An Interview With Stu Cook. Creedence Clearwater Revisited Farewell Tour Oct 11 At Treasure Island

Photo Credit: Andrew Potter

Creedence Clearwater Revisited, comprised of founding members Stu Cook and Doug Clifford, is coming to Treasure Island on October 11.  Tickets and details can be found HERE.

When you make it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s safe to say you’ve climbed to the top of the mountain.  You’re one of those 1% ers that exist in any walk of life.  But once there, it’s also true that there are a small handful that transcended.  They didn’t just get big.  They dominated.  They created music which became the touchstone for future generations.  Their songs sing themselves as naturally today as they did a generation or two earlier.

Creedence Clearwater Revival was one of those bands.  In a post Beatles world, only The Stones operated at a level of success that Creedence did.  The band cranked out a total of 7 albums.  The first 6 were smash hits.  In 1969 alone the band released 3 Top Ten albums.  Each strewn with hits that rocketed up the charts.  The songs of CCR were front and center for an entire generation of music fans.

Everybody knows the story about the original band’s demise.  Frontman John Fogerty began to exert more and more creative control of the band,  That didn’t work within the structure of a band that had members who’d been friends from childhood.  The contract disputes with Fantasy Records became acute.  Suddenly, the US’s biggest band was simply gone.

Twenty five years ago, founding bass player Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford were able to obtain rights to the music once again.  They decided to re-form as Creedence Clearwater Revisited to bring those songs one more time to a hungry public.  They never imagined the success they would encounter.  Revisited has been on the road and filling venues for the last twenty five years.  The music works with or without the Fogerty brothers.

Stu Cook took some time to chat with TCM about their upcoming show and to reflect on a singularly remarkable career.

Cameron Campbell: Your current tour is billed as a farewell tour.  Rather than focus on the original band, let’s talk about Revisited.  Tell me a bit about Doug Clifford and your long relationship.

Stu Cook: Relationship has never been better actually!  You know, we’ve been friends for the last sixty-one years and the last twenty-five with Revisited have been really amazing for us.  We had no idea that we’re going to have another career but the fans came to the rescue once again.

CC: So you guys have been friends since junior high, right?

SC: Yeah, first day of junior high school. In home room.

CC: When did you guys start playing together?

SC: It was a year later.  In the 8th grade. Doug and John had become acquainted.  Doug told John he knew a guy with a piano and a room to rehearse in.  And that was me! We had a place to make some noise and we took it from there in the 8th grade.  My folks didn’t mind. They were both musical and thought it was cool that we had some kind of musical adventure going on that would probably keep us out of trouble for awhile.

CC:  You guys are from the Bay Area.  But your sound was heavily influenced by a Southern vibe. What were you listening to that brought out that sound?

SC:  Well, a lot of the music we liked was from the South.  The artists were black. And you had to search around the radio dial to find stations that would play that music.  Fortunately, we had a couple of stations in the Bay Area. So we were we were influenced by Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf.  Of course later Chuck Berry and Little Walter. I guess you call it the Chicago Chicago blues.  Then we got more into rural Blues. But we always listened to stations that played Ike and Tina Turner, stuff like that. We didn’t listen to too much Pat Boone!

CC: I know that you guys just released Live at Woodstock 2, which is pretty incredible. How does it feel to have that experience and put that record out in the world?

SC: It was an amazing evening.  You know, I think we played well.  But the conditions were difficult and it was hard to tell until we listened to a few years later.  To tell if it was any good.  But as it turns out, it was a pretty strong set. So I’m glad it’s been released.

CC: Yeah, it’s it sounds absolutely fantastic.  You began as a band called Blue Velvet before becoming CCR.  Were you convinced you could make a living playing rock music prior to Woodstock?

SC: It was way before that.  But we never really looked at it like that.  We used to have a saying that one of these nights we’re going to be making a hundred bucks each!  By the time Woodstock arrived, I think our album Green River was top of the charts. So we were doing really well.  But I think being included in the film would have been a good boost. It wasn’t meant to be.

CC: So during this hippie generation thing, did you view yourselves as a part of this scene or one of the leaders of this scene? 

