As Doug Clifford kicks back at his summer home in Arizona, he assures me he is not retired: “I’m in up to my neck in this record and loving it,” Clifford says about his solo album, Magic Window, which drops this week on the 24th of April. Although his Creedence Clearwater Revisited project with former Creedence Clearwater Revival bandmate Stu Cook has decided to leave the touring life after twenty plus years, he has a lot of musical endeavors he plans to take on. “Going from the performing side back to the creative side is exciting.”
As the drummer for one of rock & roll’s most iconic American bands, Clifford helped start what would become CCR with John Fogerty and Stu Cook back when they were in their early teens. “Dreams are great but if you are really looking to have something happen, for it to really come to fruition, you’ve got to put your passion to work and make it so.” Along with John’s older brother Tom, CCR followed their childhood dream right onto the music charts, where their songs “Fortunate Son,” “Born On The Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Proud Mary” and “Down On The Corner,” to name just a few, have never gone out of favor, still played daily on radio stations all over the world, despite the band’s breakup almost fifty years ago in 1972.
With one solo album, aptly titled Cosmo, released as the band was ending, Clifford worked with other artists such as Doug Sahm, whom he produced two albums for, and started Revisited in the mid-1990’s with Cook. He also recorded a ton of material which has gone unreleased until now. Having found some old master tapes from 1985, he called up the recording’s engineer/guitar player Russell DaShiell and Magic Window was reborn. A good-time record, Magic Window contains ten songs that set the foot a-tapping, from “Born On The South Side” to “Hungry For Your Love” and “Don’t Let Go.” All the songs feature Clifford on lead vocals, something he never got to do as a member of Creedence. He also wrote or co-wrote all the songs on Magic Window.
With his seventy-fifth birthday right around the corner, Clifford talked with me about his days in Creedence, the music on his solo albums, Vietnam and what he won’t do during quarantine.
So Cosmo, how are you keeping yourself occupied in this time of quarantine?
Well, I’ve got this record coming out so I’m doing a lot of work with it. We’re having a conversation now so I’m doing things like that and getting prepared for the release on the 24th of April, which is my birthday. I’ll be seventy-five so I’m giving myself a birthday present of music (laughs).
Do you think you’re going to shave off those whiskers if you get bored enough during quarantine?
No, I’m not shaving off the whiskers! Can’t do that (laughs)
Your new record is really an old record. How and where did you find this music for Magic Window?
I found it in a locker in my garage and I found several others as well. I found about a hundred songs at least and they were all recorded masters. I had a studio in my house when I made this record, Magic Window, and I didn’t know if the tape was any good anymore. I mean, it was thirty-five years old. So there is a technique called baking and they literally bake old tape and if it’s going to work and be playable and sound good, you have about two weeks after the baking goes and all the music I had survived the baking process, which is almost unheard of. So good storage, right (laughs). I had it in a good, dry, cool spot and that made it happen.
Anyway, yeah, there’s some pretty good songs here. We did it in my house in Lake Tahoe and I got a hold of Russell DaShiell, the lead guitar player on the record, and he was also the recording engineer, and I said, “Do you want to be a co-producer on this project?” and he said sure so I enlisted him and we’ve been working on it over the past year, on and off, and it’s ready to go. The first two singles are “Born On The South Side” and “Just Another Girl.”
Did you do any alterations to the songs?
Well, we were kind of limited to what we could do because these were finished masters so they were quarter-inch tape. We didn’t have the multi-track so we couldn’t remix it or do anything like that. We were somewhat limited but there are amazing things out there that you can do and we did some edits, cleaned some songs up, parts that I thought were great at the time got the ax (laughs); not too many, but there were little spots at the time that seemed pretty cool and then in listening to it, it didn’t add anything so BOOM! We were able to take care of that. We got the songs mastered by a guy that I’ve known for fifty years, one of the best mastering guys in the business, George Horn in the San Francisco Bay area, and we’re ready to rock & roll.
There are a lot of synthesizers on there. Was that a new thing for you?
At the time, it was what was happening so we were in the now (laughs). But you know, the Simmons drums, the tom toms mainly, were electronic drums and that was really new. But other than that some of the synths that we had, they weren’t necessarily lead instruments but they played parts with that nice synth sound, added depth to the recordings. They said it sounds fresh, doesn’t sound like it’s from the eighties, and for me, that’s the real successful part of this project, to have something you did way back when to come out all these years later and sound new and fresh.
