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Old 31.03.2006, 11:19
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Default The Golliwogs

THE GOLLIWOGS

Many garage-rock fans have a high opinion of Creedence Clearwater Revival, despite the fact that the group had their success during the height of hippie-dom. Perhaps this is because CCR was never a flower-power act. Their music had more weight, not to mention thick, deep roots in a more traditional sort of rock n' roll. The historically inclined will already know that, in addition to their famous albums as CCR, these four were also the originators of "Fight Fire" under the moniker: The Golliwogs. A recent discussion on the Bomp-list brought to light the fact that, while some of the group's seven singles under that name are available on some comps, they have yet to be thrown together on one CD. That's how I found myself taping my copy of the Pre-Creedence LP for a friend of mine and how I came to write this look at that fantastic record I picked up for five bucks (on sale from $6.99) some seven or eight years ago.

"In the spring of 1964, four high school friends from El Cerrito, California (a small town across the Bay from San Francisco) who had been playing together since 1959 and touring the California county fairs with their rock'n'roll band representing the El Cerrito Boys Club, saw a TV documentary on educational television. It was Anatomy Of A Hit, a three-part film chronicling the development of Vince Guaraldi's hit disc, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" on Fantasy. The young band, then known as The Blue Velvets, made the trip across the Bay to the Fantasy offices in San Francisco and eventually signed with the company. Their first records were released that winter as singles under a new group name, The Golliwogs, The rest is history. Pre-Creedence shows the roots of a concept which the world now knows as Creedence Clearwater Revival. John, Tom, Doug and Stu went on to tour the world and make innumerable hit discs, but these records remain a fascinating example of the birth of a band."

Such are the liner notes on the back of Pre-Creedence (F-9474), released by Fantasy in 1975 compiling seven singles made by CCR in the years before they hit it big. Of course, by 1975 the boys in the band had gone their separate ways. While John Fogerty had released The Blue Ridge Rangers LP on Fantasy two years earlier, in 1975 he released John Fogerty on Asylum. Put this together with the fact that some ten years later, on Centerfield, he'd release a song directed at Fantasy label head Saul Zaentz entitled "Zanz Kant Danz" (later changed to "Vanz..." when Zaentz sued) and it seems rather obvious that Fantasy released Pre-Creedence as a way to cash in on the Creedence legacy (as they'd done only a couple years earlier with not one, but two hits collections). Indeed, the fact that The Blue Ridge Rangers is an LP of all country covers (albeit an excellent one and a must-have for any Fogerty fan) seems to bear out the fact that John Fogerty, at least, had some serious disagreements with Fantasy. (And, if memory serves, when he made his "comeback" in the mid-'80s it was a long time before he'd play CCR songs, just because he didn't want Saul Zaentz making any more money off of him.)

This feeling evidently didn't hold true for John's brother and bandmate, Tom, who actually sings lead on eight of the fourteen tracks on Pre-Creedence. Tom recorded an LP for Fantasy in 1981, entitled Deal It Out. Now, while Tom co-wrote all of the tracks on Pre-Creedence and even sang lead on favorites like "Fight Fire," either John exerted a major influence on Tom in those early years or the intervening time period had a deleterious effect of the sort seen in many other '60s rock'n'roll stalwarts. Simply put, Deal It Out is just not up to snuff. It's not an awful attempt, but it has none of the magic of CCR or John's records from '73, '75, and '85. (Sorry, I didn't much care for the one after that and, while I've heard excellent reports of his latest material, I don't have it... I do accept gifts, tho'.)

But I've digressed, haven't I? The point is, while John evidently had a bone to pick with Fantasy, Tom apparently did not. (He even thanks Paul and Saul Zaentz on the back of Deal It Out.) Of course, just having one of the Fogerty brothers didn't make for CCR in 1975 and, as I said, releasing Pre-Creedence must have seemed an excellent way to cash in.

Before we get to the actual record, it might be helpful to fill in a few gaps. John, Stu, and Doug had formed The Blue Velvets in 1959, when they were still in junior high. Not too long thereafter, Tom joined the ranks. (For those of you keeping score at home, that means the original CCR line-up was playing together nearly nine years before anything came out with the Creedence name!) The group changed its name to Tommy Fogerty And The Blue Velvets, probably to draw a crowd, since Tom had become popular around El Cerrito in 1958 singing first with The Playboys, then with Spider Webb & The Insects. The group would record three singles for the Orchestra label in the early '60s, but these went nowhere. (I've never heard them, but I'm told they're somewhat like Ritchie Valens, with "Bonita" being the best of the lot.)

At this point the band was still called The Blue Velvets. So why change the name? Well, Fantasy put two conditions on their signing the group. Firstly, a name change was in order. 'The Blue Velvets' was just too '50s, So the band decided they'd be called The Visions. The second condition stated that they needed to get away from the instrumental stuff and move towards something more modern, maybe become a Beat group.

