In honor of the 40th anniversary of their debut album, Fantasy Records is releasing the six studio albums of Creedence Clearwater Revival 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.
Willy and the Poor Boys was the band’s fourth album and the third to be released in 1969, capping an amazing creative output. The album opens with the Stax Records-sounding “Down on the Corner.” John sings and tells the story of the “four kids on the corner trying to bring you up” whom the album is named after. The song is a joyous number, capturing the spirit of playing music for its own sake, offsetting the despair of others who find themselves stuck in “Lodi” again, as sung about on previously on Green River.
“It Came Out of The Sky” evokes the ‘50s with John’s jangly, Chuck Berry-influenced guitar, a driving rhythm section, and lyrics bringing to mind sci-fi movies about aliens. Doug pounds the cymbals during the final chorus. Kids might miss out on the name-dropping as Vice President Spiro Agnew, California Governor Ronald Reagan, and CBS Television newsmen Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid all get referenced.
Creedence offers a tip o’ the hat to musician Leadbelly on Willy. “Cotton Fields” is played as a laidback, country rock song, sounding like The Eagles before the Eagles existed. “The Midnight Special” is a traditional song Leadbelly was known for playing. While the band’s hits were popular on the radio in 1983, this deep cut appeared in the opening of Twilight Zone: The Movie and revealed a different side of the band to an audience who barely knew them. Starting as a blues number, John’s distant vocal and the slow, extended playing of the guitar notes are compelling. Then, the rest of the band joins in and it becomes signature Creedence.
“Poorboy Shuffle” sounds like a jugband instrumental, possibly with the washboard and the gut bass referenced in “Down on the Corner.” If you go by the album photos, John’s harmonica leads the way. It crossfades with “Feelin’ Blue,” a rhythm & blues number so authentic it’s easy to assume it’s a cover, but John is credited as the writer. It oozes “smooth” as they shuffle along and create one of the few CCR tunes to make out to.
“Fortunate Son” is the classic antiwar song that drew attention to the inequity between the majority of poor and working class folk who went to Vietnam and those who avoided the draft because they were sons of senators and millionaires. Yet, it transcends that time and still resonates today because it speaks to the inequities in society. President George W. Bush, as one “born silver spoon in hand” and who sent many “down to war,” is a perfect embodiment of the title character.
“Don’t Look Now” is definitely Sun Records rock ‘n’ roll with John giving us a little Elvis in his vocal. “Side of the Road” sounds like Creedence’s response to Booker T. & the M.G.’s classic instrumental “Green Onions.” Tom’s rhythm guitar fills in for Booker’s organ and John recreates Steve Cropper’s guitar sound as the rest of band keeps a sure and steady beat.
“Effigy” is the longest song and closes the album proper. It sounds more like the music coming out of the San Francisco scene at the time. The tone of John’s guitar is more ragged-sounding, like Neil Young, and Doug’s drums are more prominent. The lyrics tell a very interesting tale of revolution. It’s my favorite discovery.
This edition offers three bonus tracks. The first two tracks are more previously unreleased tracks record live in Europe 1971 during the final tour of the trio. “Fortunate Son” from Manchester, England sounds decent, but the vocal drowns out the guitars. The drums can be heard between. “It Came Out of The Sky” from Berlin, Germany has a similar sound level with the guitar slightly raised in the mix, but not by much.
“Down on the Corner” is taken from a jam session with Booker T. & the M.G.’s recorded for a TV special in 1970. Surprisingly, the historic moment wasn’t better captured because it sounds like a consumer tape recorder captured the song in mono. The liner notes state it is the best source available. Booker’s organ and Cropper’s guitar are the most obvious elements added to the arrangement.
Willy and the Poor Boys is another worthy addition to the band's catalog and a continuing testament to their talents. The wide appeal of Creedence Clearwater Revival is evident by how well the album performed as it crossed over and appeared on both the Pop Album and Black Album charts. It also had two singles make the Pop charts, “Down On The Corner” doing the best by reaching #3, and one hit the Country charts.