October 15, 2019

FTV: CCR

If the title of this FTV led you instantly to Creedence Clearwater Revival, you are two thirds correct.  This CCR could be Creedence Clearwater Revisited (for the sake of both brevity and clarity, we shall refer to them as CCR2).  One can’t really talk about CCR2 without talking about CCR, so it is probably wise that we save 24 or 25 letters per mention while untangling this confusing web.  As with many of the band stories presented in this space, this one is complicated. When CCR’s Complete Studio Albums Deluxe Box Set was released in November of 2018, Classic Rock Magazine sat down with drummer Doug ‘Cosmo’ Clifford and bassist Stu Cook (both of CCR & CCR2) to discuss what Clifford’s wife calls, “the saddest story in rock’n’roll.”  Cook describes it as, “the most stupid feud in rock history.” Fortunately, the joy they found playing the music again helped temper some of the hard feelings, but how does one totally forget when they are party to one of the biggest career crash and burns in music history?

     It is hard to believe that one of the most successful bands of the late 1960s/early 1970s could implode as completely as CCR did.  Made up of Clifford, Cook, and brothers Tom (the elder) and John Fogerty, they weren’t typical of the late sixties bands that sprouted from the fertile San Francisco music scene.  While other bands were trending toward spaced out psychedelic jams, CCR wrote top forty songs while sporting the flannel shirt look long before it reappeared with Seattle’s ‘grunge’ scene.  As they clawed their way up the record charts between 1968 and 1972, CCR scored seventeen hit songs and five consecutive top-five albums. Few are aware they were one of the headliners at the original Woodstock Festival, mostly because John Fogerty would not sign off to let their performance be used in the film or album of the event.  He thought CCR’s performance was subpar (as Cook recalls, it was, “A typical CCR live set”). Fogerty missed a golden opportunity to be part of a film/album combo that is still racking up sales numbers fifty years down the line. It wouldn’t be the first time John Fogerty made a disastrous band decision on behalf of the whole group. Clifford hints at what happened to the band:  “The best times were early on when we overcame every obstacle except success.”

     The first seeds of trouble were sown when the band’s label, Fantasy Records was sold to Saul Zaentz.  He funded the band and rightly suggested a name change from ‘The Golliwogs’ to ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’.  Their original five percent record deal from 1964 wasn’t terrific and even when Zaentz raised it to ten percent in 1967, his label retained the band’s publishing rights.  John Fogerty felt that he, as the principle songwriter/hitmaker, had leverage to speak for the band. In truth, he failed miserably negotiating with Fantasy on behalf of the band. Even as the royalties rolled in, Fogerty refused to hire a lawyer, refused a deal offering the band ten percent of the record company, and ignored the rest of the band’s input.  The biggest goof came when John invested a lot of band money in a Bahamian tax shelter scheme proposed by Zaentz. The label owner and his cronies bailed before the bank folded, but it ultimately cost the members of CCR in excess of $8 million dollars of which they were able to reclaim only pennies on the dollar. Clifford recalled, “But whatever we said didn’t matter.  They (Fantasy) ran right around John. Just because you’re a talented musician doesn’t make you a good businessman. That was the biggest mistake John made. He was an idiot.”  

     Clifford and Cook eventually negotiated their own royalty deal on future compilations (like the 1976 package Chronicle:  The 20 Greatest Hits which went on to sell more than 10 million copies in the United States).  Fogerty fought the band because, “John was such a control freak he thought he’d be locked out of negotiations,” according to Clifford.  “John told the rest of the band, ‘I wrote the music. I made those songs. Your contribution is nothing to mine.’” It didn’t help that John seemed to be the only member of CCR that had issues with Saul Zaentz and Fantasy Records.  John blamed Zaentz for all the money troubles but the rest found the band’s problems to be more of John Fogerty’s making, not Saul Zaentz.

     When brother Tom bolted from the band in 1971, he commented that, “I’ve never known such a bunch of egotistical maniacs.  It is a shame that they all changed so fast, but there it is. It was a really democratic group to begin with, but by the time I left it was a dictatorship.”  The animosity never eased and the ‘bad blood’ took on an even more ominous connotation when Tom Fogerty was infected with AIDS from a tainted transfusion given to him during back surgery in the 1980s.  As his health deteriorated, there were several attempts made by Cook and Clifford to mount a reunion, but Tom’s health was only one of the obstacles. John wrote his account in his 2015 book Fortunate Son:  My Life, My Music:  “In the late eighties, Doug was proposing that Creedence reform even though Tom was very sick.  All I could think was, ‘oh, great, Doug and Stu want to drag Tom around the world in a wheelchair…”.  He later told The Guardian, “The best I can say in Tom’s case is he was the older brother, and the younger brother had a lot more talent, therefore he was jealous even to a greater degree than the other two in Creedence Clearwater Revival.”  Tom died in September of 1990 at age 48 without the brothers setting aside their ill-feelings.

