Creedence Clearwater Revival Band is a rock band from El Cerrito, a small city a few miles north of Oakland, California. The long road to the band’s success begins with brothers Tom and John Fogerty. By high school, older brother Tom was singing for local rock and roll bands, while his younger brother John had formed his own trio with junior high classmates Stu Cook and Doug Clifford. After high school, Tom’s band (Spider Webb & the Insects) tried and failed to produce a hit record with Del-Fi Records. The setback pushed Tom in the direction of John’s instrumental band, and the brothers would often perform together as Tommy Fogerty & the Blue Velvets.
The next eight years are a testament to perseverance and optimism. The band practiced diligently, experimented with different styles of popular music, and recorded singles for local record labels. They disbanded for periods while band members went to college, took full-time jobs, or spent time in the Army reserves. They performed in small towns and military bases up and down the Central Valley, often in ridiculous outfits with puffy white wigs dictated by their record label. Furthermore, by 1967 both John and Tom Fogerty were married with children.
In 1964, the band signed a contract with the local jazz label Fantasy Records, hot off the heels of a surprise hit, Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate To The Wind”. The band tentatively named itself the Visions, but the record label changed their name to The Golliwogs, a poor attempt to mimic British Invasion band names. The record contract gave the band access to high quality studios where they could refine their playing and production techniques. In particular, John became a “studio rat”, both working for and hanging around the studio. He started to sing on many of the Golliwogs’ tunes, and became the band’s permanent lead singer after the release of the regional hit “Brown Eyed Girl”. The last piece of the puzzle was a management change at Fantasy Records. Saul Zaentz bought the company from Max and Sol Weiss, and urged the band to pick a new name.
Creedence Clearwater Revival Band, led by John Fogerty, produced seven albums of original material in under five years, with an unprecendented series of 45 RPM “singles” with a hit song on each side, an inefficient business practice that ended shortly afterwards. Years in the making, the band disintegrated quickly, as jealousy over John’s prominence as songwriter, vocalist and lead guitarist, plus John’s insistent control over all aspects of the band’s music and business affairs, led to an acrimonious breakup in October, 1972. In their short career, Creedence ranks among the greatest of all American rock bands. In the midst of the San Francisco psychedelic renaissance, this small band created emotionally direct, rocking music with timeless themes that transcends the era in which it was created.
John Fogerty (1945-), lead vocals, lead guitar, primary songwriter, horns, keyboards
Tom Fogerty (1941-1990), rhythm guitar, vocals
Stu Cook (1945-), bass, vocals
Doug “Cosmo” Clifford (1945-), drums, vocals
Creedence played the famous Woodstock music festival in the summer of 1969, but the experience was somewhat disappointing. They rushed to get there, and had to start playing at 3 AM, because the Grateful Dead played an hour over their scheduled time. The band wasn’t very pleased with the arrangements nor their performance, and none of their songs were featured on the best selling record.
Previously unavailable, you can find snippets of Creedence Clearwater’s performance at Woodstock. Here are “I Put A Spell On You”, “Bad Moon Rising”, and the band’s traditional closer, “Keep On Chooglin'”, in the middle of the night in upstate New York:
Northern California Country
California is young, part of the newer America. Starting in 1848, hundreds of thousands of “forty-niners” moved to California, seeking their fortunes in gold mining. The territory was granted American statehood in 1850, and San Francisco began to develop as a Pacific center of commerce. By 1861, plans for the first intercontinental railroad were made, and by 1870, the original Western Pacific Railroad completed the final leg of the railway; from Sacramento south to Stockton, then west through the Niles Canyon and north through San Leandro to Oakland. Within ten years, the original Sacramento-Oakland route was replaced by a more direct route to Benecia, and over the Carquinez Straits to Port Costa via ferry, then west and south through the ranchos to Oakland, where another ferry would complete the trip to San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. This all happened about one hundred and fifty years ago, which means this man in his mid-fifties has seen one-third of modern California history.
