Gary James' Interview With
Creedence Clearwater Revival Tribute Artist
Randy Linder and his band have performed to audiences from California to New York. They concentrate on performing the hits that Creedence had from 1968 to 1972 along with several John Fogerty hits. We spoke to Randy about his band and the music of John Fogerty and Creedence.
Q - Randy, you're based out of the state of Washington. You're actually in what used to be called Grunge territory.
A - It certainly was. In the '90s that's where it came from. In fact, the town Aberdeen is an hour West of me.
Q - Does that mean you saw Nirvana or Kurt Cobain?
A - Well, I never did. It's the weirdest thing. During that time when it was coming on, I of course was into Classic Rock and that was my thing and still is of course. They were around here (Tumwater, Washington) coming up. I keep hearing stories from friends of mine where I could've went down to the local bar and watched Kurt Cobain and Kris. In fact, even after David Grohl joined the band, they, Davis and Kurt, lived in a house not far from where I am right now for the longest time and played local gigs. I could've experienced all that, but I just wasn't hip to it. Isn't that weird?
Q - That is weird, because Nirvana and Kurt Cobain are part of Classic Rock.
A - That's right! I really missed out. I missed a lot.
Q - And of course, let's not forget Washington state's other contributions to music, Jimi Hendrix and Heart.
A - Yeah. Boy! (laughs) I wish... Of course there's a lot of things I wish.
Q - Since you're on the West coast where Creedence got its start, even though you're in Washington state and they were in California, is there something in the air that gives you an advantage over other groups?
A - No, I wouldn't say so. But as far as Washington or around here, there's no other Creedence tribute acts that I know of. You'd have to go, as far as I know, I've got some friends in Reno that were doing a Creedence act before I started mine. I've worked with them a few times. That's the closest one I know of. But I find, just like I'm sure everybody else does, that the biggest shows I do are out of state. When you play around where you live, you tend to want to get as many gigs as you can that are at least an acceptable level price wise and so on. But you tend to play smaller gigs closer to where you live in some cases, whereas when I get flown out of town for a festival or a casino, I'm bigger there, because they've been advertising it for a month or so and people have been going to the website. They treat you better the farther away you get from your house.
Q - That always seems to be the way it is. Your hometown never appreciates you.
A - They really don't. To a certain extent they do. I'm sure I'm known around here and I play casinos around here and I have fans that show up, but not to the degree that they do when I go out of town somewhere. It's interesting.
Q - You've been performing Classic Rock for over forty years now, but how long have you been doing this Creedence tribute act?
A - I think I started rehearsing it in the year 1999 and if I'm not mistaken I think my first show was Spring of 2000. It was interesting. For the longest time during the '90s, I never really thought of doing it, a tribute. When I thought of the word "tribute", I just thought of Elvis Presley tributes. The tribute industry started getting some teeth. It started being something that people did. I had a couple of musicians friends in particular urging me to do a Creedence tribute. For the longest time I just kind of shunned the idea. When I finally made my decision to do it after a friend of mine hired me to play back-up guitar for him for a Hank Williams tribute he was doing. He did a show at the State Fair and I remember thinking after that gig, that was really fun and it was a concert and I've never even gotten a gig at this State Fair. Here my friend, who I don't consider to be all that terribly talented, got a gig on this nice stage at the State Fair. I came to the realization it wasn't because he was another bar band, he was a show! It was a tribute show to a big star. The next day, I was a carpenter, and I was on my way to a job in eastern Washington and I remember driving down the road and coming to that realization. I decided right then and there I was going to do a tribute to Creedence like I'd been urged to before. On the way to the job I was going to, I stopped at two different places and bought five or six Creedence CDs. While I was on that job, I was making up my song list.
Q - Did your friend look and sound like Hank Williams?
A - Quite a bit, yeah. He got himself all dressed up to look real similar and he sang quite a bit like him. Since then, him and I have been aware of others out there. His isn't going still, but there are a couple that are.
Q - Unlike most Creedence tribute acts that will take their name from a Creedence song, you have your name out front. Now why is that?
A - It's interesting. I used to use the name Midnight Special, and so that's how I started out. But I guess the way that it came about was I found, at least around the area where I live, a lot of people know my name and they didn't know Midnight Special. I think it was just kind of centered around that, that I started to get my name out front a little more. And then I started a Bob Seger tribute that I used to do. At that time it just started to make more sense to me, if I'm gonna do more than one tribute, just get my name out there so that one thing would carry over to the other, sort of. I've never regretted doing that. It just doesn't seem to make a difference in a negative way. It seems to work just fine.
