Creedence Clearwater Revival – Boxed Set

Boxed Set

This arrived just in time for me to program “Graveyard Train” to play over and over on Halloween, scaring (or at least bewildering) unsuspecting trick-or-treaters, wondering, “What’s with that old coot handing out the Twix bars?” Which illustrates one of the beauties of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Sure, everyone’s familiar with (and probably tired of) bouncy hits like “Proud Mary” and “Down on the Corner,” but few rock groups before or since could sound as spooky as CCR.

Fantasy Records has finally played all the cards in their Creedence deck and released what fans have been clamoring for: a six-CD box of every cut on every album the band released during its five-year reign, as well as a disc chronicling the quartet’s evolution from a hard-working but derivative cover band to a truly original force to be reckoned with.

It’s the 24 pre-Creedence tracks that are of most interest to diehard fans, since everything else is, no doubt, committed to memory. Beginning their recording life as Tommy Fogerty & The Blue Velvets – older brother Tom fronting John Fogerty’s instrumental trio – the band sounds already dated in 1961. With Doug Clifford on drums and Stu Cook on piano, John serves up a straight-forward double-stop teen-lead solo in the manner of Johnny & The Hurricanes’ Dave Yorko on “Come On Baby.” This and the group’s follow-up single – John’s Ricky Nelson/Buddy Holly-esque “Have You Ever Been Lonely” and the brothers Fogerty’s Ritchie Valens-mode “Bonita” - were released on the tiny Orchestra label.

Choosing to not toss any more originals into the Orchestra pit, the boys waited out their contract and re-entered the studio three years later, in mid 1964, in the wake of the British Invasion’s first cannon shots. Their two Fantasy singles that followed, by the re-named Golliwogs, are still largely derivative but with new influences. The Velvets ape the Beach Boys’ harmony approach on “Where You Been” and rip off the Beatles’ “Please Please Me” on “You Came Walking,” but John adds some nice, bluesy fills to a triplet-groove “Little Girl,” Tom’s best vocal. John employs a homemade fuzz on “Walking”his wild over-bending stamp already in evidence.

In his informative essay, Alec Palao, who produced Disc 1 for this release, places “You Got Nothin’ On Me” in the same league as later Creedence rockers “Travelin’ Band” and “Sweet Hitch-Hiker,” which is a bit of an overstatement (and a pretty sizeable bit at that). It’s a pretty undistinguished Beatles/Stones/Chuck Berry handclapper. However, its flip, a Jimmy Reed-by-way-of-the-Newbeats boogie titled “You Can’t Be True,” marks the younger Fogerty’s first solo vocal. Palao also writes that there’s nothing to be ashamed of in the group’s pre-CCR output, which is certainly true, and should go without saying – no qualifications necessary. But it’s hard to tell what he’s praising when he proclaims that in this period the band was “infused with the genuine unsophisticated spirit of lowest-common-denominator, red-blooded rock and roll.” Somehow I can’t imagine John Fogerty (or any musician) laying claim to the lowest common denominator.

With August ’65’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” comes the first real signs of John’s inevitable move to the fore. The band is still part of the pack rather than its leader – reworking the Zombies’ “She’s Not There” into “You Better Be Careful,” Them’s “Gloria” into “Fight Fire” – but in John the band now had a voice, in more ways than one: an emerging identity. With “Walking on the Water,” the disc’s twenty-first track, recorded August ’66, all of the cogs are finally in place, including that spooky element. For a hair-raising revelation, zip from this early Golliwogs cut to the version cut as Creedence Clearwater two years later. Another comparison, between versions of “You Can’t Be True,” also recorded two years apart, shows another color now pervading the Creedence scheme – Stu Cook’s chooglin’, on-the-I bass.

Besides being quite listenable on its own merits, Disc 1 illustrates the “why” behind the fact that by the time of their first full-blown album, in 1967, Creedence Clearwater Revival was a seasoned unit with a fully-formed identity. It also offers a fascinating look at the inner-group and sibling dynamics, with little brother John challenging older brother Tom’s leadership and reclaiming his own band while maturing into a tune smith and visionary. His compositional sense also marks his structured, hook-laden guitar playing, with every bend, feedback hum and flurry of chords on “I Put a Spell On You” now a memorable trademark.

There are plenty of guitar highlights here, some subtle, some not so. There’s the ear-splitting distorted treble of “Penthouse Pauper”; the nod to Steve Cropper on “Proud Mary”; the Duane Eddy tremolo of “Feelin’ Blue” and the Pop Staples vibrato of “The Midnight Special. ” There’s the lead-as-hook approach of “Green River,” “Lodi” and “Bad Moon Rising”; the in-the-pocket licks of “Keep On Chooglin'”; that perfect balance of acoustic rhythm, backbeat drums, root-5th bass and electric lead on “Bootleg” (and “Ooby Dooby,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” and so many others). And there are the forgotten classics – the ones not recycled endlessly on oldies stations – such as “Effigy,” “Pagan Baby,” “Crosstie Walker,” “Molina” and “It Came Out of the Sky. “

Since the box chronicles everything, the band’s peak is here – their fifth album, the masterpiece Cosmo’s Factory , which sounds better than most groups’ greatest hits collections – as well as its demise. When the brothers finally parted company and Creedence became a trio, things were never the same; also, while the band was a more than capable live act, the studio was where it flourishedthe last disc and a half are devoted to concert recordings. The set’s only real drawback is the misguided art direction of the booklet, which uses some extremely cool memorabilia as screened “graphic elements” – rendering both it and the text illegible in spots.

Nothing but kudos, however, go to both the original engineers (especially Russ Gary, who was at the controls for the best of the best) and mastering engineer Shigeo Miyamoto for capturing the sounds of Creedence – including that spooky sound on “Run Through the Jungle” – in all their glory.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.