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Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Doug Clifford Discusses His Influences, Punk Rock and Revisited’s Future

Creedence Clearwater Revival
Hutton Archive, Getty Images

For over 17 years now, original Creedence Clearwater Revival drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford has been performing alongside his rhythm section partner Stu Cook in Creedence Clearwater Revisited, bringing their music all across the globe to the delight of generations of fans.

We recently caught up with Clifford and talked to him about the amazing volume of classic music CCR created in such a short time, what it’s like to share that with new and old fans every night, the artists who inspired him to play drums, and his thoughts about former bandmate John Fogerty‘s statement on a reunion:

You’ve been performing with Creedence Clearwater Revisited, what, three times as long as the original band? Do you still find the music exciting?

Over four times as long. Oh, sure, the songs are great songs, so you know, anytime you have that going for you, it makes it a lot easier. Plus, we had a hiatus of over 25 years. The Beach Boys have been playing those songs since 1962 without a break. So, for us, it’s still fresh and exciting, otherwise I wouldn’t be out here.

One of the things I don’t think people talk about enough is how you guys released three amazing albums (‘Bayou Country,’ ‘Green River’ and ‘Willy and the Poor Boys’) all in one year, 1969. How did you do that?

Well, that was crazy. Right now, that’s a nine year career for a band. They put an album out every three years and then tour like mad, that’s the new format. It was crazy, actually, and I think it was part of the madness within. I called us the “Roman Candle” of rock and roll. Three albums in one year, it’s a real stretch I’ll tell you.

Were you also touring a lot?

No, we weren’t, because we were in the studio all the time. When we recorded, we went in with an album, we didn’t take 15 songs and choose the best 10, we had the whole thing laid out, so we would rehearse for two months before we went into the studio, and then we’d knock the album out in a couple of weeks. That was the difference. If we were going to do an album, you’re looking at two and a half months worth of work, so… the math is pretty easy to figure out. We did tour some, but not as much as we would have been able to if we hadn’t had the studio schedule that we did.

I saw on your first record, the name Laurie Clifford credited with the artwork..

Yeah, that’s my beautiful wife of 43 years, and we really needed the money at the time. She got paid $200 to do the cover, and at that time, it was before the album was out, or we had our first hit, those were lean times.

I heard from someone recently stating that CCR were a bit of a punk band, citing ‘Fortunate Son’ specifically. Did you ever feel any kind of a connection to those bands when they came around?

Not really, I don’t really like any of the punk bands. I didn’t think they were very good. I wasn’t a fan of their music, the Sex Pistols and the rest. They were more drug addicts than musicians to me. I just don’t see any connection there. ‘Fortunate Son’ is a rock and roll song, that’s what it is. It was a protest song, talking about the inequities of the draft for the Vietnam war, who really did the dirty work and who didn’t, so I think (they’re making that connection) because of the content of that song, the message if you will, and the fact that we played it as a bit of an uptempo rock and roll song, but I see no connection there.

What bands from later generations have you felt a connection to?

Whoa, well, let’s see. There’s actually several out there, I’ll be going along listen to the radio and surfing, and I’ll hear music but they don’t say who it is. I go, ‘Man, I’d buy that right now if I knew who that is!’ There are some good bands, Green Day for example, they’re not really recent but to me they are. They’re from our hometown, I believe, of El Cerrito, California. So just by virtue of the geography I’m interested in what those guys are doing, they’re kind of second generation if you will.

Any drummers you’re particularly fond of, from the past or present?

There are tons from the past – Gene Krupa (also recently name checked by Peter Criss) was the guy that inspired me to be a drummer. Of course, he was a different genre of music, he was in the big band era, but I was buying rock and roll records, I knew I wanted to play an instrument, I didn’t know which one. Then I saw a TV special with him, and it just — wow — it was electrifying, so certainly he got me into the idea of being a drummer. Then, there are so many great drummers, Earl Palmer, a great session man, he’s been on so many hits, Hal Blaine, another one, he’s actually in the rock and roll hall of fame. He’s on more No. 1 records than any individual on the planet. He was a studio guy, he’s in his late ’70s now. Al Jackson, Jr. from Booker T and the MGs, a lot of people didn’t realize that they were more than just an instrumental band, they were the house band for Stax records. So all the Otis Redding stuff, all the Sam and Dave stuff, even Aretha Franklin, on and on and on, the Staple Singers, the list goes on of great records that were recorded by that band. We became friends, we took them on the road for 31 dates because we were big fans of theirs. He became sort of a mentor and a friend, gave me some really good tips and great advice. He’s passed, unfortunately he was murdered many many years back. I miss Al, he was a great guy and great friend.

John Fogerty recently said his feelings about a CCR reunion have “softened”…

Well, I read that article, too, it was a while ago and I haven’t heard anything from John or anybody else, so you know, my focus is on what I’m doing right now with Stu Cook — original bassist for Creedence Clearwater Revival, my old pal of 53 years, we’re just focusing on doing the shows. Right now we’re on tour, that’s our focus. It’s nice to have John softening or maybe getting ready to loosen his load a little bit, that’s always a positive thing. But in terms of a reunion, that’s not something that’s in the forefront of my thoughts. There’s duct tape on my rear view mirror. We’ve been doing this with Creedence Clearwater Revisited for 17 years now, we’re still having fun with it, and that’s the No. 1 reason for me to be out here. If I’m not having fun, you know, I’ll work on my golf game. Which needs, believe me, a lot of work. I love what we’re doing and I still get an adrenaline rush, no matter how big the venue, and whenever that stops, I’ll get out on the practice range and try and revive my golf game.

What are your thoughts on being nominated for the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame?

Well, actually the voting has stopped and they’ve got their guys, they selected 50 candidates for that, I was honored to be one of them. The results will be revealed when they put out their next issue. I told them, ‘I’m not worthy, some of these guys are just awesome,’ but they said, ‘it’s a musical contribution, there are different styles.” All of the guys at the magazine are all drummers, they said I influenced several of them to start playing, the way Gene Krupa did for me. He’s one of the 50 guys on the list, by the way, so I’m rooting for him.

Oh, you’re being modest! Your records are great, they swing, and they’re never going to go away…

Well, I appreciate that, and when I talk to other drummers, they tell me they love my playing. I’m not fancy, I just kind of a pick and shovel guy that goes in and tries to lay grooves down. That’s what I do, and I’ve been really blessed with natural talent, born with it I guess. My mom was a singer on the radio back in the ’30s and ’40s. I’m still humbled by the whole thing, and I guess being able to survive the test of time in a pop medium as Creedence has done, gives creedence to the fact that I’m on that list. I am just honored to be nominated, let alone if I get voted in.

So how is the band doing currently?

So far it’s going great, we’ve had our normal year of about 75 shows, we do this all over the world, it’s great to go to other countries and see the fans. We have three generations of fans, which is to me, just another flabbergasting part of this whole journey for us. It’s been quite an amazing run. We love what we do. If you like Creedence, you’re going to love this band – come party with us!

The reaction to Revisited’s live album ‘Recollection’ has got to be rewarding as well

It’s a platinum record, so it’s another one of these things, totally fan driven. We got so many requests after shows from folks asking for a CD — ‘Why don’t you have one out?’  So, well, I guess we’re going to have to get one out there. We recorded a couple of shows up in Canada, and that’s what it is, a live show from Canada, a double CD. The darn thing got picked up by an independent company, and from there to Universal Music, and it’s a platinum album and we’re proud of it. It’s something I never ever thought of or ever thought would happen.

(You can keep up with Creedence Clearwater Revisited via their official website.)

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