An American Classic: Creedence Clearwater Revival

Humble student
Joined: 06/12/05
Posts: 1,579
Humble student
Joined: 06/12/05
Posts: 1,579
03/04/2010 1:40 am

There is little doubt that for a time, Creedence Clearwater Revival was one of the most popular bands in the world. With their amped up rock-a-billy twang, with a country blues mojo running underneath, an 'every man' lyrical sense and a garage bands rock and roll punch, CCR cultivated a truly American sound that resonated with music fans the world over. The true testament to the strength of their legacy is in their immediately identifiable sound. No one sounds quite like Creedence except Creedence.

Although they are often thought of as band straight out of the bayou, the truth is they hailed from a little further west. The band had their modest beginnings in the small San Francisco area community of El Cerrito, California when John Fogerty and junior high school classmate Doug Clifford discovered a mutual love of R&B and rock and roll. John borrowed $88 from his mother, bought a Sears Silvertone guitar and set about teaching himself to play. Clifford, as the story goes, balanced a used snare drum on a flower pot and played using two old pool cues that he lathed down to ersatz drum sticks.

Shortly thereafter they invited fellow class mate Stu Cook to join the group. Cook who has studied classical piano took them up on the offer and the three became 'The Blue Velvets' and like most high school aged bands were playing local parties, sock hops and picnics. By 1961, the band was eager to continue to grow and venues for the young band were hard to come by. The band began hanging around local recording studios catching gigs backing local acts.

At this same time, John's older brother Tom was working locally as a singer/musician. He was playing with a local outfit called 'The Playboys' who had recorded and released a few minor singles. In 1959 the Playboys broke up. Tom, although married and working for a utility company did not want to give up on music. He decided to join up with John, Doug and Stu. Since John had not yet begun to sing, most of The Blues Velvets sets were instrumental. They agreed that Tom would be an asset to them since he had been singing in public for a few years and had ever garnered a bit of a following. By 1960, Tom Fogerty and The Blue Velvets were working the usual small time gigs throughout northern California. Four years later, The Blue Velvets auditioned for a small, local label, Fantasy Records, where Tom had taken a job as a shipping clerk.

Label co-founder, Max Weiss, signed the band to the label and immediately changed their name to The Vision. The band released one single, "Little Girl (Does your Momma Know?) with "Don't Tell Me No Lies" on the B-side. At almost the same moment that the band released their single, Beatlmania exploded on the American shores. Weiss, a shrewd business man, decided that the time was perfect to try and capitalize on the first wave of British Invasion and The Vision became The Golliwogs.

Like the Blue Velvets and The Vision before them, the Golliwogs spent the next few years gigging in local bars, frat parties and military bases up and down the west coast, working to develop a sound of their own. However changes were occurring within the band. During their days as The Golliwogs, John began to sing and ended up taking over the vocal duties from Tom. With his trademark bluesy growl and holler, John's vocals have become instantly identifiable. Also Cook was moving from keyboards to the electric bass.

In October, 1965 the band recorded "Brown Eyed Girl" (not to be confused with the tune done later by Van Morrison) which sold a respectable 10,000 copies. But even with a small local hit, the band was not gaining any sort of foothold in the music business. The band continued to work their way through one night stands and party gigs for the next few years honing their craft. By the fall of 1967, the future of the band seemed in question. The Weiss brothers who owned Fantasy Records were ready to sell the label and retire and the band, now into their twenties began to look at an uncertain future.

The label was purchased by a team of investors lead by Fantasy salesman, Saul Zaentz. Zaentz met with John and the rest of the band to discuss their future. Zaentz knew the Fogerty's well and that with the burgeoning 'underground' radio market and the exploding counter-culture scene, he felt that the band could be viable for the label. The first order of business was to change the name again and Creedence Clearwater Revival was born. John explained in several interviews that the name of the band came about as follows: Creedence came from the name of a friend of the band, Creedence Nuball. Clearwater was pinched from a commercial for Olympia beer, the thinking that it fit it within the then popular environmental movement and Revival as a testament to the bands rebirth.

The band released their first single. "Porterville" and then immediately went back into the studio to record their first album. Before the album was even finished, "Suzy Q", an extended version of a favorite of the band to perform live, was being played on local radio. Although the band was beginning to gain some local buzz, they were still somewhat grounded to the local area since both John and Stu were finishing up their terms of service in the Reserves (John in the Army and Stu in the Coast Guard).

By 1968, both members had been discharged from the military and the band released their debut album entitled simply as Creedence Clearwater Revival. Three tracks from the debut were released with two charting. "Suzy Q" made it to number #11 and a cover of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins "I Put A Spell On You" peaked at #58. CCR had arrived nationally and people were paying attention.

The band headed out on the road to support the debut all the while working hard on their follow up album Bayou Country (which was released in January of 1969). The hard work paid off as Bayou Country went platinum and spawned the single "Proud Mary" with "Born On The Bayou" on the B-side. "Proud Mary" charted at #2 and has been covered over 100 times by various artists. It became obvious that CCR had found their signature sound with Bayou Country.

