Gary James' Interview With Doug "Cosmo" Clifford Of
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Creedence Clearwater Revival was one of Rock's greatest bands. They sold over 120 million records. In fact, their popularity is so great, they continue to sell 2 million CDs and tapes a year.
Creedence is back...sort of. Minus John Fogarty, the band is now known as Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Creedence drummer Doug "Cosmo" Clifford spoke with us about Creedence Clearwater Revival, Creedence Clearwater Revisited and what the problem is with John Fogerty.
Q - Doug, whose idea was it to put Creedence back together and when did it happen?
A - Well, it happened really in the Summer of 1995. Stu Cook (bassist) lived in Los Angeles. I lived up in Lake Tahoe. I was trying to get him out of L.A. and up into the mountains 'cause I think it's a great town and a great environment. I've been there many years. So, after a weeks vacation he bought a home there. Then we realized we would need a project or just sort of increase the stock in the Heineken Beer company. We said that would be a great project. Every place I go, people say "we'd love to hear the music 'live' again." John Fogerty hasn't played this music and has refused to play this music in his only concert tour in 1987. We said, well, if we can get a band that would be good enough to do justice to the music, that's what we want to do. And we've done it. It really came together quite remarkably quick. We had the nucleus of the band after the first try out. We had Elliot Easton. We actually went to his house. Steve Gunner was recommended by another friend of ours. He made it as a utility man. So, at that point we were only lacking a singer. We went through basically ten singers. I think we auditioned four. We were real fortunate to end up with John Tristao because he's one of the best singers, if not the best singer I've ever worked with in my career. He also plays great rhythm guitar. So, it really rounded out the package nicely.
Q - What's John Tristao's background?
A - He was in a one-hit-wonder called People back in 1968. They had a song called "I Love You", kind of a corny song. He was also in several bands that worked the cabaret set in Reno. They were called Daddy-O. They were almost drama-rock. They had costumes and played characters. It was pretty wild and crazy. But, he was working and living just off the coast of Washington. He was working two jobs as a janitor. He took three jobs on because it gave him medical coverage for his family. But, he wasn't making much money, maybe a grand a month or so. Then he played little bars to keep his music alive. We're glad we found him and he's glad we found him too.
Q - What type of venues have been playing?
A - Well, pretty good size actually. We've had as many as 25,000 people to our show back in 1996. For hard tickets, I'd say we've been playing anywhere from 2,500 to 7,000 seaters. Then of course the festivals are a whole other ball game. The 25,000 people was on the Fourth of July and we were the only band. We broke their old record of 18,000 people. We've been in nine foreign countries. We've been doing this for 2½ years all over America and all over the world and people love this band. It's really, really just amazing. There's tremendous energy in it. We do a hundred minute show. In our heyday we did 45 minutes. We're twice our age and doing twice as long a show as we did back in our heyday.
Q - And enjoying it probably just as much or maybe more.
A - I'd say probably more because you appreciate things as you get a little wiser and a little more mature. It's just great. We're really enjoying it.
Q - You toured with The Beach Boys. How did that happen? Did they approach you? Was it a business matter?
A - That was a business matter. I know the guys. In fact Mike Love has a house in Tahoe, the same town I live in and I've known those guys for over 20 years. I don't really recall all the circumstances.
Q - Does this band have original music? Have you put out a CD?
A - Well, yes and no. We're releasing a CD throughout America and Europe, but it's a 'live' recording of one of our shows. At this point we've been having the battles with our old band mate (John Fogerty) and for one year we had to change our name. We had certain goals in mind to where we were gonna be in a certain time period, so we're already a year behind on that. But, we're making up ground fast. When the time is right, when the audience really wants it, that'll be the time we'll do it. But, at this point they want to hear Creedence music. I think if we do something totally new at this point, the concessions would do really great. People would go buy a beer or buy a hot dog. Right now, we keep 'em glued in their seats. When the time is right, we'll do it.
Q - Where did the Creedence sound come from? Was it Berkeley, California?
A - The Berkeley area, yeah. A little town. A bedroom community called El Cerrito, California. Just really our musical tastes growing up. We all had similar tastes. We all bought the same records. We listened to the same radio stations. Most of that was the roots of Rock 'n' Roll...the music of Fats Domino, Little Richard, a lot of the great singing groups from that era. Bo Diddley. And then the Sun Records folks...Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins. Elvis Presley was a big influence. When I first saw him on Ed Sullivan in 1956, my eyes almost popped out of my head.
Q - Considering the time period you came up in, I would imagine you met quite a few of the Rock legends.
A - I've met a few. There's no doubt about it.
Q - Did you meet Elvis?
A - No. I met Colonel Parker in Las Vegas when we were playing there. He came to our show. In fact, he was the one that suggested that the Hilton hire us. This was our first Vegas date. We played in the old Elvis showroom. So, that was kind of goose bump time for me.
Q - What year would that have been?
A - 1996.
Q - As long as we're talking about people you've met, let's go down a list. Did you meet Hendrix?
