Those of a certain age will always love the music Doug Clifford and his bandmates in Creedence Clearwater Revival created, but they will likely be jealous of the 70-year-old drummer for still hitting the stage with a full head of hair.
“It’s good genes,” Clifford laughs. “I’ve been blessed, what can I say?”
More than that though, Clifford, who now tours with original CCR bassist Stu Cook as Creedence Clearwater Revisited, sees the real blessing as being able to not just perform the band’s classic music, but to have it reach an entirely new audience to join with the one it garnered over the decades.
“I’m humbled by it, and the toughest test of a pop medium is the test of time and I see a fourth generation coming out,” he said. “They call them single-digiters – they’re eight and nine-year-olds but they’re coming out and they’re knowledgeable about the music and you see them sitting there with their parents or grandparents. I signed a shirt for a kid who was 11. He was there with his grandfather, and I was eight years older than his grandfather. (Laughs) What a great gift that’s been bestowed on us. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
For a test of that longevity, just listen to any classic rock station for a few hours and see how many times CCR tunes come on. Better yet, a visit to one of their shows – like tonight’s gig at The Paramount in Huntington – will give you a dose of what made this California band with the down south sound so special. As for one of the originals, his take on the staying power of CCR is multi-pronged.
“I think it’s a couple of things, really,” Clifford said. “Certainly, you have to have a good recipe, and we had a plan from very early on to focus on American roots music. With that in place, John (Fogerty) wrote some wonderful songs, we worked together as a unit, and we also started when we were 13, so we were learning to play our instruments and learning to be a band together, so they were interwoven really, which gave us that unique sound.
“I think we stayed true to our roots, the music is simple, and we kept that simplicity as kind of our barometer over the ten years it took us to have our first hit record,” he continues. “Then we were an overnight success, of course. (Laughs) But it doesn’t sound like a band from the sixties or other relevant or irrelevant fads from when we started to now. We’ve been able to keep the honesty of the music and I think that’s what makes it so attractive. And it’s feel good music. It makes you feel good, and at our shows, people get up and can’t help themselves. As they said on American Bandstand, ‘it has a good beat.’ Those combinations are all based on a simple plan and that’s what we did. It took a long time to master that, but we were well-rehearsed, we stayed sober while we were working, and that was whether in rehearsals or for a big show at Woodstock. We had a plan, we stayed with it, and it worked.”
And even though the three surviving members of the original band (Tom Fogerty passed away in 1990) don’t play together anymore, with their past court battles well documented, Clifford and Cook are keeping the music alive with new band members John Tristao (lead singer / rhythm guitar), Kurt Griffey (lead guitarist) and Steve Gunner (multi-instrumentalist), all of whom have lived up to the CCR rhythm section’s high standards.
“First and foremost, out of respect for the music, they have to understand how important it is to us that we get out there and do it the right way,” Clifford said when asked what it takes to be a part of this band. “That’s how we did it in the first place, and it’s ingrained in us. There has to be an understanding of what they’re playing, and that is not as hard you might think. This is very special and it’s been around a long time and it continues to thrive and grow. They have to understand its place in the fabric of American culture and American music. And once that’s locked in and they’re ready to play their instruments, they have to be having fun. That’s probably the most important thing, because if you’re not having fun, then none of the other things I talked about are happening.”
And Doug Clifford, 70 years young and rocking, is still having fun.
“Being able to play music and entertain people and make their lives better, or make their day or night better, it’s a labor of love,” he said. “To be able to have that gift to give them, and then they give it back, that’s what live music is about. You put out your energy and they send you theirs back. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Creedence Clearwater Revisited plays The Paramount in Huntington, New York tonight, August 20. For tickets, click here