John Fogerty: The Rolling Stone Interview
This article originally appeared in the RS 52 issue from February 21, 1970.
In the calendar year 1969, Fantasy Records issued four albums. Three of them were by Creedence Clearwater Revival and each of those three has now passed a million dollars in sales and the 1968 Creedence LP, spurred on by the success of its successors, has joined them in the Gold Record category, making a total of eight gold records for Creedence and Fantasy
And in addition, of course, single discs by Creedence including “Down on the Corner,” “Fortunate Son,” “Green River,” “Proud Mary,” have been among the most successful single discs of the year, even hitting the top rung (No. 1) of the best selling singles ladder and making John Fogerty, who never saw the Mississippi River until a year ago, into a mythological practitioner of something called “swamp rock.”
Fantasy is currently housed in a one-story garage-with-office in the Oakland, California ghetto, two blocks from the historical scene of the Black Panther-Oakland PD shoot out. It moved there two years ago when Saul Zaentz (rhymes with pants), a bearded pool-playing veteran of the record business, bought out the original owners, Sol and Max Weiss.
Fantasy was started by Sol Weiss at the end of the Forties in a search for an unbreakable disc. It was one of the first companies to issue vinylite discs (remember the color of the Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan and Cal Tjader LPs?). They introduced Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Cal Tjader, Vince Guaraldi, Roger Collins, Lenny Bruce, the Mulligan Quartet, the Golliwogs, and others to the record audience.
Their Lenny Bruce albums made history. Their Gerry Mulligan single disc of “My Funny Valentine” was one of the first jazz single records to sell in the pop field. They pioneered with jazz and poetry, issuing Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth and, of course, the classic recording of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.
Now, flushed with the success of Creedence, Fantasy is expanding into rhythm and blues, has signed several new groups and singers (Clover, Gary Wagner, Billie Joe Becoat) and is adding a spoken word series to its catalogue of poetry. It has signed a deal with Pacifica, the listener sponsored FM network in Berkeley, New York and L.A., for a couple of audio documentaries. It has recorded Ferlinghetti’s new poem, “Tyrannus Nix?” and it continues its jazz catalogue which has become one of the most important in the business since it not only contains Charles Mingas’ own Debut recordings (including his classic Monterey album) but works by Cecil Taylor, Charles Parker and Miles Davis. And Fantasy has just added six LPs by Ellington.
By this fall, Fantasy will be the first frill scale Bay Area record plant with its own pressing plant, two studios, rehearsal rooms, tape duplicator system and sound stage for video-tape cassettes, all contained in a huge Berkeley block. A strip of land on the edge of the block, one house lot deep and extending the length of the block minus one house width, has been offered to the City of Berkeley as a park for 99 years free if the City will maintain it. Sol Weiss, founder of Fantasy, insisted his name was spelled “Soul” on his birth certificate. His motto was “The art of getting there without going.” Fantasy has gotten here without crossing the Sierra Nevada.
When I interviewed Fogerty for Rolling Stone, he was one minute late, apologized, and then sat down and rapped frankly and articulately. Watching him at concerts and at Fantasy had not really prepared me for the directness with which he spoke. His relationship with Fantasy is such that undoubtedly he will have an important role in that company in the future and Iris own established talents as a songwriter and singer will only be part of the totality of his creative activity.
How did you get to Fantasy Records in the first place?
We saw The Anatomy of a Hit (an educational TV documentary on Vince Guaraldi and his hit, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” produced by Ralph J. Gleason) on Channel 9. We’d been in and out of Sierra Sound and Music City and all the things, and we had four instrumentals, two of which were mostly piano melodies, you know. And at that point, as far as we were concerned, Vince seemed to hit a peak and then nothing happened, and we thought, “Wow! Maybe he could use our stuff.” Everyone thinks that right? And they were professionally done… like I still like the tunes. Anyway, we saw Max on there, saw Sol Weiss [the brothers Weiss, original owners of Fantasy], saw you, of course. And we thought, “Wow! At least there’s one record company in San Francisco. Let’s try them.” And we went over there with the idea of “sell the instrumentals!” And that’s how it all happened, really. It took me… oh, I think it took me two days after seeing it to get enough courage to go over there.
You were the Blue Velvets at that point?
Right! We went in to Fantasy in March, ’64. Max convinced us that instrumentals weren’t the thing, which wasn’t our thing anyway, but we were tryin’ to sell them for Vince. It got us in the door. He said, “Well, you should do vocals.” Which is what we’d been doing all along! So we made like a dumb tape, a demonstration thing… down in that lean-to in the back. It was just supposed to be a demonstration. It was cut at 71/2, like a home tape recorder, and we added a few things. Then I went off to Portland, and nine months later the record came out!
And Tom like went over there every single day. We were convinced by this time that Jesse James or somebody’d gotten on the plane and stolen the tapes, and that was it! Anyway, nine months later, just before Christmas, the first single came out… the one that we’d recorded. And by this time we couldn’t believe it.
We rushed over there, and we were all excited, and we listened to it. And we didn’t look at it till… oh, a half hour later we looked at the label, and it said the Golliwogs! And we just… I don’t know how to describe it because now I’m over it, but for four years it was like a nightmare! You know, I told myself, “It’s okay, I like it. Yeah, it’s okay, it’s okay, I like it!” And I knew I didn’t like it. And I couldn’t face Doug and Stu because they like… phew! Me and Tom told ’em, “Well, it’s the only way we’ll ever have a record out.” But we didn’t like it at all. For four years after that we were laughed at. You know, we were ashamed to say the name even! They’d ask us, “What’s the name of your group?” And we’d turn the other way and say, “The Golliwogs.” That kind of thing.
Did it feel different to you when you started off as Creedence?
The name was better than we were when we finally decided on the name. We sort of at that point decided, “Well, now we’ve got to live up to the name.” It’s really a good name, rather than the Golliwogs or whatever. It sort of inspired us, I remember Buffalo Springfield or Jefferson Airplane were good names. I really thought “Wow!” There’s an image you get, you know. And the same with Creedence Clearwater Revival.
It was something we sort of said, “Well, we better really get together now,” without being general, it was like we better be more polished than we had been. So we tried to give ourselves a lot more depth in our performance.
Do you think it was a matter of growing up?
Well, growing up means a lot of things and I think the main thing it means is, I hate to be really cliche, but finding yourself, or thinking you’ve found yourself anyway. I hope in another ten years, I’ll evolve another 20 times or something.
I’ll put it this way: I got back [from the Army], my head was straight again, I really hate to use these terms. When I was, say, 14 or 15, and somewhere in between then and being 20, my head, everybody’s I guess, I got too self-conscious of things, too aware, like “Oh, do I fit here? Do I fit there?” You know, too analytical, that whole thing. And you get all tied up in knots, I guess.
What happened to start us off, I think… a little, maybe a lot of luck, I don’t know, but mainly I would say, mainly me, just deciding, well, you know, don’t get all involved with analyzing everything and worrying about infinitesimal little points, just go on straight ahead. The songs are better, like it’s better material. I listen to some of them (old ones) now, and wow, you know, “That’s Fats Domino, ‘love you so, don’t go out the do’,’ or something!” But aside from that, the concept of things is about the same, and of course we play better now. The records are better produced.
The difference to, say, a year previous when we’d played the KMPX strike benefit, was finally we were sure of ourselves. We had a repertoire, were able to do it well; and we had, I guess, whatever presence you need. We were just happy with what we were doing. Before we were always kind of… we were so critical. We had so many things in the way. We never had a PA that worked! No one seemed to understand that, you know, you need a good PA system!
