For a matter of a few, miraculous heartbeats from 1967 to 1970, Creedence Clearwater Revival was on top of the world. Behind the dynamic vocals of front man John Fogerty, CCR tapped into the anti-war angst of the young Baby Boom generation like few others had or would. But like all white-hot things, CCR was seemingly destined to disappear quickly. John's brother Tom would leave the band in '71, and the trio of Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford limped on for another year, eventually turning out the almost universally panned “Mardi Gras” in April of '72 before infighting broke the band apart for good.
But people don't remember CCR for “Mardi Gras.” They don't remember the band for the bickering of a couple brothers, or the creative differences between its front man and rhythm section. They remember the dark, swampy heft of “Bayou Country,” or the near musical perfection contained in the “Green River” album, or the defiant sledgehammer of “Fortunate Son.” Creatively and musically, there was nothing wrong with CCR in 1971 and '72. “Mardi Gras” was an unfocused mess, but that was more a reaction to what was happening behind the scenes. So when Fogerty finally decided that he could no longer work with Cook and Clifford (a sentiment he has held doggedly onto, even refusing to play with the pair during the band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony), Cook and Clifford looked for ways to keep playing together; first as members of the Don Harrison Band, then as session players on albums they produced for other musicians. Then, in 1995, came Creedence Clearwater Revisited.
Creedence Clearwater Revisited occupies a strange space in the world. It's not, in any legal or artistic sense, a “new” version of the original CCR, ala Jefferson Starship from Jefferson Airplane; nor is it strictly speaking a tribute act, as most tribute acts do not boast half of the original band.
“I would say that it's all of those,” Cook said in a phone interview from his home. “But most importantly, it's a continuation.”
“This is our 22nd year of performing the classic hits,” he continued. “We're a hybrid, for want of a better word. We bring the music to the fans.”
Much like the current incarnation of the Beach Boys, Revisited isn't writing new material, instead looking to indulge fans in the things they remember and love most about CCR's work. The current lineup consists of Cook and Clifford, along with guitarist Kurt Griffey, multi-instrumentalist Steve Gunner and vocalist Dan McGuinness. When Cook and Clifford were first assembling the act, they brought in Cars guitarist Elliot Easton to handle the lead six string, and had a familiar name in mind for their original vocalist.
“We specifically asked (Fogerty) if he wanted to be involved,” Cook said. “He told us no, in no uncertain terms. Then he sued us.”
That lawsuit came to fruition in 1997, when Fogerty sued the act for using the Revisited name, claiming it was too close to the CCR name and would “confuse the public.” The courts rejected the idea, opening the door for Cook and Clifford to keep playing the music they helped make famous.
“We had no idea what anyone would think about this project, fan or no fan,” Cook admits. “We just did it on faith. Faith that we could put it together in away that the pieces all fit. We thought that if we liked it, there was a chance that Creedence fans would like it. Our guts told us to go ahead and do it.”
The results certainly seem to have vindicated that faith. Revisited doesn't sell out arenas like the original CCR did, but the act has toured the US endlessly over the past two decades and has taken the show around the world, playing for fans both young and old, much to the original members' initial chagrin.
“It's really one of the hallmarks of what we're doing now,” Cook said. “We're seeing three and now a fourth generation of fans. It's been the biggest surprise, at least initially, when we saw how many young fans were in attendance. At first we thought they were lost.”
Fans flock to see Revisited for the same reason they still come to see Mike Love play with six guys who have never played on a single Beach Boys album. Detractors (who include Fogerty), write it off as a nostalgia act, and that could very well be the truth of the matter. But there's also very much a place for nostalgia. Even for acts who keep producing, nostalgia can play a big role in continued success: I don't know many Rolling Stones fans who can name a song they've released after 1980, and even some of Fogerty's fans are surprised to know that he's released four albums in the 2000's.
But Cook and Clifford knew that they couldn't get by on nostalgia alone. The music had to sound good. That's why they initially brought Easton in to play guitar, and why they knew that the vocalist had to be something special. Finding someone to simply act as a soundalike for Fogerty wouldn't do; they needed someone who really felt the material.
“First of all, we had to find someone who knew the lyrics to the songs,” Cook concurred. “People think they know them, but few people know the whole catalog. Then came the appreciation for the music. The understanding that's necessary to give an honest interpretation. It has to be sung with an attitude, to make it convincing. We were looking to be able understand the music the way that Doug and I understand it. Just any guys who play in a bar wouldn't be able to understand it.”
The original singer for Revisited was San Jose native John Tristao. Tristao's vocals, while at times reminiscent of what Fogerty could do, were never meant to ape CCR's front man. Tristao has more fun on stage than Fogerty ever seemed to do, and he played well to crowds, which is half of the job in an act like Revisited.
“John had all that,” Cook said. “Really great musician, strong singer. He really had an appreciation for those songs.”
Tristao left the act in 2016, and was followed at the mic by current vocalist Dan McGuinness. McGuinness takes Revisited's vocals in a dramatically variant direction, which has the effect of making the act feel like a fresh take on well-trod material.
“His voice is completely different from Tristao's the same way Tristao's was different from Fogerty's,” Cook explained. “But we're able to recreate the overall sound.”
Adding Gunner as a fifth member to Revisited (CCR only ever toured as a quartet) helped solidify the sound that Cook and Clifford were looking for: emulation of CCR's studio sound, as opposed to their live presence.
“Nobody had heard any version of Creedence live for decades; they were mostly familiar with the albums,” Cook explained. “So we set out to recreate the album sound. Steve is able to play a number of instruments for us on stage, and bounce from guitar to keyboards and add background vocals. It makes our live act more well-rounded.”
Fogerty, for all his talent as a singer and songwriter, is often viewed as a largely joyless entity. Even seeing him perform solo now, one is struck by how much of a slog he seems to be making everything. But for Cook and Clifford, touring and playing these CCR songs is about the joy it brings them to be in stage, and the joy it brings fans of all ages, to get to hear these songs live, from some of the people who made them famous in the first place.
“That part will never change,” Cook said of the thrill from performing for a live audience. “If I wasn't getting that charge and enjoying that interaction with the fans, that would be the sign to pack it in.”
And don't expect him to do that anytime soon.
“Touring has gotten easier,” he said with a laugh. “Hotels are better. The bar stays open later.”
Creedence Clearwater Revisited plays Lakeside Casino on Saturday, July 8.