Gallery: Stu Cook [2 Images] Click any image to expand.
by Don Kindred
When I turned 12 in 1969, Stu Cook was making history. He was standing backstage in a remote field on Max Yasgur’s farm, not far from the little town of Woodstock, New York. His band was the first one signed for this first-of-its-kind event, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair.
Promoters had sold a hundred thousand tickets and planned for twice that in attendance. They were half right. It was the middle of the night on the second day. Delayed by crowds and rain and the Greatful Dead’s un-dying set they were still waiting to go on after the toll of midnight. Finally around one in the morning, bass player Stu Cook, drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford and lead guitar and vocalist John Fogerty, the three remaining members of Creedence Clearwater Revival, number one band in America, took the stage at the greatest musical event in the history of rock n roll.
Woodstock would gain iconic status in the annuls of music and culture, and CCR would go on to sell 26 million albums in the United States alone, with 20 hits making it to the top ten. Despite their breakup three years later, the music has refused to stop and is now gleaning fans from yet another generation.
I had a chance for a short conversation with Stu Cook, while he visited the San Clemente home of a mutual friend and former major league pitcher DeWayne Buice. Cook’s love for music is still evident. When I walk in I find him thumping a base guitar in the den … “it relaxes me,” he says.
“I would have to say it was the most memorable event that the band played,” Cook begins, “at least for me. It was a saga. You know the real story wasn’t about the music, it was 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 has come close since, 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. It was a pretty amazing thing to attend. I can still remember just being ... overwhelmed.
“As an artist, we had it pretty easy, hotel, backstage there were steaks, fine wine ... we hung around with the Santana guys, because we knew them from the bay area. Out front, the attendance doubled, (‘half a million strong’ as Joan Baez would later write.) 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. And it was because of the audience.”
(CCR would hit the top ten again with an ode to the event, “Who’ll stop the Rain” in 1970.)
The talent that became the rhythm section of CCR began in the bay-area in a 7th grade homeroom when Stu Cook happened to sit next to Doug Clifford. They became life-long friends, learned to play music together, and would later join the Fogerty brothers to form a local bay area band once known as the Goliwogs. The original lead singer was John’s older brother Tom Fogerty.
After stints in the service for John and Doug, and a college education for Stu, the band came together with a renewed passion. They named it Creedence Clearwater Revival, owing the unique handle to three sources; Tom Fogerty's friend Credence Newball, whose name they changed to form the word creed; an old television commercial for Olympia beer ("clear water"); and the four member’s renewed commitment to their band (revival).
“My dad had given me a new car for my 21st birthday,” says Cook. “I sold it to get the band started.”
Although they were a San Francisco area group, they portrayed a southern rock style, singing about bayous, catfish, the Mississippi River, and other popular elements of southern iconography. It was called “swamp rock,” and that was fine with the members of CCR. It was what they liked, it was what they listened to, what they played.
Hall of Fame Induction
Hard to believe they created all those memories in only four years, 1968 - 1972. By the time they broke up, Tom had left the band and John had taken charge, maybe a little too much charge. The breakup was not friendly. When the band was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1993, the scars were still evident. When I asked Cook to describe the experience he has a one-word response.
“Horrible,” he says “Tom had passed away not long before and John had refused to play with us. He had told the promoters it was him or us, but we couldn’t all play together. We had been trying to find out what was going to happen for six or eight weeks and nobody told us anything. Meanwhile John had been rehearsing with the house band and Springsteen. And we didn’t even know it. When they started to play without us, they expected us to sit there and watch them play our music. Cosmo and I got up and walked out, we went to the bar. It was a great honor but that ruined it for us.
“You know, it’s always great to be recognized, especially at that level, but there are other things that are more important to me, I’m more concerned with our fans, the support we’ve always had from the radio stations … that’s the people who made the career, not the Hall of Fame. They made a bad decision that day.”
In the convening years, Stu Cook and his old friend Doug “Cosmo” Clifford began playing the old music again. Now under the name Creedence Clearwater Revisited they are taking their music live, to an audience hungry for
“We’ve been playing for three generations. We have a lot of younger fans and I’d say they are pretty evenly divided, one third, one third, one third. John wrote some good songs, there is no question about that. They have sort of emotional specifics, but nothing that would date them, they are universal feelings.”
I told him that I had enjoyed CCR’s music first as vinyl records, then an eight track, a cassette, CD’s, and recently updating to digital after hearing the new band perform on the USS Midway last summer. I asked about the evolution of recorded music.
“It took me a long time to get away from vinyl,” he says, “I finally got into CD’s but you had to be at home or have a car with that equipment. Then I finally got into digital, I got myself a little iPod and started listening to a whole lot of music. Now with it coming through my phone I have a great collection of music, and I can take it with me everywhere. You know it’s not the highest quality, which is too bad, but then again my ears can’t hear as well as they used to.
“As far as the monetary aspects for the artist, they went back to the singles. We’d been selling albums, so the impact of royalties has been less. We are what they call a legacy artist, so we don’t have the same problems as the new artist. People don’t have to worry about getting a bad song, they don’t have to pick and choose. So far it’s a good value as opposed to somebody buying an album with one or two good songs on it.
“You buy a 99 cent song and Apple keeps a third of it, and the record company gets the rest, and they decide what to pay us, which is where the fight is now. The old model of music industry wasn’t able to function in the digital world. They certainly weren’t able to do anything about piracy.
“They need to reinvent. I think the future will probably be streaming subscriptions, there’s no reason to buy the record. People will stop buying from iTunes, there will be no reason to own it, once everybody is plugged in and there’s broadband everywhere, you can just rent it. Places like Pandora, don’t pay the artists either, it’s terribly unfair. They have to figure out a way to make it work. Big hit artists can write their own deal but for the new artist it’s a tough way to go, scratching out a living somehow. But the intellectual property has to be protected.”
How did you like San Clemente?
It’s not like being stuck in Lodi again is it?
“I don’t think I’ve ever been to Lodi” he laughs, “I’ve had a short time here. We’ve eaten some good meals, played some good golf. It actually reminds me of the small town where my wife and I are living now on the gulf side of Florida. I’ve enjoyed I’ve enjoyed my time here.”
Interview over, packing up his bass guitar, Stu Cook gets ready for one of the band’s 150 yearly performances. At the Del Mar Fair, he’ll be playing the music he’s loved for the past five decades.b
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