Uhh... hold on, buddy, you said they were gonna be called 'The Visions'?

Yeah, I did. And it was all set for that to happen, too. Thing is, between the time they recorded the first 45 and when it actually came out, the British Invasion had hit the U.S. full-force. Fantasy figured that getting some English group on their roster would be much harder than changing the name of their newest group to something more English-sounding: The Golliwogs.

OK. Now let's get to it...

The Golliwogs' first three singles all featured rhythm guitarist Tom singing lead. Most likely this was a combination of Tom's being four years older than the other guys and that he'd been singing with the band beforehand, anyway. Regardless, "Don't Tell Me No Lies" (Fantasy 590) features some solid '60s punk-chording backing a smoother vocal. While it can hardly be called a raver, it's a solid start and definitely shows that these guys had been playing for some time already. Its flip, "Little Girl (Does Your Mama Know?)," is a ballad that has some of the same feel as The Beach Boys' "Little Surfer Girl," but with some lead guitar bursts that sound something like Mickey Baker, though not as accomplished.

The follow-up, "Where You Been" (Fantasy 597), worked the same territory as "Little Girl" had, but with the guitar jangling more than anything else. The band still appeared to be in its infancy. That is, until you flipped that one over to find :You Came Walking," 1:49 of the still-teen sounding vocals (though by this time Tom was nearing 23), but with some way-out screeching guitar blasts between verses and even some heavy backing all the way through, punctuated by some tasteful piano plunking.

It was "You Can't Be True" (Fantasy 599) that really showed the group coming into their own. This one rocks it up more, with a heavy backbeat and some nice harp-blowing. (I'm guessing that's John, as he'd mastered several instruments while still in high school, but evidently Tom could play quite a few, as well.) This is the kind of track that should have been covered over and over by every flippin' garage band in the land. It's even got a bit of a Pretty Things feel to it. Man, someone cover this one NOW! This has to rank as one of the group's best 45s, and certainly the best one they'd done to this point. The flip "You Got Nothin' On Me" is a tremendous track that'll remind you a bit of a punkier Beatles doing Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven." While it doesn't have the harp of the a-side, it has some great guitar whangin' and shows the band really knows how to move.

It wasn't until "Brown-Eyed Girl" (Scorpio 404) that brother John got a chance at the mic. (Modern-day garage fans know this one from The Swingin' Neckbreakers' second disc, Shake Break.) It's amazing the differences between John and Tom's voices. John's is deeper and rougher, the voice we came to know with CCR. The maturity in the vocal suggests that John had probably been doing lead vocals in their live shows for quite some time before they got around to recording this. Sources say John developed his vocal style during a down period in the band, when he was up in Oregon playing some solo gigs at clubs with no real amplification for the vocals, leaving him to scream them out. "Brown-Eyed Girl" is a slow, powerful track that'll knock the wind out of you if you're not paying attention. The flip, "You Better Be Careful," features Tom back in front of the mic. This one's still not a raver, but it's faster than the a-side, yet it plays it on the dangerous side, with a real warning feel. Extra points for being able to really hear the organ. This would end up being the group's most popular 45, selling over 10,000 copies.

Finally we come across the track The Golliwogs are best known for, "Fight Fire" (Scorpio 405), which would turn out to be Tom's last lead vocal track. There's a good reason this one's so "popular"; simply put, it's a killer. There have been other versions over the years, including a pretty decent one in the '60s by The Fantastic Dee-Jays, but this is the best of 'em all. It features a beautiful ringing guitar riff that works its way to a major rave-up. All I can say is, 'Wow!' Thing is, the flip, "Fragile Child" (with John back on vox), is just as good, albeit for completely different reasons. This one's not as fast, but the guitar -- while showing the beginnings of the swamp-rock sound the band would later be known for -- has some pretty jangling hiding in there. "I walked right up... and I knocked on her door / I asked her for a date... could I see you some more," each line punctuated with the backing vox, "I wouldn't do that, I wouldn't do that." Only on the choruses, "'Cuz she's a fragile child / Oh, she's a fragile child / Yeah, she's a fragile child, better leave her alone" do we get a real feel for the Creedence to come. Best of all, this track's got some truly pretty organ playing along with the main theme of the song. This is the one I'd most like to hear John re-cut, although I'd be on top of the world if he played "Fight Fire" live.