I’m a drummer and most people don’t realize that I can sing. I really didn’t sing in the Creedence thing but I’m pretty good in the shower (laughs) so if I can do it scrubbing up I can put it down on these songs. On all the songs I’m either the writer or co-writer. So I’m stepping into a different world where I’m the artist and having a recording studio in your house is a big help. You’re not looking over your shoulder because there is somebody who has a session an hour away from what you are doing and you have three hours worth of work and you only have an hour to do it. You don’t have those problems when you’re sitting in your studio looking out at beautiful Lake Tahoe. And that was my magic window. I lived at Lake Tahoe and I could see for sixty miles in any direction, a beautiful lake, very inspiring place to work for music.
Your vocals sound very confident and very strong; no timidity in them like you’d never done this before as a lead singer and that really shows on this record.
Oh thanks, I really appreciate that. I worked really hard on it. It’s probably what I spent most of my time on. I did have a record out in 1972 but it was really an experiment to see if we could take Cosmo’s Factory and convert it into a recording studio. We were able to do that and I did sing on that album but it wasn’t a lot of time spent. I had a budget and limited time, and this was after Creedence broke up, and Stu and I and Russ Gary, the recording engineer for the Green River album on, wanted to make records with groups that we liked. So that ended up being what we did, using a truck with a recording setup in the back of it and making records that way. This record that we’re talking about now is one that I was recording the music that I had written. Having the time to do it and to do it right makes a big difference.
There are some really cool guitar solos on Magic Window, “Hungry For Your Love” for example. Tell us more about Russell.
He engineered the session and played lead guitar and you’re right, there are some great guitar stuff on the record. Russell was in a band called Crowfoot and I think they might have had one hit but he was also in the Don Harrison Band that Stu and I produced and had two albums on Atlantic Records. Then he did a solo album that I played on as well. So he’s an old friend and I go back many years with him. He’s very talented and just a guy you can count on. What I really like about his solo work, and I’ve been around some pretty good guitar players in my career, is that he always finds a way to build around the melody and that’s a wonderful attribute to have as a solo instrumentalist. He has a unique singing voice and he sings some nice harmony backgrounds with me.
Another fellow, Chris Solberg, who played bass and keyboards, was the other guy that rounded out the team. It was the three of us who recorded it and then Rob Polomsky and I co-wrote four songs on this record. He didn’t play much on the recording because he didn’t have a lot of experience at that. So Russell ended up doing the rhythm guitar work as well and that’s another attribute to have in your wheelhouse.
Would you say “Born On The South Side” is a pretty accurate description of the young Doug Clifford?
Not really. It was more of me in high school. I left home when I was sixteen. My parents finally got the divorce that they should have gotten six years before. I’ve slept on a few back porches as a live-in gardener for people so I could stay in the same school where the band was and my girlfriend at the time, who is my wife and tomorrow is our fifty-second wedding anniversary. But that wasn’t really what I was doing. Music is hard and there are a lot of Creedence type stuff in there with brothers and guitars, and that’s the thing from the Fogerty brothers. But the character had to be kind of coming from rags into riches so that’s why I put him on the back porch ever since he was four.
So you didn’t start off on guitar, like the song says
No, I didn’t. In the Creedence story, John taught Tom how to play guitar. It wasn’t lead guitar but it’s a story, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, so to speak, and there are things in there that happened that were actual and things that weren’t but the end is the same. We had a lot of hits and a lot of gold records. That’s how it ends, a happy ending in that song and I would say there’s a happy ending in the Creedence side of it. We had a dream when we were thirteen years old when we started the band and that was to have our songs played on the radio and here it is fifty-two years later and they’re still playing our songs. So our dream lives and continues. I’m still in music but Stu Cook and I retired from touring with the Creedence Clearwater Revisited. That project was twenty-five years long. I still scratch my head, how the heck did we do that! (laughs)
Considering you didn’t have the main singer from the old band, you pulled it off so well. How much do you credit that to the groove that you and Stu had together?
