Posted April 2020
Creedence Clearwater Revival.
The mention of the band conjures up memories of their many hits like Suzie Q, Born On The Bayou, Proud Mary, Fortunate Son, and all the memories and images we’ve individually tied to those and other songs.
For me, Proud Mary is especially meaningful to me as it was the song my mom said that I had to learn on a borrowed guitar – from beginning to end – before she and my dad would buy me my own, new guitar. I did and they did. Mom is gone but I still have the guitar that she and my dad bought me. No amount of money would ever get me to sell. For that matter, no amount of money can erase the amazing memories I have that are forever tied to those amazing CCR hits.
The foundation of those legendary songs is the steady, driving rhythms that were laid down by the co-founding drummer, Doug ‘Cosmo’ Clifford. When CCR split up, he and bandmate, Stu Cook (whom we’ve interviewed twice – here and here), formed their own group, Creedence Clearwater Revisited. They retired the band last year after settling a lengthy and expensive lawsuit with John Fogerty.
Not one to settle into “retirement”, Cosmo recently unearthed a collection of very well recorded demo tapes with several albums’ worth of quite listenable (and enjoyable) material. The first of those albums is coming out and is titled, Magic Window, which is a wonderful collection of ten well-written, played and recorded songs that Clifford put together in the mid-eighties.
When I heard that he was putting the album out – and after listening to an advance copy of it – I immediately reached out to set up an interview with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
Reaching him at his winter home in Arizona, I started off by thanking him for not only taking the time to chat with me but also for the many years of great music that makes up so much of the soundtrack of my youth. “The pleasure's mine, believe me. It was a dream that a13-year-old had and took it over the fence. It continued even though we just put Creedence Clearwater Revisited to bed. That was 25 years of touring; every year for 25 years. Another second career, if you will. Now, I'm going back into the creative side and putting records out. I've got a bunch of them. They're all songs that I've written or co-written. One of the things I did when I was writing a lot, I had a studio in the house and recorded them to be master quality demos. It's paying off, I guess. People Like the album I’ve got coming out.”
I shared with Cosmo that my two favorite cuts from the album are, ‘Don't Leave Me Alone Tonight’ (a great tune with a bit of a John Lennon ala his Double Fantasy album sound to it) and ‘Somebody Love Me Tonight’. When I shared that with him, he replied:
“That's a very high compliment to be mentioned with John Lennon. I have to say thank you. And, then, Somebody Love Me tonight, I didn't have anybody write that with me. That was 100% my song. I have three of them that I wrote by myself and the rest were all co-written. When I write, I limit it to one other writer. I've been in a situation where three or four guys write and then you kind of lose track. Somebody would say, 'Well, I had more lines than you did so I should get this percentage' - 'Wait a minute!'
“We cut it down the middle, make life easier, make the best song we can. So that's how I do my deal.”
Then, circling back around to the story behind Magic Window, he added:
“Yeah, it is a complete surprise. I forgot about this record and there it was. and I didn't know if it would even play. I found ten other reels. I've got about a hundred songs with other some with different vocalists. I've got some stuff with Bobby Whitlock and we have a guy that sounded like Rod Stewart singing on some stuff. This was the closest thing I've ever had to being an artist and wearing all the hats. Writing. Producing. Singing.
“The singing, for me, was the tough part because I didn't do much of it. I had a decent voice because my mother, she sang on the radio when she was a teenager but got married young. And so, I sort of took her dreams with Creedence to the Graceland, so to speak. She was very supportive. I said, 'If she can sing like that, I just have to practice.' So, practice I did! Ha! Ha!”
I told Clifford that the thing that I found remarkable about Magic Window is that, though the album had been in a vault, so to speak, for thirty-five years, and not heard until now, the songs have a classic, stand-the-test-of-time sound and feel to them. They hit me like well-worn standards. He agreed.
“Yeah, I have to agree with you. It was done in the 80s. I guess the giveaway there is Simmons toms, Ha! Ha! That was the big deal. I had just bought those toms and I was playing away on them. It was all the rage back then. I've heard some Simmons' toms on some of the newer stuff that's out now. So, maybe they've come back. I hope so.