SC: We were actually always on the fringe of the whole San Francisco scene. We lived in the East Bay of San Francisco, so across the bridge. Even though we had lived in the city for awhile, we never really were a San Francisco band.  Not in the sense of Quicksilver, The Grateful Dead or Airplane, you know bands like that. We were an East Bay band but we were never truly a part of the San Francisco scene, we were outliers.

CC: Well it seemed like you guys were outliers on the right spots

SC: (Laughs) We were focused on three to three and a half minute songs.  But we did do some extended performances and jams. They were a bit more organized. We didn’t use a lot of drugs when we played. We were just doing our own thing.  We were always doing our own thing and that’s what kept us separate from the rest of the folks. We didn’t have a calling to come out with flowers in our hair. We wanted to make records that got played on the radio.

CC: Once you got on the radio and started playing these bigger shows, was there any time you remember when you felt that kid in you go: “Holy crap look what I am doing!  Is this cool, or what?”

SC: Oh yeah, all the time!  It still happens.  None of us get butterflies anymore before we play.  But there is still the anticipation and anxiousness to get on stage and get it going. But yeah, I pinch myself all the time. I have had two careers… Of the same set of songs!

CC: Is there a major difference between the two shows?  Between Revival and Revisited?

SC: Well, not really. I mean there are different people. We strive to keep it true to the original recordings. The critical ear might be able to tell a difference.  To a casual fan, I think we perform these songs in a way which is truly close enough.

CC: After the original band disbanded, you worked as a producer and studio musician. That’s a bit of a change coming from being a full time touring musician. What did you learn about yourself during this time period?

SC: Working with another artist is a completely different animal. You have to tune into what their artistic vision is. It may take awhile to see what they are trying to achieve.  But when you do, it is your role to help bring it to life. It is different for every artist. I worked with an artist named Roky Erickson from The 13th Floor Elevators and who was also fairly well known as a solo artist, after we all broke up. It was an amazing experience for me. But it took quite a while for me to get tuned into how Roky saw it. Once we got on the same page we were able to make it happen.

CC: Do you have any desire to produce more when you get off the road?

SC: Perhaps.  It just depends on the artist and the material. And again, knowing what the end result the artist wants their songs to sound like. There is always time for that. Right now I am not looking to do anything. A little more scuba diving perhaps.

CC: I was just about to ask what you do off the road. Scuba diving, huh?

SC: Well you know, I do some regular life. I go out to dinner, I go to the movies, I kayak, I paddle board a little bit, I scuba dive, I play a little golf. A lot of time, though, I just travel to places that are interesting.  Places that don’t have anything to do with my occupation.  Just go someplace interesting and let it soak in.

CC: Are you the type of person that travels to new places or likes a few particular places?

SC: Oh, always new places.

CC: Are there any places that you absolutely love?

SC: Well, I love France and I love Italy. I try to go there as much as possible. I’ve been pretty much everywhere else. I would like to go to the Galapagos Islands. Also, even though I don’t like the cold, I think if I prepared well I would like to go to Antarctica and spend some time with the penguins. It’s way out of the way and probably no good restaurants there though (laughs). I say that, but I am in San Francisco now and am just overwhelmed with restaurant choices.

CC: Don’t worry when you come up here.  There will be a lot less choices, just tater tot hotdish and lutefisk. 

SC: Yeah, I’ll get some wild rice soup and some white fish.

CC: That’s the spirit of Minnesota, as long as you load on the Ranch dressing. But going back the Revisited, can you tell me of the other members in the band?

SC: The current line up is Stu on bass, Doug on drums. Kurt Griffey is playing lead guitar. He has been with us for about ten years now. He has played with guys from the Eagles, Santana and Journey. He has played around and is a well known guy. Steve Gunner plays on the keyboards, acoustics, plays some percussion, sings some harmonies and he has been with us since the very beginning. Dan McGuinness is our lead singer, Dan joined us two or three years ago when our original singer retired. They all make pretty strong contributions to the end result, which makes us happy.

CC: I’m sure all these guys were listening to you on their own journeys before reaching you. I have never met a person that has said “I don’t like CCR”. It is almost something that is rooted into every person. Is this something you have ever noticed?

SC: Yeah, our music seems to be a lot like cheeseburger. Everybody loves them all around the world.  It’s crazy.

CC: You’ve been going for half a century. Have you had any time to look back on your incredible career or have you just been putting one foot in front of the other?

