Creedence Clearwater Revisited's Doug Clifford on The Big Lebowski and The Chances of a CCR Reunion
Doug "Cosmo" Clifford
You're not going to get any argument out of us: John Fogerty is the voice of Creedence Clearwater Revival. That's no slight to John "Bulldog" Tristao, the gentleman who handles vocals for Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Tristao does a great job singing the classics, but no one is going to suggest that anyone could fill Fogerty's boots.
But if Fogerty is the voice, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug "Cosmo" Clifford, the rhythm section of both Revival and Revisited, are the heart and soul. Along with rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty, they added the boogie to Fogerty's croon. Imagine the chooglin' grooves of "Run Through the Jungle" or "Fortunate Son" without that thumping backbeat. Oh, that's right, you can't.
"Oh, uh, yeah, uh... a tape deck, some Creedence tapes, and there was a, uh... uh, my briefcase."
Though post-Revival tensions have found Fogerty battling Cook and Clifford over the use of the name, the duo has won court skirmishes and kept at it, playing the hits like they'd do at Wild Horse Pass on Friday, June 29, at Ovations Live! Showroom at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler under their own CCR banner, swapping "Revival" for "Revisited."
It will be a return home of sorts for Clifford, though he's not too keen on Arizona during the summer: "I'm a snowbird, I have a house there in Scottsdale. So I spend four months a year down there . . . but we have roots there. My father was born in Flagstaff, and his father is buried in Sedona."
We spoke with Clifford about a Creedence Clearwater Revival reunion (not going to happen), his lone solo album Cosmo (he doesn't like it, but it's a smoldering piece of swamp-rock featuring Donald "Duck" Dunn, Steve Miller, Freddie Smith, and songs by Doug Sahm, John Sebastian, and Spencer David), and, of course, The Big Lebowski.
Up on the Sun: I wanted to talk with you about Cosmo, your solo record from 1972. Using YouTube, I've been able to hear some of it, but it's not in print. Do you have any idea if it will ever come back into print, or if you have any plans for that record?
It's not in print, and I don't see any reason why . . . why it would even be relevant. When Revival broke up, we all ended up having individual contracts, so I decided to make a record and see what it was like. Secondly, we had the Cosmo's Factory building under a long-term lease, and Stu [Cook, of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Revisited] has plans . . . the remote recording vehicle starting to appear in that time period, they had one in L.A. that I used for that record. We thought we could back it into the building, which was an old warehouse, and run a snake that would allow us to hook up microphones inside our own rehearsal area and use it as a recording studio. We each had bands we wanted to record and try and get record deals for, and make money that way, and also give us capital and use that machine because there were none in the San Francisco Bay Area.
So that's it . . . I think it's a terrible record. The band is good. The band is great. I had really good players on that record but I . . . obviously I'm not a singer. So that's not something I'm interested in.
Fair enough. You made the thing. I enjoy it.
[Laughs] Stu Cook likes it, too! I can't change his mind.
You've got Donald "Duck" Dunn playing on the record, who recently passed away, and it's hard to get a better bassist.
Oh, yeah. There's no question about that. The Tower of Power horn section is on there as well, but like I said, the recordings were good. We did it live as a nine-piece band, so there was no overdubbing, things of that nature. So in terms of that, it was a great album, but the singer needed to be replaced.
After Creedence ended, you and Cook stuck together closely. What is it about him that explains why the two you got along so well musically?
I met Stu the first day of school in junior high school. I had moved into the area and he had been there for a while. We sat next to each other in homeroom -- Cook and Clifford, that's how it all starts, in homeroom. We would talk and music came up, and I started telling him about some of the records I had, and it turned out 90 percent of what each of us had was the same. That was our common denominator right off the bat the first day that we met. We became friends and would go over to each other's houses after school and things like that. In the eighth grade, I ran into John Fogerty in the music room, and he was playing rock 'n' roll on the piano, like Little Richards and Fats Domino, and I had all the records he was playing. I came up after he stopped, and I said, "Do you want to start a band?"