Settlers came for gold, but stayed for the maritime trade, the pleasant weather and the fertile soil. Early California farming started close to the delta waters of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, where the water table was high and water transport efficient. Dams and canals were added to utilize the rest of the Central Valley for agriculture, and the railroads expanded to deliver the goods. Though it represents only 1 percent of the nation’s farmland, the Central Valley now produces over 230 crops and 8 percent of the nation’s agricultural output by value. Similarly, the Santa Clara Valley has fertile soil and a sizable aquifer, and for much of California’s history was a major fruit producing region. In 1939, the county seat, San Jose, had a population of only 57,600, but was the largest canning and dried fruit packing center in the world, with 18 canneries, 13 dried fruit packing houses and 12 fresh fruit and vegetable shipping firms. It was only after World War II that young men and women flocked to the Santa Clara Valley for opportunities in engineering and science-related occupations. Today, San Jose has nearly a million residents, and suburban sprawl replaced the flowering orchards and plants in once what once known as “The Valley of Heart’s Delight”.¹
My first love in life was trains. Between the ages of two and ten, my family lived in the Atherton Half Acres project, the poorest section of one of the most exclusive towns in America. Once I could ride a bike, my parents would let me ride down Fair Oaks Avenue, past the Lane where Willie Mays lived, to the Atherton train station around 5 o’clock to watch the daily procession of commuter trains during rush hour, and then around 6:00-6:15, the Coast Daylight would rumble north, gaining speed after its last stop in Palo Alto heading for journey’s end in San Francisco, a fitting climax to a day’s trainwatching. Sometimes I headed in the other direction, over to the unincorporated Fair Oaks district, to the Home Grocery on Sundays where I’d spend my fifty cents allowance on ten packs of baseball cards. When I got older, I’d ride over to the miniature golf course by the Bayshore Freeway, to play golf or pinball machines. To get there, I’d cross over a seldom used mainline, the spur route from Redwood Junction, through Belle Haven and over the Dumbarton Rail Bridge to Niles Canyon and points east. If I was lucky, I might get to see a freight train passing through.
My father loved trains. He made me a simple HO gauge miniature train layout for Christmas when I was four years old. By age six I was pounding out make believe train schedules on a typewriter. For a few years he was fascinated with building model railroads, and was working on his Rio Grande Southern layout in the garage one evening when he and I listened to a countdown of top 40 songs on either KFRC (610 AM) or KYA (1260 AM), the top pop stations of the era.
I developed other grade school fascinations. The Beatles loom large in my legacy, to steal a line from “Hard Day’s Night”. Baseball was another, especially the statistical analysis, an obsession that lasted well into adulthood. Willie Mays was a hero to most every boy in the Bay Area. The next big thing after that was John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival Band. Around fifth grade they replaced the Beatles as my favorite band, and everything Creedence was great. I remember being over at my friend Beep’s house, hearing “Bad Moon Rising” for the first time on the radio, and running around his house together singing “There’s a bathroom on the right!” (On John Fogerty’s CD Premonition, Fogerty sings the alternate “bathroom on the right” lyric. Big smile when I heard that the first time.)
Beep and I listened to a lot of Creedence. Once they started making hit singles, every one sounded good. There is no analysis when you are ten years old; it was really neat and I couldn’t have told you why.` But Dad sure liked them, too.
A Creedence or Grateful Dead Person
My life in Atherton ended after sixth grade. We moved to south Palo Alto, off Oregon Expressway, close to the Baylands. I had to say goodbye to Beep and school friends, but the new neighborhood was great, filled with kids who loved sports and music. I brought with me my focused interest in Creedence Clearwater, and though my new friends liked them too, the new neighborhood had diverse tastes, and as Creedence wound down its short career, I was exposed to soul music, the Rolling Stones, and Hendrix, and so much more. The lifelong immersion in music began in earnest. Still, for years, Creedence remained the easy answer to the question “What’s your favorite band?” Once that died, I went a few years without any particular allegiance, until the David Grisman Quintet took over the favored spot sometime in 1976 or 1977.
Sometime near the end of high school, I remember a conversation with a high school acquaintance, Corry A., who became close friends withy my best friend’s neighbor Tad. Corry was giving me a hard time about liking Creedence Clearwater so much. I asked him what his favorite band was — he chuckled shyly and said probably the Grateful Dead. I saw him once since then, at our fifteen year high school reunion. I reminded him of the conversation during the party. “Remember that? Maybe that wasn’t such a bad call!” “Yeah, yeah, John. Fascinating.”
The two greatest Bay Area bands are quite different. The Grateful Dead’s music a strange hybrid of high lonesome bluegrass, beat poetry and jazz improvisation, whereas one sees Creedence Clearwater’s roots in the blue collar world of rock and roll, the country music popular in the Central Valley, and the sixties soul music popular in Oakland and Berkeley. Both bands feature cryptic lyrics, though Creedence songwriter John Fogerty tended towards simplicity and brevity. Importantly, Fogerty’s songs and singing is direct and blunt, where the Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir seem emotionally distant by comparison. But John Fogerty sings with more authority and presence than perhaps any of the modern singer songwriters. He’s a powerhouse. I saw him perform at an AIDS benefit in Oakland once, around the time he was emerging from a self imposed exile, and he was literally twice as loud and powerful as every other singer on the bill. And, by the way, on that day Jerry and Bob were backing him on rhythm guitar.