Were you in the National Guard?
No, I’m in the Reserves. I got drafted. And I managed to get in, because I had contacted them before. No one will ever give you an answer in those places, which is weird. If I knew then what I know now, I never would’ve been involved, but…
And then weren’t you up in Portland at one point?
Right. In ’64. That’s when I started first really singing, as a professional. Before it was for fun. A guy I’d met in another group, he was calling himself the Apostles, a guy named Mike Byrnes and another guy named Tom Fanning. Portland was big on Paul Revere and that stuff then. They were preceding San Francisco as a gathering place for groups. A lot of groups were coming out of the Northwest, so we said, “Sure, let’s go up to Portland and get something together.” We found a bass player somewhere and a drummer up there. And got a job in a club for two weeks, and played for the Peace Corps, once. Typical club job. We wanted to come home after three nights of it! It was a 6-night a week, 5-set a night, kind of thing.
You’d actually left the band then?
Not really. I don’t know how to explain it. One of the reasons it took so long for Creedence to ever get anywhere is that everybody was off in different directions doing other things. Tom had a job and a family and that kind of thing, so it was hard for him to give that up. Stu was in school with the hatchet over his head by his father, you know, that kind of thing. Doug really wasn’t quite sure yet, he was in school or he wasn’t in school, that kind of thing. So I went to Portland because I just wanted to play, that’s all.
It wasn’t like I was leaving the group, at all. We had already recorded the record for Fantasy. There was no question that the Blue Velvets or the Golliwogs or whatever, were the only group I was going to be with. This was just like a sabbatical to keep going.
Would Creedence, the name, have been psychologically important if you hadn’t been hung up behind the Golliwogs?
Probably not. We knew we had lived with a bad name and told ourselves it was all right. And so it was twice the jump of coming from just average.
But it really helped us. Gave us a higher esteem of what we were shooting for, I s’pose. And that sounds pretty stuffy, but it just made everything fit together much better. We weren’t just some four kids who worked all over the country. Meeting here, 5 o’clock just before the dance and then “Lay it on me Willie,” or something. Finally we were a working band, and we had a real name. It was up to us to make that all mean something.
Had you had a lot of encouragement before that?
I knew I had potential… I knew it wasn’t showing up very well. But even with the minor successes of “Brown-Eyed Girl” or something… just knowing that we were able to go into a room just like this, that just had a couple of microphones in it, and make a record that sounded like a record. Someone should have figured out from that, “Hey! There’s somethin’ going on there.” You know… I mean we had a lot of
things against us. We weren’t ready either. I really admit that. If “Brown-Eyed Girl” had been a hit, we would have been like every other one-hit artist, we would have never gone back and really, you know really tried to really make it tight. We would have just thought, hey, it’s simple, and that would have been it.
But that was an interesting song in a lot of ways.
But it was studio conceived, you might say. We weren’t able to play as well as the record, so it was hard for us to come up with a follow-up, to tell you the truth. The material wasn’t flowing or anything like that.
When you say it was studio conceived, you mean you worked it out In the studio? And you hadn’t played it a lot at gigs?
We had… but Stu only knew three notes on the bass, Tom played one string on the guitar, and then I filled in all the other instruments, organ, stuff like that. In other words we weren’t what you call an in-person group, we were a studio group. I’d say we had better “taste,” let’s say, than someone like the Monkees that were a studio conceived thing, too. But we weren’t… in person, we weren’t much more powerful than the Monkees. One voice and a drum just isn’t enough to keep an interest going!
I knew what I wanted in my head, but it was a matter of convincing the other guys that, “Hey, we can do it! So rehearse, learn your instrument.” That kind of thing.
They didn’t see much future in it at all. After all, Stu’s dad was a corporation lawyer. Totally against the whole idea. It was a big decision for Stu, to finally quit everything, you know, he had to break away from his father, who now, everything’s fine now, his father works for us, he’s our lawyer. That’s the way it goes!
Wally Heider said you were the most organized musician that had ever set foot in his studio. Have you always been that organized?
Oh yeah. I think it’s important to know that through high school, almost up until the time we first walked in the door at Fantasy, I had something like 5,000 hours in a studio, which l’d done all through high school. Just gone in and, playing with anyone, like in the Berkeley studio that Country Joe made famous when he got a hit out of that place. We made I guess five or six records before we ever went to Fantasy. We backed “officially” two singers from Richmond — James Powell, who did “Beverly Angel,” and this other guy. This record that never came out. We did a lot of instrumentals and that sort of thing. As a group, we recorded 2,000 hours in the studio. And then I would go in and be a sideman or whatever with country and western or polkas. You know, whatever you want, we’d play it, just to learn what a studio was about. I knew it would come in handy some day.
I had ideas about having my own company and all this junk, some time in the future. So that I began to see that there was sort of a method to all this madness. In fact Dave Rubinson said, “Welt there’s no mystery to a recording studio. There’s nothing magical.” He was using it sort of to put us down, in some weird kind of way, I think. But I agree. There is none. It’s as specific as any other kind of thing. I guess a computer is the same way. It’s really vague to me, but somebody knows what they’re doing. And I mean you turn on one microphone and a certain thing happens. You put on a little echo and that happens. So that now from the very conception of a song I know what it’s going to be like. There’s no surprises, 90% anyway. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out at all. It’s terrible, you know. And that’s a surprise.
Some groups spend incredible amounts of time in a studio making an album.
Yeah, to me it’s really unbelievable, because a studio doesn’t quite inspire me one bit. So I can’t sit down Iike at a typewriter, in the studio, and wait for something to come. It wouldn’t happen. In fact, it used to be totally impossible. Because I was worried about that clock! You know, spendin’ all that money! Every hour that would go around really bugged me. Now, I really zip through, I really do.
We’ll go in, we’ll have maybe ten tunes unfinished, and I’ll go in, and in four or five hours, we’ll do all the little things and finish them. I like to work that way. I gotta have an engineer that really plays ball with me, really rolls along, because I’ve done all the thinking previously. I don’t like to sit around and wait to be inspired in the studio. I want to get it done so we can go on to the next material. I don’t know, if it hangs around inside too long, it becomes stale.
When you work the songs out, do you plot those out on paper or in your head?
In my head.
How do you write the songs?
With the guitar, usually… mostly without anything, riding along in the car or a lot of times I just lay in bed at night and think for two or three hours, you know. But I make all the noises Iike with the drums, and that really helps, it really does. In fact, I usually base everything on drum and bass riffs. I’ll get the beat going first, and then picture the melody. Up till now I’ve had no place where I could let loose and sing loud. The neighbors’d complain or something. Now I’m building my little place in my house so I’ll be able to do that. I don’t know whether there’ll be a difference or not. There may be.
Then, on the other hand, for the real beef of the song, what it’s going to be about, the words and everything, I kinda do that separately — sometimes before, sometimes after. And then I sort of put them together.
Like I have, well, a little notebook full of titles, full of one-lines that can either be a title or part of a song, that sort of thing. In fact the first page, you know, I really had a streak, and the first page had… “Proud Mary” was the first thing on it, and somewhere in the middle was “Lodi,” “Bad Moon Rising,” and near the end was something called “Riverboat” and “Rolling on the River”! Originally there were three separate things. Eventually they got together and became “Proud Mary.” I didn’t conceive of “Proud Mary” as a boat at all, I was thinking of a washer-woman or something, you know. It’s completely different.