“But it sounds - when I listened to it - it happened so long ago and I haven't done anything like that since - t's like I'm listening to somebody else. You know, I like it because I'm my own worst critic. I'm going, 'Gee! Who is this guy?' And it's me! That's me and I'm not in the shower. How about that?”
What song on Magic Window would Cosmo point to as a calling card to entice people to purchase the entire album?
“Well, I would say, probably, Don't Leave Me Alone Tonight or Just Another Girl. I picked those two out because they're balanced. The up-tempo stuff is something that everyone expects from me being a drummer. So, I think there's a lot more to a ballad, especially from the musical standpoint. So, those are, I think, my two best vocals. Those two songs.”
Concluding his answer to my question, Clifford closed by saying:
“I like every song in it. That's why they're in there. I think it's probably my best writing, as well. I've put a lot of time in putting all the parts together. And then, by the time I had all the parts, I had been working on my voice and I was ready. So. It's a labor of love. I'm very, very proud of it. As I say, when I listen to it, it's like, wow. Who are those guys?”
I asked if the songs are as intensely personal as they sound.
“Well, yeah, it's pretty fair. Some more than others. Sort of my writing style was - Rob Polomsky, I wrote four of the six songs with him - He was a local guy. I saw him all the time. I had more time with him to write than the other guys. But, you know, as I say, I've written with Steve Wright and some other guys over the years. He would have a little guitar hook. It might not even be two - a lot of them were less than two bars or four bars. Not a lot. ‘Listen to this lyric.’ I listened to it. And then I'd go, 'Hmmmm, what does that spark?'
“So that's kind of the deal. If it doesn't spark something, give me another one. That's how we would do it. And he just had a bunch of songs that are a bunch of hooks that sparked certain feelings or memories.
“For example, Just Another Girl. I said, 'You know, most loves songs are love at first sight. You know, ‘When I saw her, I fell in love head over heels.’ I said I want an opposite type deal. I want this guy not to be enamored coming out of the chute. 'The first time that I saw you, you were just another girl. I didn't know then you would change my whole world.' I mean, it's kind of like, ‘Hmm, just another girl.’ It's a different way to get into a song like that. So, I had a few little things that I liked to throw in and make, maybe something unique, if you will.”
When I asked Doug what he hoped listeners would take away from listening to Magic Window, he replied:
“I hope that they enjoy it and I hope it takes them down a Happy Road. Creedence didn't do any love songs so there's several love songs. I had to make up for the ones we didn't do. It just wasn't what we did. So, from that standpoint - that kind of is a pretty positive thing. You know, a love song and others are totally different. 'Somebody Love Me Tonight', that's one of those kinds of sad (songs) in the sense that there are a lot of people that are in that situation that they're looking for love for all the wrong reasons. Of course, that was a country hit. But I mean, that's a definition of that song.
“I'm a storyteller and, you know, it's general admission or parental guidance, 13 and older. But the songs come and you based those on merits. Hopefully, they are interesting to people and get their attention. That's really what it's all about. You want to engage people in your art.”
I hadn’t realized it until Cosmo said so that CCR never did love songs. I asked him why.
“I think John was uncomfortable in that arena. He was very shy, for one. And, you know, he had a tough childhood and I think that that word was kind of guarded. I don't think he felt comfortable going down that road. You'd have to ask him.
“But, you know, I grew up with the guy. We were 13 when we met and when we started the band. And if you look at our concerts, I was right on the floor, no riser or anything, right on the floor, right next to him and his amp. And when he would do a solo, he would turn his back on the audience, come over and play the solo to me. That's how we did it when we were an instrumental trio. I was kind of his 'blankie', if you will. That's how we did it.
“You look at the - it'll be coming out this year, too: Live at the Royal Albert Hall. There's a video - it will be the only video we have out. But that's what he does is he comes over there and that's his area when he solos. He was uncomfortable going up and looking out at the audience because he didn't have dance moves or anything like that and was very uncomfortable in that role. So, I was the guy that was moving around and breaking things. It gave him solace when he was doing his solos.”
