April 4, 2016

Rolling Down the River with CCR


From the Fantasy vaults comes the Record Store Day 1969 Archive Box celebrating Creedence Clearwater Revival’s epic year

by Stephen Phenow

When we put our first garage cover band together, me and the gang wanted to cover a band, which everybody knew, could sing along with, and was easy to play. The answer, Creedence Clearwater Revival of 1969. Stu Cook’s base lines were simplistic, Tom Fogerty and John’s guitar licks were easy, (John Frawley our lead guitarist found out later that was not true), and Doug Clifford’s pocket drumming would allow me to play and sing since my range was comfortably within John Fogerty’s snarl. And so we embarked on our great adventure and quickly discovered CCR wasn’t simplistic. In fact their music was rather complicated.

This is part of the enigma of CCR. You ask anyone who listened to music in the early ’70s what their favorite Creedence song was, and you would get a multitude of answers. In short, Creedence affected each listener differently.

The band started out as The Blue Velvets, formed by John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, and Stu Cook in El Cerrito, in the late 1950s. They were an instrumental trio, however during the early ‘60s they began backing Tom Fogerty, John’s older brother, for school dances at the El Cerrito High School, on fraternity house gigs. This brought them to a recording studio and they started cutting demos.

By the mid 1960s, the band signed a contract with Fantasy Records, which was based in San Francisco. They were attracted to the label because Fantasy had released the national hit “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” by Vince Guaraldi. The label changed the group’s name to The Golliwogs, after the once-popular minstrel dolls. Even with seven singles in the San Francisco Bay area, none received national attention. Nevertheless, in 1975 Fantasy released Pre-Creedence, which was a compilation album of recordings by The Golliwogs.
Eventually John Fogerty took the reins, changing the band’s name, writing most of their material and singing lead. The band’s first album as Creedence Clearwater Revival was released in 1968. They covered of the Dale Hawkins Swamp Rock classic “Suzie Q.” which became their first hit single. The guitar solos on such songs as “Suzie Q,” “Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “I Put A Spell On You” were believed by most at the time to be played by Steve Cropper of Booker T & the MGs. However, Forgerty’s proven abilities later as a guitarist, and Cropper never copping to any of this speculation make this highly improbable. He was just that good.

By 1969, the band really began to find its voice through Swamp Rock. “Proud Mary” became their second hit single (later covered by Ike and Tina Turner.) “Mary” was followed by the successful song, “Born on the Bayou.” By the time President Nixon was taking his oath of office, “Proud Mary” was moving on the Billboard singles charts, racing towards the number two spot. Over the next 11 months, Creedence would release two more Top Ten albums Green River, which went to #1 on the Album charts, and Willy and the Poor Boys, which hit #3; the song “Bayou Country” peaked at #7. The band also celebrated four hit singles in America (“Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Fortunate Son”/ “Down on the Corner” and “Green River”). Before the end of the year, they would even find time to record a fourth album Cosmo’s Factory (1970). Between their tight recording schedules, Creedence managed to tour the United States, making two appearances on the Ed Sullivan’s Talent Show and headline Saturday night at Woodstock. By the end of 1969, to radio listeners CCR was one of the biggest bands in the world, their Southern-steeped swamp rock sound instantly recognizable.

CCR-boxsetIn fact Creedence would go on to set a record for the group with the most #2 songs on the U.S. Charts yet amazingly they never had a #1 hit. Also the band never received major recognition during the time they were active, because they concentrated on tightly-focused, well-crafted singles rather than long meandering ego cuts. However within a few years of their breakup (1973) their heritage was assured as one of the great American rock bands, and they heavily influenced the genre of Southern swamp rock.

The break up was due to John Fogerty’s success as writer and singer; the other band members felt they were not allowed to contribute.
Brother Tom left the band in 1971, to pursue an unsuccessful solo career. John Fogerty insisted that bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford share equal songwriting and vocal time on the band’s final album Mardi Gras in 1972. Mardi Gras received poor reviews and sales. Fogerty was vindicated proving to brother Tom (and the rest of world) that his songwriting had always been the real commercial talent behind the band’s success.

John Fogerty bought himself out of his contract with Fantasy Records and eventually established a successful solo career.
In 1990, Tom Fogerty died of AIDS, which he contracted from a blood transfusion. CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. At the induction, Tom Fogerty’s widow brought the urn containing his ashes for a CCR “reunion,” but John Fogerty refused to perform.

Yet, 1969 was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s golden time, and its only fitting that Fantasy Records, an Imprint of the Concord Bicycle Music, is releasing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 Archive Box, available exclusively for Record Store Day, April 16th. Drawing entirely from archival material, this is an audiovisual time capsule: with band interviews, photos and correspondence, ephemera and the music CCR released that year continued in a faux archive box which looks like it was just removed from the Fantasy warehouse. This 1969 Archive Box celebrates an incredible moment in time for one of rock music’s most enduring rock bands with a rich treasure of artifacts.

“Great efforts have been made to keep all reproductions as close to original as possible, including misspellings, flipped A- and B-sides, and colored vinyl pressings,” says Sig Sigworth, SVP of Catalog at Concord Bicycle Music and the box set’s producer. “I didn’t want new liner notes and remasters, but rather a time capsule of the actual artifacts that we found in the vault.”

Stephen Phenow is a Los Angeles writer


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