Creedence Clearwater Revisited is still playing the classics, 50 years after Woodstock

Doug Clifford interview

JEFF DOW

Original Creedence Clearwater Revival members Doug Clifford, second from left, and Stu Cook, center, lead Creedence Clearwater Revisited.

To millennials, a Cosmo is a pretty drink or a space reference. But to those who came before, Cosmo is the nickname of Doug Clifford, drummer and one half of the legendary rhythm section of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Still going strong with Clifford and the other half of that rhythm section, bassist Stu Cook (plus lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Dan McGuinness, lead guitarist Kurt Griffey and keyboardist Steve Gunner), Creedence Clearwater Revisited continues to bring the band’s classic hits to new fans.

Clifford says that when he and Cook put the band together, they had a plan. Well somewhat.

BRENT CLIFFORD

DOUG CLIFFORD

“This will be our 25th year with this project,” he said. “We originally had a five-year plan — exactly what that was in detail, I have no idea, and neither does Stu. We laugh about it. We had a five-year plan, figuring if we lasted five years we’d have accomplished our goal, and as we look back and see what we were able to do … getting sued right out of the gate over the name … we prevailed and we have a great band, a lot of fun, and it’s been a great ride.”

Songs such as “Bad Moon Rising,” “Proud Mary,” “Down on the Corner,” “Fortunate Son” and oodles more came from Creedence Clearwater Revival in the ’60s and early ’70s and and have been in countless movies, TV shows and ad campaigns; much of their catalog is still heard on classic rock radio stations on a regular basis. Clifford marvels at their good fortune and is very conscious of the fact that their music has touched generations.

“We have three generations of fans,” he said. “We have more young fans than older fans, and that’s just the cycle of life. Our age group is dying off (laughs), but it’s nice to know there’s a group with younger energy behind us, and I see a fourth emerging. I call them the single digit-ers: They’re the 7, 8- and 9-year-olds. They are engaged in the music, they know the words, and to cross-channel multiple generations was probably our stiffest test — or the toughest test for any pop medium, which is the test of time. We’re pretty proud of that.

“I shake my head every time I go to a local grocery store and hear one of our tunes playing, and there’s an old lady in front of me or someone in an aisle singing along. I just smile and think, ‘There we are.’ I still get a kick out of it: Our dream was to one day have our songs played on the radio, and they’re still playing them.”

One of the band’s many accomplishments occurred nearly 50 years ago, when they were part of an “intimate” gathering called Woodstock. Clifford recalls the trials, tribulations and memories from the festival, and says it doesn’t seem like five decades have passed. Then again, maybe it does.

“Seems like both; it goes back and forth,” he jokingly said when asked. “It was a logistical nightmare, quite honestly. At the time nobody knew that it was going to be the grandest of the grand and things just weren’t right. Things had gotten out of hand with the number of people that came, and when the fences went down with 500,000 people there, they certainly weren’t prepared to handle that large a number. They were short on food, water, shelter and you name it. The weather was wet and cold and they had problems with that and getting our equipment in, getting ourselves in. Then everything was late because of the problem with the rain and people going over their allotted time.

“It wasn’t much fun. The one saving grace was that Bill Graham had a representative there in a Winnebago who was representing Santana and the Grateful Dead, and those guys were all out doing their thing and didn’t want anything to do with the representative, but he liked us and respected us and we had beautiful steaks and a nice French wine to wash them down (laughs), and he was kind of our savior there. We had gotten on somewhere between 1 and 3 in the morning because the Grateful Dead had gone over double time on their set. It was really a pain in the neck. As time passed I think Stu said it best: ‘It wasn’t about the bands, it was about the fans.’ The people there behaved themselves. There were half a million people there in those conditions … no violence, nobody got out of hand, people were having fun playing in the mud like kids and sharing whatever they had with complete strangers. Peace, love and music was right on! I mean you could feel it.

“That was the thing about it. Once we got in there and got our feet on the ground and realized that it was what it was, weather-wise, and all of the other logistical things that went along with it … you could feel the vibe. I mean the hair stood up on my arms when I looked out and saw all of these people with smiles on their faces and laughing and making the best of a bad situation. It was truly a one-of-a-kind event.”

Clifford fondly recalls their relationships with Graham and the great guitarist Carlos Santana.

“Carlos is an old friend of ours, and back in the day we would do some tours with them where we would be the promoters and put posters out and we would alternate billing. One show, we’d be the headliner; the next show, they would be the headliner … we’d cut out the middle man and make some money. Then records started happening and everything changed for both of us. Those were the days with Bill Graham at The Fillmore, and what a great guy he was. He made it happen, and he made it happen by putting out quality music with very interesting combinations of artists. He put together some very interesting musical events and he did it with class and integrity. It was always the best sound system for that period of time. He made sure that things were orderly — as orderly as they could be with a bunch of people running around who were on acid (laughs). He was a good friend of ours, and we were very happy to have him as a friend.”

Creedence Clearwater Revisited is now on the road and will make their only East Coast stop at Parx Casino’s Xcite Center in Bensalem, Pa., March 8 at 8 p.m.; visit parxcasino.com/xcitecenter.

Clifford still gets excited before every gig, and summed up what it’s like to be a performer: “It’s like I’m getting ready to go to the candy store. I love to play and it’s always great to know that we have this great group of fans, and we want to give them the best night they can possibly have. I always crack up when I get asked if I get scared before we go on. I say, ‘No I get excited.’ I practice every day but I don’t get adrenaline rushes when I practice. That’s a whole different scene there: That’s to keep myself in shape so that I can play the music at the level that it needs to be played. But it’s not the same as the show. Showtime is the real deal. You get that adrenaline rush and that is what you do it for. There’s nothing like it in the world.”

What does he do when he practices to assist him in keeping at the level he’s come to expect?

“I play to other people’s music and to ours. I like mixing it up and it helps keep me in shape to do what the people come to see us for. If I didn’t play a show and get an adrenaline rush, I’d be looking for some golf clubs, I think (laughs).”

For more about Creedence Clearwater Revisited, visit creedence-revisited.com.

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