Speaking of concerts, I asked Cosmo if he has touring plans to support the new CD.
“No, I don't, because I had cancer and I had radiation. I haven't done any singing and I just quit touring. No, it's just too hard on your body. I've been going out with a band that's playing hits then to go out as the guy with an album that nobody knows about and try to travel or even get gigs to do that? You’ve got to get a hit first. I'd like to do videos; create something visual while the song's going on and kind of do it that way. Because, really what it is, I'm a singer, songwriter, publisher. That's what I'm doing.
“I've got albums that are waiting in the wings. I'll be releasing the next one, two, three, four or five or six or so albums. I've got a lot of a lot of really good songs, had some good writing partners. And I really enjoyed that that that procedure and the creativity that was involved in it. You know, I hope to surprise a few people. I'm talking to a lot of different people. Disc jockeys, yourself, and other people that are in the business and people that I know who will - if there's any doubt - they'll still say, ‘This thing is a piece of shit.’ Nobody's done that yet and these are people that they say, ‘You should really just stick to the drums and forget about it.’
“But I think I have something in this record. And, you know, now's a good time for music. Boy, I'll tell you, it's a medicine for sure and we need a lot of medicine in our world right now.”
I asked Clifford what the worst and best changes that he’s seen in the music industry.
“Well, that's an interesting question. It's the same ones that stand out hugely and that the artists are getting screwed more and more every time there's some sort of technology change or boom, the result is the artist gets more screwed.
“For example, streaming is a fraction of what it used to make when you got airplay or when records were sold to people. The idea that people expect their music to be free is - I've never gotten that one. I would ask that guy - say he's a ditch digger – ‘Would you dig ditches all week and go up at the end of the week and say, 'Don't pay me. I expect to give you my ditches free.'
“It makes it pretty tough for talented people that don't have a chance at making a career or living at music, alone. It limits financially the future of the artists, for sure. And then the other side of it is the good side of it is that, for example, my album's coming out on CD Baby. I don't have a record company and I like the fact that I don't because I am the record company. I know enough about the business and I've been on the other side of it from a promotional standpoint, for years, both promoting Creedence and then promoting albums that Stu Cook and I made with a production company, so I understand it. And one of the things that I was talking to somebody about this and he said, 'I was so excited when I got my deal, they said, 'We're going to do this and we're going to do that' and they gave me a release date. They said, 'Be ready to go'. And the release date came and he went out there and they jumped up and down and did whatever they were going to do for a week. Then they said, ‘A new artist is coming out tomorrow so we hope that you've got enough from us to get on a radio station'.
“The guy's sitting there with his hopes and dreams in his hand. And, you know, the label just is disconnected. So, CD Baby, they distribute and they promote it. I've got independent promotion. Wendy is my press agent; I get to work on the Internet side of things. And then they set things up for me. I am doing it right now. I'm talking and having a conversation about the record and whatever they throw my way. And hopefully, that door is there because of my background. I've been very fortunate to have that on my resume so that I've got my own label and it's C.D. Baby. They have done a terrific job.
“And this is another thing to further add to your question. For a guy that has a record or even an EP, you can get your record out for less than one hundred bucks. That makes it really pretty cool. And if you're doing gigs, make sure that you get that information out to your audience, so they can go right to the Internet and download your record. So, there is the high and the low of what's happening out there.”
Because of his involvement in the music business span seven decades, I asked Cosmo what he would do to fix the music business if he were ever made “Music Czar”.
“Well, first and foremost, I'd make sure that the artists get fair pay for airplay - and that includes the engineers and people that are hopefully negotiated into the deal. That, of course, depends on who you are and what level you're at. You may just want to get paid an hourly wage because you don't expect anything to come of the project that you're working on. The other side of that is if you’ve got somebody that has a reasonable career going, it looks like or you've heard and you like what you hear and it looks like they have a shot at making something happen, you might want to negotiate time for a point. Work it out that way. There are a lot of ways you can do it. So, I would do that so it allows for being able to have a piece of the pie if the pie comes out really good. So, I would do that.
