The QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning kicks off July 27 and runs through July 29 at the Solberg Airport in Readington. This event features entertainment throughout its three days, culminating with a 3 p.m. headlining performance by Creedence Clearwater Revisited, featuring bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford of the original Creedence Clearwater Revival; the group has been reviving Cook and Clifford’s glory days for more than two decades.
Cook said they decided to started the group after “I ended up living in the same small mountain town as Doug, which seemed like a good place to live after seven or eight years down in Los Angeles. We started hanging out, drinking beers, and decided that we needed a music project. So we put the band together with the idea of playing some private parties.
“We knew there were a lot of fans out there and that the music was spread across a lot of demographics and we thought that we’d have a chance to play some private parties and corporate events, but it didn’t work out like that. We ended up playing in public … and for the last 23 years we’ve been mostly playing to fans all around the world. We’re lucky; we always were lucky. Creedence was lucky and we have a great catalog and legacy to build on, and so we go out and celebrate it every time we go onstage.”
Cook remembers the struggles he and Clifford went through as they tried to bring the music that affected generations back into the public eye.
“(Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman) John (Fogerty) sued us in 1996, saying that we didn’t have the right to use the name, and of course we prevailed and that went away, and (Creedence Clearwater Revival co-founder) Tom (Fogerty) passed away in 1990, so he’s not complaining, and his widow supports what we’re doing. This is our 23rd year and we’ve overcome everything. We’ve overcome everybody who said, ‘You can’t do it, you shouldn’t do it,’ and we’ve served it all to them cold.”
Over those 23 years, the lineup has undergone some changes. “Originally, we had Elliot Easton from The Cars on lead guitar and John Tristao was our singer, Steve Gunner our utility man and of course Doug and I on drums and bass,” said Cook. “We’ve now moved into — as time goes on some people last longer than others — Dan McGuinness is our lead singer and our lead guitar player is Kurt Griffey; Steve has been with us from the very beginning.”
How does one replicate John Fogerty’s legendary vocal style, which helped give the band its distinctive sound? According to Cook, they asked themselves that very same question.
“Yes and no,” he said with a slight laugh when asked if the search was tough. “From the very beginning it was difficult, but the quest was a simple one: Find someone who understood the music, the kind of almost plainness of it, which is unique in its simplicity. Someone who knew when to be aggressive and when to be calmer.
“Having a good or even an appropriate voice wasn’t the only criteria. I mean, you really had to know and understand the songs, and that was the difficult part. John Tristao nailed it from the beginning and he was our singer for 20 years, and he just killed it every night. Over the years I found an understudy, which was Dan McGuinness, who is now in the lead singer chair. He slowly worked into that over the years, filling in for John when he was sick, which, of course … everybody gets sick, but when the lead singer gets sick it’s pretty much over. We groomed Dan to our version of the catalog and he stepped in in 2016 and became an official member in 2017. So this is his third year with us, and he’s doing a great job.
“It’s been a very stable project and we really pick people first. Everyone with us has been considered a world class player, so we’re not worried about their professional credentials. We’re looking for good people. We’ve been very fortunate to have great guys in the band and great crew members for the entire 23 years; when there is peace in the valley you can get a lot more done (laughs).”
Cook feels, and rightfully so, that this music, which has transcended generations and ethnicity worldwide for decades, should always be the main focus. There’s a sincerity in his voice that lets one know he feels deeply passionate about this as they try to keep pace with changing markets, industry techniques and an evolving fan base.
“The music still is … it is beyond the band members and our internal disagreements, whatever they’re based in. It has certainly been 45 or 50 years of nonsense as far as that goes, but it’s the music that’s the whole reason for any of this. It’s the reason Doug and I are still playing, and for that matter John. We had a great chemistry, a great magic as a band and had a really creative explosion; the records we made are still played and loved today. Our whole generation of artists got a huge boom with classic rock radio and the compact disc; everything started over again. Now it’s all come apart because physical product is pretty much gone and there are so many formats. The market is so fragmented. But Creedence is still Creedence; we’re a legacy artist and we still sell millions of albums per year, either physical or download, and now that streaming has taken the lead in the industry economic model, I’m sure we’ll get tons of airplay.
“Our performances have been huge; I think we have more fans now than we ever did. There’s three generations, although they’re dropping off on my end, the original herd is thinning … but there’s still a lot of love for it out there and that’s what keeps us going. The chemistry between the band and the audience is amazing. Doug and I are 73 years old and we’re still enjoying the heck out of this. It’s weird: It’s just as tough as a guy in the NFL. When are you really done? Travel, food, hotels and all that stuff is not what I prefer at this point in my life, but the playing … there’s nothing like it and there’s no replacement anywhere else. Until we can’t do this physically, we’re probably going to keep doing it, but we’ve cut it back to 45 shows a year from a peak of 106, so we’re trying to rein it in. We all have grandkids, most of us do anyway … life is short and you can’t say that we haven’t rocked the world. We’re in our golden years. Cosmo calls us ‘rust buckets,’ but we’re still kicking. We’ve still got functioning parts so we’re still going (laughs).”
So as they press on doing what they love — making music and attracting new fans — what can we expect to hear from a catalog as vast and rife with hits as theirs?
“Well,” started Cook with a chuckle, “It’s sort of what our set list is: It’s A-sides, some of the B-sides and a couple of long tracks and that comes out to 100 minutes. They want us to do 90 but we always make it 100. It’s a dilemma. We do have a lot of material to choose from, and some people criticize us for focusing on the more popular tracks. And we used to play a longer show where, of course, we could get deeper into the catalog, but things being what they are, we are asked to keep it to 90 minutes.
“For our own enjoyment, we play other stuff at soundcheck (laughs). It’s not like we only know 19 or 20 songs, but time constraints keep it pretty much a greatest hits show.”