From the Vietnam War to the black rights movement, the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival soundtracked a tumultuous time. Their timeless music lives on in the form of Creedence Clearwater Revisited, a revival of the Revival formed by two of the band’s original members, drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook. The band will play Santa Maria’s County Fair this Saturday, July 16. I spoke with Clifford over the phone about meeting Stu Cook, his band’s legacy, and the time Johnny Cash saved his life in Nashville.
Have you spent much time in Santa Barbara? One of your neighbors down there would be Mike Love. I was there at that place for his 50th birthday party. That was a long time ago, since he’s in his mid-70s right now.
Do you two keep in touch much? Not too much. You know, we don’t live that far apart, we used to live in the same town. But when we’re on the road, we’re on the road.
What are some of the crazier rock star birthday parties you’ve been to? There haven’t been that many of them. His was one of them. There were some things that were pretty funny that happened that I’m really not at liberty to say exactly – nothing torrid or anything, just some silliness. Life was good and we did jam and there were a lot of people there. There were a lot more Beach Boys that were alive at that time, Carl Wilson being one of them. I really like Carl and it was fun getting up and jamming with those guys. It was a fun time. Most of the other rock birthdays would be my birthday and Stu Cook’s birthday. I’m 12 hours older than he is. We’re spent many birthdays together over the years.
Take me back to the time you first met him. Did you have any idea you would go on this shared journey together? It began when I met him the first day of school on the 7th grade on homeroom. At that time, what our common ground was that we both collected rock’n’roll records. Talking that first morning, that first day of school, making the step from grammar school to junior high school, we got on the subject of records, and we had basically the same record collection and had never met each other. Our taste in music was aligned from day one, and that was the first shovelful of dirt that you see when a new project is opened up: you see all these guys with a shovel, there we were, each with a shovel in his hand. We had no idea it would be as enormous or as long as it has been.
To what extent does it feel like you’re playing the same songs you played with Creedence Clearwater Revival, and to what extent does it feel like a different thing now? You know, at our age it’s a blessing; you look at it differently. We started this thing 22 years ago. We were younger, but certainly not like when were 13. We had already accomplished quite a bit and were striking out on re-introducing, if you will, this great legacy of music live to the fans. It’s the same, but yet it’s different. There’s nothing like live music, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. You get adrenaline, that adrenaline rush.
How did you select the lineup? Was it more a matter of technical proficiency, or getting the feel of the songs right and do them justice, or personalities? All of the above. No question about it – that was a major point of agreement. We had to have the right guys with the right mindset and skills to deliver what people expected, we’ve been able to do that. This is, as I say, our 22nd year. You don’t stick around in this business if you’re not getting the job done.
Was there a sense of responsibility in preserving the songs as they were originally recorded? Or were the new players given some interpretive freedom? Well, I think it’s kind of a combination of those two things. The guys that we got definitely had the same respect and mindset that we did. They know that these songs are loved by millions of people all over the world. In terms of that responsibility, they understood what was going on. We told them not to copy, we told them, don’t think about copying this, think about the songs and how they make sense to you, and that’s a good guideline. If you’re trying to copy, it’s like a fax letter, you know. We have guys that understand what’s going on and they themselves are fans, and I am as well. It’s a weird thing I go to the grocery store, there we are, and I say, ‘Hey! Listen to that!’ I listen to that as a guy is buying celery and get to enjoy it like everybody around me. It’s an amazing thing.
Are there any songs in your CCR catalogue that stand out to you now, or have grown on you over time? Well, “Suzy Q” wasn’t an original song, but it was our first hit. It was a rockabilly song, but the beat is kind of what turned that song around, which is a beat I came up with. It became a success in the clubs. We stretched the songs out – when you have five sets a night you need to do anything you can to stretch your catalogue out, including playing other people’s hits. We liked it ten years before that when it was a rockabilly song, but it needed to be changed. I came up with this groove and it really did cement the direction that the song ended up going into. I’ve always had a spot in my heart for that one because it was the first hit that we had, and because of the beat that I came up with for it, and also a great song for the lead guitar, as it features solos by our lead guitarist – all those things combined, I like that. But my favorite original song is “Born On the Bayou,” it’s got a similar type of beat, a quarter note style beat and accents on the foot, but what I call greasy, punky and powerful in its simplicity.