In rock & roll, the foundation starts with the drums and then the bass. That’s what holds the house. Anybody knows that if you have a weak foundation, the house isn’t going to stand. Creedence is known around the world. Per capita, Mexico was our biggest record market back in the day and most of them didn’t know what we were saying cause they didn’t speak English. So it wasn’t the lyrical content there, though John Fogerty did write some brilliant lyrics, but it’s the beat, you know. In Mexico, and Latin music in general, there is a lot of percussion. So they like good beats and Stu and I had developed a nice groove area and that’s what the ship sailed on. So yeah, when you hear us playing, it’s a recognizable sound. It’s also the feel of the song, the beat and the groove is what you feel. It thumps you in the chest and next thing you know your feet are moving (laughs). It’s good time music.
How is Stu?
Stu is good. He just built a beautiful house in the Caribbean. I won’t say where to give his hiding place away but he’s doing that. I don’t know what other things he has up his sleeve but I think he’s just taking a nice long hiatus and finishing up the house and I’ll find out what he’s up to later.
Did playing drums all these years affect your back?
Well, it wasn’t the stage as much as it was after the stage when you’re doing the traveling. The traveling is brutal and drummers have bad backs. I’ve been doing it for sixty years so I definitely have a bad back. You’re sitting on a stool and you’re not sitting with both feet anchoring you, you’re sitting at an angle with your right foot on the bass drum and your left foot on the high hat and then both hands are doing things opposite what that’s doing. It’s pretty tough.
Did you feel it when you were playing, an injury or if you’d pulled a muscle or something, or was it afterwards when the body started relaxing?
Well, adrenalin is a wonderful drug and it’s free and your body manufactures it but you need certain things to make that happen. An audience is a good way to start. So every time I get onstage and we start the show, the adrenalin starts to flow. So that takes care of a lot of the pain but I’ve played with my back completely out on several occasions and it’s not the greatest thing in the world. But as the classic metaphor goes, the show must go on and that means the show must go on (laughs). That’s what you do.
Can’t do without the drummer that’s for sure
Heck no! Somebody’s got to keep those guitar players in line (laughs)
Your first solo album has a New Orleans-ish feel to it – there’s horns, there’s soul and funk and groove. Was that your main goal for that record, especially since you had Duck Dunn playing bass on it and you can’t get much better than that.
Nope, you can’t and I really miss him. We were good friends and I’d wanted to do a record with him. When I was growing up and listening to rock & roll when I was eleven/twelve years old, it was in the fifties and the birth of rock & roll had a lot of New Orleans and a lot of Jazz and R&B – Fats Domino, Little Richard, James Brown, on and on and on. And I loved that. I thought I was going to take up the sax actually and I’m glad I didn’t (laughs). At the time, the saxophone was generally a lead instrument and played all the solos. The guitar was kind of secondary at that time and then that side of rock & roll took over from the big bands.
I was listening to that and I’d always wanted to play with a horn section so as I said, it was an experiment and I just did what I wanted to do and I had Duckie in there on bass. So yeah, when we played with the horns we were a ten piece band (laughs). We played all the tracks live, you know, and the Tower Of Power are friends of mine and David Garibaldi, their drummer, is a prodigy, one of the best ever, a young, terrific guy. So that was done intentionally. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to have fun doing it and I think I have horns on six of the eleven songs on that record.
It came out around the same time CCR broke up. Did you know this was about to happen when you started work on Cosmo?
Yes, it was pretty obvious things weren’t going too well and things were about to come to an end. In fact, they may even have been at an end at that time because we wouldn’t be trying to put together a production company if the band was still in business.
Were you relieved when it broke up?
Yes and no. I had been in it all my life, ever since I was thirteen, and it was such a huge part of my life and then to have the dreams and have them come true was a thousand times fold so it was a sad thing. I took up welding and did metal sculpture for six months just to get away from all of it. Then after I’d burned my fingers several times I decided, okay, I’m over it now. I don’t know if my welding skills are going to kill me or save me (laughs).
Creedence put out records really fast. Looking back, was that a good or bad idea?
