Pick of the
Creedence Clearwater Revival
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
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
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