LP Review: Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Live At Woodstock’ – Released 50 Years Later

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As time passes by here at the B&V labs, I begin to feel more and more like Jeff Bridges’ character in the movie The Big Lebowski, The Dude. Famously, the Dude’s car is stolen from the parking lot of his local bowling alley. He reports it stolen along with his briefcase that was in the car. When asked by the cops who show up at his house, if there was anything valuable in the car, the Dude replies, “Yeah, uh, a tape deck, some Creedence tapes and uh, my briefcase.” The cops, deeply amused, say they don’t hold much hope for finding the tape deck… or the Creedence tapes… and then burst into uproarious laughter. I feel like I’m the last person alive who is willing to admit I still dig Creedence, other than the Dude. Ironically I was a league bowler at one time… but that’s another story.

I guess it’s easy now, after all this time to dismiss CCR. John Fogerty (guitar/vocals/songwriter), his brother Tom Fogerty (guitar), Stu Cook (bass) and Doug Clifford (drums) had been playing together since 1959. It wasn’t until 1967 that they changed their name to Creedence Clearwater Revival. They’d broken up by 1972 after a brief five years and did so with an acrimony only rivaled by that of the Beatles. Tom Fogerty had actually quit the band a year prior to the break up. None of them were getting along. They sued their record label, they sued each other. John Fogerty is famously one of the most pissed off men in rock and roll, or he was. For years, as a solo artist, he refused to play Creedence songs on stage because he didn’t want his former record company to get any royalties. He was once sued by the label for plagiarizing himself. It wasn’t until Dylan told him he needed to start playing those CCR songs again, “unless you want people to think “Proud Mary” is a Tina Turner song,” that Fogerty relented and started doing the CCR songs again.

All of that bad energy has seemingly combined to erase the legacy of CCR. We tend to forget they were, for a brief time, the biggest band on the planet, except for the Beatles. It’s like Bruce Springsteen said when he inducted them into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, “they weren’t the coolest band around, but they were the best.” I think that comment may have been a reference to the band’s habit of dressing like lumberjacks and John Fogerty’s bowl cut hair. They were from San Francisco, but they sounded like they had come out of the swamps of Louisiana or Mississippi. There was so much hoodoo voodoo vibe in their music they sounded like a southern rock band. Their music was very “meat and potatoes,” straight up rock and roll, just two guitars, a bass and drums. A lot of “chooglin'” in that music…no psychedelic period for these guys.

They had an amazing run. In 1969 alone, they released three fantastic albums: Bayou Country, Green River and finally (my favorite of their albums) Willy And The Poor Boys. They toured and recorded constantly. They had a string of hit singles that rivals any band you can name. John Fogerty wrote one of the greatest protest songs ever, “Fortunate Son” that has been covered by Pearl Jam and Bob Seger, to name a few. It’s probably the most enduring protest song of the 60s. There are just some artists, like Bob Dylan who are cultural antennas, they pick up on the tension and angst of their time and translate it into music or literature or poetry. The late-Sixties were a heavy time in the U.S. with Civil Rights, the Vietnam War and gads, Richard Nixon. The songs John Fogerty wrote reflect those times. Songs like “Commotion,” “Bad Moon Rising,” and “Effigy” crystalized those difficult times into song. While he denies it, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” is one of my favorite songs about drugs. “There’s a giant doing cartwheels, a statue wearing high heels,” c’mon John, you were high. CCR’s version of Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine” is one of the most epic ten-plus minute jams ever. John doesn’t get his due as a guitarist, he’s amazing.

I was introduced to CCR when I was in college. My friend and at the time and future roommate Drew came bursting into my room and said, “You’ve gotta get out to Walmart. They’ve got Creedence Clearwater Revival’s double-LP, greatest hits album on sale for $5.” Who could resist an offer like that? I was familiar with CCR, but didn’t know that much about them. I trusted Drew’s musical advice implicitly. I went out immediately and purchased Chronicles Vol 1, and I was amazed at the number of great songs these guys had. I think everyone I ever met who dug Creedence started with that greatest hits package. Drew, naturally, slowly amassed all of their individual records and he let me tape them on cassette but they’ve long since disappeared. So yes, I too am missing my Creedence tapes. I don’t hold much hope of finding them…

CCR was always a ferocious live band. Despite that, during their brief career they really didn’t have a seminal live album. They put out the much maligned Live In Europe in 1973. It was recorded on the tour for their last album, Mardi Gras which was also viewed rather dimly so that probably effected the critical reaction to the live album. Finally, in 1980 they released The Concert a show from Oakland in 1970. As “research” for this post, I went back and listened to it. It’s a really great live album. For some reason you don’t ever see it on any “best of” list of live records… not even my own, BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums, although it certainly deserves consideration. Now, after leaving it mouldering in the can for fifty years, CCR has finally released the tape of the full set they played at the historic Woodstock Festival, aptly titled Live At Woodstock. CCR, much like Neil Young, refused to be a part of the film or sound track album so this was big news to me.

The reason it took so long for any of this music to see the light of day: John Fogerty didn’t like it. Big surprise there… He’s described the performance as “sub-par.” Well, if this is Creedence on a bad night, one has to wonder how explosive they were on a good night, because this is an awesome concert document. Creedence was slated to play Saturday night, August 16th. Unfortunately they were following the Grateful Dead. While most bands played fifty to sixty minute sets, the Dead played over an hour and a half. They ended their set with a 50-minute version of “Turn On Your Love Light.” They played 1 song that lasted the length of everyone else’s complete set. That performance pushed Creedence’s start time to 12:30 am on Sunday the 17th and Fogerty was pissed. He said the Grateful Dead put everybody to sleep and compared what he saw in the crowd to something out of Dante’s Inferno. Bitter, John? I imagine when they hit the stage, CCR was pissed, well at least John was.

Despite that, or perhaps because of that Live At Woodstock is a fabulous live album. John Fogerty’s guitar playing in particular is unhinged. His guitar is literally worth the price of admission on this album. Oddly the set list is similar to the one on The Concert, they both open with a fiery version of “Born On the Bayou” and then “Green River.” CCR were such a touring machine, they must have kept a consistent set list, only updating it as new  music came out. They play the big hits, and play them well I might add, like “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising.” I love the version of “Commotion” here, it sort fit the setting. They also play some great deep tracks like, “Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do),” and “Bootleg.” They play all of this with great passion. I can’t believe anybody slept through this set.

The show ends with not one, but two, epic ten-plus minute jams. They end the main set with a fantastic “Keep On Chooglin'” that includes some epic harmonica. Again, John’s guitar is phenomenal. The encore is equally as epic, an almost 11-minute version of “Suzie Q,” their first big hit. When CCR decide to stretch out, they don’t do that endless noodling thing the Dead did, they just flat our rock. I can’t believe they left this epic performance in the can for 50 years.

I know they were pissed about how late they had to play that day… but when you look at it, the Who didn’t play until 5 am… the Jefferson Airplane didn’t come on until 8am the next morning. It was Woodstock, go with the flow, baby. This is a testament to how great some of the playing at Woodstock really was, despite the adverse conditions. This is a great live album for all fans of CCR, like the Dude and me or for fans of rock and roll everywhere. Not to mention this is a historically important rock and roll artifact from the most famous musical festival ever. Turn it up loud.

Cheers!!

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