Creedence Clearwater Revival

Creedence Clearwater Revival

 John Fogerty – circa 1970

 “Saw the people standin’ / A thousand years in chains / Some say it’s different now / But, look, it’s just the same” – ‘Wrote A Song For Everyone’ (John Fogerty)

They are tired of being oppressed.  A group is a collective of people serving the interests of all its constituent members.  Yet, in this case, one man is dominant.  They lost one of their four members because the departed couldn’t stomach the situation any longer.  And that lost party was no less than the elder brother of the very same person who is claiming so much control.  It has to stop.  To avoid mutiny, the man in charge surrenders to democratic rule.  And it proves a disaster.  The group is mortally injured and dissolves.  Theoretically, we like to believe that an equal division of power is for the best.  In reality, that is not always true.  This is the story of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

John Fogerty is born on 28 May 1945 in Berkeley, California, U.S.A.  In 1959, while he is in junior high school in suburban El Cerritto, he joins his elder brother’s group, Tommy Fogerty And The Blue Velvets.  The other members are Tom Fogerty (guitar) (9 November 1941 – 16 September 1990), Stu Cook (bass) (born 25 April 1945) and Doug ‘Cosmo’ Clifford (drums) (born 24 April 1945).  Young John Fogerty both sings and plays guitar, but, as the name implies, it is Tom Fogerty who leads The Blue Velvets.  While the boys practice in the Fogerty family garage, John gets a job at the warehouse of Fantasy Records, a San Francisco record company.

In 1964 The Blue Velvets audition for Fantasy Records.  They receive a recording contract on the proviso that they change their name to The Golliwogs.  They are encouraged to emulate the British Invasion groups like The Beatles and The Kinks.  In 1965, The Golliwogs release a single, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, which is ‘moderately successful’ and a ‘local hit’.  For two years, they slog around central California and ‘cut a whole string of flop singles’.

John Fogerty takes time out to do a tour of duty with the U.S. army, returning home with an honourable discharge in June 1967.

The Golliwogs decide to turn fully professional in 1967 and, in a make-or-break move, convince record company boss Saul Zaentz to allow them to change the band’s name to Creedence Clearwater Revival.  The band explain their new designation in this manner: “Creedence – Creed is a set of beliefs and credence means belief in.  Creedence is our world and it means both.  It’s a friend’s name too [note: Tom Fogerty’s pal, Credence Nuball.].  Clearwater – Deep, true, pure – but the light always shines through.  Revival – A renewal of – a reunion with tradition.”  [Note: The band appear to purposefully misspell ‘credence’as ‘creedence’, probably to avoid mispronunciation with the first syllable being incorrectly said so that it sounds like the short ‘e’ prefix in words like ‘credit’.]

The biggest change though is not the name, but the balance of power within the group.  John Fogerty takes over from his brother Tom as lead vocalist.  He is also the lead guitarist.  From the group’s second album, John Fogerty takes over completely; he sings, he plays lead guitar, he writes their original songs, he arranges the instruments, and produces the records.  And he does all these tasks excellently.  John Fogerty is said to possess ‘a gritty, rockabilly vocal style’, he is hailed as a ‘songwriting genius’ and ‘as producer, he makes it all sound so gritty and easy, too – like CCR had cut it all in a toolshed’.  Or, as John Fogerty himself puts it, “All this overproduction is funny to me.  It doesn’t make it mo’ betta when you add more junk.”  The band is recorded with a minimum of overdubs, relying instead on intense rehearsal to achieve their incredibly tight performances.

This brings us to the second facet of the revised band.  As previously mentioned, they hail from El Cerritto, ‘an East Bay suburb with even less cachet, if possible, than Oakland’.  Yet, to the casual listener, their ‘swamp rock’ conjures up images of the steamy southern States of the U.S.  Fogerty’s ‘backwoods howl’ illuminates tales of rural simplicity even though ‘he had never lived in bayou country’.  The image projected in the band’s sound and lyrics overpowers the dull banality of their true origins.

They take the ‘revival’ segment of their name as part of their mission statement.  Almost all their albums include some cover versions, primarily songs from the 1950s, the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll.  By 1968, for the first time, there is a generation old enough to be nostalgic about rock’s past.  John Fogerty and his colleagues started as rock ‘n’ roll fans and aim to bring back some of the purity and excitement of rock ‘n’ roll’s early days in their own work.

