In the past few years, a growing number of classic-rock acts have announced farewell tours. The latest twist arrived last week, when Creedence Clearwater Revisited rolled out plans for their final live run, set to wrap up later this year. “We’re calling it ‘The Final Revival,’” says drummer Doug Clifford, who will turn 74 in two weeks. “We’ve got grandchildren and they’re growing like crazy before your eyes. It’s time to change things a bit and make the family the priority.”
Adds bassist Stu Cook, 73, “Frankly, the road is a drag. We love the band, but we’ve had enough of hanging around a hotel room waiting to do our thing. There are far more years behind us than left in front of us.”
The twist, of course, is that Revisited isn’t the original Creedence Clearwater Revival, the hard-driving band powered by the voice, songs and guitar of John Fogerty. Featuring only Cook and Clifford — but not Fogerty nor Fogerty’s late brother, rhythm guitarist Tom — Revisited remains what Cook calls, with a knowing chuckle, “somewhere between a cover band, a tribute band and the real deal.”
These days, it’s become the new normal for heritage bands to tour with replacement (and usually younger) frontmen. Revisited weren’t the first such reconfiguration, but until now, they’ve been one of the most enduring. Launched in 1995, Revisited have now lasted more than five times longer than the original Creedence, which ran from 1968 to 1972. “When we started, we had no idea what was going to happen,” says Clifford. “Or if we were going to be accepted by the fans. We had a five-year plan and nothing else. There was some struggling in there, but we were immediately accepted. You win ’em over one show at a time.”
The thought of reviving the band as Creedence Clearwater Revisited probably began in 1993, when Creedence were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cook and Clifford assumed they would be joining Fogerty onstage to reprise a few of their songs, but Cook says they had “no idea” they wouldn’t be playing with him until that night. Instead, Fogerty’s backup band included Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson.
“They BS’d us for months that we were going to play or jam,” says Cook. “That mollified us until Doug went to see what drum set he was playing and a crew guy said, ‘Don’t you know you’re not playing?’ We called John and had a confrontation about the whole thing. That was the sneak-attack part part of it, a little bit like Pearl Harbor.” The two men walked out of the hall as soon as Fogerty and his guests began performing. For his part, Fogerty has said he had issues with his former bandmates by then, including the claim they “sold their voting rights in Creedence” to his nemesis, the late Fantasy Records head Saul Zaentz. “That really betrayed me,” he recently told an interviewer. Cook and Clifford says they “only proxied their voting rights for compilation albums, which did not give the record label a majority, leaving a majority to the balance of CCR to vote and decide.”
Not long after, Cook ended up visiting Clifford at the latter’s home in Tahoe, California, where the two jammed together for the first time in years. Cook insists it was that bond, more than revenge for the Hall of Fame induction, that spurred a Creedence resurrection. “You can only go so far with bass and drums, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we do something — and what would be better than what we already do?’” he says. “It was just an idea that we had to get the hell out of the house. It wasn’t, ‘We’re gonna show him.’ But I understand why people might assume we adopted a bit of that attitude.”
Adds Clifford, “The humiliation done that night was so wrong, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the seeds for this project were planted that night. But also, nobody was playing those songs, including John, when we started this project. People would say, ‘I never got the chance to see you guys.’”
For the first Revisited — the revamped name was suggested by a concert promoter friend of theirs — the band recruited former Cars guitarist Elliot Easton and a new lead singer also named John (Tristao). “John Fogerty is one of the most recognizable rock & roll voices,” says Cook, “and we told the guys when we were auditioning, ‘Don’t try to copy Fogerty. Just sing the songs as they should be sung.’ It’s a delicate balance.”
At a time when fans and promoters alike were wary of any rock reunions without all the principals, Revisited weren’t always greeted warmly. Months went by without work, and only bit by bit did the jobs (including tours of Asia and Europe) start coming. “We took a lot of hits,” says Cook. “People didn’t think we could do this or should do this. Creedence was an underdog, and Revisited was a double underdog. But we knew we could do it. Having the rhythm section makes us feel and sound quite a bit more like the original recordings than anybody else.”
“We always introduce everyone in the band,” adds Clifford. “The idea was never to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes that it was John onstage. We took strides to make sure that was common knowledge.”
The first of many legal hassles arose soon after, when Fogerty challenged the use of the Revisited name in court in 1996. Fogerty — who himself began playing Creedence songs again onstage in 1997 after not doing so since their breakup — won an injunction, forcing Cook, Clifford and their bandmates to call themselves Cosmo’s Factory, after a Creedence album title. But a court of appeals overturned the decision and allowed Cook and Clifford to use the revamped Creedence name; in exchange for a cut of their touring and merchandising income, Fogerty withdrew his complaint. Cook and Clifford copyrighted the Revisited name and have used it ever since.
Revisited rolled along, even releasing a live album, Recollection, with their versions of the old Creedence songs. (The current lineup includes lead singer Dan McGuinness, lead guitarist Kurt Griffey and multi-instrumentalist Steve Gunner.) The group hit another legal snag in 2014, when Cook, Clifford and Tom Fogerty’s widow sued Fogerty for trademark infringement. By then, Fogerty was doing concerts performing Creedence albums, and advertising them as such, which irked his ex-bandmates. “He could always play the material — anybody can,” says Cook. “But we felt he was appropriating the brand. The billing he was using was getting cloudy.”
Fogerty in turn sued them for unpaid royalties dating back to 2011, which Cook admits was done intentionally. “We stopped paying him,” Cook admits. “We thought, ‘Why should we pay you when you’re taking these kind of un-allowed liberties?’ But we kept the money we owed him, so it wasn’t like it was missing. We were trying to get his attention. We’ve done it to remind him that we were part of it too. Even though he was able to exclude us from the Hall of Fame, he wasn’t able to erase our tracks from the records.”
Matters between Cook and Clifford on one side and Fogerty on the other remain frosty. Cook says he hasn’t spoken with Fogerty in years, and the camps still only communicate through lawyers. Yet he men have reached a certain détente. They’re now all part of Creedence Clearwater Revival LLC, jointly approving projects like the inclusion of the band’s complete Woodstock performance in a box set of the 1969 festival, or an upcoming, first-ever line of Creedence merch.
“It’s not what most people would call a reunion, but it’s still a milestone,” Cook says. “It’s a landmark in our relationship, given how it’s not been a thing of beauty the last 45 years. There’s still a lot of stuff to iron out, but things are functioning more like they should. There’s more trust. From my perspective, it bodes well that we can at least have all the water and mud and shit under the bridge. The media likes to stir things up. We had an ongoing war that would flare up and be gone. But we’re stuck with each other forever, whether we like it or not.”
With or without Fogerty’s blessings, Revisited will replay the vintage classics, from “Proud Mary” to “Fortunate Son,” at state fairs, casinos and other venues through the fall. “We feel we’ve been completely vindicated,” says Cook. “There’s always people who leave nasty posts on our Facebook page. But we don’t pay attention to that. There are still some purists out there, but they don’t know anything about the original band. They don’t have any credence, and that’s with three ee‘s, not four.”