It seems to me we are in a time of social change and political discord similar to the ‘60s in some way. Do the songs feel very relevant again? Well, it was during the Vietnam war, segregation and race back in the 60s, Martin Luther King, women’s movement… major, major social changes, and we were right in the middle of it and responded to it moreso than most bands would. Unfortunately, the relevance is still there because of the mess that we’re in now. “Have You Ever Seen The Rain,” this song needs no introduction – it was true 45 years ago, and it’s unfortunately true today, a reflection of society. Maybe the topics might be different, or in fact the same in some cases, but it’s as relevant as it’s ever been, and that goes for some other songs as well.
How do you feel, looking back, that a lot of the dreams of the ‘60s went unrealized, and that some of the same problems persist? Well, it’s disappointing that things have continued. Even if I’m cynical, looking back over 71 years and of course when I was one-year-old, I didn’t have much of a social conscience. I’m 71 years old and I look out and I have grandchildren now and I go, oh crap, I thought that changes had been made. But that’s one of the things that happens in life in general is that there will always be greed, there will always be that lust for power, and corruption, and the key to it is to try to keep abreast of it and at least tread water. It’s bad enough going backwards and seeing, in some cases, things go backwards, and it’s frustrating, but you need to rekindle some of these fires and do what you can.
Is it hard touring as a 71 year old, or is it still fun? Well, travel is travel, it’s a necessary evil to what we do. I’ve made several attempts to get Scotty to cut me a deal to beam me up and put me in my own bed every night and beam me back out to the bandstand every day – a little Star Trek humor there. But you have to get where you’re going and airlines aren’t what they used to be. We do bus tours some of the times, we never did that in the old times. The bus is actually the closest thing to a regular routine. You usually leave the hotel at midnight, you have bunks in there, you have a refrigerator, a semi-kitchen, a microwave. You have lounges for satellite TV DVDs and you know where everybody is. But you’re still driving, your body isn’t getting true rest because you’re riding down the road. But for the 90-100 minutes of time that we have on the stage with our fans, it’s worth it.
What was the motivation for forming Creedence Clearwater Revisited? Well, the main motivation was to go back to the stage, because every day I would run into somebody that said, I never got to see you guys live or I saw you live 30 years ago and it sure would be great to hear the songs live. John Fogerty wasn’t doing any Creedence and asked him if he was interested, he said no. We went ahead and put together the band that was the right band for the task and we didn’t know how it would go over. We knew that people wanted it and we did everything we could do, the best possible – for lack of a better word – the best product that we could manufacture to do what they were looking for, and we could see it. This is our 22nd year doing this and you don’t stick around in this business if you’re not getting the job done, we’re very proud of that, proud of our guys. We’re gonna keep it up as long as we can.
What do you feel has been the legacy of your decades of music? Or what do you hope the legacy is? Well, we’ve been able to positively affect people’s lives millions of people all over the world, whether they speak English or not. We have a lot of fans that don’t speak English, they’re coming in from a different perspective of course. But just to make people’s lives a little happier, in their sense of rock’n’roll and how it makes them feel, and to be part of the fabric of American music in a big way. Those are things that just terrific, I’m very proud of it. Our dream came true – when we started we were 13, the plan was to someday have our songs played on the radio. We’re still played on the radio and we have a fan base that has more young people than older people, that’s pretty incredible.
Tell me about the time Johnny Cash saved you. Oh jeez, at that time it was a summer show and it was at the Grand Ole Opry, and it was a terrific show and Johnny Cash was just a terrific guy. I had real long hair and a long beard and I guess you would say funny clothes for Nashville, and on a lunch break I wanted to get a real country western shirt from Nashville. I asked where I might be able to find such a thing, and somebody said to ‘walk up this way, make a left three blocks down, you can’t miss it.’ I walked past a bar and all of a sudden all these guys had me by the beard, by my arms, by my shirt. I was pinned against the wall. I heard at one point, ‘I don’t know whether to fuck it or shoot it.’ There were a lot of threats and they were about ready to finish me off, when I heard this voice, this wonderful, wonderful voice say, ‘Hey, you boys let that man go. He’s in CCR and he’s a star in my show. Don’t mess with him. You mess with him, you mess with me.’ And the guys said, ‘Gee, John, we weren’t going to … [sheepish mumbles].’ I told him, ‘I never got my shirt, and I’m very grateful.’ Ooh, boy.
Creedence Clearwater Revisited headlines Santa Maria County Fair on Saturday, July 16th at 7:30 p.m. For more information, see santamariafairpark.com