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Default CCR’s Stu Cook: The Full Link Interview

CCR’s Stu Cook: The Full Link Interview

James Brown may have been the hardest working man in show business, but Creedence Clearwater Revival were certainly the hardest working band. During their peak years between 1968 to 1970, they released six albums of new material which spawned over two dozen hit singles.

A large percentage of those singles helped form the soundtrack of those times. It’s almost impossible to not have heard songs such as “Bad Moon Rising”, “Who’ll Stop the Rain”, “Fortunate Son”, and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”.

Yet there was a gap of twenty years where nobody heard these songs played live by the original artists. Due to one of the most acrimonious breakups in music history, even leader John Fogerty refused to play his own CCR hits in concert until recently.

After the band’s breakup, bassist Stu Cook continued to play as a member of the Don Harrison Band and Southern Pacific, and also produced legendary recordings for former 13th Floor Elevators leader Roky Erickson.

In 1995, Cook moved to Lake Tahoe, where CCR drummer Doug Clifford resided. “Since we had been friends since seventh grade, we started to hang out and play a couple of hours a day.”

As the bond between the friends was rejuvenated, thoughts turned to going back out on the road. “We had no idea if it would fly, but the music had been unperformed by anybody in a generation. A pretty good combination of events came together in 1995, and off we went.”

Due to legal reasons, they had to change the name to Creedence Clearwater Revisited, and they’ve been on the road ever since. Cook recently talked to Link about a number of music-related topics.

Q: Today’s big artists tend to make an album every 3 years. You guys did three per year. Do you look at today’s rock stars and laugh?

A: Well, we were busy. I look at the music industry and laugh. Or what’s left of it. We didn’t have to do it either, but since we had double-sided hits we burned through the material quicker. It wasn’t long before half the album would be aired, so we’d have to work on another one. I think the big mistake was that Fogerty thought if we weren’t on the charts constantly that we’d be forgotten, which turns out to be not the case. He was putting out songs, and we had no record company to help us. No publicist, no management. Creating music was the only thing we could do to build a career.

Q: When you first hit, the pop charts were dominated by the Brits. Was there a sort of pride in being the American band that conquered the Beatles?

A: Well, they broke up so it made it easy. We were number one in the world after the Beatles broke up and before Led Zeppelin came along. It was a great honor just to be mentioned in that group of great artists. Back when we were cranking out singles, Top 40 radio wasn’t just rock ‘n’ roll. There was a lot of r’n’b and country, and rock ‘n’ roll was just starting to be a mainstream genre. We were in there with a lot of good company. There were the Supremes, and the Archies. There was a wide variety of music that made it into the Top 40.

Q: I’ve always thought the worst thing that happened to the record industry was when Top 40 radio became CHR (contemporary hits radio).

A: The record industry made a lot of mistakes. They started putting out albums that only had one or two good songs on them. Of course, iTunes turned that right around on them because people could buy ala carte again. That pretty much killed the album, which is what the industry had become built on.

Q: That workload had to be overbearing. Did you ever plead for a break?

A: It was what we had strived for for over nine years before “Suzie Q” came out. It was really a time for us to hit it, and hit it hard. There wasn’t enough time, as it turns out. We wanted to keep recording, and tour as much as we could, but there was hardly enough time to do that. Let alone have a life.

Q: You played at many of the country’s biggest festivals. What was the most memorable?

A: I would say Woodstock was the most memorable event that the band played, at least for me. It was a real saga. The real story is about the audience. There were a lot of bands there, but we were merely the soundtrack of a great human event. There was never anything like it, and certainly nothing came close since then, although many have tried. It was just sort of the season when people were willing to get together and put up with overcrowding and long lines in the spirit of the generation. It was a pretty amazing thing to be at. I can still remember just being amazed and overwhelmed. As an artist, we had it pretty easy backstage. There were steaks, fine wine, etc. Out front, when the gates came down they didn’t have adequate food, water, medical, sanitary. It became kind of iffy, but they overwhelmingly pulled it off.

Q: It has been romanticized as this peace and love event, but it was pretty scary for a bit.

A: I think it was, because there was a complete breakdown of logistics. We were all unaware of it, because things were running regularly behind the scenes for us. When the basic needs become in question, it could have become quite dark. People kept in mind the spirit that they came with, the “festival of peace and music”, and that held.

Q: It didn’t hold six months later for the Stones, though.

A: I was at Altamont! That was quite different event.

Q: You played at Altamont?

A: No, I went to it. The Creedence crew helped set up the stage, and were involved on the production side. I went in with Santana, and happened to be in the audience when that fella was stabbed. Talk about chaos and panic, as people tried to get away in the dark through a pasture with fairly unsure footing. You really couldn’t see. You were just sort of being moved shoulder to shoulder by a sea of people. It was all I could take. The Stones were playing great. It was one of the best concerts I had attended. They were really pounding. I guess they had to.

Q: After all is said and done, what is the band’s legacy?

A: Well, we have 43 or so recorded songs that people still are discovering. There’s a whole new audience every year. Of course, we’ve been at this so long that we’re losing some of our audience, but we’re picking up new people even faster. Sometimes up to half the audience is under 25, which is really encouraging. It provides a great mix of age groups, attitudes, and understanding of the world. I don’t think we could be more blessed in that sense.