That was a gas that Dylan dug that sang.
Yeah, I thought so too. I mean I really wouldn’t expect it at all. I thought it would have been something more involved, or something.
Then you thought from the beginning that you’d make it?
I could see myself surviving, yeah. To me, there was never any question. The only time there was a question was when I started thinking about it too much. I started saying, “Well, everyone who tries thinks they’re good. So maybe I’m really no good. Everyone who ever gets on a stage at least always thinks they know what’s going on in music.”
I started double faking myself out, even to the point of really knowing what I wanted to do. Early — you know, 14 or 15. And getting sidetracked from the time I was about 18 till I was about 21, listening to all this crap and saying, “Yeah, yeah, I guess you’re right.” Throwing away everything I had taught myself to believe. “Yeah. I guess you’re right. No one really knows what’s gonna happen. No one really… it doesn’t matter if you’re good or not. It’s just kinda luck. You gotta throw enough stuff against the walls and some of it sticks. Maybe you’ll be the lucky one.”
And I started thinking that way. And that’s when it really… whew! “Let’s make a record that sounds like so and so. Let’s make another one… “
Irving Berlin once said that if you sell a million copies of something, there’s something there.
It’s just who dictates taste. And if you’re gonna go with the majority dictated taste, then obviously, for them, that’s right. That’s the only split I have with “commercialism” as a word, meaning business, and “commercialism” meaning sound. They’ve come to mean two things, now. There’s nothing wrong with selling records — which is being commercial. The only thing I hate is that “commercial sound.” The same way as Ralph Williams’ “commercial” approach. The toothpaste or whatever. There’s two different ways to approach the same thing.
Obviously, we’re trying to be heard by as many people as possible. I can’t picture an artist sitting in his room, a painter or whatever, thinking, “I don’t want anyone to ever see what I do.” You couldn’t have your own id, you couldn’t have a soul and not say, “Gee, I’d like to show this to somebody.” And so if you set out saying, “Well, you know, I don’t want anyone to… I don’t want to be successful .”
Success means… I don’t know how you would picture it, but to me, success means a lot of people accepted what you do. Therefore, you can tell a lot more people, you know, about the way you see the world. And to me, that’s good. That’s great. It gives you a platform. Especially if you’ve got your double whammy thing way back there in your head, and someday you’re going to bring it out, you can be successful first, and then say, “Here it is!” Which is what I think the Beatles did. A lot more people will listen.
What was Saul’s [Zaentz, new owner of Fantasy] role after he bought Fantasy?
Well, I’ll go through the whole thing quickly up until that time. We knew Saul mostly as a friend. He worked there, he worked for Fantasy. I’m not really sure what he was doing — I think it was “sales representative,” but I never knew what those titles meant, But he was objective, you know. He wasn’t worried about the record coming out or no or yes. He just… he liked us, we liked him. Eventually I went to work there as a shipping clerk. So like I was working for the same company Saul was working for. And it was like that, mostly just good friends. And . . suddenly, in October, I guess of ’67, we got a phone call from Saul saying, “I just bought Fantasy Records.” And… it was kind of weird, because I’d been telling the group all through the summer of ’67 — I just had this feeling — things were gonna kinda come to a head in October. And I kept saying, “Something great’s gonna happen in October.” And I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t even know if I was just giving them the Knute Rockne speech, you know! And in fact it happened in October! There’s this phone call and we knew right away that it was momentous to us in our lives. Wow! ‘Cause Saul was straight ahead! We knew what he was like, And he said, “I bought the company, and will you stay with it?” And we said, “Sure!”
From there it really picks up. He didn’t have a lot of money, really, he had put up most of what he had, I guess, for the company. And he got some other people to be partners. But he made a personal loan for us to get one amplifier. And that was what we desperately needed — a lead guitar amp for me. We had no money. Not even the ghost of it.
We asked him for a lot of things. We needed a van, we needed this, we needed that. But we said we can do without all of those, if we have to, but we gotta have an amp. And he said, “All right.” And he went, and in his own name, not in the company name, he borrowed the money, and we got the amp. Blew ’em out at Roger Caulkins, ’cause we paid cash for it, you know! Nobody ever did that for him!
He was there, but not in the way. He came around to the first couple of sessions, but he didn’t say anything, you know. He knew that I knew what to do. Or at least he let me feel that he felt that way. I don’t know if he was sure of me or not, now. But he made me feel that he was sure I could do it — that kind of thing. And I told him about wantin’ to do “Susie Q,” wantin’ to do “Spell.” In fact, he’d come over and see us at Deno & Carlo’s and he said, “Well, I think you guys should make an album.” Which we’d talked about loosely for four years, but never gotten around to it, you know, But we went in and did “Susie Q” — the whole idea behind doing somebody else’s tune was then I could worry about the sound, and, you know, the musicianship on the record. I wouldn’t be so involved with my own tune that I’d be all hung up on “phrasing,” and all this kind of stuff, and the meaning of the words.
It was a tune that I had liked for 10, 12 years, We’d been playing it for seven or eight years. So I didn’t have to worry about that. All I had to worry about was the producing end, you know.
He agreed that that was a good idea, so we did “Susie Q” as really a demonstration tune. Hopefully we could get it and the radio — KMPX, at that time. And so that was like our combination of everything we knew. And we did it on “Susie Q.” That’s the same version that’s on the album. In fact, we went in and we were so ready to do it, it was one take all the way through! Just whap! And that was that.
It’s the same exact version as on the LP, nothing changed at all. And Saul, he makes you feel good. If you’re down, he just has a way of saying the right things. He can make something that’s very little seem like… if it’s a plus, if it’s a good thing for you, he’ll make it seem bigger. You don’t have to worry about all the bummers. He’ll make you concentrate on all the good things that’re happening. So like whenever I was depressed or something or worried, I’d go in and I’d just talk to Saul for an hour. It was like therapy.
Well, he’s on that first single as producer.
Right. We did that because when he first started the company… well, obviously he brought the money for the sessions. We didn’t have any! But like it was understood that I was the A&R man or producer. We took it for granted that I was in fact the producer. But when the company was first starting, we wanted to make sure people knew that this was the new Fantasy. And he asked, “Is it okay?” And I said. “Sure, sure.” And he dropped his name in there. First we weren’t going to have any name. And it was the best way of getting the whole thing across… Saul was now in charge of Fantasy, and this was a whole new management, kind of thing. It doesn’t bother me at all, because in fact he did put up the money. In other words, something came where there was nothing before.
Now, the first single you got action on was “Susie Q,” right?
How long did it take before you got the action? Do you remember? From the time it was issued?
Well, it was issued as the album first.
The tribune came out before the single?
Yeah. What happened was, KMPX had the tapes and then there was the strike. Then, our album was completed the same week KSAN came on, with the new guys. So we took a tape of the new album over there. And I think it was from then on that I knew everything was going to be all right. From the very first day. We had supported the strike pretty strongly, but they didn’t really “owe” us anything. In other words, what happened following us taking the tape wasn’t a payoff or anything. We walked in with the tape unleadered or anything. They just ran right together for however long the album is. And they said, “What’s a good cut to play?” And I said, “Well, the first one, I guess. Start right at the beginning with ‘Spell.'” And they played that, then they just played it right through for like a week and a half. It was incredible! You know, the airplay. And the album wasn’t even released yet. It was still a tape.
