An interview with Creedence Clearwater Revisited’s Stu Cook
As I prepared to interview Stu Cook of Creedence Clearwater Revisited for this blog, I casually mentioned the prospect to my husband. His reaction was on par with what mine would have been had someone told me Jarvis Cocker was going to perform at my sweet sixteen. If you’re lost by that last reference, stick with me.
My musical influences reflect the soundtrack of a deeply uncool movie. However, my British father’s predilection towards all things American meant that, while I was raised in England, I was exposed to the tunes of the country I was born in at an early age. I remember spinning Venus in Blue Jeans on a portable record player as a tween, dancing to Don McClean’s American Pie everywhere from my living room to my wedding reception, and listening to every single one of Buddy Holly’s hits on any and all family road trips. So you can probably picture my then-future-husband’s horror when, while driving across America in a Ford pick-up truck, he pumped up the volume on Bad Moon Rising, proclaiming that this was one of his all-time favorite bands and I chirped up, “Who’s the band?”
Honestly, I’m surprised we made it to the altar.
In the intervening nine years of living in the Wild West I’ve been properly schooled in the musical history of my current homeland, and so was suitably excited myself to be talking to a member of one of the country’s legendary rock ‘n’ roll bands and Hall of Fame member, Stu Cook.
For the uninitiated, Credence Clearwater Revival was the biggest band in America as the ’60s gave way to the ’70s. At its peak the band’s popularity rivaled that of the Beatles, in four years they churned out a string of hits including the aforementioned Bad Moon Rising, Lodi, Proud Mary, Born on the Bayou, Fortunate Sun and Who’ll Stop the Rain (inspired by their performance at Woodstock.) But, as even a casual observer of rock history will have noticed, in order to have any credibility as a rock ‘n’ roll band, drama is a prerequisite, and Revival had it in spades. Like their contemporaries The Beatles, forerunners Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and the carcasses of countless other great bands that litter history, creative differences split the lead singer/songwriter from his rhythm section, resulting in the demise of Revival in 1972, just four short years after hitting the big time.
Today however, the rhythm still rules as best friends Stu Cook and Doug “Cosmo” Clifford, bassist and drummer of the original band, have resurrected Revival’s distinctive Swamp Rock anthems under the moniker Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Former front man John Fogerty tours as a solo musician and his brother Tom, the band’s rhythm guitarist, passed away in 1990.
In anticipation of Revisited’s debut Sun Valley performance Tuesday, August 28, I caught up with Cook to talk Idaho, the music and how Revisited was born from a famous snub.
Have you ever been to Idaho?
Oh yeah, many times. In fact the second concert Revisted ever played was in Idaho, Sandpoint. As for Southern Idaho I’ve been there quite a few times but really just to perform, but I’ve never really had the opportunity to hang out and immerse myself.
But you’ve never performed in Sun Valley before?
No, I’ve snowboarded there but never performed. We came about 3 or 4 winters ago. I thought (the snowsports) were pretty good, there are some difficult areas, but it was pretty friendly. The bowls are beautiful, we stayed at the Lodge and it was pretty nice. We enjoyed it. I used to live up in Lake Tahoe and skiing was just outside the door, but when I moved to Texas my wife and I had to go on ski vacations and Sun Valley was the first place we picked as we’d heard a lot about it, but of course had never been there because we were spoiled by where we were living. So that was our first place to check off the list. Since then we’ve been to Jackson Hole, Park City, Telluride, I think we’re going to Steamboat next winter.
So, four members of my family in four different corners of the world were very jealous that I was going to be talking with you this morning. I think that is a small insight into how far your music has reached. It’s pretty impressive.
I’ll say! We’ve toured the world – North America, South America, Central America, New Zealand, Australia, Europe and Asia. The enthusiasm of the fans is quite high everywhere and they’re trending much younger. We’re currently on our third generation of fans, hopefully we’ll soon have a fourth.
In other interviews I’ve read you’ve expressed surprise at the success of Revisited, that originally the idea was just to help a friend promote a couple of concerts. So what happened?
You know I’m still puzzling about the first career… I have to say I think we’ve successfully built on the best parts of the original band’s legend. It all really comes down to the music. Great songs, timeless music. Somehow the fan base has grown organically, people have taken the music in and passed it on, shared it with their peers and their families, generation to generation. So here we are almost 45 years later with an amazing network of people who know the music, enjoy it and want to come and experience the Creedence concert experience.
Because we’re the original rhythm section we can make the music’s sounds and feel, that part is easy. The hard part was to find people who could play the music along with us. [They did, and today tour with lead singer/rhythm guitar player John Tristao, who rose to prominence as lead singer for People, and guitarist Kurt Griffey, who has recorded and toured with members of the Eagles, Foreigner, Moody Blues, Wings, and Journey. Multi-instrumentalist Steve Gunner rounds out the group.] Back then (Revisited formed in 1995) we had no idea if our fans would embrace what we were doing but our fears were put to rest.
One of the key elements to the success of the band in its current form seems your commitment to honoring the legacy of Revival, by just performing the hits people want to hear.
The intention was never to add to the body of work in terms of song catalog we wanted that to remain undiluted and celebrated. We didn’t want to add any confusion and possibly degrade what was already there. It was never our intention to carry on from the old, the old still stands as the gold standard, we’re just out there playing the music live at concerts.
That music was described as Swamp Rock, and it sort of came out of left-field in an American music landscape just recovering from the British domination of the 60s. Here you guys came, four guys from San Francisco, playing pure southern rock and roll.
