Pick of the Week #1
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Ramble Tamble
(Cosmo's Factory, 1970)
By Beppe Colli
Nov. 23, 2020

"Few artists have been able to take the guitar, so simply and purely, and make it the center of great songs and grooves the way John does. (...) He can make an old lick new, and a new lick a classic, all with the true essence of rock and roll and rhythm and blues."

"In much the same way as George Harrison recycled guitar styles that were considered dated (Chuck Berry, Scotty Moore, Carl Perkins), (...) Fogerty wove the licks of rock's early guitar masters into his personal statement."

These quotes come to us from the April, 1985 issue of (US magazine) Guitar Player. In that issue, the magazine celebrated the return of John Fogerty: guitarist, songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and former leader of (commercially huge, but by that time disbanded, US group) Creedence Clearwater Revival, now appearing as a "solo artist" with a new album, Centerfield, already sitting at the top of the charts.

Guitarist and journalist Dan Forte wrote that issue's excellent "cover story" ("John Fogerty Returns", where the second passage quoted above appears); while guitarist and "guitar instructor" Arlen Roth discussed Fogerty's art and guitar techniques in that issue's installment of his monthly column, Hot Guitar ("The Magic Of John Fogerty", from which the first quote appearing above is taken).

An apparent paradox for music that is said to really come alive only when played live on stage (we could call that music "rock", but please notice: Fogerty gets his material and inspiration from blues, folk, rock 'n' roll, rhythm & blues, and rockabilly), in his formative years Fogerty deeply investigated both the "digital side" (i.e., the guitar techniques required in order to play that music) and the "sound aspects" (i.e., the specific recording techniques that made the music sound the way it did) of a lot of music that touched him: an accurate study of those archetypes that in the end made Fogerty himself an archetype of multifaceted complexity presenting his music on record.

As an example of recording technique I'll mention the famous "slap echo" in Elvis Presley's early hits: precisely what was being eliminated by a new digital mastering right under the eyes of an incredulous-looking Fogerty as he, totally by chance, entered a studio where the tape was running with nobody there watching. (Fogerty himself told this story in the course of an interview/dialogue with one of his idols, Duane Eddy, which appeared in an issue of the great US magazine Musician. Some time earlier, at the time of the release of Centerfield, Musician had given Fogerty an excellent "cover story".)

What a strange, "incomprehensible", name: Creedence Clearwater Revival was maybe chosen in order to appear side-by-side with (once popular) names such as Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother And The Holding Company. One could almost perceive the uneasiness of the underdog on the part of a quartet coming from a tiny place called El Cerrito: an almost-Berkeley, and an almost-but-not-quite San Francisco, right on the Bay Area.

Let's not forget that in those days, after the "London reign", the San Francisco district called the Haight-Ashbury had become "the center of the music world". Hence, just maybe, the group's decision to get Ralph J. Gleason - star journalist of the "world bible of rock music" of the time, Rolling Stone - to pen the liner notes to the group's debut album. Quite strange liner notes, if you ask me, that happen to mention the group and the record in question only at the very end, and almost like an afterthought.

A bitter pill for Fogerty to swallow, and maybe (just maybe: it could be just a matter of coincidence) the reason why the words "3rd Generation" - the tag Gleason had used when talking about the group in the aforementioned liner notes - appear as a sign in the front picture of Cosmo's Factory, the album that offered the definitive commercial proof that Creedence Clearwater Revival had arrived.

Creedence Clearwater Revival's first, medium-sized, hit was a cover of an old hit, Suzie Q. The song arrangement - featuring a long, "acid"-sounding guitar solo, and some "phone" vocals - appeared tailor-made to "fit" right in the center of San Francisco "psychedelia".

Starting with the next, colossal, hit - Proud Mary - the sound changed. What didn't change was the enormous scale of success that those singles - both sides sporting "A side" tunes, always - achieved in the United States, and all over the world.

Which made the group "not liked" by some. Which is quite weird, since the group's success was not achieved by vulgar means. The music was personal, and inside the given stylistic framework it offered much greater variety than what could appear on first listening. While Fantasy, the label that signed the group, did not have the financial means to "promote" their music! (It was the group that put Fantasy on the map.)

It's true that the group appeared to consider the single as the most important item just at a time when many artists started regarding the album as a whole as a "work of art". And it's true that the group's first album conceived as such, Pendulum, was in many ways the beginning of the end, but for reasons I'd say not strictly inherent to the music featured on the album, which - when listened to with a different attitude (something which not many people bothered to do, then and now) - shows quite a few new sides in the group's music, even if the mood of the album lacks almost completely the joy and the exuberance that one used to associate with the group's name: and could this be regarded as being a fault, per se?