I didn't even have a drum set, but was just sort of teaching myself to play -- but I was never shy. He said, "Actually I play guitar," and I said we should get Stu Cook to play piano [he later switched to bass]. I said, "His dad is a big-time lawyer; he's got a big house with a piano and we can practice there." Well I hadn't even ask Stu if he wanted to do it, or if his parents would let us. As it all turned out, the answer was yes. We started as an instrumental trio, The Blue Velvets, and we've sort of been joined at the hip ever since. We've sort of stuck by each other, through almost killing ourselves, being stupid kids, divorces, the band, and the ridiculous amount of success we had, and how ridiculous the label was run.
As you guys have continued on with Revisited, have you found yourselves drawing from different albums? How have things changed as far as set-lists go?
The biggest thing is that we don't have to have a record out next week, or an album out a month from now. We're just playing the catalog, and it makes it a lot more fun. We don't have internal or external pressures.
Do you have a favorite CCR record to play?
Oh, sure, no question about it: "Born on the Bayou." It was on the second album. We had some success with the first album, but it was a cover song that sort of paved the way there; "Susie Q," which wasn't an original song of ours. But it got us going. On the second album, "Proud Mary" [was a big hit] too. It was actually "Born on the Bayou" [that] we thought was going to be the A-side, and "Proud Mary" was going to be the B-side, but radio flipped it and blew all of our minds. But "Born on the Bayou" is my favorite . . . I listened to it the other day. You forget how goods things are, how powerful, how raw; it's just an ass-kicker.
You guys are California guys, but you've been linked with Southern rock and swamp rock for a long time. Did that surprise you, these weird Southern connotations?
When Stu and I were 13 years old, most all the stuff we had was Southern stuff. The great stuff from Memphis -- Elvis Presley, Sun Records, and the R&B. A lot of it came from the South -- most of it -- and worked its way into the cities. Mainly black bands -- in the '40s and '50s -- were playing in blues clubs. And, living in the Bay Area, we had several different radio stations playing that style of music. A large group of people from the South came out to California during the war, because Richmond, California, was a big shipyard, so a lot of the workforce came from the South.
That's the kind of music we stuck with, even as we were coming up in the emerging pyschedelic scene coming out of San Francisco. We stuck with what we liked, and good for us, because it paid off.
How did you feel about the psychedelic scene? I know that Stu eventually produced some records by Roky Erickson & The Aliens. Were you attracted to the psychedelic sounds, too?
We liked what we liked. We had listened to [our source material] for 10 years -- and by then, we had worked things out. A lot of [the psychedelic songs] got really long and kind of boring. But at the same time it was fun to watch great musicians play and do their thing. There's room for everybody. There's no rules in terms of what you had to play. But they called us the Boy Scouts of rock 'n' roll, because weren't high on drugs before we'd play. We were different than everyone else. We were the quirky boys, so said our peers, and as it turned out we were the biggest band that came out of the area.
You probably get sick of people asking this question, but it has to be asked. In 2011, John Fogerty sort of indicated that his thoughts about a CCR reunion had changed. Have yours? Do you have any interest in exploring that?
Not anymore. It was interesting that he said it, and our management called his lawyer. We had some other business ideas we wanted to discuss. Our manager asked if there was any interest in what John had said about a real reunion, and he said "no." So it was really just getting some press. It was disingenuous, something he was using. Then he comes out later and says, "Well, I guess there's not going to be a reunion. I guess those guys are still mad" [laughs]. But if you're really serious about a reunion, call the guys that would be involved. Don't throw stuff out into the press, and [then] when we call, there's no credence to it. It's not going to happen, and we move forward.
What is it about CCR that makes you keep doing it, and fans keep connecting?
You start off with a good recipe. John Fogerty, in his day, was a wonderful songwriter, and secondly, we were students of the roots of American rock 'n' roll. We learned to interact in a way that's like riding a bike. We worked every day playing and refining those things that stay true to the genre. Good songs, good execution of the material, and keeping it simple. It's not complicated, but that's a discipline that not everyone can adhere too. That's why we have three generations of fans showing up at our shows.
Placement in The Big Lebowski couldn't have hurt either, right?
Oh, yeah. The cool thing about Lebowski -- we've got two songs in there, which is great -- but when his car is stolen, he wasn't worried about the car being gone, he was worried about his Creedence tapes. [Laughs] That's brilliant.
Creedence Clearwater Revisited is scheduled to perform Friday, June 29, at Ovations Live! Showroom at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler.
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