A - Yes. We did some festivals.
Q - How about Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin?
A - Oh, yeah. Janis Joplin was a huge Creedence fan. She was from the Bay Area of course, via Texas. We played the Fillmore a lot and she would always come to see our shows. We'd run into her occasionally at a radio show. But, if we were playing at the Fillmore, and she wasn't on the road, she would make it a point to be there and check us out. She thought we were great. We met Morrison in Miami, Florida. The guy was just a drunken, obnoxious guy. He treated his entourage like dogs. I really found him repulsive, so I didn't stick around too long. It was unfortunate. He was drinking Jack Daniels and downing reds. Downers and whiskey. That'll make you happy. (laughs) It was just awful. We were all just looking at each other and saying this guy has a real problem. Ultimately, it killed him.
Q - I take it you weren't too surprised when that news came through.
A - Not at all.
Q - You met John Fogerty in the music room of your junior high school. Were you a drummer in the school band?
A - Well, actually I wasn't in the band and I don't believe he was. There was a piano in there and he was playing on that piano. I had a nice record collection. I was definitely into Rock 'n' Roll. I went by and heard original Fats Domino music coming out of the music room, which was sacrilegious. (laughs) So, I listened for a little while and then he went into a Little Richard tune. I went, man, this is amazing. So, I walked up to him. I was one of those guys who wasn't shy about anything. John was the opposite. I walked up to him and said "That's note for note on both those tunes. I have both of those records." He said "Yeah." I said "Do you wanna start a band?" He said "what do you play?" I said "I'm a drummer." Well, I had a snare drum and a bass drum, let's put it that way. He said "Well, let's do that, but actually I play guitar. I'm looking for a piano player." After a couple of months of John and I playing together I said "I know a guy whose father is a successful lawyer and he has a big rumpus room with a piano that's in tune. His name is Stu Cook. That's the guy you should have playing piano in this band." Stu became the piano player and we were an instrumental trio called The Blue Velvets at the time.
Q - And didn't that band evolve into The Golliwogs?
A - It was The Golliwogs, but even before that we were Tommy Fogerty and The Blue Velvets. Tom Fogerty being the older brother, four years our senior, was the lead singer and had visions of a record career. The guys in the band would rather work on their cars or chase girls. They didn't want to go into a studio because they weren't getting paid and there were no chicks there. He asked us to back him up 'cause he had a plan. It was Tom's vision that really got us into the studio. So many years we were Tommy Fogerty and The Blue Velvets. Then we became The Golliwogs and Stu shifted from piano to bass guitar and Tom learned to play rhythm guitar. And of course another big influence was seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. They were a quartet and we said, wow, we can do that. If these guys from England can come out and play Rock 'n' Roll, we can do it. So, that was a major, major influence as well.
Q - Did you wear your hair like The Beatles?
A - No. We bought Beatle wigs. We went to the drama store and I guess they were Three Stooges wigs at that time. The hair grew instantly that way.
Q - Did you wear matching suits like The Beatles?
A - Eventually, yeah. We sure did.
Q - Did you ever meet any of The Beatles?
A - Yeah. I met Paul McCartney. He was just a great guy. I met him at Knebworth. He was a gentleman. I also met Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones. He's just a great guy. He's one of my heroes. He's so right on. He's just a solid back beat guy that isn't fancy and you gotta love that. He's just a real quiet guy. I really enjoyed meeting Charlie.
Q - Creedence didn't sound like other Bay Area groups. Where did you get your song ideas from?
A - Well again, we were real serious about what we were doing. We'd been together for ten years before we had our first hit in 1968. We'd seen all the fads come and go over that period of time. We were a bar band or a Top 40 band as we were referred to. Nobody was playing original music in bars in those days. So, we cut our teeth. The more you play hit records, the more you sort of get an idea of what made 'em successful and why they were a hit. We played what we really liked to play. We weren't going to compromise what we were doing to fit another fad, even though it looked like it was the big thing. But, everybody else was doing that and we said no. We said either we're gonna make it doing what we like doing or we won't make it at all. That was that sort of Southern flavored R&B and rural and urban Blues / Rock-a-billy.
Q - Weren't you working in a warehouse full-time as well?
A - Well, at the time I was actually going to college. John was working in a warehouse. Stu and I were going to college. Tom had a wife and two kids and a job with the power company. He also had a house and a mortgage. He threw it all in to go full-time with this project. Tom was always a committed guy and he really just impressed the hell out of me.
Q - A lot of groups will play Top 40 music forever and not evolve. What did Creedence have that other groups did not have?
A - I don't really know what to say about that. We're really fortunate that John wrote fabulous songs. We all jammed every day when we weren't on the road and actually when we were on the road. We'd play acoustically at night. Three to four hours every night we would work the songs out or songs would come out of that song pool. The rest of us didn't get any credit for anything that came out of it. That's OK. I'm not crying over spilled milk, but when you really look at how prolific John was in the 3½ years that we had our success and the major drought he's had as a solo artist, I think it adds a little more credence and that's with one "e", to what we contributed to the band.
