Creedence Clearwater Revival was a San Francisco Bay Area band that had yet to visit a bayou when they popularized swamp rock in 1969 with hits like “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising.” Vocalist, lead guitarist and songwriter John Fogerty, rhythm guitarist and John’s brother Tom Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford recorded nine Top 10 hits and performed at the Woodstock festival in the three years before their acrimonious breakup in 1972. CCR’s music remains a staple of classic rock radio 50 years after the release of the band’s last studio album, Mardi Gras.
Tom Fogerty was first to leave CCR in 1971 amidst the band’s increasing resentment of John Fogerty’s control over their music. Solo and combination projects followed their 1972 breakup. Tom Fogerty’s death in September 1990 meant that the core four members of CCR would never perform together again.
On Sept.16 Craft Recordings released CCR’s 1970 performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall, a recording long considered to be lost. The concert, recorded at the apex of their career, will be available on 180-gram vinyl, CD, and cassette tape. The original multitrack tapes were restored and mixed by producer Giles Martin and engineer Sam Okell.
Sept. 16 also marked the release of the documentary concert film Travelin’ Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall, directed by Bob Smeaton and narrated by Jeff Bridges. Filmmakers documented the band’s 1970 European concert tour that culminated in the Royal Albert Hall concert. The quartet described the excitement of their first overseas trip as they performed in Europe’s capitals and visited landmarks like the Berlin Wall.
"Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
The film, released on Netflix, includes the entire Royal Albert Hall concert. Creedence performs note-perfect renditions of many of their biggest hits and reveals the stories behind their politically charged songs of the Vietnam era.
Drummer Doug Clifford, nicknamed “Cosmo” since the band’s early days, talked about the upcoming film and album. Clifford has been busy; he’s now “a record company president, owner, whatever you want to call it” of his Cliffsongs Records label. Clifford has stocked the label with music from Cosmo’s Vault, his stash of recordings made over the years with artists like Bobby Whitlock (Derek & the Dominos), Doug Sahm (Sir Douglas Quintet) and Steve Wright (Greg Kihn Band).
With its isolated shots of the band, the film shows that there was a Creedence “sound” beyond John’s vocals and guitar. What did the three players contribute to the success of all those hits?
Doug Clifford: First and foremost, support for John. Always there and doing what we were supposed to be doing. Also staying with the "less is best" blueprint for making a record. We stuck with that. We were consistent. That’s for darn sure.
I’m stuck between 800 watts of lead guitar, 800 watts of bass and 400 watts of rhythm guitar so I had to pound it out pretty good. Couldn’t even hear myself. But that’s the way I liked it. That’s the way we had always done it. We did it in the Royal Albert Hall in fine fashion.
Speaking of "less is more," that was an era of long stage jams. Why didn’t CCR do that?
We grew up on AM radio. We started the band when we were 13 years old. There were no long jams or LSD or any of that. We were gonna play what we wanted to play no matter what anybody else was doing. We didn’t care what they were doing. We weren’t worried about them or anything else. We were just gonna play what we had grown up on and what we loved.
It was like love at first sight, our first hearing of music when we were 13 years of age, it gave us a certain feeling and every time we played, we played that type of music.
We got off. We didn’t need drugs, we had the music to get us off. And that was it. We were gonna play what we liked and if the music doesn’t get us off, then what are we doin’?
Where were the film and audio all these years?
They were in the vault at the record company for years and then Fantasy Records sold out to Concord Music. It’s not something that I thought would ever come out. John had stopped it early on and continued to do that.
It was the same with Woodstock. He fought to keep that from being released and now he’s embraced it so I’m glad he has. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’ll never happen like that again, where that many people were playing together in the mud. No violence, no trouble. I honestly think that if it would have been beer instead of weed, there might have been a lot more violence. So there you have it.
Did the band have any involvement in the preparation of the film?
They didn’t even make a phone call.
Is that good or bad?
Well, I think it’s bad. I mean, who else could have the information that we have? But you know what, they did a great job and they didn’t call and they wanted to do it their way and they did. So I have no grievance with it. Now if it came out bad I would say, "Why didn’t you call?"
They did a really great job. My hat’s off to them. Sig Sigworth of Craft Recordings, he’s one of the few guys who’s in the business of music who’s really a down-to-earth guy and did a terrific job. All of them did. There’s some big names in there from the production side so my hat’s off to them.
