Today, as we celebrate the fourth of July, we're spinning new reissues from two members of the quintessentially American band, Creedence Clearwater Revival!
Before Creedence Clearwater Revival split in 1972 amid acrimony, Tom Fogerty had already departed the band which he had co-founded with his younger brother John, Stu Cook, and Doug Clifford. Fogerty launched his solo career early that same year on the Fantasy label with a self-titled debut, and in October released his sophomore set. Named after the legendary and perhaps magical sword of King Arthur, Excalibur represented Tom Fogerty's own, continuing battle for musical sovereignty outside of his famous band. It's just been reissued on vinyl and digital platforms by Craft Recordings.
Excalibur was produced, like its predecessor, by Fogerty and Brian Gardner. Two members of the band on Tom Fogerty, bassist John Kahn and drummer Bill Vitt, also returned, but crucially brought along two of their own pals: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders. (Kahn would go on to join The Jerry Garcia Band upon its founding in 1975 and stick by Jerry's side through the leader's 1995 death.) With their presence and support, Fogerty (on vocals, rhythm guitar and harmonica) successfully exorcised the ghost of CCR. Garcia's mournful pedal steel and Saunders' sympathetic piano stand out on the plaintive country-rock ballad "Forty Years," an ideal opener for a varied album. "Next in Line" also showcases Fogerty's willingness to explore C&W, a corner of Americana in which Garcia was certainly comfortable. The haunting "Faces, Places, People" proves another fine moment, with the Dead leader at his cosmic, psychedelic best. Saunders' influence was keenly felt, too as he brought a touch of jazz tickling the ivories on the short, seemingly tossed-off admonition to "Get Funky." Happily, the band took the advice with the tasty jamming on a cover of Chris Kenner's "Sick and Tired."
Fogerty was back in chooglin' territory on the uptempo, but less than electrifying, "Black Jack Jenny" and the lightly rollicking "(Hold On) Annie Mae." A take on "Rocky Road Blues," from "Father of Bluegrass" Bill Monroe, likewise touched on the swamp-rock sound. Fogerty carved out his own blues groove on "Straight and Narrow," supported by Garcia's weeping licks, and conjured a dark mood addressing a lover on "Sign of the Devil." Saunders' evocative organ adds immeasurably here. The familiar Fogerty timbre is evident on this track, as well.
Tom Fogerty went on to record three more solo albums through 1981 for Fantasy, as well as another trio of albums with the band Ruby and one posthumous release with Ruby bandmate Randy Oda. Zephyr National (1974), Myopia (1974), and Deal It Out (1981), along with Tom Fogerty, are all available now on streaming and high-resolution digital platforms. Tom would remain largely estranged from his brother until his death in 1990 at the age of 48 from AIDS-related complications. Happily, the reissue of Excalibur, cut from the original analog master and pressed on pristine, quiet 180-gram black vinyl - is a reminder of his own talent as well as an appealing footnote in the Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia story. While Tom may not have had the fiercely individualistic and inspired streak as a songwriter and artist that John did, Excalibur makes it clear that he could make viable art on his own.
Excalibur has been joined on vinyl and digital by Doug Clifford's only solo LP to date, Doug "Cosmo" Clifford. Also from 1972, Cosmo found him assuming lead vocal duties while also serving as drummer, songwriter, arranger, and co-producer (with Russ Gary). He was joined by CCR's Stu Cook on rhythm guitar, Stax veteran Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass, John McFee on guitar and steel guitar, the single-named Judiyaba on cello, Steve Miller on piano, and John Mingo Lewis and Armando Peraza on percussion. The Walter Hawkins Singers sang backgrounds with gospel fervor, and The Tower of Power Horn Section lent their instrumental might, as well. The result is a loose, fun, and frequently joyful album that never takes itself too seriously, and a solidly enjoyable romp through the artist's many influences.
Cosmo went even further than Excalibur in distancing the artist from the familiar CCR sound. The opening salvo of "Latin Music" is a hot, brassy ode showing off the strengths of both the Tower of Power horns and the Walter Hawkins Singers. While Clifford's drawl didn't make for a powerful vocal instrument, he gamely delivered a collection of punchy R&B groovers like the twangy "Regret It (For the Rest of Your Life)" and the driving "I Just Want to Cry," and potent rock-and-rollers like "S.O.S." and the over-the-top "Death Machine."
A country flavor comes to the fore on "Guitars, Drums and Girls," and "Take a Train" is a rhythmic, catchy bluegrass excursion. A trio of well-chosen covers pepper Cosmo, including a straightforward but rousing take on The Spencer Davis Group's "I'm a Man" (also covered in brass-infused style by Chicago), an energetic and upbeat version of The Sir Douglas Quintet's "She's About a Mover," and best of all, an amiably bouncy interpretation of The Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream." The closing song, "Swingin' in a Hammock," is most apropos for Cosmo: breezy, upbeat, and with low-key charm.
Both albums are handsomely packaged in old-school tip-on style sleeves, and although no new liner notes or inserts are present, the original artwork and labels have been faithfully replicated. Alas, these albums are still absent from CD: Excalibur was released as an import in 2000 that now fetches top dollar, and Doug "Cosmo" Clifford has never seen release in the format. So, while one hopes that CDs may be in the offing, these two splendid vinyl reissues nonetheless add considerably to the Creedence Clearwater Revival story.
Both titles are available now! Happy Fourth of July!