Q - So, Doug Clifford was much more than the drummer in the band, as Stu Cook was more than a bass player.
A - We were a band. There was magic chemistry there with the four guys. When we got together that sound was there and it always would be there if the three of us would get back together, which will never happen. John Fogerty wasn't Creedence. Creedence was four guys.
Q - Since John is not in the group, how is it that you get to use the name Creedence, even if you do say Revisited?
A - We get to do that because of the people who own the trademark. Each person in the band owned a quarter of the trademark. Tom has since died of course and his wife now owns his share. So, Stu and I comprise 50%. Trish (Tom's wife) comprises 25%. That's 75% of the majority licensed this project. Because it wasn't Creedence Clearwater Revival, John says we're trying to fool the public and that's absurd. That's the last thing we want to do. We go out of our way to make it clear that he's not in the band. We've never fooled anybody. No one has ever walked out or asked for their money back. We've played for probably 700,000 people around the world. Because it isn't the original band, we called it Creedence Clearwater Revisited, which is exactly what we do. We revisit the music of Creedence. The name is also a description of what we do. If we were trying to fool the public, we would've had the right to call it Creedence Clearwater Revival. But, that's not what we're about and we're really proud of the project. The last thing we want to do is pull a fast one on anybody.
Q - What exactly is the problem with John Fogerty? Why won't he re-unite with you guys?
A - Well, John's got some real serious problems that he needs to work out. He's very bitter and actually I believe, hates me and Stu as well. Hatred is a pretty strong thing. If you read some of the things he's said in the press about us of late, it's pretty disgusting. I just don't understand it. Life is way too short. But it's gone way beyond ever trying to get a reunion of The Revival. That will never happen. He's doing his thing and we're doing our thing. He should just leave us alone and let the past go.
Q - Would part of John's bitterness be about the business manager of Creedence who put all of the band's money n a bank in The Bahamas that collapsed?
A - Well, that's part of it, but John was our business manager. (laughs) We were trying to get a raise, a royalty increase. John was trying to get his songs back. He signed a contract that he didn't understand, thinking he would get his songs back after a three year period. Obviously, a guy who shouldn't be managing anybody with his lack of business experience. But, at any rate, it did happen. When he was trying to re-negotiate that artist deal, he was really concentrating on the songwriting, which upset Saul Zaentz (owner of Fantasy Records, CCR's record label). You can't do business on a personal level or an emotional level. John did it both ways. We needed a professional in there. Stu has a degree in Business. I'll never forget the meeting. Stu said "I have a degree in Business and I'm not qualified. We need a pro." John just wanted to control everything. It hurt everybody. He should've stuck to being a creative person and we should've gotten a manager. That didn't happen and there in lies the problem. The bank deal was something Fantasy was going into. They said we're going to go into this Cayman thing. It's a great deal to avoid taxes legally. If you went into that deal, it would be like having a record deal anyway. The problem with us is that we went into a private bank. They went into a public bank. Our bank was full of Mafia and C.I.A. people, believe it or not. This was a real drama. At any rate, it all blew up. The money went away. The Feds came in. But you have to know the full story...who was managing the band and who put us in the bank. We would've been in the bank Fantasy was in. We would've come out of the thing OK. We would've kept our money and been able to deal with the Feds. Fantasy didn't have a problem with the I.R.S. Not like we did. They kept their money. There are two sides to every story. We've had strained relations with the label. There's no question about it. But, I think things could've been a lot better if we would've had a professional manager.
Q - I had absolutely no idea that besides being the lead singer, lead guitarist, arranger and producer, that John Fogerty was also Creedence's manager.
A - A major control freak...major control freak. We were trying to get a manager in there and he said you guys are turning on me. We said we're trying to save you. It's tearing us apart. We need a professional handling the business.
Q - Didn't Creedence play Woodstock?
A - Yes, we did.
Q - You're not in the original Woodstock movie, but you're in the director's cut version?
A - I don't know that it's in a director's cut. We had another chance to have a song or possibly four songs in it and John would not go for it, and threatened to sue. Because he's on Warner Brothers and that particular project was going to come out on Warner Brothers, it didn't happen. It's the same reason we weren't in the film originally. John said we didn't play well enough. Well, we did. We played just fine, particularly under the circumstances. We had the same problems basically that everyone else had.
Q - When did Creedence go on?
A - Saturday night.
Q - Who was on before you?
A - The Grateful Dead. They played for two hours. They were only supposed to play for one hour. I don't remember who followed us. We had to leave. We had to find our way out to an airport 'cause we had a gig the following night and we'd never missed a date.
Q - Have you ever seen a Creedence clone band that you liked?
A - I've never seen one that I liked. I have seen some. They're copying rather than actually playing. Playing the music is part of the band. When people see us play, it's apparent that we have fun. We don't take ourselves too seriously. We're out Rockin' just like we should be. That's really the difference between us and any of those other bands. We're not a tribute band by any stretch of the imagination.
© Gary James. All rights reserved.