It was a good thing because it allowed us to put out a lot of records in a short period of time. We did that in less than four years. We were very disciplined and straight – no booze, no drugs – it was all about music and if that didn’t get you high you should be doing something else. So it allowed us to put out three albums in 1969. I still shake my head at that one and I don’t know anyone that ever did it besides us to date. But that was how it was supposed to be and we went into the studio with the album; in other words, we didn’t go in with fifteen songs and pick ten out of the fifteen. We went in with each song that is on a record. We didn’t have any leftover songs to leave for the record company when things changed down the road and they wanted to put something out. Why would we want to have something put out that we didn’t think was good enough to put out at the time.
So that’s how we did it. We went in and we had more number one takes than any band I know, cause we’d rehearse for two months and we couldn’t wait to get on to the next one cause we had played those songs a ton rehearsing them. So we’d go in, take one and say, “That sounds pretty good but let’s do another one just to make sure.” We did another one and take one stood tall. We did albums in ten days, two weeks, from start to finish.
I understand that you actually received your draft notice during Vietnam.
Yeah, I did. The Army called me up so I went and took a physical and I was quite a physical specimen in those days (laughs). I lifted weights from when I was fifteen until this very day. I had good bones. My dad was muscular; in other words, it’s in the family. Then when you add lifting weights to it and I was like a slugger on the drums. I used to put cymbals into the front row I played so hard. And I rode a bike to work to and from after playing drums all day. So I always took care of myself.
I was going to San Jose State at the time and a friend of mine from town, who was an older guy – he was a Senior at college, I was a Freshman or a Sophomore – his family had the donut shop in El Cerrito where we grew up. He was in the Coast Guard Reserve and I said, “Tom, can you get me into the Coast Guard Reserve?” And he said, “Are you kidding me? There is a three year waiting list. Everybody wants to be in the Coast Guard Reserve.” Then he said, “Wait a minute, do you play baseball?” And I said no and he said, “Well, it’d be football season anyway.” He played baseball at San Jose State and he played baseball for the Coast Guard when he was in and he knew the coach.
So we went in and told the coach I was the best football player pound for pound in the East Bay and made up these stories how I only played one year of football because my parents gave me the ultimatum – play drums after school or play football after school, cause they both worked and if I played sports then I’d get home close to when they got home and then I’d be playing on my drums and they wanted to have their Manhattans and didn’t want to hear Little Richard (laughs). So I made the right choice, and I was a good athlete, but what do I really like better than anything? I like playing drums.
So they swore me in on the spot and once I was sworn in to the Coast Guard I was in the military and I couldn’t be drafted into the Army or the Marines or the Navy. Then my friend told me, “You’re in now but don’t go out for the football team. It’s a brass knuckles league, it’s dirty, the guys do have brass knuckles they tape up, and as little as you are, you’ll be killed.” And I said okay. I didn’t like it, though. I didn’t feel comfortable I took somebody else’s spot so I worked out extra hard, did all the exercises you do for football and two months later I got to be first string defensive back and I led the league in interceptions per game. We were undefeated champions. So I felt good that I made good on my part of the bargain.
You can’t watch a movie set during that time period without hearing “Fortunate Son” or “Run Through The Jungle.” When they came out, what was the reaction at the time?
You mean the troops in general? We always supported the troops because we knew what it was like having the threat of being drafted. I think it’s destiny. I think if I would have gone to Vietnam I probably would have been shot dead. I don’t know where the band would have gone but probably had found somebody else. But I was meant to be in the Creedence Clearwater Revival, and John too, who was in the Reserves and got out. That I believe to be true, that I was meant to do it. But I went in and did something that I really didn’t think I could do and it saved my life. But we supported the troops where a lot of our peers did not. They were guys just like us and a lot of them didn’t come home – 58,000 killed in Vietnam.
Do you hear from Vietnam Vets who talk to you about your music?
From time to time we run into Vets and time after time it’s, “You got me through Vietnam” and I say, “We didn’t get you through Vietnam, YOU got you through Vietnam. We just helped a little.” And that’s how I tell them. We helped them get through it but they had to do it themselves and I think they like hearing that. And it’s true, that’s how I feel about it. Over the years, we had a lot of Creedence fans in the rice paddies as fans for sure.
Who was the first real rock star you ever met?
Oh wow, well, I wouldn’t say he was a rock star, he was a blues star, Muddy Waters. We played a gig with him in the early days. Early on Dick Clark threw a party and invited us and had like Frankie Avalon and people like that and there was another guy but I can’t think of his name. Might have been Freddy Cannon.