The album came out and, for a relatively unknown group, sold. It was incredible how it sold! And I knew right then that everything was all right. “Susie Q” wasn’t released as a single till August. Which was 2 and 1/2 or 3 months later. Actually, “Put a Spell on You” and “Susie Q” were released together as two singles.
You picked those?
Yeah. Well, I was really hot for “Susie Q.” When we recorded as a dumb take, I did the whole thing with it in mind of being a single eventually. That’s why all the “interesting” stuff happens at the beginning. All the vocals are at the beginning. I visualized it as two parts so we could cut it in half later. I saw nothing wrong, artistically, with that. I mean that’s the way it’s done. Saul wanted “Spell.” That’s still his favorite. I think, of all the things we’ve done. So we compromised, “Sure, okay, we’ll do ’em both?” And the radio stations picked up “Susie Q” first. And after it sort of had its run. everyone remembered “Spell” was out and started playing that. On the West Coast, it did extremely well, just like “Susie Q”… but in the rest of the country, they had all, these things —”It’s too long,” this, that, and the other, you know.
Do you remember the first indication yew had from outside of here, you know, Chicago or New York?
Yeah, we were playing at the Cheetah, in L.A. It was a real drag. We drove down in the Volkswagen bus. Saul’d talked us into it, because it was good for exposure. Sometimes that makes it, but we didn’t want to pay any more dues, really. Little did we know what the next year was going to be! Whew! But we thought, “Gee, for 10 years, we’ve done all that junk, and now we’ve got almost a hit record,” you know. We could see the importance was in the records. They could do the work for us, if we let ’em, if we were patient. But Saul really wanted us to go down there, because some record people would come, and we said “Okay.” And we went. And he showed up down there, which was far out, he and an L.A. distributor who we know pretty well and we like. I mean that’s unusual, I suppose for a group to like a distributor but we’re pretty close to him. And he told us that Bill Drake had just put it on. I think, the Chicago station and one other station, I wasn’t sure. Mainly, he told us that Drake liked “Susie Q.” Which to us was really far out! We were convinced it would never happen. Underground sensations, and that was that.
He told us Bill Drake liked the record and it was almost a cinch from there. There was still that ulcer… waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen. I think then was the first real indication.
Do you overdub voices? What do yore do to get the sound?
We put the vocals on after we do the instrumental part. In other words, I sing live in the studio. But we only record the instrumental parts, because, if you have a vocal mike on, all that noise goes into the vocal mike, too. The vocals being obviously softer than the drums and the guitar. And it makes for a pretty crummy sound. Everything’s kind of sksksksheww! So we record what we call a basic track first. We do that on four tracks, so that we don’t have to spend a lot of time in the studio balancing stuff. If each guy’s played his part right, I can balance it later. In the old days, like with old Fantasy, we’d spend hours working on one take. We’d be playing it okay each time, but, “Oh, the bass’s too loud. Turn it down.” That kind of thing.
But you sing while you’re doing this… just for the instrumental part?
Right. So we can get the feeling of how it’s going to be with the vocals added. Otherwise, it would come out chkachka! Like robots. Every once in a while, there’s a little leakage, like with my voice through the guitar mike or through the drum mike if I don’t sing it exactly the same, which I don’t usually. There’ll be a few phrases way off there in the background coming through. The idea is we use the term basic track to mean the four instruments we play all the time. We base everything on the basic track, really. Once we’ve got that, everything else is okay. But if the basic track’s no good, there’s no way you can clean it up.
That sound, though, is really in your voice, isn’t it? It’s not anything that you do in the studio to get?
Oh no, no. In fact. I believe in not using any equalization or anything. A little echo, sometimes, for effect. Sometimes I’ll use the tape echo or the repeat, that kind of thing. But even for the drums and stuff, we try and make everything sound as natural as it is in person. What it is, we should get that sound first. Just when we sit down to practice, we should be able to put a mike in front and record it, you know. We don’t spend hours and hours, getting the sound this way and that. We do spend about one hour each time we record, getting the mixture right and that sort of thing, They’ve got shelves of that kind of thing in the studio, they can change everything. Maybe sometime, in the future. I’ll use it for effect. Just to try out, like another instrument. But 90% of the time it’s just straight through,
Do you think that you will go outside the four instruments, the basic pattern?
I leave that door open… let’s say. I’m not opposed to it. So far I haven’t really composed anything that I would find a need a for it. I’m not going to do it until there’s a need to do it, you know what I mean? I’m not gonna just suddenly. “Hey, wow! It’d be neat to have violins and stuff.” And then throw ’em on some song that would have been better acoustic.
You want to produce other people?
I’m not in a real hurry to do that. I think eventually… yeah, but it’s not a big wild drive of mine.
You were born…
Did you go to school here?
Yeah. I went to El Cerrito schools, high schools. I went to St. Mary’s for one year. I didn’t fit in. I missed a lot of school from then on, really. I was practicing and stuff. At one point, in the eighth grade, I stayed home — to watch the World Series was my excuse — and I started practicing, and I ended up staying home about a month. In the ninth grade in St. Mary’s, I think I missed 50% of the school year! And in the first half of the tenth grade, I missed… something incredible. I think I missed 60 days out of the first semester so they said, well, enough’s enough! And they sent me to El Cerrito. Which is the greatest thing that ever happened! Because, well, the other two guys in the group were there for one thing. You know, the next year after that, I got straight A’s. I mean, it wasn’t that I was dumb, I just had other interests. I didn’t care about school, really.
When did she band first play publicly?
The first thing we played for was sock hops at Portola Jr. High School. That was about four months. Doug and I had been together since April, we got Stu in September, I think, of ’59, and we played at the school at the end of September or the first of October. And we played a Boys’ Club thing right at the end of ’59. And then the next summer we went around to all the county fairs, representing El Cerrito Boys’ Club! That kind of thing!
What sparks you to write a song? Is it that you have a deadline to do art album?
We really have no deadline. My deadline is a lot sooner that Saul’s would ever be. Like I really want to put out, produce and put out records. Saul, I think would be happy with two albums and a couple of singles a year, see? But I want ’em to come out as soon as they’re ready, as soon as one single’s done, I want to have another one come out.
So it’s sort of chicken or the egg kind of thing that inspires me to get going. Well, you need some more stuff and, you know, what are you going to do? Then I’ll settle down and start getting to it.
But I let my subconscious work for three or four months kind of vaguely just, “Yeah. that’s a nice thought.” And then go on to something else. And about four months later, I’ll start, really seriously, the real work. You know, sitting down with the guitar or sitting in the room and really trying to get something done. But if I don’t let it go for a while by itself, just let it evolve naturally, it won’t come.
I used to worry, “Oh, the well’s run dry!” It used to really bug me and l’d sit maybe three days, and nothing would happen. And then a week later just out of nowhere something would come along. It’d be all done, almost before I started. “Wow! Why’d I waste those three days last week?” You know, that kind of thing. But that’s the nature of it. You find yourself like every singer or songwriter. You get up at four in the morning. “Wow, I gotta finish it!” And then you look back and you think, “Why didn’t I just do it when everyone else is working?” But that’s the way it comes out, you know. That’s really strange.
Are you ever able to salvage things out of material that you did and then discarded?
I never finished a song that I won’t use. In fact, in our career so far, I think we’ve thrown away, since Creedence I mean, I think we’ve thrown away one song per album, except the last one. We used everything we intended to use… this is the brand new one. The first album we were ever gonna have, we did, I think, a Bo Diddley song which didn’t work out. And I kept telling myself, “Now if we were the Beatles, we wouldn’t use that because it’s no good.” And we came up to the final thing, and I thought, “Oh well, what the heck, if they can throw it away, we’ll throw it away, too.” And that’s the way it worked out.
The second album was an old Elvis Presley song which was much like “Bad Moon Rising,” you know. So I got to use something much like that eventually anyhow. And the third album was like an instrumental kind of thing. It was very much like “Cottonfieids” on the new album. You know, in that respect I still get the sound in there. But as far as writing a tune, I can tell in the first few lines if it’s going to be any good or not! You know, work at it sort of half-heartedly. If it’s really hard, I won’t finish it. And then maybe I’ll use that later.
Like “Effigy” on the new album. I guess I had the idea for that maybe three years ago, and I could never make it work. It just wouldn’t work. “Feelin’ Blue” same thing. I wanted that on the second album, Bayou Country, but I could never make all the things fit together, so I just said, “Agh!” In the past year or so I got a lot more chance to think about it.
How many songs have you written?
I guess I’ve written around 200 songs. That’s in the last four years. When I was really young I probably wrote, I couldn’t count, maybe 500. It seemed Like zillions to me. They were all garbage, really. Everyone of them was the same thing, unrequited love! Which is why I can’t write about that stuff now too much. If I’m going to write a love song, or anything dealing with that, it’s either gotta be very real or just camp, a good old rock and roll tune, you know. It’s gotta be a real song about real relations, or otherwise it just sounds like a songwriter writing a tune for Tin Pan Alley. I can’t do that anymore.
You have chopped out an area, a style of singing which is sort of a straight down the middle of America thing, like Johnny Cash. But you grew up here?
Well, for one thing, we don’t play Bayou anything. Our music is not Bayou music, in sound or musical harmony or anything. What we do, is we marry the sound of our music, what it’s doing, with what the song is about — very well I think.
Like “Proud Mary,” the first chords, to me, that really sounded like a paddle wheel going around. But it’s not based on any real geographical influence as far as the music’s concerned.
To me, I’m not trying to break my arm patting myself, but the idea was, well, there’s so much bad rock and roll and all we did was to sort of clean it up and make it, not more traditional, just not so darned irritating! You know, cleaner or something.
What I’m trying to get at is: say “Born on the Bayou,” because the words were about that. Okay, but the music was supposed to be just sort of a funky rock and roll, sort of a Bo Diddley — people told me that later — sort of slow and soulful kinda music. But it had nothing to do with anything I’d ever heard on the Bayou or anything. The song, yes, that was like that kind of fantasyland I had developed over the years. But the sound of the music, no. And therefore you shouldn’t say “Bayou rock” or any of that sort of thing.
What got you hung up in that fantasy?
I guess the only thing that’s weird about it is that I was from here and not from there. That’s really the only unique part. I guess, mainly most of the people I saw that I really liked came from there or seemed to come from there. Fats Domino, I always pictured Jerry Lee Lewis as being from there. For sure, Elvis must have been from there. Carl Perkins, and the whole Sun Records thing… I guess that’s all been said. It really becomes a kind of cliche. To me, it’s very personal. But I find myself saying the same thing again. And you know, it’s a drag, but it was a very real kind of Mark Twainish , even Maverick on TV. Stu saw that. We happened to see it on the road once, and Stu said, “Hey, riverboat blow your bell,” or something. And I said, “Yeah, that might be part of it too,” that little song they had. It’s just kind of a little lore built up for myself.
You hadn’t traveled around the country, had you?
No, I’d never been any place. We went to Montana once. The other thing like the “Green River,” that bit was, at least when I was young, we used to do a lot of vacationing or whatever up near Sacramento.
There’s a town called Winters. And there is a Cody’s Camp there. And we went there like every year, and it was tremendous It was exactly what “Green River” was all about. And it was like the West Coast version of the Bayous. And that part fit together.
In other words, I always thought what I had lived must have been the same thing. Because like it had sort of a swampy kind of a deal. And there were lots of bullfrogs and the whole thing. So in that respect, I did live it. But it wasn’t geographically there, like in the right place.
What were you listening to when you were a kid in school?
Then it was called “rhythm and blues.” But it was the commercial blues. It wasn’t much of Mississippi John Hurt, or some of these people I’ve never heard of, really. I kinda get the feeling people are dropping names, you know, “Who’s the furthest far out guy you can name?” Mine were, really, Bobby Blue Bland and B. B. King, like guys that were on the R & B chart. And they were a weird conglomerate, because they had big city, slick players, and yet Lightnin’ Hopkins would have a hit every once in a while too. So that’s basically what influenced me.
Do you have a favorite of anybody’s version of your song?
Yeah, Al Wilson’s “Lodi,” I think. And it’s funny because he doesn’t read the song well. He doesn’t know what the song is about. He doesn’t do it well, but I like it, for a record, you know. Completely separate from us, as if somebody else had written it. It was quite a shock to hear that, because the band really cooked. I thought, “Wow, it’s like a brand new song!” He doesn’t sing it as if he knew what Lodi is about. He makes it sort of a happy, at the very worst just a little melancholy, you know. But not sad, not a downer at all. But I liked the record and the melody fit and everything. That’s about it.
Solomon Burke picked up what “Proud Mary” was about. I liked the intro, but I didn’t like what they did with the song later. He blew a couple of lines bad which bothered me. “I had a lot of fun in Memphis,” which was totally wrong, you know, I can’t think of any others. I don’t know.
I thought that “Proud Mary” by Phil Spector was just horrible. I couldn’t see it at all.
What do you want to do? Past this? What do you want to be doing five years from now?
Well… I’ve never talked much about this before. And it probably sounds corny, and it might never happen, but I realty do feel strongly about a lot of this garbage that’s happening today. I don’t know what I can do about it yet. Like civil rights, whew! I can just see what this must look like. Anyway, I want to get into the position where, when you say things people will listen rather than, “Aw, we heard you before,” you know. I want to be able to really, even with the money that we’ll be able to generate on our own, whatever, take care of some of the things that I think are pretty simple, that could be simply taken care of now, or started to.
No one seems to be starting yet. They’re all talking… I don’t mean huge things that’ll take generations, because maybe I can be one more cog in the wheel that’ll help that. But there are so many just simple things that could be done. And then I’ll cop out and say I don’t know what they are. But maybe stations like KPFA, or maybe even stronger than that, more outspoken, if that’s possible. Papers not quite so weird as the Berkeley Barb, but papers for people that really read. Also like raising money, which is so important all the time. I know these are pretty insignificant right now.
Also I’d like to write maybe a major work. Even if it’s only songs, or a series of songs, that’s the way it might have to be, that will make people think a little more. And I know a lot of people are already doing that. See that’s my real thing… in my real life, not my fantasy life, my career. Because a career is important to me, too. It’s two separate things, I hate to say. Because I think a lot of people have realty blended them. I can’t do that. I’ve always wanted to be a rock and roll singer. I’ve always wanted to have a career or a string of hits or, you know, do something that someone can look back and say, “Hey, that was neat!”
It’s not as important now as I thought it would be, you know. I used to think, “Wow! I wanna have more of this’s and that’s than anyone ever had before.” Now it’s… maybe I’m talking myself into believing that it’s gonna happen to me anyway. I don’t have to worry about it so much. I mean if we just keep, say, a little good taste in there, it’Il happen. And if it doesn’t… too bad! That kind of thing.
