a trio for a while without Tom â€“ what was that like?
It sounded like we needed a rhythm guitar; thatâ€™s a pretty simple one.
After leaving Creedence, you worked with the Don Harrison band. Any feelings about those records?
I thought they were good records; I donâ€™t know if they were ahead of their time. It was a pretty good band and I was happy with the way they came out. Itâ€™s the record business, I mean, who knows? There are a lot of good records that donâ€™t make it and a lot of bad ones that do. Thatâ€™s just the way it went. I was happy with what we did on it and thatâ€™s all you can ask for.
You also did Cosmo, your solo record that came out in â€™72. Was that fulfilling for you?
We had everything but a singer on that one. Once the band broke up, then each individual owed the same amount of masters that Creedence did collectively. So, I knew I owed â€˜em a lot of records so I put together this live band, nine players, and then did it and sent â€˜em a bill. And after that they said, â€œYou donâ€™t have to send in any more.â€ I said, â€œOK, good, no pressure.â€ I had fun. That was a fun record and a good band and we needed a lead singer.
Jumping ahead here about 20 years, in 1993 the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That was another opportunity for John to show his disdain for the other members. He wouldnâ€™t even allow you onstage?
Right. The thing about it that makes it even worse was he was rehearsing with Bruce Springsteen, Robbie Robertson, Bob Glaub and Jim Keltner for a month and the Hall of Fame knew about it and they didnâ€™t say a word to us about it. It was a conspiracy and it was gut wrenching. The sad part about all of it was our families were there, our wives, our children; Tomâ€™s son who was gonna play in his dadâ€™s place (Tom Fogerty passed away from AIDS) and it was a cruel thing to do and it was vintage John Fogerty. It was a very painful and a very vindictive thing to do and it was par for the course for that guy.
We started our conversation talking about the incredible music you created. At the end of the day, playing these songs drowns out all the other bad feelings? It is a body of work that you must be extraordinarily proud of.
Well, thatâ€™s exactly it; thatâ€™s how you have to approach it otherwise you go crazy. It used to drive me nuts. â€œWhat did we do? Why did this happen to us?â€ Itâ€™s just something that is unfortunate because we as kids had this dream and we fulfilled it and to have it end the way it did and to have the feelings and so forth, itâ€™s very sad, really. Itâ€™s an opportunity that has gone by the wayside.
Do you have any opinions on Johnâ€™s work post-CCR?
I donâ€™t listen to it very much. First of all, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s as good as what we did, and it just conjures up things about him. And to hear things that I know we could have done better is frustrating. So I just leave it alone.
Any chance that Creedence Clearwater Revisited might do a record of originals?
Well, we thought about it. We have a lot of peers that have done the very same thing and none of which have been fruitful. And weâ€™re gone so much that when we have time off, we want to be with our families; we donâ€™t want to be off in the studio somewhere going through that process and dealing with labels and all of that.
Iâ€™m very proud of if and proud of my contributions. Stu and I are proud of our new project, and life goes on.