What was the first song you obsessed over as a kid?
Well, “Roll With Me, Henry.” I was nine years old and I bought it. It was a single but it was a 78 and it was by Etta James. My second record that I bought was “Bo Diddley” by Bo Diddley and that jungle rhythm groove that goes through that song was just so powerful and it just moved me. I was nine but my dad didn’t like the music, that’s for sure.
Which song in the Creedence catalog did you never perform live but wanted to?
I don’t know. Maybe “Tombstone Shadow” but not for very long. We actually even put it on a live record. We might have played that at Woodstock as well. But I can’t think of anything offhand because the good ones were all played. Not that there were bad ones but the best songs got the nod, let’s put it that way.
What about the Lead Belly song, “Cotton Fields.”
Yeah, Revisited plays it. That’s a great little ditty that one.
Who picked that to be on Willy & The Poor Boys?
Well, it was public domain and that was one of our favorite songs over the years. The way public domain works is you have to have your own arrangement of it and if you do that then you get the publishing for it. If you play it exactly like the record, then you don’t. So we put our own deal on it, the way we had always played it anyway.
What is your most vivid memory of Woodstock?
Just how crazy it was and for a crowd of 400 plus thousand people under the worst of conditions, there was no violence, people shared whatever they had with complete strangers and there was love there that you could feel. I held my arm up and my hair was standing straight up. Then reality hit: we were in a logistical nightmare because we didn’t know where our gear was, we didn’t know where a lot of things were, a lot of things weren’t working because it rained on them and electronics in rain is not good and we got on very late in the morning. We were supposed to be on as the headliner and ended up playing at like one or two in the morning on Sunday morning. Those are some of the things I remember. But the number one thing was it was truly a success in the sense that there was humanity there like you couldn’t believe. People had fun no matter how bad the conditions were.
Janis Joplin played after you. Did you get to see her at all?
Not really because we had to get out of there but Janis was a friend of ours. She loved Creedence and she said, “All these San Francisco bands play psychedelic music and you guys play REAL rock & roll.” If she wasn’t working, she would come to our shows whenever we were in town. I’ll never forget, she’d always say, “I just love ya’ll.” Bless her heart, she was a big fan and of course we were a big fan of hers.
You worked with Doug Sahm. What was it like working with him?
Oh I loved Doug Sahm and Doug Sahm was a hard guy to pin down. He had more energy than anybody I’ve ever been around and probably more talented than anybody I’ve ever been around. He liked my drumming initially and then we became friends and then they were doing a record for Scandinavia. He had a deal in Scandinavia and they asked me if I would play on it and I said sure. They had an English producer and we ended up having a number one single in Sweden called “Meet Me In Stockholm, Baby.” So I went over and did a tour of Europe with that project just to help get press and also I was starving to play. It was a lot of fun but he’s very hard to work with. He gets pretty wacky and to get him to settle down and stay concentrated was the hardest task with Doug Sahm. I was able to do that and ended up producing two albums. Groover’s Paradise was probably one of the best records I was ever involved with. The way I was able to get him to concentrate was to play many genres and not try to focus on one area. And it showed off what he could do: all the country stuff he sounded like George Jones, the blues stuff he sounded like T-Bone Walker. He could do everything – great voice, great soul. Then Day Dreaming At Midnight was the last album I produced with him. He’s a crazy guy but he loved me and I loved him and I miss him badly.
Was producing easier or harder than being a musician?
It’s different but the way that you do it, or the way that I do it anyway, is you get people that are first of all talented and people that you get along with; in other words, that you can relate to. Then the first thing you tell them before you start rehearsing or the initial steps, you say, “Look, if you hear something in any of these songs as we’re going along and you really think you could add something to it, tell me. My door is open and I hired you to play these parts, your instrument, because I know what you can do with it, so don’t be afraid to show me.” That’s how you do it and now they’re engaged in the project and they’re not just collecting a paycheck and playing a chart.
There are quite a few love songs on Magic Window and that’s not something that was common with Creedence.
