Legendary Creedence Clearwater Revival drummer Doug Clifford talks about the album he cut with the bass player from the Greg Kihn Band, Joe Satriani and Eddie Money’s guitarist
Doug “Cosmo” Clifford is known for the rhythms he laid down with bass player Stu Cook on dozens of Creedence Clearwater Revival hits.
After the band broke up in 1972, he continued playing CCR hits for 25 years in Creedence Clearwater Revisited, alongside Cook and a rotating cast of guitarists and singers. At the same time, he was honing his production chops, making albums with Doug Sahm of the Sir Douglas Quintet and writing and recording songs at his home studio on the shore of Lake Tahoe. After putting Creedence Revisited to rest, he began cleaning out his garage, AKA Cosmo’s Vault. He found tapes for half a dozen albums he’d recorded and produced over the years.
The first album he released from those tapes, last year’s Magic Window, showcased his lead vocals. He sang backing vocals on many CCR hits, but never stepped out front with his singing until making Magic Window.
“I don’t like to sing and play drums at the same time,” Clifford said. “The singing gets in the way of moving around the way I like to. I put in some time working on my vocals before I made that record.”
Later this month, he’s releasing the second album he found in Cosmo’s Vault, For All The Money In The World, credited to Clifford/Wright. The album was cut during various sessions in 1986 and ‘87 with a band composed of San Francisco Bay Area heavies including bass man and songwriter Steve Wright (Greg Kihn Band), Joe Satriani, keyboard player Tim Gorman (The Who), guitarist Jimmy Lyon (Eddie Money) and singer Keith England (Allman Brothers Band, Montrose).
Clifford spoke to The Globe about the album from his Lake Tahoe home, keeping one eye peeled for California’s Calder fire that was slowly creeping toward his home.
“I’m seeing a lot of smoke,” he tells Rock & Roll Globe. “We live in the fire zone and the Calder fire is threating the lake. It’s been lurking close to the highway that it will have to jump to get to the lake. If it gets to the lake, it will get to me, so let’s forget about it and talk about rock ‘n’ roll.”
Since Steve Wright, your co-writer and bass player on the album passed on four years ago, it must be a bittersweet experience to be releasing this album.
The music makes the release more sweet than bitter. We’re lucky we have it, and that it’s playable. It was recorded 35 years ago, at eight or nine different sessions. I had to bake the 16-track analogue tapes and hope they’d still play. I was happy they did. This was a songwriting project at first. When we realized we were good at writing together, it got to a point where we knew if we didn’t record them, we were gonna forget them. We put a band together with some players that I’ll never be able to assemble again. Joe Satriani wasn’t a guitar monster yet. [Keyboard player] Tim Gorman [The Who] and guitarist Jimmy Lyon [Eddie Money] are always busy and (singer) Keith England went on to his own thing. He has that gnarly voice that can also hit the high notes as clear as crystal glass. He’s able to get to the essence of a song and put it across.
Why didn’t you sing lead? Your vocals on Magic Window are solid.
This was done before Magic Window. I hadn’t honed my singing yet and, once I heard Keith sing, that was it. I’m a professional drummer – he’s a professional singer. When you have a guy like that on board, you have to let him do his thing.
Were the songs produced for an album, or were you making demos for other projects?
It was going to be a band. I have things I like to do as a producer. I like to play live and it was enjoyable doing it. We did sessions in nine studios. The first session was at an 8-track place, to test things out. The rest were done on an Ampex-16 analog machine. It gives you more fidelity than 24 tracks. If you play live, in one room together, you don’t need as many mics to get a good room sound. We had fun. We’d put in a lot of rehearsal time, so we were comfortable with the songs and arrangements. I have other songs we recorded, but I don’t like to have more than 11 songs on an album. This one sounds like it could have been written and recorded two weeks ago. I have other albums in the vault. Some I did with Doug Sham, some co-written with Bobby Whitlock (Derek and The Dominoes).
I wanted to get a record deal. When we finished recording, we had to go out and play live to get the labels to come and see us. Steve didn’t didn’t want to play the small venues we’d have to play, to build a following, so I put the stuff into Cosmo’s Vault. It’s coming out at the end of this week.
Why on your own label?
Since I’m a writer, or co-writer on all the songs, it allows me to work up a catalog of tunes and have some control. Some labels will postpone the release of an album, or shelf a project. This way, I can do what I want. I’ll promote my releases as much as I can. I like talking to people, when I’m excited about a project. I’ve had several musical dreams come true. Being in Creedence opened a lot of doors for me, but you still have to be passionate about music it and work at it. Last week, in one afternoon, I talked to 15 radio stations about the album, with 30 seconds between each call. The fun is creating music, but it takes more time to promote it than it does to record it. I’ll be doing that for the next couple of months. It’s a lot of phone time, but these phones are made for talkin’ and these boots are made for walkin’.