Q - Was it hard to convince other musicians to join forces with you to put a Creedence tribute act together?
A - No. It's really not hard to find musicians to do anything that will pay a decent amount per night. There's lots of musicians out there that would like to be working. Sure, you might have to make more than one call, but there's a lot of players out there that would just like to be doing something respectable in terms of playing on some of the nicer stages like I do. So it's really easy. One thing I've never done that some of the bands do is try to find the side players to look like the side players. I've never considered that to be something that I want to burden myself with. I come on as the frontman and I have my players dress in black so that I'm the only one in costume. So, when it comes right down to it, it's a tribute to John Fogerty / Creedence Clearwater Revival because other than two songs, all the other songs we do are songs Creedence did. We do a couple like "Centerfield" and "Old Man Down The Road" that John Fogerty did in the mid '80s.
Q - Has the audience ever said to you, "Hey, that drummer doesn't look like Doug Clifford"?
A - They have never once said that, but I think that's because of the way I present it. I have a really cool intro that starts the show where there's recorded music that I had composed by a musician. Basically the lights are low. This music starts and there's a point in the music where the guys come from backstage and get their instruments strapped on and the drummer gets behind the drums. Then this big announcer voice comes out and announces me and a tribute to John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The follow spot comes on and I come out and I'm in costume. It's basically just presented as when I come out, I try to be John Fogerty as best I can. There's never once been a time when somebody came up and complained about the other band members in any way.
Q - Do you think Creedence was John Fogerty and a couple of side players or do you think those two guys contributed to?
A - I think it was definitely a band sound and I have my players pay a lot of attention to that sound and how the records were. It's big for me to try to do justice to the sound that was made back in '68 and '69 by Creedence. It was very simply done. The worst thing I want to hear from a player I'm asking if they're interested in playing is "Oh, yeah, no problem. I know all that stuff. I've been doing that all my life." That means absolutely nothing to me because to me it means they probably don't do it right. From a sound perspective, I pay a lot of attention to that.
Q - So, when a guy says to you "No problem," that sends up a red flag to you.
A - Yeah. They're thinking that's easy. They're thinking I've played Van Halen all through the '80s and that's way harder than Creedence, so I can do that. Generally if they say that, they can't or they won't, but they won't do enough homework.
Q - I know what you're talking about. You'll have a drummer that is just too good.
A - That's happened to me many times. They just want to do all these fancy licks
Q - Did you ever see the original Creedence in concert?
A - Yes, I did. I saw them in 1969. This is a story I tell onstage very often, right before we do "Proud Mary". In 1969, I was in 9th grade and my older brother, who was in high school, took me along with one of his friends to Seattle to see Creedence Clearwater Revival and that was my first big Rock concert I ever went to.
Q - Do you remember where they performed?
A - A place in Seattle that I don't believe exists anymore. At that time it was called The Arena. I suppose it held maybe 6 or 8,000 people. The big place in Seattle at that time was called The Coliseum and it held about 14,000 (people). I believe now it's called The Key Arena with Key Bank sponsoring it. But back in the late '60s, early '70s, it was just referred to as The Arena, The Seattle Arena. I remember that concert very well. I like to announce onstage "when I saw them in concert this was a brand new song" and then we break out into "Proud Mary" and of course that's their biggest hit.
Q - Do you remember who opened for them?
A - No, I don't. I don't believe anybody opened for 'em. I think I would remember if somebody did. At that time I had my own little band. I had started a band a year earlier, in 1968 is when I started playing music in a band. I would've remembered who opened for 'em. One thing I remember distinctly about the stage for Creedence is the Kustom black Tuck And Roll amplifiers and the Sunn amps. The bass guitar always went through Sunn amps, the big Sunn speakers. But I don't believe anybody opened for them that night.
Q - You saw the Creedence with four guys, when Tom Fogerty was in the group?
A - That's correct.
Q - When you're onstage, are you on the right, stage left, like John Fogerty was?
A - Yeah, that's how he always did it. I don't do that in my group. But I've always been aware of that, that that's the way we set up. I guess that's just one of the other things I've elected to do and I think one reason is the average person out there that would tell you they're excited to go see the CCR tribute show and they really love their music. doesn't know that. So, I'm not really putting this act together to please the hardcore Creedence fans that know those kind of details. I'm putting it together for the average Joe. You would be surprised how many people that say they love Creedence Clearwater Revival's music. If you said John Fogerty to some of 'em, they sometimes say "Who's that?"
Q - Now that is a surprise! I would think everyone knows the name of John Fogerty.
