The Blue Velvets/the Golliwogs: 1959–1967
John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, and Stu Cook met at Portola Junior High School in El Cerrito, California. Calling themselves The Blue Velvets, the trio began playing instrumentals and "juke box standards", as well as backing Fogerty's older brother Tom at live gigs and in the recording studio. Tom soon joined the band, and in 1964 they signed with Fantasy Records, an independent jazz label in San Francisco that had released Cast Your Fate To The Wind, a national hit for jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. The record's success was the subject of a National Educational Television special, which prompted budding songwriter John Fogerty to contact the label. For the band's first release, Fantasy co-owner Max Weiss renamed the group the Golliwogs (after the children's literary character, Golliwogg).
Bandmembers' roles and the instruments they played changed during this period. Stu Cook switched from piano to bass guitar and Tom Fogerty from lead vocals to rhythm guitar; John became the band's lead vocalist and primary songwriter. In Tom Fogerty's words: "I could sing, but John had a sound!"
Early success: 1967–1968
In 1966, the group suffered a setback when John Fogerty and Doug Clifford received draft notices and chose to enlist in the military instead to avoid conscription. Fogerty joined the Army Reserve while Clifford joined the Coast Guard Reserve.
In 1967, Saul Zaentz bought Fantasy Records and offered the band a chance to record a full-length album on the condition that they change their name. He had never liked "the Golliwogs", in part because of the racial charge of the name, and the four readily agreed. Zaentz and the band agreed to come up with 10 suggestions each, but he enthusiastically agreed to their very first: Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), which they took in January 1968. According to interviews with band members 20 years later, the name's elements come from three sources:
- Tom Fogerty's friend Credence Newball, whose name they changed to form the word Creedence (as in creed)
- a television commercial for Olympia Brewing Company ("clear water")
- the four members' renewed commitment to their band
Rejected contenders for the band's name included Muddy Rabbit, Gossamer Wump, and Creedence Nuball and the Ruby, but the last was the start that led to their finalized name. Cook described the name as "weirder than Buffalo Springfield or Jefferson Airplane."
By 1968, Fogerty and Clifford had been discharged from military service, and all four members had quit their jobs to begin an intense schedule of rehearsing and playing full-time at clubs.AM radio programmers around the US took note when their cover of the 1956 rockabilly song "Susie Q" received substantial airplay in the San Francisco Bay Area and on Chicago's WLS. It was the band's second single, its first to reach the Top 40 (No. 11), and its only Top 40 hit not written by John Fogerty. Two other singles were released from the debut: a cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins's "I Put A Spell On You" (No. 58) and "Porterville" (released on the Scorpio label with writing credited to "T. Spicebush Swallowtail"), written during Fogerty's time in the Army Reserve.
Peak success: 1969–1970
After their breakthrough, CCR began touring and started work on their second album, Bayou Country (1969), at RCA Studios in Los Angeles. A No. 7 platinum hit, the record was their first in a string of hit albums and singles that continued uninterrupted for three years. The single "Proud Mary", backed with "Born on the Bayou", reached No. 2 on the national Billboard chart. The former would eventually become the group's most-covered song, with some 100 versions by other artists to date, including the #4 1971 hit by Ike & Tina Turner, two years to the week after the CCR version peaked. John Fogerty cites this song as being the result of high spirits on gaining his discharge from the Army Reserve. The album also featured a remake of the rock & roll classic "Good Golly, Miss Molly" and the band's nine-minute live-show closer, "Keep On Chooglin'".
Weeks later, during March 1969, "Bad Moon Rising" backed with "Lodi" was released and peaked at No. 2. In the United Kingdom, "Bad Moon Rising" spent three weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart during September and October 1969, becoming the band's only number one single in the UK. The band's third album, Green River, followed in August 1969 and went gold along with the single "Green River", which again reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts. The B-side of "Green River", "Commotion", peaked at No. 30 and the band's emphasis on remakes of their old favorites continued with "Night Time Is the Right Time".
CCR continued to tour incessantly with performances in July 1969 at the Atlanta Pop Festival and in August 1969 at the Woodstock Festival. Their set was not included in the Woodstock film or soundtrack because John Fogerty felt the band's performance was subpar. Four tracks from the event (out of a total of eleven) were eventually included in the 1994 commemorative box set Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music. Stu Cook, however, held an opposing view, saying "The performances are classic CCR and I'm still amazed by the number of people who don't even know we were one of the headliners at Woodstock '69." John Fogerty later complained the previous band, the Grateful Dead, put the audience to sleep; as John scanned the audience he saw a "Dante scene, just bodies from hell, all intertwined and asleep, covered with mud."
