By Chris M. Junior
Adebut solo album is a great opportunity for a musician to carve out an identity and branch out from the sounds associated with his or her core band.
Not long after John Fogerty, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford disbanded Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1972, drummer Clifford made his mark with Doug “Cosmo” Clifford, his first — and to date, only — solo effort. And along the way, he had a chance to work with some San Francisco Bay Area musicians at the beginning of their commercial prime.
“I wanted to have a big horn section for at least six of the 11 songs that we did,” Clifford recalls, “and I got the Tower of Power horn section. We cut all the tracks live, so when we did a track with the horns, we were a 10-piece band.”
In addition to Emilio Castillo, Stephen “Doc” Kupka and TOP’s other horn players, that 10-piece band also featured future Doobie Brothers guitarist John McFee as well as a studio ace best known for his association with Stax Records.
Adds Clifford, “Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn was a dear friend and one of the best players in the world, so I got Duck on the bass. I had a great bunch of players, and I knew everybody. (I told them), ‘Anybody who comes up with an idea, don’t be afraid to run it by me.’ Everybody liked that, so they became invested in the project.”
Clifford likens Cosmo to the eclectic nature of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s studio albums.
“There’s a couple of country tunes on there, a couple of R&B tunes,” he explains. “Then there’s ‘Latin Music,’ which is Latin rock, I suppose. And then the three cover songs by people I liked.”
Co-produced by CCR engineer Russ Gary, Cosmo (Clifford’s nickname from his days in college) was reissued on vinyl and as audio downloads in June via Concord Music Group’s Craft Recordings. Prior to starting a run of summer concerts with Creedence Clearwater Revisited (co-anchored by bassist Cook), Clifford talked about the album’s origins, guests and more, plus whether any new recordings are in the future for Revisited.
DOUG CLIFFORD: We had Cosmo’s Factory, our headquarters and business in a factory in the industrial area (of Berkeley, California). Stu Cook, Russ Gary and I had a plan to take over the lease of the factory and have a remote vehicle built with a 16-track machine inside to go and do live recordings. There was no such vehicle in Northern California.
So our plan was to use that to get capital to run the business of recording other bands that we had interest in. We had to see if the area we rehearsed in would be a decent place to record, so we backed the truck into the factory, ran a snake from the vehicle into the recording area and hooked our microphones up to record. I was the guinea pig for that. (laughs) Also, once Creedence disbanded, there was going to be an individual contract (with Fantasy Records), the same as the one for the band — in other words, each guy would have to come up with two masters per year times seven. So I could kind of kill two birds with one stone and have Fantasy pay for it.
DC: They were written specifically for the solo album.
GM: What was it like being in charge and having the final say in how the music turned out?
DC: It was good because everybody was enjoying themselves. I made sure I wasn’t in there with a heavy hand. I wanted to get the best record I could with what I had brought to the table. It was pretty easy, really. I also had Russ Gary helping me as a co-producer. It was a fun thing with no stress involved. We were doing it for fun, and I think it shows up in the tracks.
GM: Stu Cook plays guitar, not his customary bass, on Cosmo. Was that at your request or his?
DC: He wanted to be a part of it, and he was on a motorcycle vacation (when we began the album), so the only thing left (when he returned) was the guitars — take it or leave it, buddy. (laughs)
GM: The horns are lively and distinct throughout the album, especially on “Latin Music,” the leadoff track. Did you give the Tower of Power guys any real direction or strong feedback, or did you let them fill in the gaps as they saw fit?
DC: It was a combination of the two. On some songs, I had some ideas, and for others, I said, “You guys fill in the spots, and as long as it works in with the vocal, that’s fine with me.” They helped out a lot that way. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time working out parts with them.
GM: “Latin Music” aside, the average song length was two minutes and change. Was that a conscious effort or a reaction in any way to what it seemed like everyone else was doing, which was stretching out their material?
DC: That was a conscious effort. With Creedence, if you look at what we did — most of our songs were in the two-minute, three-minute range. And I wanted to keep that the same.
GM: Cosmoremains your only solo album. How come you never released a follow-up?
DC: Well, once Creedence broke up, I realized (Fantasy) didn’t want me — they wanted John (Fogerty).
GM: As you remastered the Cosmorerelease, what thoughts ran through your mind?
DC: I remembered how much fun it was and how we all got along. There were no egos going on; it was a very smooth process. It was exciting for me to play live with a horn section, especially one as good as the Tower. Growing up, when I was buying rock ‘n’ roll records, most of it was (artists who featured horns): Little Richard, Fats Domino and James Brown. So it was a joy to be able to play with a horn section.
GM: Speaking of recording, Creedence Clearwater Revisited’s catalog consists of the Recollection live album released in 1998 and a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run” that was part of Hope for the Holidays, the 2009 benefit album for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Might there be more efforts like those in the future?
DC: I don’t know. It’s something that we really haven’t discussed — maybe another Christmas song or two. I don’t see any albums being done. We covered the Creedence Clearwater Revival hits with Recollection.
It was fun doing “Run Rudolph Run.” That was recorded live to two-track; it wasn’t multitracked. Tom Gordon, who put the record together, told us about the project. We said, “We’re in, but we’re out on the road. When do you need (our contribution)?” He said, “I need it in three days.” Oh, crap. (laughs) So we got a copy of the (original) record and ran it down at soundcheck. We had to learn it first and get the feel of it. We were thinking about going to a studio but decided to do it the old-fashioned way (at soundcheck), live to two-track, and got it on the second (try).
GM: So recording a choice cover for another compilation album like that — you wouldn’t rule that out?
DC: I wouldn’t rule that out at all. Who knows? Not to say that it’s something we would end up doing, but I wouldn’t shut an idea down before we have a chance to get into it.