Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Creedence Summer

Back in the 1960’s, when I was a young teenager, I had my favorite bands. There was lots of music that I liked, but a few bands were special to me. The Doors were the first band to ever attract my attention. I was just 13 when I first heard them and their raw sexuality was a siren’s call I couldn’t resist. Spirit was another band that I just loved to death. I actually bought their first album in 1968 when it came out. I had seen a billboard on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood one day while traveling with my mother. The band’s look shocked me. For some reason, I thought having an older, bald guy in the band (drummer Ed Cassidy) was the height of non-conformity. So I bought the album unheard and found an atmospheric collection of psychedelic, jazzy songs the likes I had never heard before. I was hooked. And, of course, there was the Beatles, who I never got seriously into until the “Sgt. Pepper” album came out in 1967.

Then there was Creedence Clearwater Revival. I first heard CCR when the edited single “Suzie Q” became a hit in 1968. I loved the song, but I didn’t pick up a CCR album until 1969 and the release of their second collection called “Bayou Country”. “Proud Mary” was a huge hit and I just couldn’t resist the old time country/blues feel of the music mixed with the overt psychedelic sounds of the time. I was surprised when I brought the album home and put it on the tiny turntable I had in my bedroom. Usually, the first thing that happened when I put a record on was that my parents would start yelling at me to turn it down. But this time my mother knocked on the door and asked what it was. She actually liked it. She was into country music and the influence it had on CCR’s music was enough to attract her attention to it.

Over the years, CCR had quite an impact on me. Their music brought me around to country and blues. They broadened my mind at the time in ways few bands had been able to. I spent my teenage years going to school in Southern California’s Orange County, and spent the summers in Northern California at my grandparent’s house in Marysville. I would usually work for my grandfather in his grocery store in Yuba City. (One of his best customers was notorious serial killer Juan Corona, whose car I packed with groceries several times.) Most of the time my whole family would make the trip, but there were a few times when I was packed onto a Greyhound bus and sent through the Central Valley overnight to be met by my grandparents at the bus depot. I was always in amazement as we passed the city of Lodi. CCR did a song about it, so to me it was an exotic, unknown place that I longed to visit. I would stare out the bus window at the Lodi city sign and wonder what mysteries laid beyond it. (Of course, in reality the place was a dump and I was probably very lucky that I never saw it in the real light of day. I actually have visited the city many times now in the last decade as it’s quickly becoming one of California’s best up-and-coming wine regions.)

One of the biggest disappointments of my teenage years is that I never managed to see any of my favorite bands live. My father would periodically take me to the Anaheim Convention Center and drop me off to see whatever band happened to be playing there that evening. I can remember seeing such bands as Iron Butterfly, Blood Sweat & Tears, the Bee Gees (in 1968 when they were still a pop/rock band), Vanilla Fudge, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Donovan, and being amazed by them all. Remember, I wasn’t even 16 years old yet and all these bands seemed new and fascinating to me. But I never managed to see my favorites, although they all played the Convention Center at one time or another. The reasons for this are lost in time, but I regret missing those bands to this day.

Over the last several decades, I’ve been able to catch various members of my favorite bands in the live setting. I saw Paul McCartney in the 70s during his first big Wings tour. I caught Ringo Starr with his All-Star Band only a few years ago. I saw Spirit in one of their Randy California led later incarnations, as well as singer Jay Ferguson and bassist Mark Andes’ later band, Jo Jo Gunne. And I’ve seen various Doors in solo settings as well as all three surviving members backing up Iggy Pop on stage. But I had never seen any of the CCR members play live.

Until this summer, that is.

I’ve talked before about how much I love the summer seasons at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s a great place to see someone perform and I always look forward to seeing what musical legends are going to play there when they announce the summer schedule each March. I also like the fact that you can still attend the Bowl for a rather cheap price ($5 to $15 depending on the show) if you don’t mind sitting a quarter mile away from the stage. There are giant screens so you can watch the action on stage close up. They also allow you to bring your own food and wine or beer to the Bowl. So it can be a very inexpensive evening out under the LA summer sky if you choose to do it that way. Skip and I usually end up going to at least a dozen shows there every summer, usually in the cheap seats, but sometimes spending more if the headlining act calls for it.

This summer was opened by a three day 4th of July stint by CCR leader John Fogerty. When it was first announced, we were torn about it. There was no question that we were going to go. After all, it was a Creedence legend we had never seen. But it was also well known that he hated playing the old CCR songs live and most of his solo material just didn’t interest us all that much. But we bought tickets. $25 each, about half way down to the stage. We brought a couple of bottles of nice wine and relaxed, hoping for the best.

And the best is what we got. He opened his set with “Green River” and I was pretty ecstatic. I thought he didn’t do CCR songs and here he was opening with one. His voice was strong and the band sounded good. His set turned out to be almost 2/3 Creedence, with the rest filled out by his solo material. He played a good many of the hits and even pulled out a few surprises, like “Run Through the Jungle”, “Keep On Chooglin’”, “Fortunate Son” and a country version of “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”. He also did a four song set backed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra that included a beautiful “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and an incredibly rocking “Proud Mary”. We left that night in very high spirits. It was a great set by one of rock and roll’s great talents and we were glad that we had been there to see and hear it.