The San Francisco Bay area was a real melting pot of culture and ethnicity when we were growing up there. All these cultures, from Midwest hillbillies to the southern black population, brought their music and musical tastes with them when they moved out West. So up sprang all these radio stations directed at those audiences, and we preferred listening to them. [The music] felt better, it had more body, earthier and grittier. We were just coming of age at the right time where that music just spoke to us more than the stuff on the hit parade. It was a crazy time in music and that was the stuff we loved, so it was bound to be recycled in our own way.
A lot of those British bands were pure American blues enthusiast. When they started learning the catalog of artists who were pioneers of the musical genre of rural and urban blues they were purists – they didn’t want commercial success. But eventually it found its way back to the states in bands like The Yardbirds and Van Morrison. It was kind of shocking that it took the new crop of British musicians to reawaken America from its pop music stupor.
What would you say was the definitive Creedence track?
At the risk of being obvious, I would say Born on the Bayou. It was the song that started the swamp rock craze, it was sort of the title track of Bayou Country, the second album. That was our coming out album, while the first album had some success with Susie Q and I Put A Spell On You, but they weren’t original. Proud Mary was actually the flip side of Born on the Bayou, if my memory is not completely fractured. We were hoping Born would be the hit because we thought that song really says where we were coming from, but it was Proud Mary really went on to become a standard. If we’d been left to our own devices to choose the single who knows what would have happened.
From the outside, the original band was definitely dominated by John Fogerty. Can you give some insight into the real roles you, Doug and Tom played in the creation of that sound. Fogerty was obviously the strong personality – but you guys were clearly integral to the sound, and it’s funny how history gets rewritten.
Well we all played our own instruments! But you’re right, history does get rewritten, and that’s what Doug and I are in the process of doing with this project. Proving to the world that there were more people involved than just one guy, and the fact that we have 18 years of success doing that says a lot.
We all learned to play our instruments together. We played for nine years together before we had any success at all, then we were working as one person. From downbeat to fade-out, we all understood our roles. You can’t make a rock ‘n’ roll record without a bass player and a drummer. It may sound like we were playing very simple stuff but hey, has anybody else been able to do it? Very few!
When Doug and I fire up the band today it feels like Revival. We understood what went into it. Although it’s expected that the lead singer, band leader and writer would get the focus—we played on every one of those records. Would they have happened without us? Who knows.
Having grown up as a huge Buddy Holly fan it’s hard for me not to draw comparisons with The Crickets, who continued well past the legend of Holly. They still tour today, not quite at the same level, but slowly and surely the drumming style of Jerry Allison is getting the credit it deserves in the band’s history. It seems like that’s what you’re doing with the Revisited, giving yourself and Clifford the recognition that the rhythm section should have in Revival’s history.
I completely agree. In fact, this project was sort of born out of the snub of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When the band was being inducted on its first year of eligibility , we were snubbed by John Fogerty. He actually refused to perform with us at the event. On top of that the Hall of Fame organizers didn’t tell us until the day of the event that that was how it was going to go down. It was a big scene. Basically, after the band was inducted Fogerty and the house band and some of his all-star buddies, Springsteen, Robbie Robertson, took to the stage to play Creedence songs. Doug and I and our families just got up and walked out in protest. We made a scene out of it because we weren’t happy that our special day was going down in such a small and petty manner.
And that incident gave birth to Creedence Clearwater Revisited?
You know without us knowing it, yes it did. A couple years later, when we started laying the foundation for this project the idea was definitely that we could and we should do something like this to show the world that it wasn’t all about that one guy.
I’m guessing then, that the possibility of a full, surviving-members-of-Revival-reunion is not a strong one?
That’s right. I guess anything could happen but if the past is any indicator I’d say it’s not likely. Some 40 years later has there been any significant change of attitude towards something like that? Probably not. It kind of comes and goes every decade or something, but the older you get the harder it gets to walk back into the fire.
[Fogerty indicated he might be open to the possibility in this Rolling Stone interview last year.]
Just one more quick reference to the past, what exactly did you guys have against Lodi?
It’s my recollection that we never even played in Lodi, but we played in all the little towns around it. All those little towns up and down the California central valley is where we learned how to play together, when we were The Blue Velvets playing teen clubs and so on. I guess Lodi just sort of represented all of those gigs; the pizza places where they wanted you to tone it down, and they didn’t want to pay you because nobody showed up. It’s a sad song, it’s not really different from the story of people coming to Hollywood, very few make it, and the song was written from the perspective of a guy who didn’t. We were sort of at the bottom of our hopes at that point. It had been many, many years of failure, but if you’re smart you learn from it. We had some pretty good schooling.
Has anyone every approached you guys about doing a movie of the band’s story? It seems like you have all the ingredients for a great rock biopic.
Oh my god! Can you imagine sorting the egos out of that one?
Well, who would you like to play you?
Gene Hackman, I want a young Gene Hackman to play me.
Okay then, just one more world-of-make-believe question. If you could go back into the history of rock and roll and choose to be a part of one classic rock song, which would you choose?
I’d like to have played bass on Sympathy for the Devil.
Be sure to catch Creedence Clearwater Revisited in town for one night only – details below. It’s sure to be a big party.
Details: Creedence Clearwater Revisited perform Tuesday, August 28, doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35 to $79, don’t wait, they’re almost gone. Buy them here or call 208.622.2135. The lawn is open ($29), with the performance broadcast on the giant LED screen. Blankets and low-backed chairs welcome. Coming from out of town? Sun Valley Resort is offering a lodging package $138.50 per person, double occupancy, (single occupancy $223) for one night’s lodging and two show tickets. Call 800-786-8259.