CCR played so many concerts and scored so many hits in the late ’60s, you could easily have missed the fact that they somehow weren’t included in the classic audio and visual documents of the Woodstock generation. Patrick Berkery gets the story.
The workload is much lighter these days than it was fifty years ago for former Creedence Clearwater Revival drummer Doug Clifford. And it’s about to get lighter. Once Clifford and former CCR bassist Stu Cook wrap their scheduled 2019 dates with Creedence Clearwater Revisited—the band they started twenty-five years ago, not long after John Fogerty refused to perform with his former bandmates at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony—the group is retiring from touring.
Given the breakneck pace at which CCR operated in 1969, it’s a wonder Clifford and Cook are still out on the road fifty years later. Just contemplating how much work the band put in over the course of those 365 days is exhausting. They released three classic Top-10 albums—Bayou Country, Green River, and Willy and the Poor Boys—and toured behind each; they cut the hugely successful double A-side single “Travelin’ Band”/“Who’ll Stop the Rain” (released in January of 1970); and they performed a late-night headline set at the generation-defining Woodstock festival.
“I asked John, ‘Why are we doing so much?’,” Clifford says when questioned about the band’s Herculean 1969 workload. “His answer was, ‘If we’re ever off the charts, we’ll be forgotten.’ I didn’t necessarily agree with what he was saying. Other bands took some time off and when they’d come back, they’d be in the charts, but if that’s what he wanted done, we could do it. We had a work ethic that was second to none. We were lunch pail guys.”
That work ethic served CCR well as the band was faced with one obstacle after another as they tried to make it to the stage at Woodstock on August 16, 1969. After taking a redeye flight from Los Angeles to New York, plans to take a connecting flight upstate were scuttled due to road closures caused by overflow traffic. Instead the band members crammed into helicopters for white-knuckle rides to Yasgur’s Farm. Upon arriving at the concert site, they were greeted by a muddy, chaotic scene, and a crowd of nearly a half million people that Clifford says had been basically lulled to sleep by the Grateful Dead, who performed just before CCR.
“They were acid’d out and pretty boring,” Clifford says, recalling the Dead’s Woodstock set. “They finished with a forty-five-minute ‘Turn on Your Love Light,’ and there was never a pocket in it. It was just awful. It was pretty difficult to come into that situation. Everybody was pretty beat from two days of what they were going through—the weather, and all the things that happen when you have six times more people than you had allotted for.
“And there were so many distractions. We barely had a line check; half the stuff wasn’t working. But I had adrenaline in me. That’s how it was back then. I was always the guy who drove the band. That was my style. That’s what my job was. I was charged. In the DVD you’ll see me with my Mickey Mouse t-shirt on, pounding the shit out of my Paiste cymbals and Camco drums.”
The DVD Clifford is referring to is Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Edition, the Director’s Cut—not the blockbuster, Academy Award–winning film released in 1970 and seen by millions in theaters and on television in the years since. While the 2009 DVD release featured howling versions of three classic CCR tunes—“Born on the Bayou,” “I Put a Spell on You,” and “Keep on Chooglin’”—the bulk of the band’s hour-long set has been kept in the vaults all these years because John Fogerty felt the band didn’t play well at Woodstock. Consequently they also didn’t appear on the original documentary’s famous soundtrack LP. (At press time, the August 2 release of the CD/LP Live at Woodstock, featuring the band’s complete set, was announced.)
“I always wanted to be in the movie, but John said no because we didn’t play well,” Clifford says. “[John’s] answer was that it was us—Stu, Tom [Fogarty, CCR rhythm guitarist], and me. It was always us with John; it was never him. But I know we played well, especially given the conditions. There’s a million excuses—we were tired or whatever, the stage sound wasn’t great. But it was the same playing field for everyone. It was something all the bands had to deal with. At the end of the day, it was really one of the most amazing things that I’ve ever participated in. I was just glad to be a part of it.”
Doug Clifford plays DW drums and Paiste cymbals and uses Evans heads and Vic Firth sticks.