Incredibly prolific, CCR released their third album only months later in August of 1969, Green River. Again, the band struck hard with singles and this was no exception. The title track, "Green River" backed with "Lodi" hit #30 on the charts but it was "Bad Moon Rising" with "Commotion" on the flip side, that rose to the top, falling just short at #2. Although the first two albums contained at least one cover, Green River" was all original material which meant it was filled with tunes crafted by John Fogerty with the exception of "The Night Time Is The Right Time". John's songwriting abilities were strong although it is clear that there were dark undercurrents in his lyrics by the third album. Doom and dread were themes that were beginning to show up in his songs.

A near constant touring schedule coupled with their steady stream of singles brought the band a solid fan base. In 1969, the band had successful performances at both the Atlanta Pop Festival as well as at Woodstock although the experience at Woodstock was a little less than positive for the band. CCR was scheduled to follow The Grateful Dead who played well past their allotted time. It was 3:00 AM by the time Creedence took the stage and although they put on a scorching performance, they were playing to only a small portion of the attendees at the concert. Their set was cut from the original documentary film and recording. It was added in later for the 25th anniversary edition of both.

However they may have been feeling post-Woodstock, CCR rebounded with the strong Willie and The Poor Boys, which was released in November of 1969. Fogerty had rebounded from his sense of doom that had permeated Green River and the disc was just a fun rock and roll record. From "Down On The Corner" (3#) to "It Came Out Of The Sky" and the blistering "Fortunate Son" (#14) (one of the best Vietnam war protest records ever made), Willie and The Poor Boys is Creedence Clearwater Revival at their very best. Even the covers on the album, Leadbelly's "The Midnight Special" and "Cotton Fields" received a re-working as only CCR could do, giving them a rocked up country feel that stays as fresh today as it did when the album was released.

By 1970, the band released yet another double hit with the single "Travelling Band" with "Who'll Stop The Rain" on the B-side. But in what would prove to be a bit of a premonition for things to come for John, a lawsuit was filed the publisher of "Good Golly Miss Molly" against CCR for "Travelling Band" saying that the CCR tune was just a little to similar to the Little Richard hit. The matter was eventually settled out of court.

In April 1970, the band was preparing for a European tour and released "Up Around The Bend" and "Run Through The Jungle" as singles. When they returned from their European tour, the band headed right into the studio where they recorded what many consider to be their finest album Cosmos Factory. The album included "Lookin' Out My Back Door" as well as an eleven minute jam of "Heard Through The Grapevine". Again, the band had singles reaching #2 on the Billboard chart but they never had a single land on #1.

Despite their incredible popularity and success, tensions were mounting within the band. Tom Fogerty had grown tired of standing in his younger brothers' shadow and both Cook and Clifford had begun to take umbrage at so often being referred to as "John Fogerty's backup band". There was little doubt that Creedence was John's band. He wrote and arranged the songs and his voice was immediately identified as the basis of the Creedence sound. The other members of the band began to make their discontent known to John and voiced a desire to have more of a say in the band.

In December 1970, the band released Pendulum which contained the hits "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" and "Hey Tonight" but it was apparent that things were not quite right within the band. It became known by February 1971 that Tom Fogerty had left the band permanently during the recording for Pendulum. The band never replaced him, going on as a three piece.

John gave into Cook and Clifford on their next album Mardi Gras by giving the pair equal song writing duties as well as production work. The result was a true mess of a record. Fogerty came through with his work in fine shape, providing the single "Sweet Hitchhiker" as well as"Someday Never Comes" and a re-working of the Ricky Nelson classic "Hello Mary Lou". But the efforts by Cook and Clifford were rough and did not hold up to the Creedence standard.

And even though it reached #12 on the charts, Mardi Gras is considered by many to be a terrible end to a great rock and roll band. By October, 1972, the group disbanded. Cook and Clifford played together in a few projects post-Creedence but they failed to gain much notice at all. Tom Fogerty tried his hand a few times in releasing solo work but no one was paying much attention. After leaving music, he moved to Phoenix, Arizona where he died in 1990. John Fogerty has, after a few stops and starts, has had his own rather successful solo career that also included some rather unique legal entanglements. He was actually sued by Fantasy Records head Saul Zaentz for plagiarizing himself, saying that 'The Old Man Down The Road" sound too much like a Creedence song.

Zaentz lost the law suit.

There is a little doubt of the staying power of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Their music continues to appear in movies, television shows, commercials as well as staying in rotation on rock radio around the world. For a few years in the late 60's, especially after the breakup of The Beatles, CCR was the most popular rock band in the world based on album sales, singles sales and continued chart positioning. But perhaps more importantly, they bucked the trend at the time of the lengthy, rambling jam and set their sights on creating their own sound; writing solid singles and allowed their love of music to come through in every note.

They remain an American classic.
[FONT=Tahoma]"All I can do is be me ... whoever that is". Bob Dylan [/FONT]
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