“Secondly, I would try to get a hold of government to have them take a look at who's got what. In other words, radio stations, they play music. The artist isn't getting a fair shake. They're selling advertising dollars on the backs of those artists. And this is kind of redundant, but I would really make sure that the artists got the percentage of that pie without paying the price of whatever it may be. Again, it's the big, big guys - the corporations - who are pulling the strings and I don't know how to change that.
When I asked Clifford, who was on his musical radar these days, he answered:
“I, for the most part, listen to classic rock. I like to hear my peers' music and make sure they're playing ours. And they are. Radio broke Creedence. We were on a little obscure jazz label in San Francisco and they didn't know anything about rock and roll except one thing: Rock bands made money. Jazz doesn't make money. Rock and roll does and that was their whole motivation for having us. They wanted to make money and money they made. It wasn't by their hand in promoting and whatnot. It was because they didn't know how to promote pop, rock, popular music.
“But they used to have song sheets back in the day and the guys pick sheets and there were certain guys that were really good at picking hit records. There was this one fella, Bill Drake, was the guy that was like the guru and he picked Susie Q as a single. And as a result, Susie Q got airplay and Susie Q was their top ten. Well, it got to eleven. I rounded off. He got us a gold record and it opened the door. Then our second - it was a cover song - our second cover song off that first album was Screaming Jay Hawkins’, ‘I Put A Spell On You’. It died at 53. So, our next record had to have an original single or where we were gonna be a one-hit wonder with Suzy Q. So, we thought, ‘Well, Born on the Bayou is very similar to groove to Susie Q’. And that really worked.
“That's my favorite Creedence song to this very day. So, I was happy about it, but it was a turntable hit. In other words, they got airplay, but it didn't get the sales and we had to have sales to go up the charts on the radio. So, Bill Drake sent out his second sheet. He says, 'You've got the right record. Just turn it over.'
“On the other side was Proud Mary. Gives me chills just talking every time. Talked about it a million times. 'Bill! Bill! Thank you!' 'You've got the right record, you just got to turn it.'”
On the subject of Proud Mary, I mentioned that James Burton had released a cover version of that song before playing it regularly with Elvis. I asked about that.
“Well, that was when Elvis did Proud Mary. That was really cool. We had Concerts West as our promoter back then and Concerts West had the cream of the crop. They had Elvis, they had the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra and they had us. So, we were kind of the cream of the crop. Elvis was coming into the Oakland Coliseum, which is in our backyard. Tom Hewitt, who ran concerts west, said 'Elvis wants to meet you guys. And so, after the show come on backstage.'
“We're like, 'Holy shit! We're going to meet Elvis!' So, in the middle of the show, Elvis finishes a song and then he walks up to the mic, puts his hand on the mic, and he goes, 'I know they're out there. I know they're out there. This one's for the Creedence boys, and, then, 'Two, three, four!' and went into Proud Mary!
“I'm crying. I'm sobbing. I'm not kidding you. Right now, I get teary-eyed about Elvis Presley's playing Proud Mary and dedicating it to us. Then, the other side of that coin is Elvis left the building so we didn't get to meet him. He had a death threat so he had to go.”
I mentioned Cosmo that Elvis was my first concert and that I actually got to meet the Colonel. He didn’t mince any words with his response.
“He was a prick. He treated Elvis like dirt. The stories we got from Tom Hewitt. He said, 'I tried to talk to him. He treats him worse than a junkyard dog.' He says, 'And Elvis just idolizes him.' He was a creep.”
Wrapping up our fun and informative chat, I asked Cosmo how he wanted to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy will be.
“I just hope I could be looked at as a decent human being and thanks his stars every day for the gift that I've received in my career, my personal life. I'm humbled by it and very proud to have been part of it.”
You can order Cosmo’s album, Magic Window, at CD Baby and please do. You will love having it as a great addition to your listening library.