Revisiting Doug ‘Cosmo’ Clifford’s Creedence Clearwater

It's the end of the road for a controversial travelin' band

A recent lineup of Creedence Clearwater Revisited
Revisiting hours are over: Founding drummer Doug Clifford, second from right, announced the controversial Creedence Clearwater Revisited would no longer be a "Travelin' Band" after the final 2020 tour dates.

Creedence Clearwater Revisited is either the most authentic tribute act in the music business or the greatest travesty to hit the oldies circuit. There is little room for ambivalence – especially among CCR fans – when it comes to this latter-day homage-exploitation of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Fans of onetime CCR band leader John Fogerty, especially those who have listened to the singer-songwriter’s long-told horror stories, are quick to condemn the act, while others argue that a band starring the founding drummer and bassist of CCR makes sense, given the importance of the rhythm section to the band’s swampy textures.

Take “Suzie Q,” for example. To hear drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford tell it, he was the one who effectively transformed Dale Hawkins’s 1957 rockabilly classic into an eight-minute jam that somehow fused CCR’s retro-bayou sound with a boggy groove fit for late-‘60s underground radio.

“By opening it up and eliminating half the beats, it was a truly different feel to it,” he said. “You’re taking notes away, but it opens everything up. We brought a lot to the table and the sound of Creedence. That’s what a rhythm section does.”

In 1959, four friends – yes, they were all friends in those days – founded their band while students at El Cerrito Junior High School in northern California’s Bay Area. Fogerty, his brother Tom and schoolmates Clifford and Stu Cook were signed to Fantasy Records as the Golliwogs, but soon dropped that unfortunate moniker.

The renamed Creedence Clearwater Revival was in part a tribute to Credence Newball, the teens’ eloquently spoken African-born school janitor, but the name had as much to do with the naturalistic roots-laden music the band would explore.

“We weren’t trying to create a new fad or jump into the middle of a fad that was happening that week,” Clifford said. “We had a plan and we were going to stick with it.”

As for the extra “e” in Creedence, well …

“We figured it was one more letter of press,” the drummer snickered.

In an era of Electric Prunes and the Strawberry Alarm Clock, CCR’s name was anything but unusual, but the band’s creative decisions were. While many musicians – especially those from northern California – that emerged during 1967’s Summer of Love were album-oriented and geared to trippy jams and drugs, not so CCR.

Not born on the bayou, or anywhere close

Fogerty’s hook-laden songwriting was aimed squarely at the hit-singles market, and the band’s strict no-drug policy was quaint by late-‘60s rock and roll standards.

“These other guys were doing drugs openly on stage. They weren’t even in tune,” Clifford said of CCR’s competition. “So we made a pact. If we can’t get off on the music, we might as well go do something else.”

That sober dedication paid off. CCR all but ruled the Top 40 for two years and became among the most popular American rock bands of the era by virtue of such iconic hits as “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Green River,” among others.

Inspired by such hit-making forebears as Chuck Berry, CCR’s commercial drive had been a part of its vision since junior high and the group saw little reason to change course to please the hip critics or underground radio.

“We were laughed at by our peers, but we didn’t care,” Clifford said. “If it didn’t work out, we would all go teach high school history and coach football – that was my Plan B. But we still got huge airplay on FM radio. They’d play some of the singles just because they were good songs.”

Good, but unusual when considering the band’s natural habitat.

The four 20-something California band mates had never so much as laid eyes on a “riverboat queen” or dipped their toes into a Louisiana bayou when CCR began recording songs based around such imagery. According to Clifford, it was simply Fogerty’s literate imagination and the band’s Southern influences that took CCR headfirst into the swamps.

“We enjoyed the roots of our country’s music. We liked the honesty and we dedicated ourselves to it,” he said. “People would come to the Fillmore and want to dance. They didn’t care if we were singing about biological science.”

The original members of Creedence Clearwater Revival
In happier times: From left, Doug Clifford, Stu Cook, John and Tom Fogerty

Bad moon rising, staying

By the early 1970s, Fogerty’s domination of the band was taking its toll, with the other members gradually tiring of being relegated as the leader’s perceived backup group.

As CCR fell apart, the songwriter was forced to surrender his royalties to get out of his contract with Fantasy, leaving the rest of the band, including Fogerty’s brother, in loyalty to the label’s owner Saul Zaentz, who was often in the courtroom with Fogerty.

“John insisted on managing the band as a guy who barely got out of high school,” Clifford said. “He didn’t understand the contracts he’d signed. He never should have been in a business-manager position.”

The unpleasant feud resulted in Fogerty refusing for years to play CCR material in his solo concerts – a pledge he eventually broke after his mid-‘80s comeback. Still, he remained steadfast in his refusal to bury the hatchet with his former band mates, whom he felt had betrayed him in siding with Zaentz.

Tom Fogerty died of tuberculosis in 1990, never having reconciled with his brother, reportedly claiming to John on his deathbed that Zaentz was his “best friend.”

CCR’s tense 1993 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reached a near-boiling point when Fogerty refused to jam with Clifford and Cook, opting at the last minute to play the hits with Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson instead.

“That’s vintage Fogerty,” Clifford said of the debacle. “Sixteen years after the band broke up, it wasn’t John Fogarty going into the Hall. It was Creedence.”

Two years later, Clifford and Cook launched Revisited as a touring group, recruiting John “Bulldog” Tristao, formerly of the one-hit wonder [and Scientology-infused band] People, as their lead singer. The band has shifted its lineup over the years, at one point featuring ex-Car Elliot Easton.

In the decades since, the new CCR has been known to play more than 100 gigs a year, but has since slowed down to allow its members to pursue other interests. Last year, Clifford announced the band would retire after its 2020 touring dates.

Over the years, Clifford has gotten used to the snide comments from Fogerty fans and CCR purists and is generally unimpressed by criticism of his band.

“Most of the people who say things like that have never seen us,” the aging drummer said. “I don’t put any creedence in that – and that’s with three e’s.”