San Francisco is perhaps the most influential city in the world for the rock music of the late 1960s – but that is because of acts associated with the Bay area like The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin, not Creedence Clearwater Revival.  If their audience realise CCR are not actually from somewhere like Louisiana, they still do not equate them with their true base of operations.  The San Francisco bands of the late 1960s favour long, free-form jams, concentrate on albums rather than singles and push for a revolution in political terms.  By contrast, Fogerty and friends are masters of short and tight singles, and if they have a political agenda, it takes a back-seat to making a crowd dance.  Of course, this is a generalisation; Creedence do record some lengthy tracks, their albums are as successful as the singles they contain, and there is a streak of ‘working joe’ social conscience in their lyrics.  Yet these exceptions do not invalidate the general points that distinguish Creedence Clearwater Revival from the other bands of the era and the area.

The first album by the group is the self-titled, ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’ (1968) (US no. 52), issued in June 1968.  The first single is a cover of Dale Hawkins’ 1957 song ‘Suzi Q’ (US no. 11, AUS no. 88).  Creedence’s epic album version (8:38) is divided as a single.  Side A is ‘part 1’ of the song, while the remaining ‘part 2’ is consigned to the flip-side.  The other single from this set is a reading of the 1956 Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song ‘I Put A Spell On You’ (US no. 58).  A track co-written by John Fogerty and Tom Fogerty, ‘Walk On The Water’, is chosen from the debut album as the B-side of the second single.

John Fogerty grasps the reins more firmly for the second album, ‘Bayou Country’ (1969) (US no. 7, UK no. 62), released in January.  The die is cast with ‘Proud Mary’ backed with ‘Born On The Bayou’ (US no. 2, UK no. 8, AUS no. 5).  The compulsively catchy riff of ‘Proud Mary’ makes it one of CCR’s most recognisable tunes.  The lyrics paint a Mark Twain-influenced picture of “rolling on the river” with the “riverboat queen” of the title with whom the narrator catches a ride.  ‘Born On The Bayou’ is marked by one of John Fogerty’s most fiery vocals: “Wish I was back on the bayou / Rollin’ with some Cajun queen / Wishin’ I was a fast freight train / Just a chooglin’ on down to New Orleans.”  Speaking of ‘chooglin’’, the album actually offers a track called ‘Keep On Chooglin’’, but the action it describes seems less associated with railroad trains than young lovers.  ‘Bootleg’ depicts a rural industry that discovers that when you “take you a glass of water / Make it against the law / See how good the water tastes / When you can’t have it at all.”  Amongst all this faux southernism, there is still time for a scorching run through of Little Richard’s 1958 barnstormer ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’, showcasing some highly impressive guitar work from John Fogerty.

A new single in released in April: ‘Bad Moon Rising’ b/w ‘Lodi’ (US no. 2, UK no. 1, AUS no. 3).  Maintaining the aura of southern superstition and hoodoos, ‘Bad Moon Rising’ prophesies, “I see a bad moon rising / I see trouble on the way / I see earthquakes and lightning / I see bad times today / Don’t go ‘round tonight / Well, it’s bound to take your life.”  Yet all this dread is bolted to a compulsive guitar strum.  The flipside, ‘Lodi’, bears the marks of hard times on the road, as an aspiring singer finds himself destitute and stuck in the small town of the title: “The man from the magazine / Said I was on my way / Somewhere I lost connections / I ran out of songs to play / I came into town a one-night stand / Looks like my plans fell through.”  An almost country music feel frames the melancholy sentiment.  These two songs are included on Creedence’s third album, ‘Green River’ (US no. 1, UK no. 20), released in June.  “’Green River’ is my favourite record and song from those times,” says John Fogerty.  The title track is the next single, ‘Green River’ b/w ‘Commotion’ (US no. 2, UK no. 19, AUS no. 6).  ‘Green River’ is a companion to ‘Born On The Bayou’, it’s twanging riff ushering the listener in as Fogerty bawls, “Take me back down where cool water flows, y’all / Let me remember things I don’t know”; an ironic commentary on the band’s lack of true southern roots.  ‘Commotion’ is a rant against the evils of the big cities with a buzzing harmonica helping conjure up the sensory overload.  The heavy-hearted ‘Wrote A Song For Everyone’ is still lovingly composed and played.  Nappy Brown’s 1957 song ‘The Night Time Is The Right Time’ is this disc’s blast from the past.

John Fogerty’s creativity is astonishing.  Creedence Clearwater Revival readies a third album for 1969 with no discernible drop in quality.

