“I was living at Lake Tahoe at the time,” Clifford recalls in a phone interview. “Stu was living in L.A. I was living on the Nevada side which has no state income tax. He was going to stay in California and live in the Bay Area where there’s bad traffic. I told him to come up with his family and spend a week with me in the mountains to see what he thought.”
By the end of the week, Cook had bought a house and he and Clifford had started jamming together in Clifford’s studio.
“We both realized it was pretty boring and that we needed a band,” says Clifford. “What better can you do than bring the Creedence music back to the fans live. Nobody was doing that, including [singer] John Fogerty. It sounded like a great idea and it was. This is our 21st year doing it.”
The band’s lineup includes lead guitarist Kurt Griffey and lead singer/rhythm guitar player John Tristao. Though the rights to the Creedence catalog have been disputed (and we were asked not to question Clifford about the various lawsuits that have been filed regarding royalties), Clifford says Tristao is plenty capable of singing Fogerty’s parts.
“John is a powerhouse vocalist with the right attitude,” says Clifford. “He’s also a great musician and plays rhythm guitar. He’s a brilliant entertainer. He has the whole package. Kurt is the quintessential lead guitarist. He takes command when it’s his turn and comes out and kicks ass. Stu and I lay down the groove. It’s a lot of fun.”
In fact, Clifford says that if it hadn’t been for the Beatles, Creedence, a band that played a unique blend of rock, blues and country, might never had made it out of the starting gate.
“We saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show after we heard the hype,” says Clifford. “We liked the music. They had the mop tops and they came out with the same configuration we had — lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and drums. They were playing American rock ‘n’ roll and killing it. If four guys from Liverpool could make it, we could make it too. We were in college and the Fogerties were doing their thing. We were trying to make it since we were 13. It took us a few years before we had a hit. We were thinking that maybe we gave it our best shot but it didn’t work. That gave us a shot in the arm and gave us faith in what we were doing. We dedicated ourselves to working harder and sticking with it.”
And if it hadn’t been for Johnny Cash’s intervention one night at a bar in Nashville, Clifford himself might not be here to reminisce. As the story goes, he had gone to a country Western store to buy a shirt and a few cronies started giving him the business.
“I was walking along,” he recalls. “I had long hair and a beard and hippie clothes. I walked by this bar. Next thing I know, I was up against the wall. They said, ‘I don’t know whether to fuck it or shoot it.’ I thought I was dead. I hear this voice, ‘You boys, let that man go. He’s from Creedence Clearwater and he’s one of the stars in my show. You mess with him and you have to take on me.’ I thought, ‘Holy crap!’ Needless to say, I decided not to get that shirt in Nashville and never left the studio after that. It was perfect timing he was there. I don’t know what they would have done to me but it wouldn’t have been pretty.”
Clifford admits that once the band started cranking out hits in 1969 when it had three hit albums, it got onto the “fast track.”
“It was quite a year,” he says. “We would put out a single and it would be a double sided hit. Our burn rate was twice as fast as everybody else. Only a few bands had as many double-sided hits as us. We’re in the same company with Elvis and the Beatles and the Stones. I call this the Roman candle of rock 'n' roll. You light that fuse and run for your life.”
Would anything have prevented the band from splintering in 1972?
“Yes, if we had a professional manager and mentor,” he says. “John [Fogerty] decided he could be a business manger and he didn’t have a clue. It was disastrous for us. That was our single biggest mistake.”