"Walking On The Water" (Scorpio 408) gets more of a dark psych feel thrown in, with a clear guitar shining through as an electric piano plays along below. In the middle we find a nasty fuzz solo running along almost an Indian-like feel. This one definitely brings them closer to the Creedence sound, although it doesn't have quite the same oomph to it. Indeed, that sound still had yet to be perfected. I'm not sure I would have bought this one at the time if this was the only track I'd heard. On the other hand, if the guy down at the local record shop had played me the flip, "You Better Get It Before It Gets You" for me, I would've been sold. This is nice pop that starts out as a ballad with some more of that Mickey Baker-styled singing guitar and is a definite foreshadowing of greatness to come. Heck, it's great all by its lonesome. Tom's rhythm chording is soft and easy and makes the perfect backdrop, as the backing vocals add to the effect. Then, 2/3 of the way through, Stu Cook just lets his bass play it nice and easy and a fuzz guitar starts to take over the same riff they had before and soon Doug Clifford is urging the pace on and things start to really pick up.

The last single under The Golliwogs' moniker featured two full-group compositions. First was "Porterville" (Scorpio 412), a track that would soon be found on the self-titled LP, Creedence Clearwater Revival. John's vocals were definitely all the way into what would soon be known world-wide as the signature Creedence sound. His lead guitar sings out and the band rumbles down below, adding burst-styled backing vocals of "I Don't Care." Finally, they finish it up with "Call It Pretending" which looks as much back to the '50s as it does forward towards the group's future. (Not too much of a surprise, considering that many CCR albums included covers of '50s rock'n'roll, soul, and r&b favorites, a trend that John would hold onto even later in his career.) It's fair, but doesn't measure up to the a-side. Indeed, it doesn't help any that the production buries the background vocals under a ton of rubble.


OK, let's bring our story to the point most people know...

Towards the end of 1967, a Fantasy Records salesman named Saul Zaentz bought the company from his bosses, who wanted out of the business. He knew John from his job as a Fantasy packing and shipping clerk and thought the Golliwogs had potential. But not with that name. Zaentz saw what was happening in music. (Let's face it, all he had to do was look around town.) He convinced the band to "go pro." Early in 1968, Fantasy re-released the "Porterville" 45 under the tag of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Some months later, the group cut its first LP (which included "Porterville," along with a live favorite, a cover of Dale Hawkins' "Suzy Q"). It went gold.

Overall, Pre-Creedence is a fantastic look at the early stages of what would become one of the world's most popular groups of the late '60s/early '70s. It shows a band developing from their late teens, moving from a smoother sound to a rougher one. All the way through, however, you can hear their love for the roots of rock n' roll, something that would stick with them throughout their career as CCR. Even as the musical world around them moved from overblown solos and self-indulgent "musicianship" on into the beginnings of the ill-named "progressive" rock movement (but that would require a whole diatribe), Creedence Clearwater Revival maintained their love for a more basic style, albeit done their own way.

Sadly, the packaging on this LP is absolutely horrid. The fact that anyone would actually be willing to take credit for art-direction on this (his name was Phil Carroll, while the photo was taken by Phil Bray) is beyond me. I mean, we see a cracked egg in the foreground, with some weeds in back, then an absolutely laughable ROCK-style logo up top. What the heck is that? Liner notes? Just what I quoted up near the top of this article. The only other info (besides the bragging done by the Phils) are track listings, songwriting credits, who plays what, and catalog numbers for the original singles. YEESH! I mean, these guys don't even give you release dates... or even a picture of the band! To quote Suzie Wong, "For Goodness Sake!"

Having said all that, it's not like you have too much of a choice if you want the complete releases by The Golliwogs. This stuff still hasn't all made it onto one CD and it can't be found on any other LPs I know of, either. Personally, I wish some label like Norton or Sun-dazed would take it upon themselves to do a killer retrospective on these guys. Who knows, maybe they could even dig up some other gems from the vaults? Maybe even include the three Blue Velvets 45s. Unfortunately, the way I understand it, such a disc may be extremely hard to do, what with all the legal entanglements surrounding John Fogerty's music. Well, dreaming is free.

Last edited by nerdistmonk; 16.10.2010 at 00:56.
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Old 13.05.2006, 05:19
El Crab El Crab is offline
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Well, the good news is you can get the Creedence box set, which comes with 26 pre-Creedence songs. A must-have, the box set. The sound quality is rather good, and the pre-CCR stuff is essential.

You really can hear the progression in John's voice and the band's music as they get closer to the CCR days.

You Better Get It Before It Gets You is one of my faves from the pre-Creedence stuff. John sounds like the CCR John, and I like the transition from slow soul to a faster jam. It is definitely one of the tracks that would fit right in on a CCR album.
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Old 13.06.2012, 21:22
TowawayZoneBassist TowawayZoneBassist is offline
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Here's a little bit of memorabilia for you. Back when CCR was in its infancy, I was the bassist for The Towaway Zone. Our lead singer/rhythm guitarist had Dale Hawkins Suzie Q. He wanted to add it to our "list" but wanted a tune more to our style. We worked it out and it was added. We got a gig at The New Monk in Berkeley working the "on" nights, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. CCR worked the "off" nights, Monday and Tuesday. Hence, CCR's version of Suzie Q.
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