SC: You know there is plenty of time to reflect on it. I don’t get bogged down in that too much. We look at it as work. It’s an occupation. We have our work in front of us.  We enjoy doing it. We do it with a little bit of care and try and top ourselves every night. At this point, it is still an ongoing and living animal, so we have to continue and try and ride it every night. But at some point after we shut it down, we will be able to take a look at it. Then we will really have our minds blown I think (laughs) about what we actually did pull off.

CC: You haven’t really stopped yet have you?

SC: As an adult, I have always been in music and I imagine I will stay in music. But I’m just going to try and get off the road and have a little more of a sane life at this point.

CC: It seems like you deserve it!

SC: I’ve earned it (laughs)

CC: There are about fifteen dates after the MN date.  Any dates or venues you are looking forward to in particular? I know you are playing a good amount of casinos and festivals over this year tour.

SC: Well, we are going down to South America next month for a six shows. Three in Brazil and three in Chile. So that should be good. Some of the same places we have played before and some new ones. So that is on the horizon. We are going to New Zealand in January. Then we are closing out in Mexico, which is one of our biggest fan bases. So that is going to be awesome. We may occasionally do a show here of there but it is not going to be an ongoing project any more.

CC: They are kinda music crazy down there in Mexico

SC: Yeah there are many videos of either band down there but we have always been a solid band with some high points and low points. It is an old journeyman performance just get up there and do it and have fun.

CC:Are there any songs that rise above the rest of them? That rise above muscle memory and you are always excited to play?

SC: No, not really.  I really like playing Down on the Corner .  And Born on the Bayou is a good one. They are all fun to play. So the idea is to just play them better. Can you play them better? Of course you can.

CC: I know growing up, we sat in our basement countless times trying to play those songs when my band first started out. Those songs taught us how to play with other people.

SC: Well, that is part of the beauty of the whole catalog.  They are fairly simple songs. There are the three chord versions and the four chord versions; so anyone can learn how to play them. I think that has helped spread the popularity of the songs and keep them alive. It is like what you said.  Anyone can walk in the room and you can show them the way. It’s not rocket science.  It’s an invitation to have a good time.

CC: Are there any younger bands that you enjoy? Not necessarily musicians you know but just some bands you have been digging?

SC: Yeah, two bands in particular. I really like the Queens of the Stone Age and I like the Foo Fighters, of course. Both bands have a great story.  Their albums deliver and their live shows deliver.  What could you not like about that? I’ve never seen Queens of the Stone Age, but I’ve watched a lot of their videos and own all their music. I think that Josh (Homme) and crew have a good concept going. Did you know that Josh Homme and one of his buddies did all the music for Anthony Bourdain’s TV show? For years when I heard the music I thought, ‘I really like this!’. When I checked it out I said, ‘well there’s no surprise!’

CC: Every person has their top 10 desert island records. Can you tell me a few that you couldn’t live without?  That are near and dear to your heart?

SC: Otis Redding’s album Otis Blue. I would take Like Clockwork by Queens of the Stone Age to the island. Wasted Light by The Foo Fighters.  Just about any Ray Charles compilation that you could imagine, I would take with me. Arethra Franklin’s Never loved a Man is a great album. I have two different recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth on Piano I really like. Totally different sounds on each but I enjoy each.

I am very eclectic in my musical taste. I like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock.  I dig some Victor Wooten. There are a lot of great electric bass players leading bands now. I like Alabama Shakes and bands like that; bands that have come from the same vein as us. I listen to them and think: ‘Yeah they’ve done their homework!’  There is no end, my list would grow! (Laughs) My island would have to be huge!  

CC: It is nice to hear that you have been able to stretch your listening across so many genres. People of many different tastes have done the same with your music. 

SC: I have always sort of looked at myself as a Renaissance person. I have all kinds of interest. Some are deeper than others.  Some are just superficial and others I get fairly deeply involved in. So, I don’t feel like I have to do one thing or like one thing. I have always been interested in everything.

CC: You have three generations of fans that all walk into your shows. How does that feel to be up there and see all these different age groups staring up at you?

SC: We have a solid three generations, working on a fourth now. It’s great to watch people, families parade in together. Too see these generations together, reacting to the songs and performance, is pretty interesting. Not many groups can say that.  We really withstood the test of time, which is the only test in popular music, I think.