I like the hometown Grateful Dead a lot. But I love Creedence Clearwater Revival Band. I’m a Creedence person.
Simple does not mean inferior or less insightful. John Fogerty was a wonderful poet, whose simple lyrics about the war on Vietnam, or about gun control, are just as relevant today as then.
“Some folks inherit star spangled eyes,
Ooh, they send you down to war,
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Ooh, they only answer more! more! more! yoh,
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no military son, son.
It ain’t me, it ain’t me; I ain’t no fortunate one, one.”
“Over on the mountain, thunder magic spoke,
“Let the people know my wisdom, fill the land with smoke”.
Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle, don’t look back to see.”
— John Fogerty
Lyric excerpts from “Fortunate Son” and “Run Through The Jungle”
Creedence Clearwater was defiantly conventional during a time when both jazz and pop were stretching musical boundaries. The songs are defiant as well: pro-labor, anti-war, and suspicious of government intent. John Fogerty insisted on playing 45-50 minute concerts, and refused to play encores, against the wishes of his band mates. He thought encores were bullshit, and refused. During a time performers were wearing tie-dyed shirts and Nehru jackets, he wore plaid shirts and jeans. Not just an iconoclast, but in the punk rock tradition of confident defiance against convention. I remember reading a Rolling Stone article about Fogerty a few years ago. The story goes that he’s doing a sound check at one of the big San Francisco music venues, playing with an E7 chord when somebody in the local music business tells him that sound won’t go anywhere, to which he responds, “Yeah? Just wait.”, as he continued to work on the riff that became “Born On The Bayou”. So many John Fogerty songs have rudimentary chord structures, perhaps the simplest set of chord structures I’ve studied so far. Most are three or four chords, but some songs, like “Run Through The Jungle”, “Commotion” and “Keep On Chooglin'” are one chord songs. John’s brother Tom loved “Run Through The Jungle”, partly because of its simplicity.
Booker T. & The M.G.’s
On January 31, 1970, my mother took me, my best friend Tim, and my younger sister to see Creedence perform at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It was a full house, maybe thirteen or fourteen thousand in attendance, and we sat facing the band from the cheap seats, just a few rows from the top of the arena. In what seems unbelievable to me today, I asked my mother to smuggle a medium sized cassette recorder in her purse into the arena to record the concert, and she said OK, and we got away with it. The recording was barely listenable, the product of bargain, late sixties technology. But I still have it, the kind of memory I like to keep. I didn’t know this until recently, but the concert was recorded professionally for posterity, and can be found on the album called The Concert. In addition to Creedence, the great Booker T. & The M.G.’s performed as the second of three acts. Here is Booker T. performing “Time Is Tight” from that night, with the members of Creedence Clearwater watching from side stage.
In many ways, Booker T. & The M.G.’s is similar to Creedence Clearwater, minus the powerful vocals. Both are four piece bands with the musical sensibilities of sixties soul music, though the Memphis Greats are the authentic item.
Here’s an entire concert clip, from Royal Albert Hall in April, 1970.
Final Analysis And Remarks
There are virtually no allusions to romantic love, and no sentimentality attributed to women. There’s a steady dose of ballin’ and rollin’ with Cajun queens, a dash of “Pagan Baby” and “Molina” running around, but nothing resembling a love song. Before becoming Creedence Clearwater, the Golliwogs and Blue Velvets wrote some straightforward love songs, but stopped for their great five year run. Even after the band’s breakup, John Fogerty wrote a few love songs, mostly for his second wife Julie. There’s a weak argument that “Who’ll Stop The Rain” relates to his first marriage falling apart. But great sentimental weight is given to other things, like trains and rivers and in the case of “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?”, the breakup of his great band. Maybe that’s part of the reason why his music appealed to a ten year old boy, before life was complicated by a desire for the opposite sex.