No, in fact there were none (laughs). I wondered about that back in the day and I’d say, “Why don’t you try a ballad or a love song?” And the closest thing we came to that was “Long As I Can See The Light.” But the word love isn’t in that song and I’ve got three of those songs on my record: “Don’t Leave Me Alone Tonight,” “You Mean So Much To Me” and “Just Another Girl.” I love those types of songs. They are powerful. As a rock & roll drummer, I know about power in an up tempo song, that’s easy, but power in a slower tempo song in a ballad environment, that’s real power, where there is so much space between the notes and you’re in the groove.
What can you tell us about Tom Fogerty, who was often overshadowed by John?
John and Stu and I were an instrumental trio. Tom was eighteen years old, four years older than us, and in a band, a good band called Spider Web & The Insects. Tom, also, was a smart guy and he had a vision of having a career. He wanted to take his band, he had two songs he had written, have them learn the songs and record them and then he was going to drive down to LA and pitch the songs to try to get a record deal. And prototypical musicians that they were, when he came in and said what he wanted to do, they said, “Well, are we going to get paid?” And he says, “No, I’m paying for the session. I’m going to be driving down there. No, it’s costing me money. I’m not asking you to put in a dime.” They kind of went, “I don’t know, will there be any chicks there?” “No, we’re going to record. To make a record we have to be at our best, we have to concentrate. It’s not a party.” And this is the killer – they said, “We’d rather work on our cars.” (laughs)
So Tom came to us, and he was always supportive of us, encouraged us to keep going, keep playing, even though we didn’t have a singer at the time. So he asked us if we wanted to back him up and we said, “Make a record?” and he said yeah and we said, “Oh man!” So he’s the one who started the process of us recording, and we recorded a lot before we had a hit. He had a wife, a house and a good job, kids and a mortgage and he had more to lose than anyone. He was the singer and graciously gave up the vocals as John developed as a singer. He wrote and co-wrote with John. And once we hit the big time, Tom came in and said, “I’ve got a song here that I think might be good” and John said, “Don’t give me anymore material, you’re not singing anything, just shut up and play guitar, rhythm guitar.” And Stu and I didn’t think that was right cause without Tom I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.
He treated him horribly. He could have let him sing. Tom was a sweet tenor, like a Ritchie Valens, and John was a raspy tenor. We did eleven or twelve cover songs and he could have done “La Bamba,” I thought. In fact, at one point we even suggested, “Why don’t you let him sing a cover, let him sing ‘La Bamba.’” We had heard him do that back in the day when we’d play gigs and John said, “No, he’s not singing.” I think that he thought if there was success somehow someway that might threaten John. So anyway, that was a fight that we had till he left. Tom was a sweetheart, just a great human being.
Do you have any plans to do some more new music?
I’ve got one in the can! I recorded it around the same time in the eighties when I had my studio; some of it in the seventies. Then I have stuff with other singers. I had a band with Steve Wright from the Greg Kihn Band, a great bass player, from my hometown. I’m always the writer or the chief writer in all these projects and I like to co-write so Steve and I would do all the writing for that project. I’ve got an album’s worth of that. Then Bobby Whitlock and I had a band and we were the writers in that project.
But I recorded most of what we did and done it master quality so I’ve got six maybe seven albums worth of stuff. I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to get that many albums out (laughs). In this environment, who knows! But I’ve got kind of a singer-songwriter type deal going, publishing deal going, with my project. I have master recordings of all these songs and I own them, as the producer I produced them and paid for them. I can’t wait to get some of these things out. But first thing’s first: we got to get this one out and hope that it does something. I’m very proud of it, I’ll tell you that.
And music has always been a healer for me when I was going through rough times as a kid with my family situation and that’s what drew me to it in the first place at nine years old buying Etta James records. It’s a good time and there are a lot of positive messages in this album and some good tap-your-foot grooves in there and that’s good medicine. And man, do we need it now. I thought about not putting it out because of what’s going on but I said, wait a minute, now is the best time to put it out because if you sit in front of the Tv set, you’re going to end up having a nervous breakdown. I think you should pay attention to what is going on and get any news that would give you information that will help out or direct you but then get your music on, put your headphones on, whatever it is that you enjoy or haven’t enjoyed yet. Find something that you can hang your hat on and then just let go and the music will wash you, calm you.
Live photograph by Brent Clifford