"Creedence Clearwater Revival, which disbanded in 1972, were progressive and anachronistic at the same time. An unapologetic throwback to the golden era of rock and roll, they broke ranks with their peers on the progressive, psychedelic San Francisco scene. Their approach was basic and uncompromising, holding true to the band members' working-class origins. The term 'roots rock' had not yet been invented when Creedence came along, but in essence, they defined it, drawing inspiration from the likes of Little Richard
, Hank Williams
, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry
, and the artisans of soul at Motown
and Stax. In so doing, Creedence Clearwater Revival became the standard bearers and foremost celebrants of homegrown American music."
—Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
After Woodstock, CCR was busy honing material for a fourth album, Willy and the Poor Boys, released in November 1969. "Down on the Corner" and "Fortunate Son" climbed to No. 3 and No. 14, respectively, by year's end. The album was CCR in its standard form, featuring Fogerty originals and two reworked Lead Belly covers, "Cotton Fields" and "Midnight Special". Both of those songs had also been performed by actor Harry Dean Stanton in the movie Cool Hand Luke.
The year 1969 had been a remarkable chart year for the band: three Top Ten albums, four hit singles (charting at No. 2, No. 2, No. 2, and No. 3) with three additional charting B-sides. On November 16, 1969, they performed "Fortunate Son" and "Down on the Corner" on The Ed Sullivan Show.
CCR released another two-sided hit, "Travelin' Band"/"Who'll Stop the Rain" in January 1970. Except for Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, The Everly Brothers, and The Beatles, Creedence had more success with two-sided hit singles than any band up to that point. John Fogerty has said that the flip side was inspired by the band's experience at Woodstock. The speedy "Travelin' Band", with a strong Little Richard sound, however, bore enough similarities to "Good Golly, Miss Molly" to warrant a lawsuit by the song's publisher; it was eventually settled out of court. The song ultimately topped out at No. 2. The band also recorded its January 31, 1970, live performance at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, which would later be marketed as a live album and television special. In February, CCR was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, although only John Fogerty was interviewed in the accompanying article.
In April 1970, CCR was set to begin its first European tour. To support the upcoming live dates, Fogerty wrote "Up Around the Bend" and "Run Through the Jungle"; the single reached No. 4 that spring. The band returned to Wally Heider's San Francisco studio in June to record Cosmo's Factory. The title was an in-joke about their various rehearsal facilities and factory work ethic over the years. (Drummer Doug Clifford's longtime nickname is "Cosmo", due to his keen interest in nature and all things cosmic.) The album contained the earlier Top 10 hits "Travelin' Band" and "Up Around the Bend" plus popular album tracks such as the opener "Ramble Tamble".
Cosmo's Factory was released in July 1970, along with the band's fifth and final No. 2 national hit, "Lookin' Out My Back Door"/"Long as I Can See the Light". Although they topped some international charts and local radio countdowns, CCR has the odd distinction of having five No. 2 singles, without ever having had a No. 1, on the Hot 100, the most of any group. Their five No. 2 singles were exceeded only by Elvis Presley and Madonna with six each and tied with The Carpenters. Curiously, on WLS, the band had three No. 1's, four No. 3's, and two No. 4's, but no No. 2 singles, with "Down on the Corner" the only top ten CCR single registering the same peak position (No. 3) on the Hot 100 and on WLS.
Other cuts on the Cosmo's Factory album included an eleven-minute jam of the 1968 Marvin Gaye "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (a minor hit when an edited version was released as a single in 1976), and a nearly note-for-note homage to Roy Orbison's "Ooby Dooby". The album was CCR's best seller and went to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album charts and No. 11 on Billboard's Soul Albums chart.
Internal discord and Tom Fogerty's departure
CCR in 1972, after Tom Fogerty's departure; John Fogerty, Stu Cook, Doug Clifford
The Cosmo's Factory sessions had seen the stirrings of tensions within the foursome as the incessant touring and heavy recording schedules took their toll. John Fogerty had taken complete control of the group in matters of both business and artistic output, to the chagrin of Tom Fogerty, Cook, and Clifford. Fogerty resisted, feeling that a "democratic" process would threaten their success. Other issues included Fogerty's decision at a 1970 Nebraska gig that the band would no longer give encores at its live shows.
