Recording: Born on the Bayou
Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Drummer: Doug "Cosmo" Clifford
Chart Position: #2
CCR = Cosmo. The equation is defined in the timeless classics by Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR). Doug "Cosmo" Clifford set the rhythms in motion and had millions listening to the songs, propelled by his dynamic drumming. "Born on the Bayou" is a defining barometer of "swamp rock", and some say the signature song CCR. The band's true Americana combo of R&B and rock and roll homogenized into a "groove as deep as a trench". Cosmo was gracious to take time from touring with Creedence Clearwater Revisited (with bassist Stu Cook) to reflect on this song for Back Tracks.
Backtracks: This song is a basic "measuring stick" for the style known as "swamp groove". Please talk about the evolution of the groove.
Doug Clifford: Our first hit single "Suzie Q" was ten years old when we did it. We played it in the clubs. At the time we were doing club dates, the San Francisco sound had started. It was the era of the original jam band. It gave us license to stretch the songs, and this song was certainly one of them. From that, I developed the concept of the quarter note groove. We were playing the Shrine Auditorium and the guitarists were experimenting with their new Kustom amps, and John [Fogerty] started working with feedback and controlling the tone of the amp, and that was the basic beginning of "Born on the Bayou", with that sustained note. So I started in on the beat, which was a quarter note beat but with a different pattern, an accent, and an on-the-beat groove. It gave the song a completely different feel than my approach to "Suzie Q". It was also that driving quarter note feel, which really set it up. If you play that in eighths, it just doesn't happen. Fogerty was really good at working with the rhythm that was laid down. What I was doing with my foot, that's how it started.
BT: When that signature groove hits, it's very muscular all the way through, non-stop in the pocket.
DC: That's the point of it – the less is best theory. I think we exemplified that as a band – to have the discipline to just lay back. The key is to stay in that pocket and it creates a huge power. That's a power song all the way, and it's not based on the number of fills or notes; it's the fact that there's that breath. Logically, the novice would think you'd have to pound out a big pattern on the toms. That's really not the case. It's a discipline that's not an easy one; it takes time to master it. The secret is the simplicity.
The busiest part of the song is the vocal. It's a pretty slow tempo for a power song, which also contributes to the feel – the space between the notes, and each note means 110 percent.
BT: Where and when was the track recorded?
DC: It was recorded in RCA Studio A in Los Angeles. That the big room where they record the symphonies – it has a great natural reverb just because of the massiveness of the room. Our first album was done on eight track in San Francisco, so now [in LA] we're doing sixteen track, and we're pretty excited about that. It was produced mostly by John [Fogerty], but he would get good engineers, like Russ Geary. It was recorded in late 1968 and released in January 1969.
BT: In an interesting note, it was released as the B-side of "Proud Mary", right?
DC: Right. Actually it was supposed to be the A-side and the radio consultants flipped it. It didn't matter, as long as we had an original hit.
BT: Could you elaborate on the actual drum and cymbal setup you used for "Bayou"?
DC: It was pretty simple: it was the same all of them. I used a four-piece kit: 13" tom tom on the rack, a 16" x 16" floor tom, a 22" x 14" bass drum, a 22" ride cymbal on the right-hand side and an 18" crash on the left side, and that's it. I used the ride cymbal a lot as a crash. I hit it on the outside of the cymbal on the full extension. You can see that in the Woodstock footage.
BT: When you were recording the track, did you get the vibe that it was going to be as timeless as it is - such a hit? There are so many cover versions of that song now. You guys laid the foundation for this style.
DC: Absolutely not. We were scared to death that we were going to miss, that was our concern. We knew we'd better be right on picking the song. That's why when you have success with one song in a certain style you usually follow it up with that style, and that's why "Bayou" was going to be the A-side, because it was that quarter note kind of cool guitar-style song. "Bayou" to this day is my favorite Creedence song. It was just so powerful. I thought, "We have a home-run right here."
BT: Do you have any fond memories of recording the track?
DC: Well the song came together pretty quickly because we stepped up to a sixteen-track studio. From the technological standpoint, it was better and more pleasing to hear. I'd only heard it live, of course or on my small recorder at rehearsal. That was a big weight; there was a lot of pressure on that record. So now it just sounded better, and we jumped right on it and got the results that we were looking for.