     There were cracks in the band’s foundation as far back as Woodstock where their non-hippie vibe got them labeled as “a Boy Scout singles act” among the rock superstars.  They took the stage not long after the Grateful Dead blew up the stage amps with their forty-five minute version of Turn On Your Love Light.  Having seen this seemingly endless Dead performance, one can only imagine what the band was thinking when they took the stage in the pitch black darkness. A lone voice shouted, “We’re with you.” when John peered into the darkness and asked, “Is there anybody out there?”  Only four tracks of their set were released on a later anniversary compilation. Woodstock was an early example of John making a decision for the rest of the band when he refused to let the footage be used in the movie or original soundtrack album. By the time CCR recorded their last album (Mardi Gras) as a trio, the band had lost its way.  Rolling Stone reviewer Jon Landau called it, “the worst album I have ever heard from a major rock band.”  Fogerty later blamed Cook and Clifford for the final break, “They were obsessed with the idea of more control and more influence.  So finally the bomb exploded and we never worked together again.” More recently, John has hinted that he might be open to a reunion, but as Clifford stated matter of factly, “It would have been a good idea 20 or 25 years ago, but now it is just too late.  The leopard doesn’t change its spots and John is only floating the idea as a way to re-polish his image a bit.”

     CCR branched off in two directions from this point.  John recorded some very Creedence sounding records on his own (Centerfield (1985) and Blue Moon Swamp (1997)).  He finally broke his own self-imposed ban and began playing CCR songs again in 1987 when George Harrison and Bob Dylan joined him on stage.  They reminded him that if he didn’t start playing his old songs again, “People are going to think Proud Mary is a Tina Turner song.”  The hard feelings continued when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993:  Fogerty refused to play with Cook and Clifford in favor of an all star band with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson.  The only positive news the band got came when Concord Records purchased Fantasy from Zaentz. When the new owners learned about the hard feelings, they gave the band a better royalty rate and returned Fogerty’s songwriting credits. Unfortunately,  the band was too broken by this time to let bygones be bygones.

     Cook and Clifford continued to work with each other periodically in a mobile recording venture called Factory Productions.  They played together as studio musicians and with the Don Harrison Band while also producing other artists including Roky Erickson and Doug Sahm.  Cook spent a good deal of the 1980s playing bass with the band Southern Pacific that was included former Doobie Brothers Band members John McFee and Keith Knudson. 

     After a period of musical inactivity, 1995 found Cook moving into a house in Lake Tahoe very near Clifford who had previously retired to the area.  One thing led to another and they began performing again as Creedence Clearwater Revisited, taking the band on the road for 150 dates the first year.  As a courtesy, they asked John Fogerty if he would like to be involved but, as they expected, he declined the offer. A pending lawsuit over the use of the CCR name brought by you-know-who forced CCR2 to tour for a while as Cosmo’s Factory (taken from the 1970 CCR album of the same name that had been recorded at Clifford’s home studio).  They won their case, went back to using the CCR2 name, reduced their touring to 75 dates per year at Clifford’s request, and have now been at it for more than twenty years. While some criticize them for being a glorified cover band, they have toured five continents and moved platinum level sales of a 2007 album of their live covers called Recollection.  Quite a few musicians have passed through the band (including Elliot Easton who came to fame with The Cars) but the core has remained Cook, Clifford, multi-instrumentalist Steve “The Captain’ Gunner, and guitarist/vocalist Dan McGuinnis.

     The formation of the CCR2 band was more of an accident than a planned career move.  According to Cook, “We never had any intention of playing for the public, but a friend wanted to promote a couple of concerts.  We got talked into it, but didn’t know if it would go over.” More recently, they have reduced their yearly touring to about 50 dates.  In April of 2019, the band announced their intention to do one more tour and then retire the band for good at the end of this farewell tour. 

     As far back as my high school band, The Twig, CCR songs have been some of my favorites to play.  The CCR sound is undeniable but they never rehashed the same song template. There were certain things that made the songs sound like CCR, but the number of hits they had without repeating themselves was astounding.  One of the first times The Twig performed the CCR version of I Heard It Through the Grapevine, I had to explain that it was their cover of a Motown tune to a dancer who inquired if we knew any other cool CCR songs.  The idea that a band with so many hits on the radio doing a cover of someone else’s music was a foreign idea to this particular fan.  Other than The Beatles, Elvis, Ricky Nelson, and The Everly Brothers, no other band has had as many two sided hit records as CCR. 

     Cook and Clifford were instrumental in producing the CCR sound and I can only imagine it felt good to go out and play those songs again live.  I never say never, and if the CCR2 thing plays out and the three remaining members of CCR manage to actually play together again, that would be something short of a miracle.  Nobody is holding their breath here, but as they say, miracles do happen from time to time! Only time will tell.  

 

Top Piece Video:  CCR in happier days (possibly) and long before CCR II: