Stu Cook was the original bass player for Creedence Clearwater Revival and continues performing the bands legacy with Creedence Clearwater Revisited. He and Doug (Cosmo) Clifford, the original drummer for CCR have been performing as Creedence Clearwater Revisited since 1994 right after “Creedence Clearwater Revival” was inducted into the “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.” In the beginning, when Stu, Cosmo and John Fogerty first formed the “Blue Velvets” in the late 1950s, Stu played piano. By the time that the “Blue Velvets” became Tom Fogerty’s backup band, Stu was playing guitar and they had too many, so John asked him to switch to bass, which he did. In the mid 1960s the “Blue Velvets” became the “Golliwogs,” until they changed their name again and became Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1967. Their first CCR album was released in 1968 and produced their first national radio hit, “Suzie Q.” Sub sequentially they produced 7 albums all of which went gold and platinum and in some cases multi-platinum. By 1972 the albums produced 20 radio hits making them the most popular American rock group from that era. They appeared at Woodstock in 1969, but were not featured in the film because they refused to let their performance be filmed, along with the Grateful Dead. Today is an age of tribute bands emulating the past glory of rock & roll, but Creedence Clearwater Revisited is the real thing having roots that reach back nearly 60 years. So it was with great awe and respect that we talked to Stu Cook about his musical career spanning 7 decades.
What were the circumstances of you Doug and John forming the Blue Velvets?
Oh, man. Well, it goes back to high school. I guess Doug saw John in the music room in the junior high playing on the piano some rock & roll or blues from the era and they talked about putting a band together. Doug wanted to put a band together, whatever that meant. Doug says I know a guy that has a place where we can rehearse, that was Stu’s. So, that’s how it began.
Why did you call yourselves the “Blue Velvets?”
Are you kidding me? That was 50, nearly 60 years ago. I don’t remember, we were trying to sound like the names that were out there like “The Five Satins,” “The Platters,” you know, whatever, so we were the “Blue Velvets.”
Tell me about the bay area during the summer of love in 1967.
I was going to San Jose State university at the time and every weekend I’d drive up to San Francisco to the ballrooms to see Quicksilver (Messenger Service), Jefferson Airplane, Janis (Joplin), it was a great time of my life. That was a pretty big change from the way that I was raised, so we were all going for it! There were many great, great evenings.
What about Woodstock? How memorable an experience was that for you.
Well, we got there and it was kind of crazy. We flew all night from L.A., where we did a TV show. It was Andy Williams or Dion Warwick, somebody like that. When we got to Boston we took a bus to Elmira or someplace like that where we took a helicopter to Bethel, I think it was where the Holiday Inn was. Then we got onto the site, eventually. We were kind of on our own there for a while, because Santana was playing. Bill Graham got Santana into the event and we knew all those guys from the bay area, so we just hung out with those guys all day long. We had steaks and fine wine. Everybody else is creating history and we’re doing a backstage thing as though it was a regular event anywhere. People think that Woodstock is about the bands and the music, but it’s really not. It’s really the story of the audience and the event itself. The vibe. The community of that weekend. It’s really about the people that were in the audience. Take another look at the film. Each band has one song, except Creedence of course. There were others that weren’t in the actual original film, but the story itself is about how the people coped with the sudden change in plan. There was supposed to be a 250,000 sort of plan and then it went to half a million, or more and somehow they pulled it off.
Creedence songs were playing everywhere during the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. There were a dozen Creedence tunes on the jukebox or I’d go to a bar and the band was playing covers of CCR.
They still are. When these new bands are playing three or four sets a night, they aren’t playing a bunch of new music, it’s mostly classic rock.
There are a lot of classic rock tribute bands today.
Imagine that people still like it.
About a month ago, the “Iron Butterfly” was playing at a venue here in Salem.
The Iron Butterfly?
I was skeptical, so I looked up their website and there wasn’t a single original member in the band. One guy seems to have been connected to the original band.
I don’t know how they can use that name? I guess nobody owns it. We opened a show for the Iron Butterfly, well actually I think that we were second on the bill, Albert King was the opening artist. It was at the Shrine auditorium in Los Angeles. I think “Suzie Q” was out, that might have been our only big radio hit. We’d been on the radio for years, but nothing nationally.
