By Chris M. Junior
Consistency was a hallmark of Creedence Clearwater Revival in more ways than one.
During the Northern California rock band’s prime, there really was no such thing as a long wait for the next CCR album, with the group pumping out five studio albums in two years.
Without hesitation or ambiguity, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford agree that CCR’s output was fueled in large part by a steady thought running through the mind of singer, songwriter and guitarist John Fogerty: If Creedence dropped off the charts, the public would forget about the band.
Cook says he doesn’t know where Fogerty came up with that idea, but at the same time, Cook theorizes that CCR “was treated too well by radio,” meaning stations cycled through the band’s singles at an accelerated pace.
“They always flipped the singles over and played the B-side,” he explains. “They killed the A-side early and flipped it. So we had a lot of platinum singles, but we were going through them like wildfire. We didn’t get the normal chart life out of any one song; two songs kept us on the charts about as long as one and half songs (would have for another band).”
He adds, “Creedence was a singles band, and when we had enough singles, then we would go into the studio and crank out the remainder, and then we had an album.”
Creedence Clearwater Revival released its self-titled debut album on Fantasy Records in 1968. Then the band pumped out three albums in 1969: Bayou Country, Green River and Willy and the Poor Boys, with “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Down on the Corner” among their Billboard Hot 100 hits that year. The steady output continued into the new decade, with Cosmo’s Factory arriving in July 1970 and eventually spending nine weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. And while in many ways it’s true to the CCR albums that came before and after, Cosmo’s Factory also stands apart for subtle as well as significant reasons.
The short and long of it
Preceding an album’s release with a single was typical for Creedence, but with Cosmo’s Factory, the band issued two singles well in advance. “Travelin’ Band”/“Who’ll Stop the Rain” entered the Billboard Hot 100 in late January 1970, followed by “Up Around the Bend”/“Run Through the Jungle” in late April. From the subsequent sessions that filled out the 11-song album came another two-sided single, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”/“Long As I Can See the Light,” which hit the Hot 100 in early August.
In classic Creedence fashion, most of the singles were short recordings, but Fogerty, Cook, Clifford and guitarist Tom Fogerty outdid themselves with the feverish, saxophone-supported “Travelin’ Band,” which barely surpasses two minutes.
“Well, ‘Travelin’ Band’ is a tribute to the great Little Richard,” Cook says. And in coming up with his part, Cook put himself in the position of the bassist who played in the rock pioneer’s backing band.
“If we’re going to borrow from Little Richard, let’s go all the way and be true to the whole thing,” Cook adds. “So I just picked a simple bass part that drove it and didn’t get in the way. It was well within my playing skills.”
Conversely, Cosmo’s Factory contains two of the longer tracks in the Creedence catalog. The 11-minute cover version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” had humble beginnings.
“This was an idea of John’s that started out very loosely as presented to the band, and we basically jammed for weeks,” Cook says. “We jammed the jam, back and forth (on the chords), for a couple of hours per day, Monday through Friday. And then a week before we went into the studio to record it, John said, ‘Oh yeah, I’m sticking “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” on the front of (the jam).’ And we said, ‘Sounds good to us.’ ”
Cook adds, “The jam was really a jam; it was probably Creedence’s only jam. We all threw ideas around, and each of us as players kept coming back and refining the stuff that we thought individually and collectively worked best on the track. And when the red light was on, all we had to do was fall back on the stuff we’d been jamming on for some period of time, and it went down in one or two takes, like most Creedence recordings.”
Normally, Clifford would have his drum parts planned out, but that wasn’t entirely the case with “Grapevine.”
“When we were cutting it, it reached a magic point where there are things I had never played before and John had never played before,” he recalls. “That was pretty exciting, and at the end, when we had the take, I said, ‘I kinda varied on some spots.’ And he said, ‘So did I,’ and that was rare for him to (do that).”
Then there’s “Ramble Tamble,” the long and intricate track that opens the album.
“The song, to a nonmusical ear, has a good flow, has different parts and fits together well,” Cook says, “but it’s very strict in its sections that, when combined, make up the entire arrangement, which was completely unlike what the other Bay Area bands were doing at the time.”
Over the course of the song’s seven-plus minutes, Clifford incorporates a double-time beat and also a steady-snare Motown-style beat.
“The tough part in that song was slowing down the tempo, and (it was also a challenge) bringing it back (up) — and it had to be exactly right, or the song didn’t work,” Clifford says.
Cosmo’s Factory closes with the slow, soulful “Long As I Can See the Light,” which like “Travelin’ Band” features saxophone. Yet it’s Clifford’s high-hat work as the song winds down that stands out, the result of him switching from 14-inch to 18-inch high-hat cymbals.
“I wanted a more melodic tone from the high-hat,” says Clifford. But in that quest, he encountered a problem: Due to the weight of the bigger high-hat cymbals, he couldn’t get them to open.
“So I went to the hardware store and got a spring, put it in there, cut it down to size, put it back in, and it worked perfectly,” he says. “I opened them up at the end of that song, and they were really screaming — wide open, just pounding them with the shank of the stick, trying to get as much wood on them as possible.”
The ominous opening to “Run Through the Jungle” was the result of some experimentation.
“We had a (toy version of a) kalimba, the African finger piano — that, with a slowed-down backward tape, just trying to use some of the techniques that George Martin was using at the time,” says Cook. “A guitar string being hit, then tuned at the same time — tuning it up, then down. Speeding things up, slowing them down so they got a surreal texture. Laying that all onto the multitrack, then trying to come up with a blend.”
Shooting the cover photo
Clifford credits John Fogerty with coming up with the title for Cosmo’s Factory, and the factory itself was the band’s rehearsal space in Berkeley at 1230 Fifth St., where the album cover photo was shot by another Fogerty brother, Bob.
Like every CCR album cover up to this point, Cosmo’s Factory showed all four members of the band — only this time, there were plenty of props, too.
“Coming up with any kind of a picture is not quite as hard as coming up with a band name, but what do you do?” Cook says. “We took a bunch of junk that was laying around … the Lite-Brite kit (positioned under Tom’s raised feet). Doug was on his 15-speed bike. John had his motorcycle; I was laying on the floor playing some toy piano.”
“I rode that bike to work every day,” adds Clifford. “I lived up in the hills, seven and a half miles away. Coming to practice was all downhill, and going home after playing drums for hours, it was (uphill through the traffic).”
The final word
Five decades later, Cosmo’s Factory remains the bestselling noncompilation album in the Creedence Clearwater Revival catalog, with the Recording Industry Association of America bestowing multiplatinum status for sales of 4 million. CCR’s heyday wrapped with Pendulum, released in late 1970, and the band broke up after 1972’s Mardi Gras.
Even though its title contains Clifford’s nickname, Cosmo’s Factory is the drummer’s second favorite CCR album. At the top, he says, is Bayou Country, and for good reasons: “It wasn’t too far away from when we were playing in the bars, six nights a week, five sets a night. And ‘Born on the Bayou’ is my favorite Creedence song of all time.”
Cook describes Creedence as “an incredible rocket ride” that followed “nine and a half years of struggling,” during which the band went by other monikers, such as The Golliwogs.
“Now I can look back 50 years later (at Cosmo’s Factory) and go, ‘Well, I still love it,’ ” he adds. “It’s a great album.”