The Weekender called Doug Clifford just before his birthday, so when we wished him well, he replied that he’s “69 and feelin’ fine.” The reason for this is obvious – even 56 years after the drummer started playing in an instrumental trio with his friend, bassist Stu Cook, this rhythm section is still together rocking the songs they later became famous for as members of Creedence Clearwater Revival, the groundbreaking California rock band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
Decades after the band’s breakup in the early ‘70s, the two lifelong buddies formed Creedence Clearwater Revisited with three new members, moving from private parties to sometimes 100 shows a year, the next at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs this Saturday, May 3. Performing the iconic songs he loves night after night, Clifford is still nostalgic for the early days while enjoying every minute of his present career.
WEEKENDER: What was that initial spark that made you want to spend your life doing this?
DOUG CLIFFORD: First of all, it was rock ‘n’ roll music. I was 9 when I first bought my first single, which was a 78. It was “Roll with Me, Henry” By Etta James; the second one I bought was “Bo Diddley” by Bo Diddley and it had that sort of jungle rhythm, and I guess the seeds were planted for playing drums down the line. I was just a kid and was just caught up by the music. It was really a big deal for me, and it wasn’t until I saw Elvis when I was 11 a couple years later that I knew I was going to be doing something with music. And then when I was 12, I saw Gene Krupa; of course he wasn’t a rock ‘n’ roll drummer, but he made a huge impression on me. He had Elvis looks and movie star looks; drummers were usually pushed in the back, no lights on them – “Just be quiet and play the grooves. Don’t do anything else!” – and he brought drummers to the forefront, so I knew then when I saw him playing drums that that’s what I wanted to do.
W: So the rest is history?
DC: Yeah, really. We started the band when we were 13, John (Fogerty) and I, and then Stu came in and we were an instrumental trio. And Tom (Fogerty) came in about a year or so later looking for somebody to back him up in the studio, as his band was not interested. They weren’t going to be paid, there weren’t going to be any chicks at the studio, and they’d rather work on their cars, so we got the nod and that was the beginning of that process of learning how to make records. It took 10 years before we had a hit.
W: Did you imagine that you’d still be doing this today?
DC: No, that I didn’t imagine. I didn’t think I’d live to be 69. When you’re that young, 69 is ancient. Right now, it’s the new 40 as far as I’m concerned.
W: What do you do to keep up your chops? Has your age affected you at all?
DC: I work out every day. Part of my workout is playing. It’s just an easy thing to do. It’s something I enjoy, and I’ve been doing it so long that it’s second nature to me.
W: The original band had such a prolific output for several years, where it was just one great album after the other.
DC: Yeah, I call us “the Roman candle of rock ‘n’ roll.” We did a career’s worth of work in about three and a half years, so it was quite a pace.
W: So what made you want to revisit these songs and come back to this?
DC: I turned 50, Stu moved up to the lake where I was living and we were saying, “We better get a band or we’re going to drive ourselves crazy playing with just bass and drums.” That’s when we put this project together. This is our 20th year and we’re going strong.
W: Do some of these songs take on a new personal meaning for you now or is it the same kind of vibe as when you first created them?
DC: It is and it isn’t. I mean, the music itself is the same vibe because that’s what I do. The grooves of the songs are still just awesome, and great songs, a lot of fun to play, but then (I have) a new appreciation really for anybody that can play music at this point in their lives professionally at a very high level because it requires a lot of dedication, and it’s just really kind of an honor and privilege for me. Even though we recorded these songs ourselves, it’s still an honor and privilege to play them and I appreciate the fact that I’m able to do it more than I ever have. When we were on top, we were 25 years of age. We thought we knew everything; we knew nothing. Now I don’t know everything, but I do know one thing, that I’m a very fortunate guy – a “Fortunate Son,” if you will – to be able to play this music worldwide and have fans now of three generations.
Really there’s no big secret. The songs are what they are. They’ve persevered for a reason, and don’t fix it if it ain’t broke, so that’s what we do. We come out and we play the songs the way they’re supposed to be played and move onto the next one.