It’s common record company hype to claim that an album has been “years in the making” upon its release. But in the case of Doug “Cosmo” Clifford’s new record, it’s more like decades. Three and a half, to be exact.
The former drummer for Creedence Clearwater Revival and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was cleaning out the garage in his Reno, Nevada home last year. That’s when he he came across the “lost” tapes for a complete album recorded in 1985 at his former residence in Lake Tahoe. And now, he’s finally releasing Magic Window.
“I’ve always recorded my songs once they’re completed, in master quality, for publishing purposes. I just didn’t want bare demos,” Clifford says. “It was actually going to come out after a [well-known producer] was about to sign me to his label the week after he heard it. But instead, he had a nervous breakdown, went into rehab, and sold the company!”
As for launching a new album in the Age of Coronavirus while in quarantine with his wife of 52 years, Clifford has been working the phones. “I’m doing a lot of interviews and podcasts and radio. I’m not trying to get airplay, I just want people to be aware of it,” he says. “And it’s very different from my first solo record [1972’s Cosmo]. This one is more of an artistic endeavor, and probably the most complete music project of my career.”
The ten tracks range from chugging rockers and psychedelic swirlers to a surprising number of love songs. Assisting Clifford were Russell DaShiell (guitar), Chris Solberg (bass/keyboards), and Rob Polomsky (guitar). And while the semi-autobiographical “Born on the South Side” sounds most like his former group, it’s not the dominant sound on Magic Window.
“It’s to show I’m the guy who played the beat on all the Creedence stuff, but that’s the only song that resembles my past,” he offers. “The rest is what I was doing then in 1985, so there’s a lot of love songs. Creedence never did any of those, and I think that’s the biggest impetus to write a song! Good love or bad!”
And while there were some tweaks done to the original recording, most of the sound is intact 1985 vintage. And that means some big rock choruses and lots of synthesizers. The drum sounds are a combination of programmed bits as well as Clifford playing both synth toms and a more traditional kit live. Somewhat surprisingly, Clifford was – and is – a fan of the electronic percussion.
“It was a new, banner thing at the time, and I thought they were really cool. It was a nice difference,” he says. “Drums don't change much, but this was completely new and had its own unique sound and tone. And I’m hearing songs on the radio out today that are a product of that sound, so it’s come full circle. Everything does. Hold onto those bell bottom pants and you can eventually wear them again – if you can fit into them!”
Clifford says his own songwriting has grown “so much” since his initial effort as writer or co-writer of three tracks on the last Creedence Clearwater Revival record, 1972’s Mardi Gras. Tom Fogerty had left the band by that point, leaving lead singer/guitarist (and Tom’s brother) John Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook, and Clifford.
Rock lore notes that Cook and Clifford pushed for more involvement in band decisions and musical direction but Fogerty – who was front man and had written almost all of the band’s material and deep catalog of hits to date – was less enthusiastic. Throwing down a gauntlet, Fogerty basically told Clifford and Cook “Fine. If you think you can do something better…go ahead.”
Relations between the three and Fogerty never healed after the eventual breakup, and there was no brotherly reconciliation when Tom died in 1990. When CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Clifford and Cook were forced to watch from the audience as John Fogerty played the band’s songs without them.
“It was an ultimatum that John gave us,” Clifford says about Mardi Gras. “Tom had left the band and [Stu and I] were always on his side because he wanted to sing more. We did a lot of covers, and Tom has a sweet tenor voice like Richie Valens. We could have done ‘La Bamba.’”
Clifford also has a thought about another aspect of the Fogertys’ relationship. “I don’t know this—I’m trying to find logic in this—but John thought if [Tom] has success with [singing], he’d be begging him to do more. But John didn’t want to give up any of the vocals, and he really should have. But you’d have to ask him about that.”
Of better news for CCR fans was the somewhat surprise release last year of Live at Woodstock, the band’s complete 50-minute set at the fabled rock festival, which saw a bunch of 50th anniversary-related events and releases. John Fogerty has long dismissed the band’s performance as inferior, blocking any of their performances from appearing on the soundtrack records or footage from inclusion in the hugely successful movie.
“Stu and I have been trying to get that to happen for 40+ years now. Finally, John has gone 180 degrees on it, and now Woodstock is cool and he wanted it out there,” he says. “After the Woodstock adventure, he went home and wrote 'Who’ll Stop the Rain.' And from what I heard about it, it was about the reign of Richard Nixon not [the rain] at Woodstock [Fogerty confirms this theory in his book]. John's jumped on the bandwagon of Woodstock, and I’m glad. It should have always been that way. But I was disappointed they didn’t put any new video out since we weren’t in the movie.” [Note: Footage has gotten out over the years, as in this YouTube clip].
Even better for fans, coming out sometime this year will be a DVD and CD of the band’s 1970 performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Clifford says it is hands down the best performance of the band ever caught on film, and remembers that several Beatles were in the audience.
Of course, the current pandemic situation prevents Clifford from doing any live performances to support Magic Window. Last year, he and Cook brought an end to the 25-year run of their Creedence Clearwater Revisited group.
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“I was just talking to my buddy Steve Miller, and he had a 50-date tour with Marty Stuart that was cancelled. He thinks [concerts] won’t get back to normal until 2022. And he said ‘That’s two years I’ll miss. I’ll be 78 when I come back!’” Clifford says. “As for me, I’m 75 right now, and who knows what’s going to happen?”
But that doesn’t mean he’s taking it easy. In fact, Clifford is still writing timely tunes – even if it costs him sleep.
“I woke up at five o’clock this morning and there was a song idea in my head. And when that happens, you have to do it then or you’ll forget it,” he says. “So about 85 percent of it is already done, and I’ll get on the keyboard and give it a melody and have it done tonight. It’s about what’s going on right now, and about the first responders.”
For more on Doug Clifford and Magic Window, visit DougCosmoClifford.com