I saw Steve Miller open for the Iron Butterfly in Chicago, back in April 1969, but I saw Creedence play at Cobo Hall in Detroit in 1970.
Wilbert Harrison opened for us that night.
That was so long ago, I can’t really remember the opening act. Back in 2014 a “Blues Tribute To Creedence” album was released on the Cleopatra record label, with covers by blues artists like Duke Robillard, Sonny Landreth and others. did you know about it?
I don’t know what you’re speaking of, so the answer is no, but the country artists have done it as well. A lot of artists have covered Creedence songs.
I just read about a Latin music tribute album of Creedence songs released in 2016.
I just saw that one. It’s a very recent release.
“Quiero Creedence” was the title and it featured artists like Ozomatli, Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys.
Yeah, there you go “Who Knows Creedence” or “Do You Know Creedence,” I think that the translation is something like that, maybe “We Know,” my Spanish is a little rusty.
The point is, here it is 40 years later and you’ve got…
It’s way more than 40, Bob, (laughs) how old are you?
(Laughs) I’m 69 right now. I saw this poster recently and it said, “all the people my age look old,” so I’m under rather than over estimating, when it comes to time. Was there any single life transforming event that took place in your nearly 60 year long music career.
No, we’ve had so many things happen to us. It took us 10 1/2 years to get to “Suzie Q” and then in about 3 1/2 years it was over. So it was a lot of great things compressed into those 3 1/2 years.
How were you influenced by blues music and R&B during your early formative years.
Oh, massively. That was the kind of music that I almost exclusively focused on. One day I was working out and the woman that runs the place had a bunch of Al Green on and it was great, so I said to myself that after I get home I’ll go on I-Tunes and grab an Al Green’s greatest hits, because I haven’t heard that in a long time. I got into country later, because country was pop music when I was growing up, and you too. A lot of the top 40 was country cross over.
Yeah, you’d hear Frank Sinatra right next to Johnny Cash.
Right, Frank Sinatra, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash, but black music blues and rhythm & blues, that was sort of kept away from white kids, that wasn’t good for you, the radio was far more white bread than people remember, but we were more focused on the blues and rhythm & blues, you had to search it out. Blues, often when I think of it in my mind, it was rural, singers, guitar players, sometimes piano players, but when you got into rhythm and blues, then you’ve got a band element. You’ve got a horn section, you have great electric lead guitar. You’ve got Buddy Guy and the biggest guy was Chuck Berry. Before they brought the electric guitar into rock & roll and you got the white Caucasian population into that kind of music…you really had to search it out.
Yeah, I remember back in Detroit, we had an all black radio station during the 1960s called WJLB. I had never heard of it, until one day, one of my friends who listened to it played it for me. When he played it, it sounded like music from outer space or something.
(Laughs) We had one called KWBR and later changed its call sign to KDIA. Sly Stone was a disc jockey on KDIA. We had all kinds of great music, but you just had to know where to go on the dial to find it. It wasn’t top 40, for sure. The way that I saw it was, you could listen to Ike and Tina Turner or you could listen to “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window.”
I remember the first time that I saw a commercial on TV for James Brown, around 1964 and I was shocked, because he made Elvis Presley’s controversial moves in the 1950’s look tame in comparison.
Yeah, he used to play in the bay area at Oakland auditorium all the time. They were these big rhythm and blues reviews, with Fats Domino, James Brown, Little Richard, Bobby Blue Bland and all kinds of guys. Where we grew up in the East Bay we had a terrific music scene, We’d take the bus up Central Avenue in Albany, Berkeley/Albany, sort of the main drag from Oakland to Sacramento. They didn’t have Interstates back then. There was all kinds of different music in the Bay area, you just had to be aware of it and tune into it. Doug (Clifford) and John (Fogerty) used to be ushers who looked at peoples tickets and showed them where their seats were, at these early rock & roll, blues shows. Every act would play like 20 minutes. It was crazy
Interview by Bob Gersztyn