We would all like to think that Creedence Clearwater Revival was born in the bayou, but it actually came to pass at Portola Junior High, circa 1958. “I met John [Fogerty] when he was playing rock and roll in Mrs. Stark’s music room,” said CCR drummer Doug Clifford, talking about the songwriter and former frontman of the band born in NorCal’s El Cerrito. “She really lived up to her name, too. He wasn’t supposed to be playing that.”
Next Clifford met bassist Stu Cook, who he was seated next to because their names began with the same initials and they were in the same homeroom. “Our common denominator was our record collections,” said Clifford, who leaned toward Jerry Lee Lewis at the time. They all talked about being in a band; John said it was cool by him. One of them had a basement with a rickety piano and parents who didn’t mind racket. “John’s brother Tom was already in a band called Spiderweb and the Insects.” Not long later, they were four in an instrumental band called The Blue Velvets, later the Golliwogs. “We had this vision,” said Clifford. “You know, we wanted to be on TV, like you see the bands on television.”
Their dream came true and then some. Ten years later, beginning with a swamp-fueled cover of “Suzy Q,” a Dale Hawkins rockabilly standard that CCR turned into a jammy psychedelic affair, the Golliwogs morphed into a southern-tinged hippie band. Clifford doesn’t come right out and say it, but he’s sure he had a big influence in those germinal years. “Most of my favorite songs came from the great rock and roll pool, but my favorite drummers were from the New Orleans R&B style like D.J. Fontana, who played with Elvis.”
“Suzy Q” and “Heard It through the Grapevine” would be the band’s last cover hits. John Fogerty wrote a string of album-rockers—nay, anthems—like “Proud Mary” that netted them three two-sided singles hits, a feat only equaled by the Beatles. They sold albums, they played Woodstock. Then several bad moons rose over the prosperous quartet. After big brother Tom Fogerty left, the hit making slowed and hassles with the infamous Fantasy label-owner Saul Zantz managed to drive John Fogerty underground for almost two decades. The two remaining members, Clifford and bassist Cook emerged from the lurch. “At first we had a production company recording other bands,” said Clifford. In 1995, they caved into the pressure to play renamed themselves Creedence Clearwater Revisited, and began a long run traveling the world. “We haven’t been to Europe in a while, but we just got back from South America and they’re wild down there.”
Clifford, a Gene Krupa fan of musical drumming, thinks his instrument is more than the heartbeat of any song. He knows the pros and cons of playing in a traveling band. The good part? “The fans are great.” The bad? Clifford, who lives near Lake Tahoe, said that is the road itself. “It’s not like the old days when we traveled in private jets and limos,” he said. But Clifford is not complaining about a career begun in junior high and lasting for four decades. “It’s taken me a lot of places,” he said, and presumably around the bend.
Creedence Clearwater Revisited plays Thursday, June 18, at the Chumash Casino (3400 Hwy. 246, Santa Ynez). For tickets and information, call 686-0855 or visit chumashcasino.com.