In honor of the 40th anniversary of their debut album, Fantasy Records is releasing the six studio albums of the band as a quartet. No word yet of their final album, Mardi Gras, which found lead guitarist John Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook, and drummer Doug Clifford as a trio after rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty quit.
Released in 1968 Creedence Clearwater Revival is a brief introduction to the band with eight songs coming in at almost 34 minutes. They play music that evokes genres associated with the South, which is surprising when revealed that they come from San Francisco, a scene awash in psychedelia at the time. They were a roots rock band, steeped in American music traditions, long before the term was used.
The album opens with a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put A Spell On You.” The music and John’s wailing vocal retain some of the eerie mood of the original. Also, John’s guitar solos are fantastic coming out the left speaker, whether stretching out the notes or strumming at a blistering pace with Tom joining in on the latter. As I soak them in on repeated listens, I realize he is a much better player than I or anyone I remember ever gave him credit for on the strength of this performance alone.
A radio edit of their cover of Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q” was their first big hit and reached as high as #11 on the Pop charts, but the album cut is fantastic. Coming in at over eight minutes, the influences of the San Francisco scene are evident as the band stretches out with John soloing out of the right speaker and the band just chugging along nicely out the left.
Aside from those two classic rock staples, the remaining songs on the album are not as well known and reveal a band trying different musical ideas as they seek their identity. The Creedence signature sound hasn’t coalesced yet, but you can hear the elements forming. The third cover on the album is of Stax Records artist Wilson Pickett’s “Ninety-Nine And A Half” as the boys head east on US 40 to interpret some Memphis soul. “The Working Man” is an upbeat blues rock tune filtered a through a bit of Cream. “Get Down Woman” has a classic ‘50s feel with lyrics that could have been sung by Elvis. “Gloomy” finds the boys going psychedelic with the sound effects of a clock and using the studio to manipulate the guitar similar to The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
There are two songs from their previous incarnation as The Golliwogs. “Porterville,” the first CCR single and coincidentally the last single by the Golliwogs, with its jangly guitar and background vocals sounds like The Byrds and The Beatles circa 1965. “Walk On The Water” is a remake of “Walking On The Water.” Similar to “Gloomy,” it finds the band again playing with studio effects to augment the song.
The 40th anniversary edition of Creedence Clearwater Revival features four bonus tracks, two from the studio and two live. “Call It Pretending” was the B-side of “Porterville.” It has much more of a Motown R&B sound. A cover of Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” was recorded during their first studio date and would be rerecorded for Cosmo’s Factory. The two live tracks, “ Ninety-Nine And a Half” and “Susie Q,” are taken from a 3/14/69 performance at the Fillmore in San Francisco, which was recorded for radio station KSAN. “Susie Q” gets extended over eleven minutes. The extra time allows John to stretch out on his guitar, venturing into ragged and rugged terrain one usually finds Neil Young. The band, particularly Clifford’s drums, keeps an intense rhythm going. The audience voices their approval at the conclusion.
Ben Fong-Torres provides new liner notes reminiscing about the album and the band. The back of the album is recreated, but the white words on the black and white photo are hard to make out, but I am pretty sure Ralph J. Gleason must have had good things to say about the band and its debut. I know I do.