"Travelin' Band" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
The film seems to show a happy time for the band members. Was that the period of the band that you remember most fondly?
The film was our first time overseas and all these countries that we had seen in Billboard magazine, now we get to go and see what they’re like, even though we didn’t get to stay an extended period of time there but we were there. Holland, we got to see Van Gogh’s spot. Just all the history that America didn’t have by virtue of the hundreds and hundreds of years of history that had gone by. You get to see it.
I was always interested in history so it was really cool to see it and also to see the Berlin Wall. We had some pictures where we were hanging off the Berlin Wall. Of course, on the correct side. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.
We got to play where the Beatles played. We were on the hunt to be number one and it ultimately turned out that way.
I never realized until I watched the film that Creedence didn’t do love songs. Was that a conscious decision?
It was a conscious decision by John, he was the guy who was writing the music. I think that he was uncomfortable with the subject. He had this miraculous voice and it was set up for rock and roll, not ballads.
John named the album Cosmo’s Factory after you so that you would field the press interviews instead of him. You’ve said you’d make up different answers in different cities for the same questions.
John named the record after me because he knows that I’m a storyteller. I don’t remember any of the answers because they weren’t true! You forget your lines. But we did have fun. I had guys writing so fast the paper was starting to turn into flames. I had fun with it and it worked. Guys were following me around and John was able to do what he wanted to do and not have to take care of the press. I did have a good time, I remember that much.
Tell me about Cosmo’s Vault, the stash of recordings you’ve made over the last three decades.
Steve Wright from the Greg Kihn Band co-wrote "Jeopardy," he’s from my home town and I was kind of like his big brother. He and I had a group and we were trying to get a deal. All of the music that comes out of the Vault, I’m a writer or co-writer on. It’s like a publisher’s record company.
We wrote a lot of music together and I released an album of Clifford/Wright. He’s a really good guitar player. That was in there. I have two solo albums that are in there.
I’ve got my own label right now, Cliffsong Records. It’s distributed by Sony and I’m releasing a record on the 9th of September with Bobby Whitlock.
I’m still in the music business but I’m not doing the travelling now. I’m a record company president, owner, whatever you want to call it. In my 55–60 years of being under contract with a record company, this will be the first record company that I won’t have to audit.
Tell me about the new record with Bobby Whitlock.
California Gold is the name of the album that’s coming out with Bobby. It’s a really good rock and roll record, one of the best I heard. I can say that because I’ve heard most of the rock and roll that’s ever been recorded, stylistically, for the most part. It’s time for something like that to help the world, to get the energy in the right way, to set up all the things that are happening to the world now.
Does Bobby do the lead vocals or did you share them?
When you’ve got a guy that can sing like that, I’ll play drums for you. It’s a good rock and roll record, everybody played well, one of the better drum performances that I’ve done because it wasn’t out of the Creedence book, it’s a little different deal all around. It was a lot of fun. That’s what music’s supposed to be.
And you have a Doug Sahm record?
Doug Sahm is one of the wackiest guys I’ve ever worked with. But he’s one of the most talented guys I’ve ever met in my life. I could control him in the studio because he had respect for me and he knew that when I caught him goofin’ around, I said, “Hey, this is gonna be out there forever. It’s your name on it. So we’d better get down to work and let’s do the best that we can.”
I did a European album with Doug, I just played drums on it. We had a number one single in Sweden, "Meet Me in Stockholm, Baby." I went over and toured with that record. I had time off so I could do it.
And then I produced one of the better records, Day Dreaming at Midnight. I had Stu play bass on it.
The one thing that I’ve learned in this business, I guess it would hold true to anything you do, get good people around you. If you have a little bit of talent, you’re going to look like you have a lot of talent. That’s the key: Get people that you can work with and that bring something to the table. I would put that out for any young guys out there that are looking to put together a band. Try that out and put that in your workbook.
"Proud Mary" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Let’s do a Lightning Round. Favorite drummer.
Al Jackson, Jr.
The Creedence song with your best work.
"Born on the Bayou."
A musician, living or dead, that you wish you could play with.
Best cover of a Creedence song.
"Proud Mary." Tina Turner. 'Cause she took it and made it her own. A different arrangement, the whole thing. And to see her perform it, it’s pretty sexy stuff.
This story appeared in Rock Cellar Sept. 14, 2022.
New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock