Saturday, April 25, 2009

How to butter a bologna sandwich

Whatever became of Doug "Cosmo'' Clifford? And just how good was he?

It was Clifford's 64th birthday Friday, and all we could predict with any degree of certainty is that he wouldn't be receiving a greeting card from John Fogerty. The in-fighting, eventual breakup and post-breakup sniping among members of Creedence Clearwater Revival was never as publicized as the demise of The Beatles. But it was just as nasty.

And Clifford, the band's drummer, was right in the middle of it. In fact, bassist Stu Cook once called he and Clifford "the bologna in the middle'' of a Fogerty sandwich. It should be noted that the ''other'' Fogerty, rhythm guitarist Tom (who died in 1990), didn't consider himself much better off than Cook and Clifford in dealings with his more talented and famous songwriting and guitar blazing brother. Tom was first to quit the band after the late 1970 release of the album "Pendulum.''

Someone told me long ago
There's a calm before the storm
I know, it's been coming for some time
When it's over so they say
It'll rain a sunny day
I know, shining down like water

Did those lyrics signal the end of CCR? Some people maintain the song is about Vietnam. Others claim it relates to drug use (which seems ridiculous), and still others suggest it is a metaphor for the fading idealism in post-Sixties America. John Fogerty has said, no, it is about the changing vibe of the band and the imminent departure of his brother. He wrote the song; why don't we go with his story.

The "Pendulum'' was literally swinging in the wrong direction for CCR with the release of its sixth album. Tensions had been high between John and his bandmates, who sought more creative input and didn't think their musical leader should be directing the business end of things. Although the album contained two top 10 singles, "Have You Ever Seen the Rain'' and "Hey Tonight'', it was heavy on horns and keyboards -- a departure from the classic guitars/drums/bass formula that was a staple for rock bands of that era.

Clifford and Cook hung around for one more album, "Mardi Gras'' (by far the band's least impressive effort), after which CCR officially disbanded in 1972. Tom cut several uninspiring solo albums before dying of AIDS, believed to be the result of a blood transfusion. Everyone knows about John's long-running legal feud with Fantasy Records and his personal revival as a songwriter and performer.

What about the "bologna brothers''? They eventually formed Creedence Clearwater Revisited and enjoyed surprising success on the concert circuit, no easy feat without John's stellar guitar playing and distinctive vocals.

But just how good was Cosmo? We know he had a great album named for him (''Cosmo's Factory''), and nobody seemed to complain about him when CCR was blazing its swamp boogie trail. It's just that drummers, like bass players, tend to be interchangeable parts in a band (unless you happen to be Levon Helm in THE Band.)

I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
Comin down, sunny day

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, and more. Besides his dependable work behind the drum kit, perhaps Clifford, like Ringo, provided an essential dynamic that was impossible to measure. Maybe he was the butter, not the bologna. Or maybe I'm just getting hungry.

Happy belated birthday, Cosmo, wherever you are. I hope that sun is shining for you today.


  1. John Fogerty was CCR. He wrote every song. The remaing members are only covering every thing John wrote. Witness John's great work since-The long Road Home, Revival, Blue Moon Rising, etc. Have seen John Many times and he is better that ever.

  2. Vanz Can't Dance is an awesome song.