Well Worn Artifacts From Childhood – Creedence 45 Singles
The band’s breakup was bad. There were fights over money, and fortunes were lost. In particular, John Fogerty seems deeply scarred by the experience. He fought bitterly in a highly publicized dispute with Fantasy Records owner Saul Zaentz, and went into seclusion for years. The quartet never played together again, and Fogerty was estranged from his bandmates for life. He regrets not reconciling with his brother Tom, who died unexpectedly when he contracted AIDS from a tainted blood transfusion in 1990. Worse, he refused to perform with Stu Cook and Doug Clifford when the remaining three members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993. I don’t understand that. As my wife often says, you can’t unring that bell.
Here’s the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, plus a couple of interview clips with Stu Cook and three good links for more information about the band:
Though a California band, Creedence Clearwater is often grouped with Southern rock bands of the same era. Their second album, Bayou Country, is a concept album written by a Californian who had never been to the bayou, but the swamp rock description stuck. As it is, California has a huge, swampy river delta just miles east of El Cerrito, and the descriptions in Bayou Country are easily translated to the Sacramento River. Even today Creedence Clearwater Revival’s music still feels like the idealized depiction of my life and my childhood, a world of great beauty, with powerful rivers and golden foothills dotted with live oaks. Driving in the hazy summer heat towards the setting orange sun on valley highways bounded by vast fields of crops and the great Southern Pacific. I lived the suburban life, but in my dreams I’m rolling down highway 101, watching the scenery and hoping a freight train goes by.
I went to college in Davis, twelve miles west of Sacramento, the state’s top agricultural university in the heart of the delta. Putah Creek meanders through the property, on its way west towards Winters, and Cody’s Camp where Tom and John Fogerty spent summer vacations. It was a two hour drive from Palo Alto; sometimes I’d head east over the Dumbarton Bridge and through Niles Canyon before heading north on interstate 680. If traffic was light, I’d head right over the Bay Bridge to Oakland, and north on I-80 through El Cerrito and Richmond, then over the Carquinez Straits Bridge to Vallejo and points east.
Creedence Clearwater Revival Band Song Notes:
1. All of their music is very easy to find, with the exception of the Golliwogs recordings. “Commotion (Live)” is from the Woodstock concert; all other live recordings are from the January 31, 1970 recording The Concert.
Creedence Clearwater Revival Band Songs:
Proud Mary, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★★★
Born On The Bayou, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★★
Lodi, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★★
Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★★
Have You Ever Seen The Rain?, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★★
Commotion, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★★
I Put A Spell On You, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★★
Fortunate Son, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★★
Run Through The Jungle, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★★
Green River, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★★
Midnight Special, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★
Suzie Q (Part 1) (Mono), Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★
Who’ll Stop The Rain, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★
Someday Never Comes, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★
Long As I Can See The Light (Mono), Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★★
Down On The Corner, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
Wrote A Song For Everyone, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
Bootleg, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
Lookin’ Out My Back Door, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do), Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
Suzie Q, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
It Came Out Of The Sky, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
Feelin’ Blue, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
Cotton Fields, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
My Baby Left Me, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
Good Golly Miss Molly, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
Green River (Live), Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★★
Up Around The Bend, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Travelin’ Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Before You Accuse Me, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
(Wish I Could) Hideaway, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Don’t Look Now, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Porterville, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Cross-Tie Walker, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Walk On The Water, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Poorboy Shuffle, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Keep On Chooglin’, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Proud Mary (Live), Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Fortunate Son (Live), Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Down On The Corner (Live), Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Commotion (Live), Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Ooby Dooby, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
The Night Time Is The Right Time, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Graveyard Train, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band ★
Brown Eyed Girl, The Golliwogs ★
Fight Fire, The Golliwogs ★
Walking On The Water, The Golliwogs ★
My Baby Left Me, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup ★★
My Baby Left Me, Elvis Presley ★★★★
Proud Mary, Ike & Tina Turner ★★
I Put A Spell On You, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins ★★★★
I Put A Spell On You, Nina Simone ★★
Good Golly Miss Molly, Little Richard ★★★
Wrote A Song For Everyone, Mavis Staples ★★
Midnight Special, Harry Belafonte ★★
Midnight Special, Johnny Rivers ★
Ninety-Nine And A Half, Wilson Pickett ★★★
Cotton Fields, Odetta ★★
Suzie Q, Dale Hawkins ★★★
I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Gladys Knight & The Pips ★★★★
I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Marvin Gaye ★★★
The Right Time, Ray Charles ★★★★
¹ Thanks to Wikipedia for the many articles used in developing this little history of California. Other websites for historical railroad maps of the Western Pacific, plus a history of the Niles Canyon, were also used.