In October comes the single ‘Down On The Corner’ b/w ‘Fortunate Son’ (US no. 3, UK no. 31, AUS no. 2).  ‘Down On The Corner’ is Creedence’s best song.  It pictures a group busking to a crowd at the locale of the title.  It’s a charming portrait, but what really makes this the standout is the descending riff.  John Fogerty’s lead guitar is closely paced by Stu Cook’s bass while Tom Fogerty provides counterpoint with scratchy rhythm flourishes.  To hear the song once is to be hooked.  After all, “You don’t need a pinhead / Just to hang around / But, if you’ve got a nickel / Won’t you lay your money down?”  This jaunty view of being on a low budget differs wildly from the rage directed at the ‘Fortunate Son’ of the single’s other side.  “Some folks inherit star-spangled eyes / Ooh, they’ll send you down to war” may mirror Fogerty’s own service with the armed forces, but he adds tartly, “And when you ask ‘em how much should we give / Hoo, they only answer ‘more, more, more’.”  A kinetic, forceful, piece of hard rock, there is no mistaking its aggrieved stance.  Released in November is Creedence’s fourth album (and third for 1969), ‘Willy And The Poor Boys’ (1969) (US no. 3, UK no. 10).  The title is taken from the mythical band in ‘Down On The Corner’: “Willy and the poor boys are playing / Bring your nickels, tap your feet.”  ‘The Midnight Special’ is a prison story, a traditional American folk song given a modern arrangement by Fogerty.  Huddie ‘Leadbelly’ Ledbetter’s ‘Cotton Fields’ is this disc’s other ‘revival’ tune as the folk standard is given a dusting off.  Original songs on the album include the loopy tall tale, ‘It Came Out Of The Sky’, the more serious shiver-inducing ‘Effigy’ and ‘Don’t Look Now (It Ain’t You Or Me)’, a semi-country fable warning against complacency.

The 1970s start with January’s ‘Travellin’ Band’ b/w ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ (US no. 2, UK no. 8).  The former is another account of life on the road, albeit more sprightly than ‘Lodi’.  A saxophone lends the song some different instrumental colour.  ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ is spiritual kin to ‘Wrote A Song For Everyone’, and a sad reflection on social injustice.  Fogerty uses rain as a metaphor for bad times.  Some of the edge is taken off by a slick and glistening lead guitar, slotting between the tales of misfortune.

In April, Creedence Clearwater Revival undertake their first European tour.  The same month brings another single, ‘Up Around The Bend’ b/w ‘Run Through The Jungle’ (US no. 4, UK no. 3, AUS no. 1).  The former melds an impressive guitar hook, that starts off with a rooster-like crow, to the theme of the benefits of country life, as previously visited from the other perspective in ‘Commotion’: “There’s a place up ahead and I’m going / Just as fast as my feet can fly / Come away, come away if you’re goin’ / Leave the sinking ship behind.”  ‘Run Through The Jungle’ revisits the haunted swamps where “They told me don’t go walking slow / The devil’s on the loose.”  It can also be interpreted as being about U.S. servicemen in Vietnam.

These four songs – ‘Travellin’ Band’, ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’, ‘Up Around The Bend’ and ‘Run Through The Jungle’ – are all included on the album ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ (1970) (US no. 1, UK no. 1) released in July.  Judging by the cover, ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ is powered by the bicycle ridden by Doug ‘Cosmo’ Clifford while El Supremo, John Fogerty, occupies Clifford’s usual position at the drum kit.  ‘Lookin’ Out My Back Door’ b/w ‘Long As I Can See The Light’ (US no. 2, AUS no. 20), the next single, is also from this album.  ‘Lookin’ Out My Back Door’ is a porch-set vision of “Tambourines and elephants all playin’ in the band / Won’t you take a ride on the flying spoon? / Doo-doo-doo / A wondrous apparition / Provided by magician.”  Its scratchy washboard rhythm lends it all a delightfully ramshackle quality.  ‘Long As I Can See The Light’ is a soulful reverie with a smoky saxophone and church-like organ lending the song a distinctive feel.  This album also includes a marathon (11:04) workout on ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, a song previously recorded by both Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight And The Pips.  Three more cover versions are also present: ‘My Baby Left Me’ (Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup), ‘Ooby Dooby’ (Roy Orbison) and ‘Before You Accuse Me’ (Bo Diddley).  Throw in another Fogerty original like ‘Ramble Tamble’ and the sheer weight of good songs adds up to ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ being the best album in the catalogue of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