I've always considered it strange that the time that saw Creedence Clearwater Revival sitting at the top - the time in question being the late 60s-early 70s, when a lot of attention was being paid to the notion of "conflict", either "generational", "racial", or "class" - did not pay that much attention to John Fogerty's "blue collar", "working class", perspective. A perspective that gave us such masterpieces as Fortunate Son (a song that nowadays one mostly remember for its music and its vocal attitude, and rightly so; but having a look at the lyrics won't hurt); "meditations" such as Don't Look Now (It Ain't You Or Me); obscure premonitions such as Bad Moon Risin' (and its "hard" version, Sinister Purpose); sad portraits of a "precarious equilibrium" such as Effigy; trembling moments ŕ la "cinema vérité" such as Run Through The Jungle; and pathos-filled portraits such as the one presented in the world-famous Lodi: the musician who didn't make it.

An excellent player, John Fogerty managed to create a kaleidoscope of guitar timbres using just a few instruments: guitars by Rickenbacker (on which he produced the typical "ping" but also a menacing "snarl") and Gibson (a semi-acoustic on Proud Mary and Bayou Country, a Les Paul a bit later); Kustom amplifiers (those covered with that strange material that my dictionary calls Naugahyde), with some added Fender when needed. The sound of the group started with an "all Rickenbacker" palette, as it's quite easy to hear on their first album of same name, to arrive in time at a bigger, fatter sound, as showed by the Guild model played by Tom Fogerty - the group's rhythm guitarist, and John's older brother - as pictured on Cosmo's Factory's back cover.

Though the always-changing rules and regulations when it comes to digital copyright could make my words obsolete any day, I think it can be said that when it comes to Creedence Clearwater Revival finding live concert excerpts legally online is definitely a possibility. Best I've seen? Those 1970 excerpts from concerts held at Oakland Coliseum, in front of 14.000 people, and at the Royal Albert Hall in London, with the group at the peak of its powers.

From left, Tom Fogerty on guitar and Stu Cook on bass. From right, John Fogerty and drummer Doug Clifford. One immediately notices that what really counts, the "engine" propelling everything, is the relationship between Fogerty's vocals and guitar and Clifford's drums, especially the hi-hat (whose cymbals are of a size and weight I'd never seen before - nor after). Something to consider every time one thinks about the "source" of the "pulse".

By the time Cosmo's Factory appeared, the audience knew most of the songs penned by Fogerty perfectly well, since they had appeared on two sides of three high-charting singles released before the album. To round the picture, as it was custom for the group, a few covers of songs that had been an "inspiration" for Fogerty, including one that was fairly recent, I Heard It Through The Grapevine.

The only unreleased Fogerty-penned song to appear on the album is Ramble Tamble, a long track appearing as track #1, and so the first thing one listens to after placing the stylus on the record.

While the previous album, Willy And The Poor Boys, started with the joyous mood of Down On The Corner, only to end with a moment of great drama such as Effigy, Ramble Tamble immediately puts the listener in the middle of mayhem. Even though the album's close, Long As I Can See The Light - a perfect Stax r & b featuring a Wurlitzer electric piano, a wind section, and a sax solo (everything played by Fogerty, of course) - bids farewell on a hopeful note.

While I think it's true that, given time, every group becomes equal to the sum of their hits, I've been very puzzled by the scant attention paid to Ramble Tamble. A track that is one-of-a-kind in the history of the group, and where the middle section - at least, since the time the listener owns a hi-fi system that's better than an alarm clock, something which could not be taken for granted at the time of the album's original release - sounds as an episode of symphonic grandeur that "the louder it plays, the better it sounds".

"There's mud in the water, roach in the cellar, bugs in the sugar, mortgage on the home". "There's garbage on the sidewalk, highways on the backyard, police on the corner, mortgage on the car". Everything at full speed, on a "shuffle" rhythm.

At about two minutes, the song pushes on the brakes, only to start again with a guitar arpeggio which is then coupled with a wall of feedback amplifiers appearing one by one. Then a sinister-sounding rat-ta-ta from a guitar, followed by a melodic phrase played on a guitar with barely-controlled feedback - one can really hear the cone about to go full blast - that appears to struggle to make itself heard on the middle of all that noise. Lotsa cymbals, a few bass melodic phrases, the pulse growing faster, lotsa harmonics/overtones, and "the louder it plays"...

Who is this supposed to remind one of? Glenn Branca? Sonic Youth? What about... The Beatles? - here I'm thinking about the "B section" from Lennon's I Want You (She's So Heavy), the closing track on Abbey Road's A side, released just one year earlier. To my ears, a noble experiment, not completely successful, in so differently from Ramble Tamble.

Readers are invited to judge for themselves. Volume permitting, of course.

© Beppe Colli 2020

CloudsandClocks.net | Nov. 23, 2020