A - I mean, there's a lot of 'em.
Q - And no one has ever said "why don't you set up like Creedence used to do onstage?"
A - Never. There again, I think it's just because the way I present it more as me coming out there to be John Fogerty. The spotlight is on me. They're thinking if I'm lookin' and sounding enough like him to please them, I don't think they're thinking past that, really.
Q - How much work is there for your act?
A - Not nearly as much as I'd like it to turn into. I know when I started the group, I imagined it being a thing that would start off kind of slow, but then would just start to snowball and pretty soon I'd be traveling around. I've always had my eye mostly on the Native casinos, which has still turned out to be the majority of my work. But I do a variety of Classic Rock stuff in my bands around here just to keep stuff on the calendar. I believe potentially there should be enough work that I could be out there working a couple hundred good shows a year, but it's not even nearly like that for me so far.
Q - What would it take to make that happen for you?
A - I've thought of that so much. I think what it would take is an agent / manager that just got out there and made it happen. I don't believe I'm nearly aggressive enough going out there making contacts. Basically most of what I do is through a handful of agents that I know and work with, maybe five or six or seven in Las Vegas and two or three in Los Angeles. Once in awhile they'll call and say "I pitched you for this casino and they want to make you an offer," or this festival and I get a call back and I book it and I just keep in touch with them. But that's about as aggressive as I am. The fact that I'm not swamped with work is more of my doing than anybody's.
Q - Does this band of yours still play clubs?
A - They're not really clubs per se. They're cabarets and casinos around the Northwest here. So, the jobs in the cabarets and the casinos are much preferable to most club gigs around here.
Q - That's probably because as a specialty act, you can command more money than a bar can or would pay.
A - That's true. Whether you're a specialty act or not, the casinos pay more than the bars generally pay anyway. My band up here plays a lot of different kinds of Classic Rock in addition to the show, when we need to. Sometimes we'll play a cabaret show, we're expected to cover a four hour period with three, one-hour sets. And so what we'll do is we'll come out for a local show around here and do an hour of a variety of different Classic Rock. In the middle set will be our Creedence show and the third set will be back to variety.
Q - Randy, did I cover everything about your tribute band?
A - One thing I didn't tell you is, one thing that I do that is very different from most tribute bands is I've put together groups of musicians in a few other places, so I have more than one band and we all do the exact same show. And so I have a band in Las Vegas and a band in Phoenix and a band in Minneapolis and my band up here in Tumwater and then I have my people in place in New York City, but I've never gotten a gig over that way. But I potentially have a band in New York as well. I've devised a way through these special CDs I've made for bands to get totally ready for me to come and do their first show with me before we've even rehearsed at all. When I get there, they're ready to go because they've been rehearsing in their rehearsal space with a track. On the left side of the stereo is a click track for the drummer and on the right side is all my singing and playing exactly how I do the song from start to finish. So, they run that blaring through their P.A. at rehearsal. The drummer's got time in his ear so he can stay on perfect time and they learn their respective parts off the record and they do that song start to finish at rehearsals with my singing and lead guitar playing coming over the P.A. until it sounds smooth.
Q - What's the advantage to do something lie that?
A - The advantage is the cost, because a lot of times I'll get an offer from a casino that I really want to play at, but they're just not offering enough money to pay for those extra three plane tickets. And maybe they're not even buying hotels. So I would just have to turn the job down and I did this for a long time. Then I decided to do this for that very reason and consequently I have done many fly gigs with those bands that I would never have been able to do. It's just created more gigs for me and it's all a cost thing.
Q - Are the guys in your Washington State band mad at you for doing this?
A - No, not at all, because the way I have set things up from the beginning is that we're not a band like a club. We don't get together and have band meetings and decide what we want to do about this and what we want to about that. I just totally run things as I did when I used to be a general contractor. When I would be working on the job, on my project, I'd hire sub-contractors to do certain parts of that job and then when the job was over I might have another job to hire 'em for or I might not. That's how the guys that work for me know how things are. I offer them all the work. I can and try to make the money as good as I can and I make it so they don't have a bunch of extra stuff to do when they're not working. But they know that my music business is the business that I'm in to keep me going, but it's not necessarily to provide a full-time job for them.
Q - How much advance notice do you give these guys about a gig? They might be busy on that particular day. Then what do you do?
A - Then I would just get somebody else. I don't put any pressure on anybody to have to be available for me. Usually when you're booking a job, you're two or three months out and usually there's time to make other arrangements. My favorite thing to do is to bring my guys from here (Tumwater). That's my favorite thing to do.