Pendulum, released in December 1970, was another top seller, spawning a Top 10 hit with "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?" John Fogerty included Hammond B3 Organ on many of the Pendulum tracks, notably "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?", in recognition of the deep respect and influence of Booker T. & the M.G.'s, with whom the members of the band had jammed. The single's flip side, "Hey Tonight", was also a hit.
Tom Fogerty decided he had had enough of his younger brother and resigned from CCR in late 1970 after the recording of Pendulum; his departure was made public the following February. At first, the remaining members considered replacing him but ultimately continued as a trio. He later stated on an Australian television broadcast that no new member could endure being in CCR.
Decline and breakup: 1971–1972
In spring 1971, John Fogerty did an about-face and informed Cook and Clifford that CCR would continue only by adopting a "democratic" approach: each member would now write and perform his own material. Fogerty also would contribute only rhythm guitar to his bandmates' songs. Cook and Clifford, who had wanted more input in CCR's artistic and business decisions, resisted this arrangement. Fogerty insisted they accept it or he would quit the band. Despite the dissension, the trio put its new work ethic to the test in the studio, releasing the Top 10 single "Sweet Hitch-Hiker" in July 1971, backed with Stu Cook's "Door To Door". The band toured both the U.S. and Europe that summer and autumn, with Cook's song a part of the live set. In spite of their continuing commercial success, however, relations among the three had become increasingly strained.
The band's final album, Mardi Gras, was released in April 1972, featuring songs written by Fogerty, Cook, and Clifford and a cover of "Hello Mary Lou" (a song Gene Pitney had originally written for Ricky Nelson). The album was a critical failure, with Rolling Stone reviewer Jon Landau deeming it "the worst album I have ever heard from a major rock band." The sales of Mardi Gras were weaker than previous albums, ultimately peaking at No. 12, though it still became the band's 7th consecutive studio album to be certified Gold. Fogerty's "Someday Never Comes", backed with Clifford's "Tearin' Up The Country", also cracked the U.S. Top 40.
By this point, Fogerty was not only at direct odds with his bandmates, but he had also come to see the group's relationship with Fantasy Records as onerous, feeling that label owner Saul Zaentz had reneged on his promise to give the band a better contract. Cook—who held a degree in business—claimed that because of poor judgment on Fogerty's part, CCR had to abide by the worst record deal of any major US recording artist. Despite the relatively poor reception of Mardi Gras and deteriorated relationships among the remaining band members, CCR embarked upon a two-month, 20-date U.S. tour. However, on October 16, 1972—less than six months after the tour ended—Fantasy Records and the band officially announced its disbanding. CCR never formally reunited after the break-up, although Cook and Clifford eventually started the band Creedence Clearwater Revisited.
John Fogerty later commented on the demise of CCR in a 1997 edition of the Swedish magazine Pop:
I was alone when I made that [Creedence] music. I was alone when I made the arrangements, I was alone when I added background vocals, guitars and some other stuff. I was alone when I produced and mixed the albums. The other guys showed up only for rehearsals and the days we made the actual recordings. For me Creedence was like sitting on a time bomb. We'd had decent successes with our cover of 'Susie Q' and with the first album. When we went into the studio to cut 'Proud Mary,' it was the first time we were in a real Hollywood studio, RCA Records's Los Angeles studio, and the problems started immediately. The other guys in the band insisted on writing songs for the new album, they had opinions on the arrangements, they wanted to sing. They went as far as adding background vocals to 'Proud Mary,' and it sounded awful. They used tambourines, and it sounded no better.
That's when I understood I had a choice to make. At that point in time we were just a one hit wonder, and 'Susie Q' hadn't really been that big a hit. Either this [the new album] would be a success, something really big, or we might as well start working at the car wash again. There was a big row. We went to an Italian restaurant and I remember that I very clearly told the others that I for one didn't want to go back to the car wash again. Now we had to make the best possible album and it wasn't important who did what, as long as the result was the very best we could achieve. And of course I was the one who should do it. I don't think the others really understood what I meant, but at least I could manage the situation the way I wanted. The result was eight million-selling double-sided singles in a row and six albums, all of which went platinum. And Melody Maker had us as the best band in the world. That was after the Beatles split, but still. ... And I was the one who had created all this. Despite that, I don't think they understood what I was talking about. ... They were obsessed with the idea of more control and more influence. So finally the bomb exploded and we never worked together again.