But I do know we’re in a position where we can reach out just beyond the bounds of entertainment, of people looking and watching and saying, “Gee, see the clown dance,” you know, “Isn’t that swell?” I think the reason I don’t talk about it much is because I hear other people say it, and it sounds really insincere, like that’s the thing you’re supposed to say nowadays.
I try to write songs and I can’t get to it. The way, say, Eric Sevareid seems to know every day exactly what’s happenin’. And, it just seems to me that if you could finally say it, to where enough people could finally see it the right way, that would solve half the problem.
I think enough people just don’t think, because it’s not there in front of them what’s wrong. But you can see it now with the Moratorium. It’s become so confused that now it’s a choice of a bigger war or no war, rather than what the initial thing was all about.
In other words, we’ve been given the spotlight or the center of the stage, and also the ability to raise money which… I’m not hung up on money or anything, but everything costs so much just to do anything. It really does.
But you can do this without having to spend a million dollars to do it.
Yeah, because people will listen anyway. And certainly if it’s in the songs. I don’t know, I don’t consider myself that profound, not yet, anyway, I’m much too callow, I suppose.
Do you find a difference in the audiences here [in the Bay Area] and elsewhere in the country?
Yeah, in the beginning. It’s still that way. It really is. We’d much rather play Fillmore West or Winterland than any place in the world really. The shame of it is that now popularity sort of demands that we play a bigger place. So by doing benefits, we can still sneak back in and play where we really want to play, you know. Because good business, or whatever you want to call it, kind of dictates that you don’t do that. If we were gonna have everyone see us who’d wanna see us, we’d have to play a week or something. Which we wouldn’t want to do either. Four days used to be a real… you know, like four days at Winterland, it was a long time, you know! It starts to be like a club again.
But the audiences are. I don’t know what it is. Do they listen better? Or are they just more sophisticated? They laugh in the right places like at a good movie. It’s not ten seconds late, like some of the other stuff. They know what we’re saying. They listen to the songs.
Fillmore East… I’m sorry for sidetracking… but they did everything as if they were going through the motions, and now’s when you’re supposed to give ’em their encore. Because everybody got encores there. That’s a drag because we hear some incredible crap get these encores. And, you know, when the people who really deserve it, we saw Aum really earn one. And it meant nothing. Because everyone got one.
But anyway, this’s our favorite place to play, especially, I’d say, really, the old Fillmore, which we only played once. It’s such a treat. That was the first time we really heard ourselves with a good PA and everything. It spoiled us for anywhere else. As soon as we came into San Francisco type places, we almost went immediately to the Fillmore. We sort of were able to get the gravy of San Francisco right away, it was a big change from NCO clubs and things, obviously.
You manage yourself, right?
Do you dig that?
Yes. I dig it only because now I’ve come to the point where I wouldn’t trust anybody else, I don’t dig it because it’s a hassle of me answering the phones instead of somebody else or spending time thinking about things. But I’ve always had to do it, so it’s not an extra burden at all. I’m glad I do now.
Is it a lot of work?
Yeah, it is. It’s every bit as involved as songwriting or being a musician or a singer learning a song, whatever. Because it’s only 24 hours. You’ve always got to be thinking about direction, you know. What fits good on an album, the whole thing. I use myself as a manager sort of to oversee everything else I do or that the band does.
You’ve got an agency, right?
We won’t, by the time this article comes out, really. We have two more places to play, and that’s it. They’re a very good example of one of the things that was wrong. They didn’t look after details so we had to take care of ’em. By the way, I’d say we have excellent people working for us. We have two equipment managers and one like road manager. We call him manager, because we hate the term, road manager. So his name’s Bruce Young. Two guys to handle the equipment, and he also takes care of plane reservations, making sure the PA is right. As much as you can on the telephone anyway. That sort of thing. And, I’ve been grooming them for the past year, year and a half. Really cocky, but I know they’ll know which way to move because they learned it from me. At least they’ll agree with me, you know!
Who’s going to book the band? Are you going to do it yourself?
What we’ll do is, there are two or three guys, in the whole country — Bill Graham heads the list — who know how to put on a dance or a concert. What we’ll do is… it’ll be like a co-partnership. We’ll be the promoter. In other words, it’ll be our money and that sort of thing. They’ll oversee the details… advertising… they’ll get the sound company we want, but they’ll make sure they’re doing it. And then, of course, they’ll take care of the tickets and all that. Police… I hope we can work it out to where we don’t need those legions of cops at everything we do. Which is a real drag.
You won’t be working on every weekend?
No, we’ll play big cities, three, four times a year, maybe. I mean in each area, probably be a total of 30 times, maybe a little more, a year. Certainly not 30 weekends a year. Because we only want to play on weekends anyhow. The more l think about it, though, we may do one 8-day tour. You know, the whirlwind, psssst! kind of thing, just to have done it once—we’ve never done it at the height of our popularity, you know.
Who do you dig as a songwriter?
Lennon and McCartney, right at the top! I guess I’d have to say I like Dylan. I don’t like everything Dylan does, but I like enough of it that he’s one of my favorites. I always freeze up when they ask me that. I don’t know why. I know there’s more that I really dig. I sure like “Both Sides Now.” You know, I’ve heard it for two years now, so it isn’t new. But that was really fresh, brand new all over again. I don’t know, I don’t have it at the tip of my tongue any more.
How about the singers?
That’s a little different. I’m not sure if I can really separate professionalism from… you know, like the people I’ve always said I like… Howlin’ Wolf and Carl Perkins and like that… I like Stevie Winwood. I don’t think he’s fulfilling his talent, you might say. I really like him. I guess it’s the same old thing, find the right material and all that. I know he can really sing. You know, I want to hear more of that. Mick Jagger, too, same thing. I like what the Beatles do with their voices. To me, I picture them more as kind of everyday musicians who sing, rather than as singers, you know?
Every once in a while Paul, especially, will knock me out. It’s so classy, it’s above just the regular rock and roll kind of thing, you know. They’re talented in a lot of areas, which is the difference. They can do the songwriting and all that, but they can get the production jobs, too, and 25% in each of those’d be enough and they do it, like 100%! They’re really good in each one of ’em, you know. They’re… well, somebody like a Dylan, who is, you know, in social comment and so on, he can really say it. Though as far as he’s concerned he’s not saying anything, I suppose. You know, maybe he’s putting us on. Like the Beatles every once in a while can zing it in there, too, you know.
Where did you hear Howlin’ Wolf?
That was KWBR [now KDIA, Oakland]. Sure. Especially “Smokestack Lightnin’.” Was it “Moanin’ in the Moonlight” or something? Mostly kind of a general… He’s the one I can’t remember the titles as much as with anyone else. I don’t know why. Maybe because all the songs — I go back now and I hear them — are very similar.
A lot of them are the same. “Spoonful,” but that was much later. That was about 1962 or so that I heard that, and it was a shock. It’d been almost ten years, and wow!
Jerry Lee Lewis didn’t have that many hits, but his influence, nostalgically anyway, far surpasses what he actually did. Because he sort of cut out his own niche, and that’s his own from now on. Carl Perkins, same thing. There’ll never be another “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Ever see him?
Well, we saw him live when we did Johnny Cash. Up until then I’d only seen one picture of him.
Do you listen to records much?
No. My record player isn’t even set up!
Do you listen so groups?
If I’m really knocked out, yeah. I really wanted to see the Stones, but they were sold out. We couldn’t get tickets. I didn’t want to sit eight miles back. It was just a nice package which I thought, “Wow! They do it every single time. It’s not like, ‘Well, this town doesn’t count.'” B. B. King, he does it every single time!
