By Aaron S. Robertson
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Woodstock performer shares with Milwaukee-area journalist his thoughts on us cheeseheads, Bruno Mars, influences growing up, what it’s like to be a part of one of the greatest bands in rock history, upcoming projects, advice to aspiring musicians, and much more.
Please note that I intentionally sought to avoid asking the interviewee questions about the origins and history of Creedence Clearwater Revival, as there is already plenty of material out there in the form of other interviews, articles, news stories, biographies, footage, etc. that adequately addresses those questions. I also stayed away from asking about the long-standing bitter disputes with Revival frontman John Fogerty, as there already exists plenty of material on that subject, too, such as in this interview. For more of a historical background on Creedence Clearwater Revival and their predecessors, The Blue Velvets and The Golliwogs, see their Wikipedia entry. Additional commentary by me leading up to this interview, along with video clips of both vintage and modern performances and interviews conducted by others can also be found here.
|Doug Clifford. Source: www.creedence-revisited.com
An interview with Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, 1997.
It was Clifford’s day off when I called him on June 5, but he was certainly busy. When I called him at noon Milwaukee time, it was 10AM where he was that day, in San Diego. By the time I got on the phone with him, he had already talked to interviewers from Poland and Oregon. Someone phoned him in the middle of our conversation looking to talk to him, too. Now that’s the sign of a rock star, I thought to myself.
Clifford never got to complete his degree in history, though. “I ran out of money,” he said, going on to say that he was working a third-shift janitorial job to help put himself through college, and that at one time, he was a live-in gardener, as well. It was during the Vietnam War, and running out of money for college almost certainly meant a visit from Uncle Sam. He managed to catch a big break, however, by doing a stint with the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, where he played football. “I was very lucky,” he explained, saying in a frank tone, “If I went over there [to Vietnam], I wouldn’t have come back [alive].” John Fogerty got the call, too, and served with the U.S. Army Reserve for a period. Stu Cook was able to complete a degree in business. Tom Fogerty, John’s brother, who was a few years older than all of them, was already married, raising a family, and working full-time.
|Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969. L-R: Doug Clifford (drums), Stu Cook (bass), John Fogerty (lead vocals, lead guitar), Tom Fogerty (rhythm guitar). Source: www.lipscomb.umn.edu/rock/USMainstream70s.htm
That interest began at the age of 11, when he saw Elvis Presley’s performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Then, two years later, he was watching a music special on television featuring Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa. Krupa was playing 15 sets of drums, Clifford recalled. Later influences on Clifford would come to include drummers Earl Palmer and Al Jackson, Jr., among others. He was particularly fond of Jackson, who was the drummer for Booker T. & the M.G.’s, which got its start as the house band for Stax Records. “Al was like a mentor to me,” Clifford said, adding, “Not really in the traditional sense where he taught me how to play or showed me any techniques, but more like someone to talk with. We could speak philosophically about our work.” Tragically, Jackson was murdered in 1975, shy of his 40th birthday.
Asked if there were any particular concerts that stood out in his mind, Clifford mentioned Royal Albert Hall and Madison Square Garden. Royal Albert Hall was CCR’s first trip to Europe, Clifford said. Half of the Beatles were there, as well as Eric Clapton. The Royal Family had a box, but were not present.
Revival also performed at Woodstock. Clifford described it as, “A very unique and wonderful experience,” continuing, “So much peace and love present. People were genuinely happy to share.” But for the band, Clifford recalled that it was a bit of a “logistical nightmare.” “We just flew in all the way from L.A. and had trouble getting into the concert,” he said, going on to note that the show was behind schedule, so they ended up taking the stage a lot later than originally planned. There were some equipment issues, as well, and the band had to figure out how to get to a gig in New Jersey the following night.
Asked if there are any particular CCR songs he likes best, Clifford picked “Born on the Bayou”. “That was always my favorite. It just has this feel, this swagger, to it. But I love them all,” he said.
Creedence Clearwater Revival performing Born on the Bayou.
Recalling Dick Clark, who just passed away this past April, Clifford said he was, “A true gentleman, and a friend of ours.” He also took a few moments to remember Tom Fogerty. “Without Tom, there would never be a CCR,” Clifford said. “He was a great guy. He paid for it all.” Before Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Fogerty, Tom’s younger brother, had a band called The Blue Velvets. It was an instrumental band, with John on guitar, Cook on piano, and Clifford on drums. The Blue Velvets eventually came to be the backing band for Tom, who had a band of his own at one time before it disbanded. Tom would go on to formally join the band, and The Blue Velvets, with Tom as its lead vocalist, went on to record three singles between 1961-62. As a response to the British invasion of the mid-60s, the band’s name was changed to The Golliwogs, and the Fogerty brothers shared the role of lead vocals. It was in 1968, when the band took the name Creedence Clearwater Revival, that John became its sole lead singer. Tom would pass away in 1990 of AIDS after a series of blood transfusions he received for back troubles.
Clifford has a lot of fun memories of Milwaukee, and Wisconsin in general. “We love Summerfest,” he said, saying, “It’s the granddaddy of festivals, and the fans are certainly responsive.” A football fan, he also took a moment to talk up our beloved Packers and Lambeau Field, and proclaimed, “I love the cheeseheads.” And it was in Milwaukee that Revisited got the call asking if they’d be interested in contributing something to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) Hope for the Holidays CD. Released in October 2009, the band did a fun rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run”. Clifford said the band was more than happy to support the project, in which all of the proceeds benefit the JDRF, and it was clear in our conversation that he’s passionate about the JDRF’s work. “What these kids go through is heart-breaking,” he said.
His advice to aspiring musicians: “First and foremost, play because you love to play. Do what your heart tells you to do,” he said. “Then bring your head into it,” explaining the importance of learning what avenues are available to get to where one wants to go. “Don’t sign anything. Take the time to research. There are plenty of books and other resources out there about contracts and the business side of it all. Be careful for your future.” I was curious to know if there was anyone he was keeping an eye on as far as up-and-coming talent. “Not so much. I’m still into my era, which can really be called a pop renaissance,” he said. He went on to say though that he does enjoy the work of Bruno Mars.
What can Revisited fans expect for the rest of 2012? The band just finished a long series of fly-in dates, with a lot of international tour dates in the first quarter. They’re on a long bus run now, and doing a lot of Canada dates. “We like being busy this time of year,” Clifford said.
|Creedence Clearwater Revisited. L-R: Kurt Griffey (lead guitar), John Tristao (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Stu Cook (bass), Doug Clifford (drums), Steve Gunner (keyboards, acoustic guitar, harmonica, percussion). Source: www.creedence-revisited.com
Speaking of the fans, Clifford sees a fourth generation of fans emerging. “I call them the ‘single-digit’ generation. They’re the 7, 8, 9 year-olds.”
When asked if he had any final parting words for fans, Clifford said, “Come and party with us! If you like CCR, you’ll like us.”
Visit Credence Clearwater Revisited on the Web at: www.creedence-revisited.com .
What are your favorite songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival? Why are they your favorites? Did you ever get to see the original band in concert? Ever see Creedence Clearwater Revisited perform? Share your favorite Creedence tunes and memories in the Comments section below.