December brings the sixth CCR album, ‘Pendulum’ (1970) (US no. 5, UK no. 8).  The single from this album is ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ b/w ‘Hey Tonight’ (US no. 8, UK no. 36, AUS no. 6).  ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ forms a bookend with ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’, both being country-fied laments portraying rain as a symbol for hardship.  ‘Hey Tonight’ is your basic party anthem, but its bell-like guitar chimes make its simple statements endearing.  ‘Molina’ bops along on an electric keyboard riff, singling it out from Creedence’s usual guitar-driven fare.  Saxophone underlines this account of a wild girl having a good time.  The album also includes the corrosive ‘Pagan Baby’.

In February 1971 Tom Fogerty announces he is leaving Creedence Clearwater Revival.  ‘He had not gone into music to be his brother John’s sideman’.  His departure triggers Stu Cook and Doug Clifford to confront John Fogerty about his dominance of the group.  They regard ‘the group as little more than a front for the aspirations of John Fogerty’.  Creedence Clearwater Revival continues as a trio, but a democratic one, with Fogerty sharing lead vocals and songwriting with the bassist and drummer.

In July, Creedence release the single ‘Sweet Hitch-Hiker’ (US no. 6, UK no. 36, AUS no. 12).  The song is, as usual, written and sung by John Fogerty.  A tough and taut tribute to a blonde girl standing by the side of the road, there is nothing to mark it as weaker than the rest of CCR’s output, no reason to think the power shift behind the scenes is going to affect their fortunes.  The band’s second European tour takes place in October, followed by visits to Australia and Japan in January 1972.

After an uncharacteristically lengthy delay, the seventh album by CCR is released.  ‘Mardi Gras’ (1972) (US no. 12) is the only one of their albums not to feature a photo of the band on the front cover; instead there is an image of a little girl with a tambourine.  Some wags refer to the album as ‘Fogerty’s Revenge’.  The assessments of the album include: ‘’Mardi Gras’ isn’t bad, just mediocre’, ‘’Mardi Gras’ is not popular with the fans’, ‘a total disaster’ and ‘perhaps the worst album ever recorded by a top-league band’.  As well as ‘Sweet Hitch-Hiker’, the album includes the new single ‘Someday Never Comes’ (US no. 25, AUS no. 15).  This account of the cyclical nature of parental neglect is John Fogerty’s work, as is ‘Lookin’ For A Reason’.  He contributes only three of the album’s songs.  Ricky Nelson’s 1961 hit, ‘Hello Mary Lou’ is chosen for this disc’s cover version (John Fogerty sings it).  ‘Stu Cook and Doug Clifford simply do not write or sing as well as John Fogerty’.

On 16 October 1972, Creedence Clearwater Revival issue a press release advising they are disbanding.  The actual wording is: “We don’t regard this as breaking up. We look at it as an expansion of our activities.  We will devote our time to individual rather than group projects.”  However it is phrased, the outcome is the same.  Creedence Clearwater Revival is finished.

Regardless of the unpleasant nature of the band’s demise, the music created by Creedence Clearwater Revival remains powerful.  Its pure connection to the rich, earthy foundations of rock ‘n’ roll ensures its enduring appeal.  Perhaps, had they continued, their legend would have tarnished.  Crafting four classic albums (‘Bayou Country’ to ‘Cosmo’s Factory’) within just over eighteen months, suggests a creative hothouse that was probably unsustainable.  But the results were glorious and, it must be acknowledged, they were largely due to John Fogerty.  Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘position as the finest ‘50s-oriented white rock ‘n’ roll band has never been challenged’.  ‘Unquestionably one of the greatest American rock bands ever’.

Sources:

  1. ‘21st Anniversary – The Ultimate Collection’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Fantasy Records / Festival, 1990) p. 2
  2. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 39, 79, 94
  3. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia Of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 61
  4. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 51
  5. ‘Green River’ – Sleeve notes (Fantasy Records, 1969) p. 2
  6. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 48
  7. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll’, ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’ by Ellen Willis (Plexus Publishing Limited,1992) p. 448, 450
  8. com – article dated 25 October 2011
  9. ‘The Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 205
  10. wikipedia.org as at 24 December 2012

Song lyrics copyright Warner/Chappell Music Australia (1968-April 1969) and Hebbes Music Group Pty Limited (June 1969- 1970)

Last revised 5 August 2014

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