There are aspects of this music that seem to me to be very revolutionary in terms of social revolution. It marks a division in different points of view. Do you see this in the things that you do?
You know, I don’t write all about one thing. I guess It’s because I’m a songwriter first. That’s what I was trying to say before. Right now my time isn’t for doing what I want to do later. That’s why it’s so far out, also a cliche. Every guy y’see on TV says, “Yeah, man, I wanna.” And you know they’re not really gonna. They haven’t gotten it together in the music. How’re they gonna get the other thing?
But since I’m trying to be an entertainer first, you know like “Proud Mary,” I don’t know… that’s too universal. It’s all Iike a pleasure trip or something. Some of the other things I write, I’m sure people don’t agree with. But I manage sometimes to be, purposely, like in the middle. Not because I’m coppin’ out, but because there’s things on both sides that’re wrong.
A song like “Fortunate Son,” I’m sure a rightwing fool could take that as his rallying cry the same way. Because he doesn’t agree with a lot of the things either, you know. To him, Richard Nixon ain’t on his side at all. That kind of thing. So, I don’t know. We haven’t been known for that kind of…
I’m afraid people really haven’t listened to our words. They just think it’s good-time music only. “Aren’t you ever going to write anything that means anything?” That kind of bit, people ask all the time. And you have to talk back to them on their level. Because they haven’t heard.
Who do you see as your audience? Who are you aiming at?
Everyone. Literally everyone. And that’s why it’s hard because I’m not trying to polarize hippies against their parents, or youth against their parents, or youth against… just the people who are in their twenties, because there’s a thing there now, too, or vice versa, you know —”We ain’t no teenyboppers!” Because I think music, my concept of what music is supposed to be, shouldn’t do that. It should unite, as corny as that is. You know everyone should be able to sit and tap their foot, or say, ‘Wow! That’s the right thing! I should have been thinking that, rather than… ” You know, a certain segment over in the corner go “Yay!” Because it never proves anything to me.
Are you happy the way it’s going — for you?
Yeah, I’m not sure just who really likes us the most. In the beginning I was a little worried, because Top-40, because we made it coincidentally on AM radio. To me, it was great. I mean that proves that, not proves, but it’s a sign, at least, that you’re getting past any of the corny lines that people draw, and it bugged me that a certain section of our society, probably where we came from really, were saying, “Gee, they’re makin’ it there. I don’t like ’em.”
Hopefully that’s going away because obviously, I hope it’s obvious, that isn’t what our interests are. Because I’d hate to have people not listen just “because I know what he’s doing.” To me, that’s a drag. Which is the same reasoning, by the way, why we don’t go around shouting. “Hey, legalize dope! Hey, peace now!” or something. All the time. I mean you can say it at the right moment, but if that’s all you say…
As an entertainer to his audience. I don’t want anyone just going, “I know what he’s gonna say,” and then not listen… You want ’em to listen, and especially if you’re gonna say something that sort of reaches beyond normal entertainment, you know. We’ve got enough goin’ against us just because we have long hair. There’s a certain element won’t listen anyway, which is a drag.
Does criticism bother you?
I guess I’d be kidding myself if I said no. lt bothers me, but mostly it bothers me if they hit the wrong things. If they put me down for the wrong reasons, it really bothers me. If they get me on something, if they say, “He’s not really that great a singer,” or if they say, “Gee, a lot of their songs are similar.” That stuff doesn’t bother me. Or if they say, “He isn’t the world’s greatest harp player,” that doesn’t bother me, I never said I was.
But if they say, “Gee, they weren’t communicating at all with the audience. They weren’t liking it. They just got a 10-minute ovation.” And some guy, he’s sitting there, he was sittin’ behind a post or somethin’, couldn’t see the show, and he didn’t dig it, so he wrote that. Aw, c’mon, mister. Gimme a break! It’s that kind of thing.
And the same thing with praise. It weighs. It really does, It balances, because a lotta people rave over things that aren’t that good. You know, “Oh, fantastic, fantastic guitar!” I can’t read any one article, I have to read a whole lot and then sort of take the average. Because if people are saying, “This is great!” And others are saying, “It’s terrible!” you gotta figure, it’s not either one… It’s sort of in the middle.
I was reading this morning the thing Jim Delahant did in Hit Parader. I thought that was really good; it sounded like it was taped.
Yeah, he did a nice job with us, he really did.
The only weird question that he ever asked that I thought, “Gee, I don’t know, who am I talking to?” was we were talking about blues, blues changes. And he said “Pipeline,” you know, the record by the Chantays. And I finally figured out after months what he meant was, it was blues changes. Because it was, but it wasn’t all the other things you think of blues — there’s no soul there. There’s no guts. That’s what he meant. But for a while there I thought, “We’re really not getting through.”
We obviously don’t do it like “Pipe¬ine” at all, you know! That isn’t our intent. That’s something I’m really against. I hate diluted blues. That’s why we don’t call ourselves a blues band. We don’t have the balls that B. B. King or Albert King… even Albert King’s repetition is still good for about ten minutes or so. Or especially Howlin’ Wolf, you know. There’s just that edge in the voice. I think that’s why he sticks out in my mind all the time. You just gotta sing one note and that thing comes on right away.
Do people think you’re black?
Oh yeah. Most people… when I went to get the motorcycle, I came back to pick it up. Some guy was telling a chick there, “Creedence is going to come. Oh, that was Creedence,” you know, when I went away the first time. And the chick says, “Oh no. he’s telling you a story ’cause Creedence is spades!” It was really far out.
But then also people who I woulda thought shoulda been on a long time ago, weren’t on, you know. Like B. B. King or somebody, who’s just now getting on TV. Maybe it’s bad management or something. I don’t know. I would doubt it, though. A lot more on that same list that should be gettin’ there. The trouble with ’em, like B. B. King’s able to come up with things now, whereas like Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters, they’re really not doing it anymore, see. And so, it’s kind of a shame. I wish it’d happened when they were ready.
We played The Cheetah, for which we never got paid, about two years ago. And we went down, and we found out Howlin’ Wolf was on the bill, and we were top billing, which was great. We felt good and all that, but it was also a drag. Because Howlin’ Wolf was there, and he got, I think, last billing. Because we knew we were gonna make it.
We got lots of time, you know, when you’re young, and we knew we were gonna make it. It was like a drag because he’s at the end of his thing. And it was really kind of upsetting. It’s like you wish they could give him a gold record, I don’t know.
I’m super-romantic about it I guess.
It’s like Jackie Robinson in baseball. It’s the same thing. These are the guys that started it, that made it. There were so many, they were so good they couldn’t ignore ’em anymore, but what they finally started doing was, they had the white imitations on. The thing with the Crewcuts, with the Diamonds. Or Georgia Gibbs doing a LaVerne Baker record
Does all of this have any influence on what kind of things you’re doing?
Well, we waited so long to come in anyway. We wanted to make sure it was ready. And there were times when we just played, we never played really, really poorly in the Fillmore West. In fact, our best sets are there. I don’t know why. We feel good, too. We get the feedback.
Are you a perfectionist?
Oh, yeah. It probably gets in the way sometimes. I used to scream and rant and rave, really. I just tear people to pieces. And unduly so. I mean I never realized they thought so much of me.