A few weeks ago, Skip and I were at the LA County Fair. We were looking at the list of upcoming bands playing there and we saw that Creedence Clearwater Revisited was coming soon. This CCR was formed 15 years or so ago to allow original Creedence bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford to capitalize on the music that they were so much a part of. The two guys, rounded out with several other musicians, had toured the world playing the hits they had originally recorded with John Fogerty. Creedence had ended on a sour note at the beginning of the 70s, with Forgerty going one way and the other three members (including the late Tom Fogerty, John’s estranged brother) going the other. Over the years, the relationship between the two camps has remained strained. This led to the incident during the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 where John Fogerty refused to let Stu and Doug play with him on stage. I found this to be petty, childish and extremely embarrassing. To me, John Fogerty may be a major talent, but he’s seems to be kind of a giant asshole as well. (I did meet Forgerty once. He was on his way out of Warner Bros Records as I was on my way in. A mutual friend introduced us and we talked briefly. He seemed nice enough, but his actions towards the other guys in the band are still inexcusable.)

Anyways, Skip remembered that his niece, Shannon, had once told him that she knew the son of one of the guys in the band. So, he gave her a call and before we knew it, we were on the guest list to see them play at the County Fair. (We’ve since found out that Shannon more than knows the guy. She’s living with him. And he’s the son of drummer Doug Clifford. I look forward to actually meeting him some day soon.)

We arrived at the Fair to find stage-side tickets and back-stage passes waiting for us. Those seats cost $125 each, so we were pretty thankful. (Lesser seats cost $25 each, but most of those were way in back and off to the sides.) The place was packed, which I found amazing. I had no idea that a band like this would bring in such a crowd consisting of so many people of all ages. We bought a couple of giant Fair margaritas and settled into our seats directly in front of the stage. We had no idea what to expect.

Now, I should break here to explain that I usually really have a problem with bands that continue on after their lead singer has left. It usually doesn’t work and I have bad memories of seeing the James Gang without Joe Walsh or hearing those horrible albums the Doors made after the death of Jim Morrison. I also have a problem with bands getting back together as a tribute to their old selves. Or I should say, I did have a problem. Lately I’ve been seeing lots of those types of bands, from X to the Human League to the Zombies, and I’ve found myself enjoying them tremendously, despite the lack of new songs. Sometimes, like in the case of the Human League, they’re even better than they were when I first saw them in their original form. Then, last year, I saw From The Jam, which is the original drummer and bassist of the Jam with a new singer, touring by playing the old songs. They were tremendous; as good as they were with their original singer/guitarist, Paul Weller. (Some people even thought they were better, although I won’t go that far out on the limb. The new material the band is working on may decide that for me.) It may just be nostalgia, but there’s room for that these days and I realized that I couldn’t condemn a band for falling back on that.

Getting back to the show, on walks Creedence Clearwater Revisited to thunderous applause. Stu Cook looked chipper and happy, and Doug Clifford looked fit and trim and not much older than he did 40 years ago. They were rounded out by three other musicians; Steve Gunner on keyboards, Tal Morris on guitar, and John Tristao on vocals and guitar. They immediately broke into “Born On the Bayou” and the crowd went wild. Their hour and a half long set included most of the band’s hits, including the biggest and a few of the smaller ones like “Travelin’ Band”, “Hey Tonight”, and “Lodi” which I found to be a delight.

I had a few problems with the set. There was a bit too much guitar pyrotechnics at times, which I don’t think was needed, although the crowd seemed to respond excitedly to those moments. And although singer John Tristao has the voice down, in person he’s kind of a solidly built, bald, biker guy and I just couldn’t place the face with the voice. I found that I was watching the set without watching him and I was enjoying it more because if that. Both of these problems were small ones though and the vast, crazy audience didn’t seem to mind them at all. I guess it’s just me.

But, Oh, that rhythm section!!! Those two guys are beautiful to watch and listen to. Fogerty owes those guys a lot more than he’s given them. He could never have pulled off what he was doing without those guys there to anchor him down. I watched and listened to them in amazement. I found myself wishing that we could have found a rhythm section like that for Thin White Rope. It would have been a beautiful thing. (These days I look back and think that we may have had that rhythm section in John and Joe if we just would have been a bit more patient.)

So once again I found myself glad to be where I was. I enjoyed the show tremendously and if I put the two parts together, I can convince myself that I’ve sort of seen Creedence Clearwater Revival play live now.

Afterwards, we went back stage and Doug, or Cosmo, a nickname he seems to prefer, came out to talk. He was friendly and talkative. There were a few times when I thought we were taking up too much of his time and would start to make our goodbyes when he would suddenly change topics to another subject that we would spend a good amount of time discussing. It’s been quite a while since I’ve felt so comfortable talking to someone I respect so much but don’t know. Topics went from family matters to John Fogerty to old memories of CCR to Lodi to Dolly Parton and on and on. It was really a pleasure. (And the thought that if all works out, he may become a distant relative boggles my mind.)

So there you have it. My Creedence Summer. I fell in love with the band 40 years ago and this summer reinforced the fact that I’m still in love with them now. And I know that if by some chance I live another 40 years, I’ll still be in love with them then.

1 comment:

  1. ML! Gaston from MLT here! I just found a NBC button set upstairs from Meltdown. I think it may be yours from like 8 yrs ago. Please contact me. Gaston(@)meltcomics(.)com