Q: I was pleasantly surprised to discover you produced some Roky Erickson projects.

A: Oh yeah, you’re a fan? That stuff is all being re-released in September! Roky’s manager has been trying for years to get that music that I did with him in front of the right audience with the right presentation. There’s been several repackages over the years, and it’s coming out on a label called Light In the Attic in early September, which is just a month away. FIrst, they’re going to release all fifteen tracks of The Evil One, which was spread out over two different albums with some overlap of songs. Subsequently, they’re also going to release two more albums of material he did after I worked with him. There’s going to be three discs, but the big push will be on The Evil One, which frankly is the best one. Those fifteen songs I did with him are sort of the peak of his solo career. He still plays along on some small tours, and is pretty good live. He’s been getting good bands again with him, and that makes a difference. Guys that really know the material, and provide a good solid foundation for him, so Roky gets the confidence to stand in front. I’ve always been a big fan of him, as you can tell.

Q: How did you end up working with him?

A: Doug Clifford produced an album for Doug Sahm, and we were the rhythm section for it. It was a very Austin, Texas-flavored record, although we cut it on the west coast. Through Sahm, I met the fella who ended up being Roky’s manager, and he put the two of us together to see if we had any chemistry. Roky and I decided to work together. It just sort of evolved. I got caught up in the Texas cyclone!

Q: You carried on for some time not only as a producer but in Southern Pacific. What made you bring back the band?

A: There were a variety of factors. We had that horrible experience with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where we weren’t allowed to be involved other than picking up our statuette. A couple of years later, I decided to take my family out of L.A., and moved up to Lake Tahoe where Doug (Clifford) and his family had been living for many years. Of course, since we had been friends since seventh grade, we started to hang out and playing a couple of hours a day. We thought we might get a band together, and what better band and what better music than to play the classic hits? We had no idea if it would fly, but the music had been unperformed by anybody in a generation. The timing was right, and our idea had some merit. The fans were ready, and the band was a great group of players and singers. A pretty good combination of events came together in 1995, and off we went.

Q: Do you hear your influence in any recent bands? Is there anybody in particular that you feel is carrying the torch?

A: I don’t know. Not really. That’s not the kind of music I really listen to. I imagine that some of the bands coming out of the south did their share of playing Creedence songs in bars and stuff. But I think every band does Creedence songs in bars because they get a good reaction. The bottom line of any musician is to get some favorable reaction from your audience. But in terms of musical direction, nah. I don’t listen to so much bluesy or southern rockish kind of music anymore. I’m more focused on newer bands and what they’re doing. I hear a lot of Beatles influence in new bands, actually. For example, the new Queens of the Stone Age album, Like Clockwork, has a massive Beatles influence, especially on the big production cuts at the end of the album, right down to the Paul McCartney bass sound. Like Clockwork is probably the best record I’ve heard in a year. I’ve probably listened to it 15 to 20 times since I got it. Every bit of it is impeccable for my tastes. Well-written, well-played, and extremely well-recorded. I just like the whole thing that Josh Homme and company are doing. I first picked up on him with Them Crooked Vultures, with John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl, and I think Pat Smear. Then I got turned on to the Desert Sessions, which is all these crazy recordings that Queens and various friends did in the Palm Desert. The new album is such a leap beyond their previous work. It’s stunning to me.

Q: So you keep up with current music?

A: I try. It’s all over the place. I like some Beyonce, and some Rhianna. I like some Bruno Mars. I don’t care too much for Lady Gaga. It’s sort of song by song. I’m really disappointed in Justin Timberlake’s last album. I pay attention to it, and my phone has like 22 gigs of music on it. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me, as I never have time to sit down in front of a stereo. Having it with me, and traveling so much, is such a joy.

Q: Earlier, you mentioned how the industry is going back to being song-based instead of album-based. Do you think streaming services such as Spotify will be to music like Netflix is to movies?

A: I think they have a pretty good chance. I think people would rather buy or subscribe than to go through the trouble of bootlegging. They have shown that streaming models will work, particularly in Europe where it has led to the decline in bootlegging. But they have to make a business model that works for everybody, especially the artists. Right now, Spotify is not very artist-friendly. A lot of artists can say that they don’t want their music on Spotify, and the payouts are just ridiculous. You can get 20,000 plays and make nine dollars. It’s really not a workable model for somebody who wants a career in the music business. How do you get paid? You still need a record company, or how are people going to find out about you? It’s so crazy right now. We’re a legacy artist, so people already know about us, so a lot of the problems don’t exist for us.

Q: Do you think everything would have been different for all of you if it was just about the music and not about the business?

A: If we had really good, professional business people involved, I think we would have had a longer, more productive career. I just don’t think any of us were equipped to handle the personalities, the dynamics of the business, and the speed in which our career took off with. We had no professionals, and suffered. I think that the music was our strong suit, and the rest was luck. We were in the right place at the right time.
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Interview with Stu Cook from Creedence Clearwater Arisin Wind Main 2 19.01.2012 13:56

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