There was a kid in Toronto, I think, who… poor guy, there was an Electric Circus up there. The sound man wasn’t there, and the promoter was a real schmuck, and I hate those kinds of guys and it was that kind of a tour. Just guys that didn’t have nothin’ ready. So he just put this kid in there, you know. Twenty years old or somethin’… the age doesn’t make him a kid, it was just that he’d never done it before. And so I said, “Put a little bass.” He turned the bass all the way on, and the thing just started going rgggh and nobody could hear, and the sound was terrible, and the monitors were awful.
I didn’t chew him out, but I can be really sarcastic when I want to. But I didn’t know he was the right guy. and I also didn’t realize we were as popular, especially with him, you know. He was looking at me like the way I look at Mick Jagger or Bob Dylan or somebody. He really had this thing. And for somebody like that— I just castrated him.
And I didn’t realize, you know, I was just a musician, I wasn’t a star or anything in my head. I didn’t know people were thinking that way. And so it was devastating. The poor kid was crying, and it really just whap! But he was in the wrong position.
I think I learned after that it wasn’t fair. People expect more of me, even when it’s wrong. I took the microphone and just jammed it into the speaker. The Who. That’s what it was. But I was mad, I was really angry. Now, we’ve learned, it’s happened so often, we’ve learned that there’s nothing you can do. In those days we thought that there was something we could do. What we’re gonna do now is, produce our own shows. Then it’ll be our fault anyway. So I have nobody to kick but myself.
What do you do outside of music?
Well, I’ll tell you, the motorcycle has been like finding music all over again, really. I stayed away from it for a long time, mostly money, you know. But I was a little afraid of ’em, or afraid of what I might do, really. And, I don’t know, it’s not what everyone says. I mean I can really understand people that just night and day live with a motorcycle, now.
It’s more than just a way to get there. It’s really great. It’s not like a car. It’s instantaneous. You’re out in the air, and you just feel everything on it. You can’t drive in traffic. I mean that makes no sense. But that’s what I started really doing. It’s just been the last few months, you know, that I got it and really started freaking out. And it was just like music, all over again. It was just a ball, you know. Trying to climb up a hill. I’m not very good at it, but that doesn’t matter. You fall over. Crunch! And you get up again.
And it’s like practicing… it’s the same thing, right, as practicing the guitar. I approached it with the same attitude. In music I don’t have that patience I had when I was 12. I could listen to a guitar on somebody’s record for hours, you know, like “Honky Tonk.” The first song I learned on guitar, all the way through. And that took days!
Did you take some lessons?
Well, I took some folk lessons, Barry Olivier, at the very beginning, and mostly I learned the aura of folk music. I didn’t learn anything on the guitar. Because mostly it was just meeting all these people. Sam Hinton, Pete Seeger, and all that. And when you’re twelve. and wow! It’s tremendous! And right then was really when Pete Seeger was really a commie and the whole thing. And we were just… it was tremendous.
Piano was my first instrument, really. And I learned “Bumble Boogie,” Jack Fina, and it’s a 78. And I slowed it all the way down to 33. And it took me months and months. But I sat there, and I learned it note for note. No kidding. I could play it as good as that record was. I couldn’t do it now. No way!
But I look back at that, and I think that was impossible. That was, it was one of the most intricate records ever, really. And I’ve got these two hands going… and I learned how to play one rhythm in this hand and another in the other.
I can’t do that well any more on the piano.
It was that patience thing, which I really don’t have anymore. I can’t bite off that much and chomp it. I just go a little at a time now. I’m lucky that I can do most of my practicing in my head. I see the fingerboard or the keyboard, whatever instrument it is, and I know what it’s gonna sound like and everything, so I can practice that way. This is mainly so I can keep my fingers, so the muscles don’t get old or something.
All I was trying to say is that with the motorcycle I have that patience again. I look at the hill and try, fall down, and try again.
What do you listen for when you listen to rock and roll?
Part of it, when I listen to the radio. I think I listen to it the way you would, rather than as a listener, just enjoying things. Because I immediately… “This isn’t right. That isn’t …” I listen to it as if I was doing it, which is a drag.
I haven’t learned to really separate — except for the people that for some reason I like, regardless of all their shortcomings. I don’t know if it’s the same thing in art, Picasso or somebody. I don’t know much about art, but I like what I like, you know! That kind of thing.
I’m able to go really nutty for somebody who just doesn’t do it all the time at all. Like Howlin’ Wolf can be, or Muddy Waters can be a real drag sometimes, but his 10% is so good! I think it might be a color line thing, too, which might be a drag — I don’t know, white artists who do that, I just think they’re shucking.
A lot of groups seem to have trouble staying together, but you guys have been together for some time now. How does that work out?
Well, you gotta make the effort. You really do. It’s not an effort to like each other, but if you got any sense at all, you realize that everybody has bad days. And if all four of us have one the same day, it could be hell. It really could. We’ve had times when we scream at each other. It’s nothing like it was when we were little kids. One day Doug said, “I’m checking my gear.” So we use that one now. He was gonna pack ’em all off! He’d just read ’em off about something. And we play little games with each other. It’s the next day everything was fine again… me and Stu got together, and we said “We’re gonna kick you out. We found this other drummer.”
And just hurt the mind a little. But we know there’s nothing like that’s gonna happen. It never even enters into it.
It’s the same with a wife or with a family. You can have the knock-downest. drag-outest argument you can think of, but the question of divorce never enters your mind. That’s not the weapon you use. Which is the same with the band.
The only thing we ever hassle over is the music. “It sounded a certain way.” “Well, I don’t like it.” And we all sort of have accepted that I am the leader in that respect. You know there’s gotta be one voice; otherwise, you just… phhhw!… you never get anywhere.
We all talk and we all listen, and then we just sort of… we don’t even vote. We just say, “Well, what do ya think?” Well, it isn’t that big a deal. If we don’t do it then… whatever they want… well then, we’ll do it later.
In the long run, the only thing that’s important to us, really, is our career and staying together. And so, therefore, we try to eliminate all the things that might jeopardize that. The one thing money’s good for it all the things that can just blow your mind. You buy a radio, and it don’t work. Not so much buying, but things that gotta be done. And they get done wrong. And you’ve already spent the money.
In the old days, when you had ten bucks and you gotta spend five of it on a lube job or something. And they don’t do it right, you blow your mind. You really do. You get angry.
Now, we’ve got that cushion where it’s much more important to be relaxed than it is to get uptight about money — so I just say I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. In that respect, the money is a good thing. It isn’t what it buys. I don’t care if I spend it all. I’d rather be just loose, you know. And not uptight about things.
We went on a little bit of a spree, around “Proud Mary,” the first of the year. We saw we were being successful; we could get things done we’d always wanted. I got a good tape recorder, a good record player. I got all this stuff and none of it worked. It was all junk. It was all the best names and everything. And it was just crap. And you send it back to get it fixed, and they don’t fix it.
We learned in a month or so that it’s really not important. That isn’t what it’s all about. That isn’t what the “top of the heap” is. Or any of that crap. Take that away and we’re still the same people, rich or poor. You still gotta learn what life is about.
Say you fill this whole room with everything you ever wanted… a color TV, 98 inches. And a brand new Rolls Royce or something. Boy, you don’t live in those things! I mean you gotta spend your life doing something. You can’t ride around in your car and say, “Wow! What a wonderful life!” You gotta strip that all away and say, “Now what do I do? I’m bored.” You can’t let all that crap entertain you. You certainly can’t look at your bank balance or something, and add it up 27 times a day.